Capsule Reviews

I Do! I Do! Some musicals are charming; some, just charmed. Premiered in 1966 and written by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, I Do! I Do! is a flat, two-character, chamber-musical celebration of marriage that's been a theater staple ever since its successful run in New York City. It refuses to go away. The original lighter-than-air show was directed -- inflated, really -- by wizard Gower Champion and starred two of Broadway's most luminous and incomparable talents (Mary Martin and Robert Preston, who won a Tony Award for his smooth-as-single-malt performance as husband Michael). Why I Do! I Do! should have "legs" is one of Broadway history's imponderables. Invariably, audiences are delighted with this overview of marital bliss that is, at best, skin-deep. The show sketchily covers all the usual suspects: newlywed jitters, crying babies, spousal faults and foibles, divorce possibilities, grown-up children and, finally, comfy abiding love. The present incarnation at A.D. Players draws more than ever from the whimsy of the original play from which this trifle derives, Jan de Hartog's 1952 Tony-winning The Fourposter. Still, neither the music nor lyrics enrapture, and as a show it's undistinguished and unsurprising. For any production of I Do! I Do! to be passable, the chemistry of the acting duo is everything. Luckily, under the Champion-inspired circus trappings of director Sissy Pulley, Marion Arthur Kirby and Courtney McLaughlin supply needed warmth, spirit and clowning to the authors' superficial, cloying sentiment, giving this ragged valentine a lovely new edge of lace. Through August 22. 2710 West Alabama, 713-526-2721.

Life Beyond the Loop That loony Fertle family is on hiatus until September, so instead you'll just have to content yourself with Radio Music Theatre's hilarious parody Life Beyond the Loop. The show is as bracing as a headfirst dunk into a bucket of ice water. Here, the superb comic trio (author Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills -- with sound- and music-effects wizards Mark Cain and Pat Southard) takes us to Houston-area planned community Precious Trees and proceeds to shake out enough nuts to feed the elephants at the zoo. Among the numerous topical items and persons expertly lambasted: our new accident-prone Metro, the unstoppable developer Tilman Fertitta, the nudie bar/restaurant Kajankers, George and Barbara Bush, the sleazy televangelist Jiffy Dillman and the incompetent Spy Eye News, with its consumer advocate Damuel Madd ("I'm Dam Madd"). There's a plot -- there's always a good plot at RMT's three-ring circus -- but it's only an excuse for timely gags, razor-sharp timing and brilliant song parodies. And let's not forget the Margaret Mueller Miller Mitchell...something, something...Pavilion, the "instant damnation" of Al Franken, Uncle Dan's insane furniture commercials and the dessert of choice at Precious Trees: pudding! Through August 28. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

Tamalalia 9 We could all use a blue spandex "superpower fear-fighting suit" like the one Tamarie Cooper sports in Tamalalia 9. It's cool! But cool is standard issue from the Tamalalia series, the silly summer confection devoted to the strange inner life of Cooper. No. 9 delivers so many laughs, it's hard not to forgive the show's creators for their unusually timid approach to the subject at hand, namely fear and the crazy things it makes us do. Great numbers abound. One of the funniest is "The Vampire's Folk Dance," performed by the company's wildest clown, Kyle Sturdivant. But the real showstopper is "Physical Ed," about Tamarie's horror of gym class. Jeff Miller, Tek Wilson and Sturdivant play PE bullies from Tamarie's past who return for a rematch. The contest is run by Coach Gascamp (a wicked Noel Bowers), who delights in referring to Tamarie as "Mamarie Pooper." But near the top of Act II, the show starts to go south. Things are promising at first: The entire cast sings "Culture of Fear," and everything from the government to the media to mad cow disease comes up. But just as the show seems to be moving into some timely stuff, Tamarie stops it, declaring she doesn't know where to go from here. This familiar shtick -- it's been used in other Tamalalias -- is disappointing. Truthfully, the script writers haven't backed themselves into a hole at all. Indeed, they've suddenly moved into a landscape rich with potential. But Tamarie claims she's afraid of getting too serious and worried about offending her audience -- some of whom might be Republicans! In the end it's fear, the very thing this show sets out to conquer, that gets the best of Tamalalia 9. Through August 28 at the Axiom, 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

Vagabondage Improv Comedy Troupe Vagabondage shows feature both games and long-form improv, giving the troupe an edge on both ComedySportz and Main Street Improv, which just do the standard 90 minutes of game-playing. Games played by practically every troupe in town -- like Three-Headed Oracle and Chain Murder -- aren't Vagabondage's strongest points. To be honest, nobody plays Three-Headed Oracle better than ComedySportz (but they call it Dr. Know-It-All). C-Sportz's tightness and polish with the game is stunning. And Main Street Improv's Chain Murder (which they call Murder Chain) is more fun. Vagabondage's live game show, the Blank Game, features the players as a panel of celebrity guests and audience members as contestants. The game requires a good-sized crowd, and there aren't always enough volunteers to make this portion of the show happen. No matter -- more time for long form, which is where Vagabondage shines. This type of improv could begin with a query like, "Name a childhood toy," which might lead, say, to vignettes about the troupe members' childhoods. Here, the cast -- especially Melissa Keller and host Randy Matthews -- consistently performs with zeal and originality. Every Saturday night upstairs at PJ's, 614 West Gray, 832-651-7814.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover
Eric A.T. Dieckman
Lee Williams