Capsule Reviews

All Female Cast Western Musical First, the good news: Slump's All Female Cast Western Musical lasts one hour. Then, the bad news: It lasts one hour. In the guise of free-for-all theater of the absurd, this amateur hour created by Keith Reynolds is perhaps the ultimate theater reality show. In other words, my dad has a barn; let's put on a show. This is not a good thing if you like your musicals structured, coherent and intelligent. In a nutshell, a corrupt frontier town entirely populated by cowgirls confronts a "Loan Stranger" (Elizabeth Stuart), who bristles at the high cost of whiskey imposed on the "stupid, lazy and dumb" denim-clad denizens. That's it for plot. There's also banshee-style shrieking, garbled lines, improv, some original songs and a general lack of acting. The show does have rare moments of fun: April Marchant's "Sleepy" sings her drunken lullaby with startling conviction; the girls raise their voices in lovely, unexpected harmony for "Home on the Range"; and Jennifer Decker finds a character within the motor-mouth manic "Speedy." The true stars of the show, though, are the cardboard-cutout cows, whose antics and animal noises are a genuine hoot. If the spectacle of 13 women in western wear behaving as if they've never before set foot onstage is your idea of a fun time, then this might be your show -- but we suggest having several adult beverages beforehand. Yee-haw! Through August 14. Midtown Arts Center, 1423 Holman, 832-725-9777.

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.

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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