Capsule Stage Reviews: Body, Soul & Gershwin, The Great Storm, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Laura

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Body, Soul & Gershwin As the title implies, Houston Ballet's season opener was indeed a collection of dances about movement, contemplation and fun. But Body, Soul & Gershwin just as well could have been called Let's Check Out the New Talent. New principal Jun Shuang Huang is a tall drink of water from China with fine technique. This is his first outing in Houston, but he just could be the new Li Cunxin (see the new movie Mao's Last Dancer if you don't now who he is). His lanky frame (Huang is more than six feet tall) was a perfect match for the leggy Mireille Hassenboehler. The duo was spot on as the Red Couple in artistic director Stanton Welch's Tu Tu, a fast and fun number full of double fouettes en pointe and lightning steps, with flexing supple backs and wafting arms, set to Ravel's lyrical Piano Concerto in G Major. Kudos to Houston Ballet Orchestra pianist Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon for not just tickling those ivories but mesmerizing us with them. South Korean-born Jim Nowakowski and fellow corps member Emily Bowen also dazzled as the Gold Couple. Houston Ballet made a bold move adding Jirí Kylián's Forgotten Land to the bill, since the Houston premiere in 2005 was cut short by Hurricane Rita. This brilliant, fluid dance about land being overtaken by the sea is gorgeous, and the company executed it with finesse and pathos. The final piece on the rep bill, Welch's The Core: Gershwin, The Heart of the Big Apple, premiered in 2008. It's a rollicking look at The Big Apple via Hollywood's Golden Age, with lots of characters and lots of fun. The cast (which rotates) was delightful and fabulous. Overall, this was a lovely rep program. Through September 19. Wortham Theater Center, Brown Theater, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. – MG

The Great Storm When Houstonians were sweltering in the heat back in 2008 after Hurricane Ike cut off the power, most were not thinking up the great plays they could write about the experience (if only they could power up their laptops). Happily, a handful of playwrights have taken a look back on those sticky days and nights, resulting in a lively evening of ten original playlets brought together and produced by Thunderclap Productions under the title of The Great Storm. The stories run the gamut of experiences familiar to anyone who lived through the days before and after Ike. The opening script by Aaron Alon, also called The Great Storm, is a powerful chain of interlinking monologues by everyone from an older woman who whines about losing her cable (Lisa Schofield) to a Galvestonian who loses everything she owns (Tamara Siler). The evening includes dramas, like Peter Wittenberg Jr.'s Chess Game Tuesday, a story about three old-timer buddies, one of whom stubbornly refuses to leave Galveston as the storm approaches. Two scripts are about the storm's effect on couples in trouble in the dark, including Eric James's Into the Storm and Leighza Walker's Pounds of Pressure. Among the comedies, Eric James's Night 4 is especially good; Dennis Draper and Chris Pool are hilarious as a couple who consider cohabiting after spending four consecutive nights together waiting for the power to come back on. The production features several directors and offers theater lovers a terrific opportunity to get in on more than one great find. Thunderclap Productions is a brand new company "dedicated to producing new theatrical works," according to the program, and the show is running at the recently opened Obsidian Art Space. This lively night of youthful excitement will blow you away. Through September 18. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak., 832-889-7837. – LW

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Last weekend, Bayou City Concert Musicals made an adorable, tuneful adaptation of Anita Loos's classic story of '20s gold diggers Lorelei Lee and best friend Dorothy Shaw, looking for love and as many diamonds as they can wear, not necessarily in that order. With this work, composer Jule Styne, Academy Award-winning lyricist Leo Robin, book writer Joseph Fields and Loos herself turned out one of the most distinctive, fun-loving shows of the late '40s. There's no moral core here, nor much period flavor, except for randomly dropped references to fads Moxie and Mahjong, but who cares? Lorelei (the incomparable Houston comic Carolyn Johnson), spurned by her jealous boyfriend, got to belt her anthem "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" wearing a sequin-glinted flapper dress, and outshined it. Krissy Richmond, as clever Dorothy, flashed those radiant gams during "I Love What I'm Doing" and enticed the audience to fall in love completely. The show itself was as light as an Astaire routine, thanks to director Paul Hope's ebullient touch and perfect casting. Kelly Burnett, as Dorothy's on again/off again love interest, proved himself made for the stage with his beautiful croon and easy, soft-shoe manner; Brad Goertz, as Lorelei's suspicious "daddy," made ballad "Bye Bye Baby" rhapsodic with his sonorous voice; and veteran Jimmy Phillips, as health nut Josephus Gage, stopped the show with his comic credo to fiber, "I'm a'tingle, I'm a'glow." And then there were those assorted crazies who stuffed the show with laughs: a bad modern dancer (Krysti Wilson Dailey), two goofy French detectives (Brian Hamlin and Mark Ivy) and a philandering millionaire with a battleaxe wife (Charles Bailey and Sylvia Froman). With Pat Padilla's flashy costumes, maestro Dominique Royem's bouncy tempos, Hugh Martin's intricate, original choral arrangements and the high-stepping choreography adapted by Krissy Richmond and Melissa Pritchett, what more could gentlemen, or ladies, prefer? For ten years, BCCM has produced an annual gem. With this new diamond in its crown, BCCM wears quite a sparkler. – DLG

Laura If any production in town is going to revive checkerboard flooring, orchids by the telephone, portraits in oil, opera gloves, and slugs of scotch, then it's Theatre Southwest, with its sophisticated take on Vera Caspary's iconic detective story. Laura (Courtney McManus), a chic and bright young career woman, has been murdered in her apartment, shot in the face. There are at least two probable suspects: Laura's fiery fiancé Shelby (Lance Marshall) and her former lover, acid-tongued columnist Waldo Lydecker (John Kaiser). Drawn into the life of this beautiful, mysterious girl, hard-boiled police detective Mark McPherson (Trevor Cone) begins to fall in love with her. At that moment, Laura appears, very much alive. Suddenly, there's a new mystery: Who killed the girl in the apartment? Now Laura is a suspect. There are other twists which shouldn't be revealed if you're unfamiliar with the story, but it's mighty clever in its spinning, and ultimately satisfying. Director Malinda Beckham keeps the pace taut and the lights low, and the cast is aptly filled out by Joel Frapart, as a young innocent in thrall to Laura, and Kathy Drum, as her intrepid cook Bessie. Although Cone is a bit soft for such a tough guy, his ordinariness works in his favor, and we're caught up in the story even if we never quite believe in him. As Waldo Lydecker, one of the most memorably immoral creations since Iago, Kaiser drips with sarcasm and smugness. Both precious and frightening, he's a writer who wounds with words, then keeps talking. Style is his armor, and Kaiser suits up as if going into battle. As Laura's misbehaving boyfriend, Marshall is all sexy sputter when reproached, and animal instinct when cornered. And as the "enigma of the modern woman," McManus -- a face new to us -- is as haunting as her portrait, thoroughly at ease within Waldo's society universe, yet utterly believable as innocent victim. Her actor's bio states that "she doesn't stay in one place for long," but we hope future roles will tempt her to linger upon Houston stages. She's one to watch. Through September 25. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. – DLG

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