Capsule Stage Reviews: Frozen, Jersey Boys, The Magic Flute, Young and Fertle

Frozen The "Arctic frozen sea" of a pedophile's mind lies at the chilly center of Bryony Lavery's smart, mesmerizing Frozen. The play about a child killer and his victim's raging mother was so affecting when it opened on Broadway in 2004, it was nominated for several Tony Awards, including Best Play. Thanks to Theater LaB Houston and director Ed Muth, Houstonians can now see what the excitement is all about. Told in a series of short monologues and scenes, the three-character story takes place over several decades, beginning with the abduction of a ten-year-old English child named Rhona. Her loss sends her mother Nancy (Andrea Hyde) into years of hand-wringing hope followed by seemingly endless grief. On the other side of the stage sits Ralph (Alan Heckner), a walking, talking nightmare. But he is fascinating. He describes his encounters with children on the street as if he were some sexy rogue stalking a singles bar, able to lure prepubescent girls with a lovely, low "hello." Finally, there's Agnetha (Julie Boneau), an American psychiatrist who specializes in serial killers. She argues that the brains of serial killers are wired differently from everyone else's, the result of head injuries and psychological abuse. They're not evil, they're ill; and difficult as it may be, they deserve some compassion. Technically, this production is a mess, and some of the performances feel a little off. But the production is still worthwhile — in fact, it's the hottest show of the season. Through February 9. Theater LaB, 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — LW

Jersey Boys Jersey Boys, the 2006 Tony Award winner for Best Musical brought here by Broadway Across America, is a jukebox musical with a raft of solid gold hits to glean — the whole Four Seasons catalog. This treasure trove of nostalgia is one reason the show strikes such a resonant chord with audiences. Just hearing "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" or "Walk Like a Man" will zip baby boomers magically back to their youth. Instead of plopping songs into a plot that was never intended to hold them, book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice use the songs to dexterously tell the group's story. What could be simpler? With some poetic license, the songs fit in the order they were recorded and overlap with the story of the Four Seasons. When it works best, it reveals character as it propels the narrative, as when Frankie's marriage breaks up and he sings "My Eyes Adored You." All four members of the group narrate the story, adding pieces to each other's puzzle. It's essentially Frankie Valli's story, but everybody gets an equal say, and this cohesion among the guys is an unwritten theme of the show, as are loyalty and keeping your word to your buddies. Director Des McAnuff, who's led the show since its inception at California's La Jolla Playhouse, keeps it smartly moving with a Top 40 sleekness. Nothing is allowed to slow down, least of all the spirited, pre-boy band moves stylishly choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. And the four Boys — Erik Bates, Steve Gouveia, Andrew Rannells and Christopher Kale Jones — are outstanding. Musical theater just doesn't get any better. Through February 9. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-629-3700. — DLG

The Magic Flute Mozart's final opera, which premiered only two months before his untimely death, has something for everyone, which accounts for its enduring popularity. In The Magic Flute (1791), Pamina, daughter of the evil Queen of the Night, has been kidnapped by Sarastro, high priest of the forces of Light and Goodness. The Queen commands prince Tamino to rescue her with the help of an enchanted flute and wastrel bird-catcher Popageno. After numerous trials and setbacks, the couple is united in love, and the forces of darkness are destroyed. Kids love its fairy-tale, good-versus-evil adventure; grownups like the splendid melodies and subtext of honor and duty. But nobody likes the convoluted, protracted libretto. HGO does Mozart no honor in a sloppy mounting of David Hockney's production, which could have benefited from more lighting rehearsals. The layers of borders and flats, resembling a child's illustrated pop-up book, look cheesy. Every wrinkle shows, dispelling the illusion of perspective. Maestro Steven Sloane needs another rehearsal, too, if only to wake him up. What a lugubrious take on Mozart's most accessible score. Where's the magic? At least the singing keeps things interesting, especially sonorous baritone David Hockney as simple, pleasure-loving Popageno; high-flying soprano Albina Shagimuratova as the evil Queen of the Night; sweet soprano Rebekah Camm as stalwart Pamina; and the deep, rumbling bass Raymond Aceto as priestly Sarastro. Through February 9. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-228-6737. — DLG

Young and Fertle If you think the goofy Fertle family of Dumpster, Texas, is hilarious enough in the present, you should see them back in the day. In this installment, the 20th Sentral High School Reunion sends the loons time-tripping into their past, which is just as screwy and dysfunctional as their lives today. If you're new to Radio Music Theatre — and just what has taken you so long? — you don't need to know the backstory to appreciate the nonstop nuttiness, since the witty script by Steve Farrell fills in the blanks. Of course, if you're already a committed Fertle Head, the extra details just make the show funnier. The three actors who play all the characters (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills) are at the top of their form, and their glee is as infectious as ever. In the old days, Justicena and Bridgette were already bitch-fighting; Lou was as clueless as ever; sweet, dumb Earl found a friend in sweet, dumb Special Ed; Doc Moore couldn't be understood any better than he is now; greaser Braxton Hix continued his mischief; fey Curtis Miller dreamed of wearing a uniform; and Michael (who's never seen) spent all his time in the boy's bathroom with Bruce Nelly, much to the chagrin of Justicena, who carried a torch for him that would light up west Texas. Well, it certainly would light up Clem, Texas, next door to Dumpster, because only Clem lived there. It doesn't get any funnier — or smarter — than the Fertle family and their bizarre neighbors. Through May 10. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

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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
Lee Williams