Capsule Stage Reviews: Hairspray, Ghost, Sleuth,

Hairspray In set, music and performance, this show is, perhaps, the most exuberantly exciting musical Theatre Under the Stars has produced in seasons. It never stops moving. The ersatz '60s rock and roll score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and the electrifying cast keep us bopping in our seats. But while the production is beyond reproach, the show is terribly ordinary. Okay, so it ran on Broadway for six and a half years and won eight Tony Awards (!), which would be a complete mystery except that the other nominees for 2003 included Urban Cowboy and A Year With Frog and Toad. But how could a musical compete with the original 1988 John Waters movie, which is so unblushingly weird and unique? The Waters is wrung right out of the story, about integration at a Baltimore TV station's dance party, similar to American Bandstand. It wouldn't offend your racist Aunt Mable. There's no grit – instead, it's forced and predictable. The performers are top-notch, however, and far surpass the lame material. Katrina Rose Dideriksen, who's played rotund Tracy Turnblad on Broadway and on tour, is a fireplug of energy, and there's not a trace of autopilot about her performance, which is a great compliment. Austin Miller (handsome Link, the leading dancer on the fictional TV show, whom Tracy loves from afar) sings like a dream, moves like Jerry Lee Lewis, and is poured into his sharkskin suit. Paul Vogt brings charm and wicked wit to Edna. Look for Houston theater veterans Susan O. Koozin and Jimmy Phillips, playing multiple characters, who are having a much better time than we are. The show spritzes by without a trace of remembrance, content to be edgy by edging Edna's red chiffon with marabou. Through October 17. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887. – DLG

Ghost Incest, sexually transmitted diseases, bribing the clergy ­— all this bad behavior and more are part of the drama of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, the latest offering from Classical Theatre Company. The late 19th-century tale focuses on a dysfunctional family trying to carry on despite the fact that they're all haunted by the sins of the now-dead father. The philanderer left his wife Mrs. Alving depressed (Christianne Mays) and his son Osvald lonely and sick (Matthew Keenan). He also left enough money to fund a home for orphans, which is what brings the handful of characters who make up this small drama together. We meet the group just before the orphanage opens to the public, with mother, son and a minister named Manders (Philip Lehl) planning for the big day. A low-life workman named Engstrand (Kent Johnson) and his daughter Regina (Blair Knowles) are also on hand to stir up trouble. Along the way, these characters make some wicked revelations — they have a lot of baggage and a lot of tainted history. It's a dark and unseemly tale, but it all looks absolutely gorgeous on Matthew Schlief's stunning white-on-white set. Schlief's minimalist take on a Norwegian country estate is reason enough to buy a ticket to this show. Also good is Lehl's disarming performance. He brings a vibrant and truthful urgency to the stage every time he walks out. As directed by John Johnston, the production is sometimes a little stiff – Mays and Knowles are especially careful in their very Victorian delivery and posture. But the show moves surprisingly quickly, despite the fact that the first act is more than 80 minutes long. And Ibsen still manages to shock, even in the 21st century. Through October 17. Talento Bilingue De Houston, 333 South Jenson Dr. , 713-963-9665. – LW  

Sleuth Anthony Shaffer's Tony-winning mystery/thriller is the perfect work for a pre-Halloween chill. Nothing is what it seems here, and you laugh along with the inventiveness even when you're goose-pimply. Arrogant English mystery writer Andrew Wyke (a perfect Steve Fenley) is cuckolded by his wife and her lover Milo (an equally perfect Tom Long). Andrew, who says he doesn't love his wife anymore, convinces Milo to break into the house, steal some jewelry, and pawn the loot. Andrew will collect the considerable insurance, while Milo makes off to France with a tidy sum — and a new wife. A perfect crime. Of course, we know there's no such thing, thanks to Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Alfred Hitchcock. Shaffer's witty plot zips along, always keeping at least a few nimble feet ahead of us, and it's fun to be frightened — and even more fun to be fooled. Pompous and smug, Andrew is so sure of himself, we know something will go wrong, and Fenley eats him up like caviar with champagne. He salivates with such words as "mullions" and "unguents," turning Andrew's arch phrases into gothic flying buttresses. He's like a despicable, dangerous Sheridan Whiteside. Fenley's worthy opponent in these deadly games is Long, who, by his own magical acting powers, turns the character of milquetoast Milo into a real person. We know how amazing Fenley is as an actor, so it's a pleasure to see Long equal him. They play back and forth with the finely honed finesse of tennis pros. (Long was a definitive "Tom" in Texas Rep's Glass Menagerie a few seasons back, but he dropped off the Houston radar. It's awfully good to have him back.) The Texas Rep production is ultra-stylish, with an adroit set design — all black-and-white chessboard — by Jesse Dreikosen, and director Craig Miller keeps the action nice and taut. The cast is fleshed out by Jamie Geiger (Inspector Doppler), Glenn Spencer (Detective Tarrant) and Joshua Estrada (Constable Higgins). It won't spoil anyone's fun to say that these three are so good and so thoroughly enmeshed into the story, you hardly notice them. Jolly good job, and jolly good show. Through October 17. 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573. — DLG

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