Capsule Stage Reviews: July 17, 2014

Brooklyn the Musical This musical has five lead characters, almost no choreography and a minimalist set. An orphaned 14-year-old girl from France named Brooklyn comes to Brooklyn to find the father she never knew, and her story unfolds, accompanied by songs. The production as intended uses recycled materials, so we have a ball gown made of newspapers, another one of red plastic drinking cups, another made of black trash bags and a gown made from tinfoil. These are witty, for the costumes are designed by Colton Berry, who also directed the musical. Brooklyn's father returned to his home in the United States, and her mother never heard from him again. Brooklyn is on a quest to find him, and has discovered a singing ability that leads her to Carnegie Hall, then to Madison Square Garden for a smack-down sing-off with Paradice, reigning musical diva. Hannah Miller plays Paradice and walks off with the show, with a big personality, self-confidence, a bravura style and the compelling vocal authority of a Tina Turner, all with a sassy, in-your-face attitude. Mallory Bechtel as Brooklyn is pretty and captures the sweetness and gentleness of an orphan, but fails to exude the requisite power that her great vocal gifts should bring. We see the child but not the diva. As Taylor, the father, Jake Frank conveys earnestness, creating an interesting character. As a street singer, Colton Berry is dynamic, sings beautifully and adds professional polish, despite being dressed in rags. The live band is excellent. There's enough theatrical magic here, and a drop-dead performance by Miller, to entice you into Bayou City Theatrics' attractive new space in downtown Houston for a most enjoyable evening. Through July 19. Kaleidoscope, 705 Main,— JJT

Godspell If there's any Broadway musical that's ripe material for A.D. Players, it's Stephen Schwartz's folksy story of Christ and His message, Godspell (1971). The fit is beyond reproach. In a glorious production bolstered by heartfelt performances, this Sunday school lesson masquerading as a musical explodes into one of their most satisfying shows in memory. It's simple and homespun, all hippie and feel-good, and you can almost smell the patchouli. This is a "let's put on a show" show, and we must believe that the actors, who use their actual first names for their characters, have just wandered onstage and started to play-act. That the pros at A.D. carry off such quaint pretense so completely and with such innocence is one of the marvels of this production. They are a happy, colorful tribe in their tennis shoes and counterculture garb. At any moment you expect them to burst into Hair. After some brief exposition, Act I heralds Jesus' arrival and showcases many of his parables. They're acted out either as a game of Pictionary or charades, or as comic sketches with the kids acting like sheep, goats, Pharisees, the good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son. The twee factor is fairly high, but the sincerity is genuine. And Schwartz's best music occurs here — John the Baptist's "Prepare Ye," ushered in by shofar; the uptempo "Learn Your Lessons Well;" the ragtime vaudeville "All For the Best;" and the show's No. 1 hit tune, the lilting "Day by Day." Act II goes much darker, since we know where the story is headed, as the show switches into biography of Christ's last days. "We Beseech Thee" and the haunting "On the Willows" capture the despairing mood, although Schwartz ineptly handles the Crucifixion. The passion is beyond him. The lyrics, "I'm bleeding, I'm dying, I'm dead," sung in high head tone, are terribly prosaic next to the Gospel's "It Is finished." Director Kevin Dean overlays the Bible lessons with an improvisational wash that the actors lap up. Each is his own character, while still being an integral part of the group. Although this show depends for its goodwill on its fine-tuned ensemble, I must mention five: Braden Hunt (who also did the exceptionally fluid, varied and inventive choreography) has unquenchable presence onstage; Stephanie Bradow possesses comic timing and vocal pipes; Jennifer Gilbert smolders like a good girl gone bad in "Turn Back, O Man;" Joey Watkins is a forceful but regular-guy Jesus; and reed-thin Daniel Miller, like Ray Bolger on a caffeine high, bounds all over the set, an old-time Broadway trooper. His is the new face to watch in the future. Robin Gillock's set design, a series of roughly constructed platforms that roll on casters, can be configured in many eye-catching ways, which allows the cast to drape themselves over, around and on top. It's their jungle gym. Donna Southern Schmidt's costumes are wonderfully loopy: a ballerina skirt, a mauve suit, bright leggings, a bit of Woodstock, T-shirt and jeans for Jesus. Together, it all works. Andrew Vance's precise lighting turns on a dime from bright new day to the steamy red temptation by a host of Satans. The Parables' message is simple: Love God, your neighbor, your enemy. There's elegance in that, as well as taking a lifetime of work to perfect. A.D. Players lets Schwartz's funky musical reveal its simplicity naturally. What moves us so powerfully is not so much his music, but His music. The cast sings both exceedingly well. Through August 24. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — 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