Fairy Tales Get a Scrumptious Musical Makeover in Happily Ever at the Box from Music Box Theater

The set-up:

Fairy tale archetypes get a scrumptious musical makeover from our favorite cabaret troupe, The Music Box Theater.

The execution:

The best news about MBT's latest show is the arrival of the delectable Kristina Sullivan, who joins the ultra-talented quartet already in place (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, and Luke Wrobel). A recent émigré from the duly lamented Masquerade Theatre, from where the founding Music Box four have hailed, she brings her radiant soprano, irrepressible comic chops, and unalloyed stage presence to round out the mix. She's like the butter added into the Bearnaise to give it sheen and body. A more tasty pat of butter is hard to find. Welcome home, we say, let's cook.

In the tradition of their former shows, Music Box interlaces a little plot -- here a mélange of fairy tale types: princess, prince, wicked queen, godmother, narrator -- with a wide array of songs to augment the story or delve deeper into the sketch-like characters. It's silly and fun, and when they open their mouths to sing we're blown away, as usual, with the polish and precision that these fabulous pros happily supply to any song. As my guest said to me at intermission, is there anything they can't sing? In a word, no. They sail through jazz, pop, and rock and roll with equal finesse and an unfailing theatrical style that is one-of-a-kind. Since this is a group effort, everybody gets to shine. It's a continuous kaleidoscope, sparkling into facets as one showstopping performance follows another. It's a rare, wonderful display of musical and dramatic talent.

As the modern princess, "one of the 99 percent," Taylor doesn't want to be saved. Strong and independent, she exudes feisty charm, bringing sass to her beautifully sung ballad "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, and a whole lot of heart to the overlooked "Sing Sweet Nightingale" from Cinderella. As the enchanted Prince who was once a frog, Scarborough has leading-man looks and the goofy ability to spoof himself. He does a spirited Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," as a tribute to his amphibious friend Jeremiah. Dahl vamps as the disbelieving evil stepmother type, and raises the roof with the Animals' hit "Please Don't Let Me be Misunderstood." In her lilac wings, Sullivan flits about as the deconstructed Fairy Godmother, spreading unworldly cheer. "I love to skip," she smiles warmly, and then soars into a haunting rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," to calm the Princess's fears. It's this mix of old and new, standards and rock, that Music Box puts over with such classy finesse.

Wrobel, he of the cool variety, as in Sinatra-cool, plays the stuffy narrator like he's on vacation from Masterpiece Theatre. Ironic and witty, he anchors the revue as he recites this troupe's fractured fairy tale. His resonant baritone is on better display than ever, as he swings through "The Lady Is a Tramp" and then digs deep into Randy Newman's "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today." This ballad, which Wrobel delivers with simple sincerity, sears the soul. Nobody brings such feeling to a song and renders us so weepy as Wrobel. He fills this number with absolute integrity, along with the rich emotional timbre of his voice and his impeccable diction, which hits the sweet spot.

All five actors are performers of the highest caliber, at the pinnacle of vocal command, and their ease on stage -- and utter happiness to be there entertaining us -- is the show's drawing card. It's difficult to beat their infectious camaraderie.

Pulling it all together is the jazzy quartet led by music director Glenn Sharp, lead guitarist Mark McCain, bass guitarist Long Le, and percussionist Donald Payne. These guys swing, too.

The verdict:

From the musical sampler that also includes such disparate works by Sara Bareilles ("Fairytale"), Queen ("Somebody to Love"), Dion ("Runaround Sue"), Disney ("Bibbidi Bobbity Boo"),The Rolling Stones ("You Can't Always Get What You Want") and Beatles ("Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da"), the fab five at Music Box Theater weave a quilt whose quality is unparalleled. Wrap yourself up in it, you won't want to let go.

Fairy tales get a rollicking musical deconstruction Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday matinees through October 13 at Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. Purchase tickets online at the company website or call 713-522-7722. $25-$35.

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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