TUTS Underground was one of the more interesting experiments Theatre Under the Stars ever did. All of a sudden Zilkha Hall, the smaller theater space within the Hobby Center, was being used a lot more and its edgy musicals drew appreciative and often younger audiences. And a lot of local actors were getting jobs.
But when TUTS said goodbye to Artistic Director Bruce Lumpkin in May 2016 and replaced him with Artistic Advisor Sheldon Epps, the second stage showings were abandoned. TUTS Underground director Marley Singletary (then known as Marley Wisnoski) left when Lumpkin did and now has re-emerged in a new setting: a state of the art Queensbury Theatre.
Her mission: to firmly move Queensbury Theatre from its community theater moorings (it was previously known as Country Playhouse in its 60-year history), employ mostly local talent and to bring a blend of new and more generally-recognized works to the west side of Houston. All of which is more than appropriate given the magnificent new theater building Queensbury opened last year.
One of the first things the new new Executive Director and Artistic Director at Queensbury did was to dive into the TUTS Underground playlist for Striking 12, a haunting modern take on the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Little Match Girl in a musical about lost souls on New Year’s Eve. (It won Best Lighting and was a finalist for Best Musical and Best Director in the 2016 Houston Theater Awards.)
"The Alley has the Christmas Carol; the ballet does The Nutcracker and I really loved the show more than I thought I would and the audiences responded very well to it and loved the show. We thought at the time, wow, this might be something we could bring back every year. Things turned out differently.
"It was always a hope of mine to bring the show back to Houston. It ran for a very short time."
And although Singletary said it's very important to Queensbury and her to hire locally, because they were putting the show on quickly they went with the three actors from New York who had done it before. "But everyone else is local."
“What I found is with TUTS Underground we definitely have the market for this sort of theater and the audiences who want to see it. We're going to continue to cultivate those audiences."
Singletary thinks the brand of theater they are bringing in will be perfect in the 250-seat Queensbury space.
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"We've kind of re-charted our vision and we want to do primarily new works and works that haven't been done too much in Houston. Our space is intimate and provides a great environment for doing those newer, smaller musical works. We'll also do straight plays but right now we're going to focus on doing a season of four musicals this year."
She plans to build slowly,; they have a second show Unlock'd scheduled for February, but don't want to get ahead of themselves. Two more shows are planned, but haven't been revealed yet. "One is a newer piece that's never been done in Houston before and the other one is a brand new musical — this will be the world premiere — and features writers from New York and Boston," she said.
"Now at Queensbury there's a very supportive board and a group of patrons who are excited about this kind of work and want to see it done," Singletary said. "We are a professional theater company. That's what we are now and that's what we'll be going forward."
Performances of Striking 12 are scheduled for December 15-23 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday at Queensbury Theatre, 12777 Queensbury Lane in CityCenter. For information, call 713-467-4497 or visit queensburytheatre.org. $22-$47.