Season's Greetings

One of the best things about fall is the brand-new season of shows blooming across H-town. This year five major venues -- from the much-revered Alley Theatre to the funky Infernal Bridegroom Productions -- have put together rosters of shows that will make anyone who loves the stage sing. Here are a few of the highlights.

In early September, the Alley gets going with a return engagement of the wonderfully hysterical ¡Cantinflas!, Herbert Siguenza's Spanish/English tribute to Mexican comic Mario Moreno. The show ran here last year to rave reviews and delighted both Spanish- and English-speaking audiences. Siguenza is staying on this year, bringing with him Culture Clash in AmeriCCa, performed by Siguenza's three-member comedy troupe, Culture Clash. The irreverent group of clowns has been called "The Marx Brothers meets the Rolling Stones -- minus the drugs and the bushy eyebrows." The Alley will follow their September launch with a whole slew of equally promising productions, including two plays by Arthur Miller, After the Fall and The Crucible, and Steve Martin's Underpants, about a housewife who loses her undies.

Downstairs on the Neuhaus Stage, the Alley will open with Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's The Exonerated, named best play of the year by Time magazine. Using real-life interviews, the work tells the stories of six individuals who spent years on death row after being wrongly convicted of murder. Another offering, Bryony Lavery's Tony-nominated Frozen, weaves together the stories of a mother, a kidnapper and an academic studying serial killers -- and Show Business has said it's "so compelling that even when you want to look away you can't."

Over at Stages Repertory Theatre, many of this season's shows are regional premieres, and most promise plenty of laughs. Opening the season is Brian Stewart's Castro's Beard. The New York Times called the Red Scare-era story about four CIA bureaucrats' brainstorming ways to assassinate Fidel Castro (one idea involves exploding cigars) "mordant, irreverent comedy" that's "timely and thought- provoking." Also on the roster: Polish Joke, a comedy about identity written by ex-Guggenheim fellow David Ives. Apparently light-bulb jokes do abound, but even so, the play's been called "furiously funny" by New York magazine. Closing the season is the great Paula Vogel's hilarious and campy Mineola Twins, a play about two polar-opposite identical twins -- one's a conservative, the other's a radical lesbian.

Main Street Theater brings Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential in November. Ayckbourn, who's been called "England's master of theatrical wit," takes on television in this satire that imagines a future where actors are actually computer-generated "actoids." Every new year, Main Street features a musical, and this season's is Promises, Promises by Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach -- expect to hear such Bacharach standards as "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." And the season ends with a play from the astonishing Tom Stoppard. On the Razzle, about small-town folks who embark on a raucous bender in Vienna, has been called "eminently silly and entirely satisfying."

Theatre Under the Stars starts off its series of musicals with a return to the '60s. Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot's Hair rocked Broadway when it opened at the Biltmore Theater in 1968. But its messages about war and peace are wonderfully timely, and the show's songs, such as "The Age of Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In," are unforgettable. TUTS's season also includes a 30-year anniversary production of the Tony Award-winning A Chorus Line, with music by Marvin Hamlisch. At 6,137 performances, the show was one of the longest-running Broadway musicals ever. Telling the personal stories of performers auditioning for a show, the musical features songs such as "One" and "What I Did for Love."

Infernal Bridegroom Productions has decided not to announce its season, preferring to stay more "flexible," but we do know they're bringing in an Austin theater company called Gypsy Baby at the end of September. Their show will feature original work by the company, as well as music by IBP's artistic director Anthony Barilla. IBP is also planning to bring back Brian Jucha, who wrote and directed the astonishing We Have Some Planes. And the company will open Night Just Before the Forests, a highly experimental one-sentence monologue by Bernard-Marie Koltes, at DiverseWorks in late May. If such a show doesn't appeal, not to worry: This Houston season brings performances both traditional and edgy, with everything in between.

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Lee Williams