Stage Notes

At a recent reception honoring playwright Tony Kushner at the Omni Houston Hotel, Alley Theatre Artistic Director Gregory Boyd smiled when he was asked if -- given the strength of the Alley's recently announced upcoming season -- he was pushing for the Tony Award for best regional theater. "What do I care about the Tonys?" he replied in a charmingly dismissive manner. "The Tonys are becoming so ludicrous."

Then Boyd, ever the politic individual, noted that as far as he was concerned every season is a strong one at the Alley.

Well, maybe. But next year's bill does look particularly interesting. Continuing to foster its relationship with Tony Kushner, the Alley will open its season with the Southwest premiere of Kushner's latest work, Slavs! (Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness), with Michael Wilson directing. In January, Vanessa Redgrave and her London-based Moving Theatre will co-produce Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, with Redgrave herself starring as the Egyptian queen. The Alley is also in negotiations to mount the Southwestern premieres of both Horton Foote's 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Young Man from Atlanta (Peter Masterson, who directed the New York production, and whose early career was given a boost by the Alley, would be at the helm) and the current off-Broadway hit Death Defying Acts, a series of comedic one-acts by Woody Allen, David Mamet and Elaine May.

Houston Children's Chorus and Spring Branch Girls Choir were all smiles a few weeks ago. They deserved to be; the clearly thrilled lot were adorable as they sang, danced and even toted a prop or two in the Houston leg of the NationsBank Broadway Series tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Proud parents weren't the only ones won over by the kids. As Joseph's exuberant chorus, the 40 or so fourth- to eighth-graders were a treat in a show bounding with treats. Sam Harris, as Joseph, was billed as the feature attraction, but Kristine Fraelich, as the narrator, turned out to be the real star. She recounted the biblical tale like the kind of bemused, with-it teacher boys get crushes on and girls look up to. Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice when they were mere lads, Joseph has always been charming (with Elvis as Pharaoh how could it not be?), but this production -- the best I've seen, and I've seen many -- made it joyous. It was by far the most imaginative, enlivening, fun -- even touching -- bigtime musical to come to Houston in years. -- Peter Szatmary

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Peter Szatmary