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The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Hunchback Variations and More

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The latest effort from our "we will destroy you" friends at Catastrophic Theatre is The Hunchback Variations by by Mickle Maher (The Strangerer and Spirits to Enforce). It opens on Friday night for a four-week run.

In it, Quasimodo sits behind a table alongside Ludwig van Beethoven. They're on a panel trying to work out a special sound effect in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. And both are deaf. Greg Dean is the director/actor (Quasimodo) in and he admits it took him awhile to warm up to the script, which he read off and on over five years. "There was no hook."

But, he says, he began to see how great it could be (and reviews of other productions of this have been generally laudatory). "I grew to love it. You have two men, one fictional, one historical. Both dead, both deaf, discussing their failure to create a sound effect."

Jeff Miller plays Beethoven, and Dean notes that he's known Miller ever since they competed against each other in the one-act-play contest in high school. The entire running time of the play is 45 minutes and it consists of 11 different segments, between which there are blackouts. So audience members may think it's over rather quickly, but it's not. Dean, who's also doing the sets and props for this production ("I'm getting ready to prime the Quasimodo mask"), says they are still working on the music that's played throughout.

Yes, there's music the audience hears that Quasimodo and Beethoven supposedly can't. That's until the music stops at one point and Beethoven notices. Dean says he hasn't quite made a final decision as to whether Beethoven can hear something or "is it just an external manifestation of what's going on in their heads? I haven't really decided. I kind of like the idea that he can hear the music.

Who plays music at panel discussions?" Dean says a certain suspension of disbelief is called for. "We do have two dead men in the present day." He says both characters "are funny and ridiculous and poignant. It's one of those lovely pieces that manages to walk that line."

See The Hunchback Variations at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Through May 2. 1119 East Freeway. For information, call 713-522-2723 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. Pay-what-you-can.

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Two prominent Houston arts groups, the Apollo Chamber Players (2014 MasterMind Award winners) and Houston MET Dance (Houston Press Best of 2014, Best Dance Company), have joined forces for their first-ever collaborative effort this Friday. Each group is well-known for its efforts to produce entirely new art, so the event features fresh music and never-before-seen choreography.

There are two Italian folk music arrangements on the program. Other works will include Apollo-commissioned Fantasy on Bulgarian Rhythms by Karim Al-Zand, a faculty composer at Rice, and Splash of Indigo by Texas A&M composer Marty Regan. Apollo premiered the latter work at a concert earlier this season. "These pieces inspired us to think big and start our 20x2020 project," said Matt Detrick, Apollo's artistic director and a violinist. Apollo aims to have commissioned 20 new works by 2020. Guest choreographer Jessica Hendricks created a new work for the collaboration titled Clearly.

"Jess Hendricks's piece is very aggressive. It's athletic, it's gestural, but it also has a calming presence. She's always been someone to push the dancers and the envelope with choreographic choices," said Marlana Doyle, MET Dance's artistic director. "It was a challenge for her with the music; I said that she had to choose from the pieces that Apollo has done before. She put a really good suite together with these four pieces."

MET Dance Resident Choreographer Kiki Lucas restaged The Vessel for this performance. It's a piece that she originally choreographed to music by Ben Doyle. "That also is very athletic, physically demanding and technical. Both women use a lot of partnering, weight sharing and gestures. Everything has a purpose," Doyle said.

The Apollo musicians are excited to see their commissions put to a different use and received by a wider audience. The group has never worked with a dance company before. "It's great to be able to perform new music and have it choreographed. These pieces aren't originally written for dance, but they work very well," Detrick said. "This awesome combination of two art forms leads to a synergistic and exciting program."

The Apollo Chamber Players and MET Dance share the stage at 8 p.m. on Friday. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 832-487-7041 or visit metdance.org/events. $15 to $40.

Technically, the contraptions/artworks/creations rolling down Allen Parkway on Saturday for the 28th Annual Houston Art Car Parade are more than just cars. "As long as their creation rolls on wheels," said Jonathan Beitler, spokesperson for the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, when asked about the criteria for participation. "It needs to roll; it needs to be creative." Last year's entries included Hula Hoops and a contraption that appeared to be a cross between a TINKERTOY® and a hamster wheel.

"The mission of the Orange Show is to support the artists and everybody," said Beitler. "We award over $15,000 of prize money to various artists through a judging process. We promote arts for everyone, but we also give back to the arts through these awards."

This year's event is being held about a month earlier than usual. "We were looking to get this new weekend in April; it's much more comfortable this time of year," said Beitler. "The parade route opens to the public at 10 a.m.; people can come and see the cars as they're getting ready and talk with the artists. The cars line up essentially around Taft and Allen Parkway. At 11 a.m. we have live music on the Free Press Houston stage at Heiner Street. You can hear local bands before the parade; it's a good gathering spot. The Kids Zone [at Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby] has children's art activities and entertainment.

"The parade itself rolls at 2 p.m. and lasts until about 4 p.m. We do offer reserved seating for people who don't want to fight the crowds; it's $25 for adults and $15 for kids, in front of Sam Houston Park. We have about 260 entries this year," added Beitler. "Over half have never been in the parade; there's always something new."

The Art Car Parade rolls 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Allen Parkway at Bagby. For information, visit thehoustonartcarparade.com. Free to $25.

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On Saturday, history fans will get a unique experience at the Discover Houston Celebrity Tour with Mike Vance. Founder of Houston Arts and Media, a 2015 MasterMind Award winner, historian, filmmaker, comedian and a native Houstonian, Vance promises a lively two hours. "[We'll] be talking about the Allen Brothers and Sam Houston, Bowie knife fights, yellow fever, missionaries from the United States, hangings, duels, Mexican skulls, irate newspaper editors," he says. "We will also talk about Charlotte Allen, Houston's first lady of sorts; John James Audubon's visit; Mirabeau Lamar and his feud with Sam Houston. You know, the usual. It should be much fun."

The walking tour focuses on Houston as it was in 1837. Sadly, none of the buildings from that era remain standing. "It should be said in fairness that most of the buildings from that time period were pretty insubstantial affairs in the first place. One of our stops will be at Kessler's Round Tent Saloon, which wasn't even a building at all. We'll be going to the spots where [the buildings] stood and talking about the history that way. The hope is to give people an idea of what Houston was like for the first couple of years of its existence."

Vance suggests tour participants bring a camera, water and spending money; the tour starts at the Spaghetti Warehouse, where lunch is available, and Vance will have Houston Arts and Media books and DVDs for sale after the tour.

The tour starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Spaghetti Warehouse lobby bar, 901 Commerce. For information, visit 713-222-9255 or visit discoverhoustontours.com. $30.

On Sunday, the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra presents ROCO Unchambered: The Little Prince. The concert features longtime orchestra members violist Matt Dane and flutist Christina Jennings, both now based in Colorado. Dan Kellogg's "To Love a Flower," with original music based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's allegorical story The Little Prince, is the featured work of the program. "Dan Kellogg wrote 'To Love a Flower' for us earlier this year," says Dane. "It is a virtuosic piece...[that] features both open, spacious harmonies and soaring, dramatic lines between flute and viola." Also on the program is the Southwest premiere of "Nashani," a work for solo viola d'amore that Reena Esmail composed especially for Dane.

See The Little Prince at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 713-665-2700 or visit rocohouston.org. $25.

Margaret Downing, Alexandra Doyle and Susie Tommaney contributed to this post.

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