When Vanessa Sonon was a kid, her dad liked listening to music when they were traveling, but “he would only listen to the oldies,” she said. Turns out that stood her in good stead after she was cast in the Theatre Under the Stars production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe with the show’s concentration on the legendary work of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in rock and roll classics like “Hound Dog,” “Kansas City,” “Love Potion #9” and “Stand By Me.” The musical is our pick for Friday.
This is the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Broadway opening of the musical revue, which went on to grab a Tony Award nomination and a Grammy Award with its 39 songs (and a lot of dancing by its nine-member cast). Choreographer Michelle Gaudette is making her TUTS directorial debut with the show and said they auditioned players in New York (Sonon), Los Angeles and Houston. The show, which originally was based on specific actors who starred in it, needs certain types, she says, so as actors walked in through the TUTS audition door, the initial discernment process could go pretty quickly. Gaudette says that still left her three layers deep in actors who could sing, dance and act, but she was very happy that she got all of her first choices.
Sonon (Broadway: Emma understudy in Anything Goes, Lady of the Lake understudy in Spamalot) said when growing up in a small Pennsylvania farming town, she would have given anything to hear Broadway performers. That’s why she’s so impressed Smokey Joe’s Cafe will be presented for free at Miller Outdoor Theatre. “Rock and roll will never die. To hear a real voice live is wonderful,” she said. Especially when they’re singing classics like “Jailhouse Rock.”
8:15 p.m. daily. Through July 19. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Circle. For information, call 281-823-9103 or visit milleroutdoortheatre.com. Free.
Michael Horvath's 3-D work T.M.S. Republic of Texas won first place in the Archway Gallery’s “Seventh Annual Juried Exhibition,” one of our picks for Saturday. Gus Kopriva, this year’s juror, is owner of the Kopriva Collection of more than 1,800 works; he has owned Redbud Gallery since 1999 and has curated more than 150 exhibitions.
“What I look for in art is a combination of works that I haven’t seen before, technique that I haven’t seen before and subject matter that’s interesting to me,” Kopriva said when asked about his judging criteria. “And, above all, talent and quality in the execution of the piece.” “It’s tough jurying these shows because it’s like getting up Christmas morning and opening presents; you never know what you’ll find,” Kopriva said. “At almost every show, there’s a gem that pops out and really rings a person’s bell.
“Artists are passionate about their work, and, like anybody else, they want people to see and recognize what they do. That’s what the show is for — creating something, then getting somebody else’s opinion about it,” said Kopriva.
An open-themed show, the series, which began in 2009, the annual juried exhibition helps broaden opportunities for artists while also supporting local nonprofit organizations. This year’s beneficiary is Young Audiences of Houston, which promotes arts education for children and ongoing professional development for teachers.
Regular viewing hours for the "Seventh Annual Juried Exhibition" are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Through July 29. 2305 Dunlavy. For information, call 713-522-2409 or visit archwaygallery.com. Free.
The story of a turn-of-the-century serial bigamist, a smooth-talking dandy with a talent for exploiting women, made headlines in England when it was discovered that three of his wives had been drowned in the bathtub. Though he was hanged in 1915, protesting his innocence, the sensationalism surrounding the alleged crimes was enough to inspire Canadian playwright Beth Graham, along with Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic, to write The Drowning Girls. Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company presents the professional regional premiere of this sordid tale and it's one of our picks for Saturday.
“[George Smith did it] for the insurance money. It was a big court case,” said Jennifer Decker, artistic director of Mildred’s Umbrella, who is producing the piece, while John Harvey directs. The case was a turning point in British legal history because it allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence of other crimes.
The women were all healthy and should have been able to put up a struggle; it has been speculated that Smith used Svengali-like hypnotism to mesmerize his victims. In the play, the women are in a type of purgatory and tell their respective stories. “They’re sort of reliving the story of what happened to them, over and over again. In between the worlds,” said Decker. “These girls are extremely strong actresses, and they’re all probably doing ten accents each — all of these different characters that they have to become at the drop of a hat.”
In addition to playing other characters, they also take turns portraying the murderer. “They all play him at some point,” said Decker. “It’s very creepy when it happens.”
See The Drowning Girls at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. July 26; 8 p.m. July 27. Through August 1. 1824 Spring. For information, call 832-463-0409 or visit mildredsumbrella.com. $20.
Double Indemnity: (1) A life insurance policy where the insurer pays double in case of accidental death. (2) A Hollywood film noir based on lust and betrayal. For Sunday, we suggest you go with Double Indemnity Billy Wilder's Hollywood film noir classic starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.
Austrian émigré Wilder arrived in Hollywood in 1933 and made quite a splash at Paramount as bon vivant and wit, co-writing such continental hits as Midnight, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife and Ninotchka. After his string of box-office successes, the front office agreed to his demands to direct his own work. His third picture as writer and director, the 1944 Double Indemnity , nominated for seven Academy Awards, cemented his place as one of Paramount’s most distinctive filmmakers.
Using James M. Cain’s original hard-boiled story of femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson luring sap insurance salesman Walter Neff to kill her husband and run away with her, Wilder and co-writer Raymond Chandler deliver the plot’s clever twists and sexy double entendres with tawdry glee. Shot in actual locations around Los Angeles, cinematographer John Seitz’s pearly interiors (Venetian blind shadows add as much to the grimy atmosphere of rot and indecency as does Barbara Stanwyck’s sleazy blond wig) and blinding exteriors keep us trapped in the contracting spider web. Future beloved TV dad (My Three Sons) and Disney star (The Shaggy Dog, Absent-Minded Professor) Fred MacMurray, who up to that time was known for his roles in light, romantic comedies, had to be wooed by Wilder to play love-besotted killer Neff. He never had a greater role.
Under Wally Westmore’s glamorously cheesy makeup, Stanwyck, in her tight Edith Head sweaters, is deliciously low-rent, flinging about those shapely gams as just reward. She channels her early, pre-Code roles from Ladies of Leisure and Baby Face, whereby her characters swiftly ascend by lowering their standards.
See Double Indemnity at 2 and 7 p.m. July 19, 20 and 22. Showing in various Houston-area movie theaters. For information, visit fathomevents.com. $8 to $10.
We love the Annual Houston World Series of Dog Shows, though maybe not for the usual reasons as most dog lovers. We like the over-the-top attitude some humans have regarding their canine companions. (For a prime example of the unbridled enthusiasm we enjoy , see the picture above.)
The show is our pick for Sunday and to be honest, we have a confession to make. Several years ago, while chaperoning a bunch of kids at a previous dog show, we ate dog food. Not a lot, just a couple of tidbits, but yes, we ate dog food.
A salesperson at a booth was touting his brand of dog food as the most delicious, sure to satisfy any pup. “How can you tell it’s delicious?” we innocently (and rather stupidly, come to think of it) asked him. “I’ve tried it!” he said. Of course, someone in the crowd called for him to prove it, and he said he would happily eat some if an audience member would join him. Certain he was bluffing, we volunteered. Turned out he wasn’t bluffing. He swallowed a handful of dry dog food, and we kept our part of the bargain and tasted a few nibbles. It wasn’t bad. It was also the highlight of the show for the kids we were chaperoning.
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We’ve looked for that salesperson at every show since then and haven’t ever found him again. (No doubt some health ordinance prevents humans from eating dog food on public property or some other such nonsense.)
The moral of the story is that the 38th Annual Houston World Series of Dog Shows has something for everyone. There are purebreds prancing in competitions, mutts playing Frisbee, show dogs getting primped, puppies kissing anyone they can get close to and vendors selling an array of dog-related products from food to clothing. (Oh, and if you see the dog-food-eating guy during your visit, please let us know.)
The 38th Annual Houston World Series of Dog Shows runs 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. NRG Center, 8400 Kirby. For information, visit houstondogshows.com. Admission is free to $15. Parking is additional.
Margaret Downing, D. L. Groover and Alexandra Doyle contributed to this post.