The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Sondheim, Beatles and Wine

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Santa wants to know whether you've been naughty or nice this year, but we think there's no wrong answer here. Embrace a little bit of both this weekend in Houston. We've got the rapping Witch in the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical mashup, Into The Woods, plus some naughty XXX-mas carols and reindeer at KiKi Maroon’s Burly Q Lounge. Judgment Day will come soon enough, and there's no better place to hear the trumpets signaling the opening of graves than at Jones Hall with the Houston Symphony. Round out the weekend with the best from the Beatles and a Christmas-themed winery tour.

The first thing you notice about Theatre Under The Stars' production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fairy tale musical mashup, Into The Woods, is its harmonious color. The palette chosen is so soothing to the eye, so complementary, that you wonder if you've ever seen such a scenically pulled-together show before. The costumes are based upon Ann Hould-Ward's originals, and I assume that Kevin Depinet's new set designs were tailored after these colorful marvels. The story is also terribly clever, as it takes off from the Brothers Grimm and flies on its own Broadway fizz. Using fairy-tale characters — Cinderella and her Prince, Jack, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf and an invented couple (the Baker and his Wife, who could have stepped out of any other children's story) — the musical slaps them together in a classic quest plot. And, naturally, there's a Narrator to lead us into “once upon a time...” Oh, and there's a witch, too. All good bedtime stories have a witch in them, or bad parents, or bad intentions, or little lies, or paths not taken. That's all here. The characters get their wishes fulfilled by the end of Act I. It's what happens next – the “ever after” part – that occupies Act II and is the show's meat. "Be careful what you wish for" is one of the show's major themes. The other swirling theme is what you've done to realize your dreams. Everybody finds himself or herself in the woods, that subliminal place where all universal kid stories eventually wind up, and people are changed forever. There are not always happy endings but, come what may, we can choose the end of our own story. Sondheim's in excellent voice in this show, skipping through the woods with a chic, contemporary jauntiness that is unlike his other musical works. There's never much sunshine throughout Sondheim, but Into the Woods, revamped under director Robert Longbottom, has more than its share of dappled light and reflected shade. It's the last weekend to catch this critic's pick, putting it on our list for Friday night.

8 p.m. Friday. Continuing 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Through December 18. The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $38.50 to $116.

They've mashed up Beatles tunes with traditional Christmas songs four years in a row and, instead of presenting The White Christmas Album 5, the talented performers over at The Music Box Theater have changed things up (albeit only slightly) when planning this year's A Very Beatles Holiday Concert. Using Beatles songs as inspiration — not as nutty an idea as you might imagine — these singing actors wrap us in cheer, good will, wintry nostalgia and goofy comedy, all while singing their hearts out. The great ones would be Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan, Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel. Per person onstage, the entertainment quotient is enough to populate any Ziegfeld show, three or more Andy Williams variety hours or a double-CD K-Tel reissue. Wrapped in incomparable musicality and beribboned in solid craftsmanship, this Fab 4/Fab 5 show is a gift you won’t return. Beatles and talent? Sounds like a win-win, making this our other recommendation for Friday night.

7:30 p.m. Friday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and December 21 and 26 (no performance Christmas Eve); 2 p.m. Sundays (no performance on Christmas). Through December 30. 2623 Colquitt. For information, call 713-522-7722 or visit themusicboxtheater.com. $27 to $37.

When things were down for George Frideric Handel — in debt, out of favor and damaged by a stroke — the resilient composer was able to bounce back. After a stint at a German spa, he returned to London, setting to work on new choral pieces depicting biblical subjects. His three-part Messiah was the toast of the town, telling the story of Jesus’s birth, his sufferings and all the drama of Judgment Day and resurrection, when the sound of the trumpet signals the opening of graves. The Houston Symphony presents these emotional, dramatic works in Handel’s Messiah with guest soloists Teresa Wakim, Jakub Józef Orlinski, Thomas Cooley and Kevin Deas. “They look yummy on paper because they have active careers as early music singers,” says Dr. Betsy Weber Cook, who directs the chorus. “Stylistically, I’m looking forward to brilliant performers.” The oratorios, with familiar compositions like “Ev’ry Valley” and the “Hallelujah” chorus, have become a seasonal mainstay. (Yes, expect to stand during this part.) We're looking forward to this holiday favorite, too, making the Houston Symphony one of our selections for Saturday night.

8 p.m. Saturday. Also 8 p.m. December 16, 2:30 p.m. December 18. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $29 to $130.

KiKi Maroon’s Burly Q Lounge is hot, hot, hot, and the burlesque beauties are theming up this month's show for the holidays. Rumor has it that Roxxy Reckless will be performing her stripping Krampus act during HO HO HOliday VarieTEASE. On the nice side, they've arranged for pictures with Santa, but it's the naughty side that keeps things spicy. Look for cheeky Christmas carols (wink, wink), naughty reindeer showgirls, comedy by Owen Dunn and amazing body painting courtesy of the very talented artists at RCC Creations. Imaginary friend and clown Rex T. Impossible does a hilarious, silent movie stand-up act, and Maroon is both host and emcee for the evening, which includes racy tunes by "Luxurious Songstress and Fascinatrix" Bianca Karina Montalvo and the smokin' hot Remy Martini. Shows often sell out, and they're no longer selling standing room only tickets, so get your sizzle on this Saturday night in Houston.

8 p.m. Saturday. Warehouse Live, 813 Saint Emanuel. For information, call 713-225-5483 or visit kikimaroon.com. $25.

In preparing for holiday festivities, there is no reason to stress about finding the perfect wine. Simply take a trip to Bryan for Messina Hof’s Christmas Cellar Tour, which offers an opportunity to taste four varieties of wine straight from the tanks and barrels. Although the family-owned business hosts a cellar tour most Saturdays, this particular event features a favorite holiday classic — mulled wine. “The tradition behind mulled wine actually dates back to the Roman Empire,” said Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo, chief executive officer and son of winery founders Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo. “You warm up the wine. You add a little bit of brown sugar. You put in the spice bag, and you let it steep.” Messina Hof spice bags, he adds, are available for purchase. A nice road trip to the country this Sunday means your holiday shopping is complete.

5 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 p.m. December 17. 4545 Old Reliance, Bryan. For information, call 1-800-736-9463 or 979-778-9463, extensions 234 or 223, or visit messinahof.com. $25.

Sam Byrd, D.L. Groover and Lawrence Elizabeth Knox contributed to this post.

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