The restaurant is dim and empty; you have arrived too early for a late dinner. A dark-skinned young man in a pressed white shirt shows you to a table far away from the stage. Halfway through your baba ghanoush or hummus appetizer, a stoic-faced band begins to play Middle Eastern music, although it's clear they are not playing for you. Around 10:30 p.m., limousines begin to pull up outside the door, depositing dark-suited businessmen and their handsome offspring, or protégés, or girlfriends. They double-kiss each other as they file past to the tables surrounding the stage. They drink from special bottles of water and smoke from ornate hookahs -- neither of which has been offered to you. Gathering more and more energy, they clap to the rhythm of the music and shout greetings across the room. The owner of the restaurant sings a song and then shakes hands knowingly with the patrons. Finally Veronica rushes to the stage in a blur of gold sequins and mesh. She shakes her stomach muscles and undulates her abdomen, letting her long, curly hair fall over her face like a soft-core porn star. The dark-suited businessmen and their handsome companions put money in Veronica's clothes. You strain to see. You want to be closer to the action, enveloped in the moment, invited to join this club that hints at wealth and family and sex and foreign lands. But you realize that you are lucky just to be sitting where you are, a fly on the wall.

The restaurant is dim and empty; you have arrived too early for a late dinner. A dark-skinned young man in a pressed white shirt shows you to a table far away from the stage. Halfway through your baba ghanoush or hummus appetizer, a stoic-faced band begins to play Middle Eastern music, although it's clear they are not playing for you. Around 10:30 p.m., limousines begin to pull up outside the door, depositing dark-suited businessmen and their handsome offspring, or protégés, or girlfriends. They double-kiss each other as they file past to the tables surrounding the stage. They drink from special bottles of water and smoke from ornate hookahs -- neither of which has been offered to you. Gathering more and more energy, they clap to the rhythm of the music and shout greetings across the room. The owner of the restaurant sings a song and then shakes hands knowingly with the patrons. Finally Veronica rushes to the stage in a blur of gold sequins and mesh. She shakes her stomach muscles and undulates her abdomen, letting her long, curly hair fall over her face like a soft-core porn star. The dark-suited businessmen and their handsome companions put money in Veronica's clothes. You strain to see. You want to be closer to the action, enveloped in the moment, invited to join this club that hints at wealth and family and sex and foreign lands. But you realize that you are lucky just to be sitting where you are, a fly on the wall.

Spero Criezis, producer of The Great Caruso, seems hell-bent on yanking the quaintly dated idea of dinner theater into the 21st century. And with his production of Ain't Misbehavin', the Fats Waller Musical Show, the man just might succeed. The tiny Caruso stage, built into a snooty strip center in far west Houston, looks like some sort of throwback to the Old West. Dining tables crowd the tiny gilded room; there's even a dark spiraling staircase that leads to an ornate mahogany-framed balcony. This ostentatious setting is perfect for the hair-raising tunes that Fats Waller wrote. And Criezis's cast is full of kitteny women and brawny men with big gorgeous voices who know how to love up these astonishing songs. Everything from badly behaving lovers to the opiate dreaminess of reefer gets a moment on stage. And all the while, the audience can sip wine and digest the old-style artery-hardening prime rib. The show is worth every bite.
Spero Criezis, producer of The Great Caruso, seems hell-bent on yanking the quaintly dated idea of dinner theater into the 21st century. And with his production of Ain't Misbehavin', the Fats Waller Musical Show, the man just might succeed. The tiny Caruso stage, built into a snooty strip center in far west Houston, looks like some sort of throwback to the Old West. Dining tables crowd the tiny gilded room; there's even a dark spiraling staircase that leads to an ornate mahogany-framed balcony. This ostentatious setting is perfect for the hair-raising tunes that Fats Waller wrote. And Criezis's cast is full of kitteny women and brawny men with big gorgeous voices who know how to love up these astonishing songs. Everything from badly behaving lovers to the opiate dreaminess of reefer gets a moment on stage. And all the while, the audience can sip wine and digest the old-style artery-hardening prime rib. The show is worth every bite.
The road has been rocky and hard, but now there are two spaces under The Little Room Downstairs Theater's modest little sign on Bissonnet. Still, neither of Richard Laub's theaters seats more than 60 people, and most of the time the stages have been reconfigured so as to allow no more than 55 people in the intimate audience. Elbow to elbow, knee to knee, the close quarters can make for some very meaningful theatrical moments. The one-woman Brandon Teena story fit perfectly on the tiny main stage, as did Laub's musical memoir The Seat Between. As hardworking as the silver-haired, reserved artistic director is, he's still struggling to make his theaters financially stable. But that's the way of any and all artistic ventures. Besides, growing pains can be good, especially if the little theaters can make it through this coming year. If Laub's big plans -- which include producing writers such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Paula Vogel and best-seller Stephen King -- pan out, his little-theaters-that-could might just become a force to be reckoned with.

The road has been rocky and hard, but now there are two spaces under The Little Room Downstairs Theater's modest little sign on Bissonnet. Still, neither of Richard Laub's theaters seats more than 60 people, and most of the time the stages have been reconfigured so as to allow no more than 55 people in the intimate audience. Elbow to elbow, knee to knee, the close quarters can make for some very meaningful theatrical moments. The one-woman Brandon Teena story fit perfectly on the tiny main stage, as did Laub's musical memoir The Seat Between. As hardworking as the silver-haired, reserved artistic director is, he's still struggling to make his theaters financially stable. But that's the way of any and all artistic ventures. Besides, growing pains can be good, especially if the little theaters can make it through this coming year. If Laub's big plans -- which include producing writers such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Paula Vogel and best-seller Stephen King -- pan out, his little-theaters-that-could might just become a force to be reckoned with.

Dancing and driving hardly seem compatible. But choreographer Leslie Scates, the woman who single-handedly engineered Drive By Dancing 2000, is clearly not the type to let a little workaday common sense supersede inspiration. The big idea came to her back in 1997, during one of those Houston-freeway-turned-parking-lot-hell moments. She tells it this way: "I was stuck in traffic at 59 and 610 by the Galleria coming north, and there was this big green space there, and I thought dancing would be better than a billboard. What would happen if ten dancers were out there right now?" The muse had struck, but Scates still had to wind her way through a Kafkaesque maze of city bureaucracy in order to get permission to dance by the side of the road. Help came from the Parks and Recreation Department and the folks at the Art Car Museum. In this way Drive By Dancing was born. A couple of years and a couple of CACHH grants later, the dancer-choreographer has built her good idea into a yearly event unlike any other in Houston. And best of all, not a single drive-by spectator has crashed in the process.
Dancing and driving hardly seem compatible. But choreographer Leslie Scates, the woman who single-handedly engineered Drive By Dancing 2000, is clearly not the type to let a little workaday common sense supersede inspiration. The big idea came to her back in 1997, during one of those Houston-freeway-turned-parking-lot-hell moments. She tells it this way: "I was stuck in traffic at 59 and 610 by the Galleria coming north, and there was this big green space there, and I thought dancing would be better than a billboard. What would happen if ten dancers were out there right now?" The muse had struck, but Scates still had to wind her way through a Kafkaesque maze of city bureaucracy in order to get permission to dance by the side of the road. Help came from the Parks and Recreation Department and the folks at the Art Car Museum. In this way Drive By Dancing was born. A couple of years and a couple of CACHH grants later, the dancer-choreographer has built her good idea into a yearly event unlike any other in Houston. And best of all, not a single drive-by spectator has crashed in the process.
After stumbling across this book on eBay, we tracked down the retired George Fuermann's phone number and called, hoping to hear some stories of his career, which spanned the better part of half a century, seven books, innumerable magazine articles and long-running columns in both major dailies. "Career?" Fuermann growled over the line. "I didn't have a career." We know how he feels, but beg to differ nonetheless. Land of the Big Rich is Fuermann's first book, published in 1951 by Doubleday, with a jacket photo identifying the smart young journalist as "the hottest young newspaperman in the South and Southwest." While compadre Sig Byrd documented the era's tragic underbelly, Fuermann's dispatches documented how the other half lived, with chapters on cafe socialism and Houston's Riviera and a flashy focus on Houston millionaires and mavens and movers-and-shakers: "Guests are a merge of satin-and-minked cotillion-type belles and their business-suited escorts; red-faced (from weather more than liquor) men and their well-appointed women, incontrovertibly standing for Oil and Gas with a capital O and a capital G; aging matrons, with more cash than they will ever be able to spend in the years they are still going to spend, trying to wring a lonely thrill out of unlonely thousand-dollar bills; Proper Houstonians and Almost Proper Houstonians; celebrated stars of stage, screen, and finance -- all loaded with diamonds, furs and cash, most of them well behaved and behaving as though they owned a well, an oil well, which they undoubtedly do own." Them, one suspects, were the days.
After stumbling across this book on eBay, we tracked down the retired George Fuermann's phone number and called, hoping to hear some stories of his career, which spanned the better part of half a century, seven books, innumerable magazine articles and long-running columns in both major dailies. "Career?" Fuermann growled over the line. "I didn't have a career." We know how he feels, but beg to differ nonetheless. Land of the Big Rich is Fuermann's first book, published in 1951 by Doubleday, with a jacket photo identifying the smart young journalist as "the hottest young newspaperman in the South and Southwest." While compadre Sig Byrd documented the era's tragic underbelly, Fuermann's dispatches documented how the other half lived, with chapters on cafe socialism and Houston's Riviera and a flashy focus on Houston millionaires and mavens and movers-and-shakers: "Guests are a merge of satin-and-minked cotillion-type belles and their business-suited escorts; red-faced (from weather more than liquor) men and their well-appointed women, incontrovertibly standing for Oil and Gas with a capital O and a capital G; aging matrons, with more cash than they will ever be able to spend in the years they are still going to spend, trying to wring a lonely thrill out of unlonely thousand-dollar bills; Proper Houstonians and Almost Proper Houstonians; celebrated stars of stage, screen, and finance -- all loaded with diamonds, furs and cash, most of them well behaved and behaving as though they owned a well, an oil well, which they undoubtedly do own." Them, one suspects, were the days.

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