Houston Theater Awards Brings Together the Theater Community

Categories: Stage

Photos by Marco Torres
Dean Gladden of the Alley Theatre
Emmys who? Houston's thespian community was out in full form last night for the Houston Press' annual Houston Theater Awards. The awards presentation, hosted at the MKT Bar at Phoenicia's, featured an array of persons from H-town's theater world; representation came from big theaters such as The Alley and Theatre Under the Stars to the smaller, indies such as Mildred's Umbrella and Obsidian Art Space - all partying under one roof.

The awards, which had previously been announced in this week's printed version of the Press, were distributed by writers and editors from the paper who make it a part of their mission to view as much theater as possible throughout the year. Handing out the honors were Editor Margaret Downing, Night and Day Editor and writer Olivia Flores Alvarez and writers D.L. Groover and Jim J. Tommaney.

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Suzanne Bradbeer's The God Game: A Litmus Test for Politicians

Categories: Stage

Tom is a young rising political star, a moderate Republican senator. He's approached by Matt, an old family friend who works for a pretty right wing presidential candidate. The offer is made: would he like to join the ticket as the vice presidential nominee?

"There's just one catch," says playwright Suzanne Bradbeer. "We'd like you to sound more Christian. Can you just bump that up for us a little bit? They don't know that our character is actually an agnostic."

The God Game, the first offering of Stark Naked Theatre Company's 2014-15 season was inspired, in part, by the John McCain/Sarah Palin ticket (with some reversal of the characters' roles), says Bradbeer, who says she grew up in a liberal churchgoing household in Virginia.

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Marilyn Forever Blonde: The Marilyn Monroe Story in Her Own Words and Music

Categories: Stage

The setup:

The death of actress Marilyn Monroe in 1962, at the age of 36, sent shock waves throughout the world. Monroe had struggled for recognition as a serious actress in her life, as opposed to being perceived as a "dumb blond," the kind of role in which she was frequently cast. Perhaps ironically, Monroe's fame as an actress has continued to grow since her death, labeled a "probable suicide" by an incomplete coroner's report.

Monroe attended the famed Actors' Studio in Manhattan, where its director, Lee Strasburg, said that she and Marlon Brando were the two best actors he had ever seen. Joshua Logan, who directed her in Bus Stop, said "I found Marilyn to be one of the great talents of all time." A great actor makes the acting invisible, and Monroe had that talent.

Sunny Thompson portrays Monroe in Marilyn Forever Blonde, and has the courage of a lioness in tackling the impersonation of a luminous star, about whom everyone is likely to already have a firm opinion.

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Betty Buckley and Veanne Cox Battle It Out in The Old Friends

Categories: Stage

Photo by John Everett.
Betty Buckley as Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff, Cotter Smith as Howard Ratliff and Veanne Cox as Julia Price in the Alley Theatre's production of The Old Friends
The set-up:
If you're a fan of Turner Classic Movies, I probably don't have to remind you of the joyous bitch fest that is Old Acquaintance (1943), adapted from the successful John Van Druten play. Remember dueling screen divas Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins as dueling literary rivals? Davis is the no-nonsense quality writer with Hopkins the fluffy romancer who makes all the money? They are rivals in love, also, a lifetime battle between old friends.

I'm not sure if playwright Horton Foote, a literary sensation all his own, ever watched that Warner Bros. weepie, but I wouldn't be surprised. There's a lot of Old Acquaintance in The Old Friends.

The execution:

Davis, or the fossilized characterization she'd morph into late in her career, makes an appearance, although here she's called Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff and is portrayed most astonishingly by Broadway legend Betty Buckley (from Cats, in particular, for which she introduced "Memories" and won a Tony, along with a slew of other notable credits). Buckley runs away with the show as the drunkest woman on stage, next to Edward Albee's Martha, the mother of all drunks in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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Student Actors at Memorial High and Carver Magnet Unite for Memphis, the Musical

Categories: Education, Stage

Photo by Jennifer H. Greer
The combined Memorial High and Carver Magnet School cast of Memphis
He's a white DJ who has fallen in love with a black singer in an underground club. Making it even more interesting, they're in Memphis in the 1950s, where the outlook is not favorable for their relationship or her musical career.

It's Memphis, the Musical, an exuberant look at race relations in R&B clubs and radio stations amid a whole lot of catchy rock and roll and rhythm and blues songs with dancers hitting the boards hard.

Many high schools would have a problem staging it with its large cast calling for both African American and white actors.

But student actors from Memorial High in Spring ISD and G.W. Carver Magnet in Aldine ISD and their advisers figured out a way around that. They combined forces so that in the weekend just after Labor Day, audiences can see them come together to perform the 2010 Tony award winner for best musical.

They worked all summer building sets and running lines to get to this point.

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UPDATED The 2014 Houston Theater Awards: A Year Filled With Sound, Fury and Laughter

Categories: Stage

Oh, the places we've been! The people we've met!

We've gone to Hell with Satan in Doctor Faustus (Classical Theatre Company); suffered with the Frank family in their Amsterdam garret in The Diary of Anne Frank (A.D. Players); time-traveled backward and forward with ex-wives and new wives in Communicating Doors (Alley Theatre); romped through the deconstruction of fairy tales in Into the Woods (Main Street Theater); had our hearts trampled and seared in an African brothel in Ruined (Obsidian Art Space); wept in sympathy with a puppet horse more alive than the human actors in War Horse (Gexa Energy Broadway); prowled the waterfront with Anna Christie (Theatre Southwest); brawled and got drunk with Falstaff in Henry IV, Part I (Houston Shakespeare Festival); stormed the Parisian barricades with Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (Houston Family Arts Center); learned that size does matter in Cock (Theater LaB Houston); reeled under too much eggnog in A Very Tamarie Christmas (Catastrophic Theatre); fooled the Irish yokels and suffered the consequences in Faith Healer (Stark Naked Theatre Company); laughed as two proper English wives succumb to a former French lover in Fallen Angels (Main Street Theater); disbelieved a petulant prophetess in Cassandra (Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company); and more and more and more. Plus we had the privilege of attending multiple regional premieres and ten world premieres! What an incredible year of theater, full of sound and fury and laughter, too. So many riches.

For our third annual Houston Theater Awards sponsored by the Houston Press, we give you the best of the best. We debated long and loud; the choices difficult because there was so much good stuff to ponder. Theater smacks us awake by showing us the world in all its diversity, a crazy quilt of emotion and enlightenment. The 2013-14 Houston theater season was extremely alive and kicking. We sincerely thank all the following nominees for enriching our lives with their sublime work. Please, sir, kick me again. D.L. Groover

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Houston Theater District's Open House and Our Theater Awards Issue

Photo by Marie Noelle Robert
For entry level opera-goers: Sweeney Todd
Besides the ballet, the theater companies and the symphony, this year's 21st Annual Theater District Open House will feature food trucks in Jones Plaza, tango lessons from the Society for the Performing Arts and has expanded to include Bayou City Music Center and Bayou Place (known rather more for their rock music than classical works).

And even though Alley Theatre has moved to a temporary home at the University of Houston where its first show of the season The Old Friends opens Wednesday, its personnel will still be on hand to show visitors through its production rooms to plumb the mysteries of costumes and wigs and rehearsal halls.

Perryn Leech, acting board chair of the Houston Downtown Alliance and Houston Grand Opera's managing director, says this year as always gives visitors an up-close-and personal (and free!) look at the Houston arts scene with the added benefit of being able to sign up for discounted subscriptions. "There are good bargains to be had," he says.

Tying in to all the occasion, the Houston Press this week presents its annual Houston Press Arts Guide as well as the third year of our Houston Theater Awards, in which we draw attention to what we believe were the outstanding theatrical performances in our city during the 2013-14 season.

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Next to Normal Shows a Family Pulled Apart by Mental Illness

Categories: Stage

Photo courtesy of MJR Theatricals and Music Box Musicals
Kristina Sullivan, Corey Hartzog and Eric Domuret star in this musical about mental illness

The set-up:

A musical about mental illness? Are you kidding, I hear you ask. But wait, it's been done before, quite a few times actually, most famously in the Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin Lady in the Dark (1941), a splashy carnival that put supporting actor Danny Kaye on the road to stardom. That show starred legendary diva Gertrude Lawrence as a proto-feminist fashion editor who couldn't decide which lover to take. She undergoes psychoanalysis, a novel idea at the time for a Broadway show, to help resolve her twin dilemma of running a business and being a woman. Times have certainly changed.

There's an entire musical sub-genre devoted to people not quite "normal." Other shows to spotlight characters not in the mainstream include Dear World, Assassins, Light in the Piazza, Jekyll and Hyde, Grey Gardens, Sweeney Todd, and Spring Awakening. More join the rep every season. But none possesses the emotional wallop of the award-winning Next to Normal, by Bryan Yorkey (book and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music). In a stunning yet intimate co-production from MJR Theatricals and Music Box Musicals, with insightful direction from Luke Wrobel and a cast of six who are heaven sent, this little show reveals all its glories up close and personal.

The show invigorates as it wrenches us senseless. It's a singular sensation, a rare occurrence in theater, whether drama or musical. It's no surprise this musical won the Tony for Best Original Score (2009) - losing Best Musical nod to Billy Elliot - and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (2010).

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In Full Gallop, Sally Edmundson Captures the Spirit of Fashion Doyenne Diana Vreeland

Categories: Stage

Courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre

The set-up:

Let's talk D.V. That would be Diana Vreeland, or Dee-ahh-na, for those of you not in the loop. For decades she was the reigning monarch of fashion, first as columnist and stylish greyhound at Harper's Bazaar, then as editor-in-chief of Vogue, later as curator of the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute in NYC. She set trends, brought style to the masses, and generally dictated who or what would become household names on that rarefied street known as Fashion Avenue.

With her signature, idiosyncratic personality, she was her own one-woman show, so it's appropriate that she's entirely center stage in Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson's Full Gallop (1995). But like any page from Vogue, the play is extremely stylish, immensely colorful, and just as thin.

The execution:
Miss Vreeland (Sally Edmundson in delicious diva mode) - she would blanch to be called Ms. - has been unceremoniously sacked from her throne at Vogue. She is no longer in fashion, she's been told, the world has moved on. Her future is behind her. Undeterred and determined to move forward, she arranges a dinner party in hopes of getting funds for some unspecified project: book, new magazine, anything to pay the many unpaid bills. She wrestles the latest invoice into a beautiful little coffer on her desk. She has to push down to make room for it.

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It's Time for the 10x10 Festival With Short Plays by Houston Writers

Categories: Stage

Ten short new plays and nine monologues will be presented as part of Scriptwriters/Houston's 24th Annual 10x10 Showcase scheduled for the nest two weekends at Company OnStage.

Houston-area playwright have a chance to show their stuff, as well as the directors and actors who put this writing on stage.

The ten selected plays are:

1) BUY AMERICA by Nicholas Garelick
Directed by Jillian Nolan
Starring: Steve Hampton, Rose Serna, Bailey Hampton

2) BAGGAGE CLAIM by Alex Scott
Directed by Scott McWhirter
Starring: Andrew Russell, Alice Rhoades, Kacie Adams and Nanesha Dove

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