A Kickstarter-Funded Revival of Equus: Well-Handled With a Strong Lead Performance

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of Second Life Productions
Ed Theakston as the troubled Alan Strang and Kevin Daugherty as his psychiatrist Martin Dysart in Equus, now at Frenetic Theater
The setup:

Sir Peter Shaffer, knighted in 2001, has given us scores of plays, with Amadeus, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, and Equus the best known of them. Equus is a detective story of sorts as a psychiatrist tries to find out why a 17-year-old boy blinded six horses. The 1975 Broadway production of Equus starred Anthony Hopkins and Peter Firth, and won the Tony Award as Best Play. Firth also starred in the film version with Richard Burton. A 2007 London and 2008 Broadway production starring Daniel Radcliffe as the youth was acclaimed.

Now the very enterprising Matthew C. Logan brings a revival to the Frenetic Theater, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, with the production serving as his thesis for an MFA in directing.

The execution:

Shaffer is a lyrical writer who can express complex ideas in flowing language, and also has a keen visual sense, so that what you see can be more important than what you hear. I saw the original Broadway production, and also a dramatically different New Theatre production in Miami in 2010, so I was eagerly awaiting the Logan production. It is astonishingly good, though flawed in some details, and rivals in many ways the New York version in its grasp of the subtleties of Shaffer's text.


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A King and Two Gents Are This Year's Offerings at the Houston Shakespeare Festival

Categories: Stage

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Photos courtesy of the University of Houston
Mirron Willis as King Henry IV
Years ago, Mirron Willis was one of the supernummeries - "the attendant to the far left" - during the Houston Shakespeare Festival.

This week, he returns as a king in the title role of one of William Shakespeare's greatest plays Henry IV Part I. Although Henry IV is considered one of Shakespeare's history plays, Willis says its greatest and enduring appeal is "all of the relationships. The transformation of the son [Prince Hal] to go from the adolescent to the sense of responsibility." (And let's not forget Falstaff and all the college debates there have been over whether he was betrayed by Hal or had to be discarded for the prince to grow into his kingly duties.)


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The Gilbert & Sullivan Society Does The Sorcerer No Favors

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Steve Feinberg.
This production of Gilbert & Sullivan's music doesn't quite come together
The set-up:
The Sorcerer, the third collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan and their first full-length musical (1877), is the work that convinced producer D'Oyly Carte to bankroll their future partnership. It's all about love and magic. Strange, then, that there's no magic and very little love whatsoever in this production from our own internationally awarded Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston.

The execution:
This is their most dreary production in memory, certainly the most plodding and soporific. Even the sprightly overture is played without spirit or nuance, which would make Victorian composer Sullivan quite unamused.

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HFAC Does Right by a Glorious Les Miserables

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of HFAC
Some of the revolutionaries in Les Miserables.
The setup:

After Les Miserables became a huge commercial success in the West End of London, a Broadway production opened in March of 1987 and ran until May 2003, closing after 6,680 performances. It was at the time the second-longest Broadway show in history, nominated for 12 Tony Awards and winning eight, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The rights for local theaters to produce it were just made available in 2013, though a shorter school version was available earlier, and The Houston Family Arts Center is now presenting it.

The execution:

Make no mistake, this is a major production,with a huge cast - 40 plus - and is also a production that sizzles with professional polish and extraordinary talent. The music of course is enthralling, and the voices here do it justice. The book is compelling, and all its raw emotional power is captured by a brilliant cast. The staging is electric, the costumes intriguing, the lighting exceptional, and the energy that cascades from the stage dynamic - here are actors who deliver such eloquence as to make the authors grateful.


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Throwback Thursday: Put on Your Dancing Shoes at Spring Street Studios

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Put on your dancing shoes

Many people know Spring Street Studios is where you go to watch theater offerings from Stark Naked Theatre Company and Mildred's Umbrella and that it is filled with visual arts studios as well.

This Thursday, Spring Street Studios is hosting its first ever Throwback Thursday to celebrate both theater companies' upcoming seasons and to also highlight the other building occupants.

"We have a lot of artists but we also have some businesses in the building," says Stark Naked's co-founder Kim Tobin-Lehl. Sponsored in part by the Houston Press, the event will also highlight a bicycle tour company, a yoga studio, and a paper company.


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Festival of Originals at Theatre Southwest: A Mixed-Bag of One-Acts W/ Some Playwrights Worth Watching

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Scott McWhirter
Mitch (Aaron Echegaray), confronts Joe (Jose Luis Rivera) about his recent criminal activity in Rougher Stuff
The set-up:
Cause for joy, Theatre Southwest celebrates its 17th annual Festival of Originals. Produced by Southwest's artistic director Mimi Holloway, this evening of world premiere short plays is always a must-see for theater junkies. Where else in Houston can one watch five new one-acts, each with it own distinct cast and direction?

The idea is a crap shoot for sure, for you never know exactly how these works, all unproduced and unseen before given a showing at Southwest, will play before an audience. A written script is a very different breed than a live performance, and much can change between page and stage.

Kudos to Holloway for her perseverance. She had to plow through 600 submissions. While none of these five plays will set the theater world afire, there are at least three playwrights whose work intrigues and makes me want to see more from them.

Theatre Southwest's intimate stage space has been scrubbed clean for the festival. Stripped of color, it's been turned into a black box, which means no built pieces for the sets, only rudimentary props, just bare bones. This, of course, lets the plays shine without distraction. This, of course, also lays bare their more obvious faults.

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A Very Tamarie Christmas Presents Tamarie Cooper at her Very Best, Within Limits

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Anthony Rathbun
Tamarie Cooper and Greg Dean evaluate the holidays
The set-up:
Not since our own Bayou City bodacious Botticelli beauty, Tamarie Cooper, sat and spun on her Sit-n-Spin in the fifth installment, I believe, of her original musical comedy summer extravaganzas once called Tamalalia, has there been such a consistently hilarious show as her latest psychedelic voyage into the absurd, A Very Tamarie Christmas.

What used to be Cooper looking back at her life with gimlet eyes, and therefore making us see ourselves with equal magnanimity and sheepish squirm, has morphed over the years into a cult theatrical Ziegfeld Follies of her twisted psyche. What a mind!

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All in the Timing: Not Even Monkeys Could Write Stuff This Good

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of The Landing Theatre Company
Scott Gibbs and Mai Hong Le in Sure Thing
The set-up:
Remember that old philosophy head-scratcher: give a monkey a typewriter and enough time, and eventually he'll write Hamlet? That hardly gives proper credit to Shakespeare, but it says a great deal about Words, Words, Words, which happens to be the title of the second of six plays which comprise David Ives' delightful All in the Timing (1993). He takes this premise and turns it nimbly inside out and upside down.

The execution:
Here in a nameless lab, three monkeys labor all day over their iPads. Type, type, type, bitch, bitch, bitch. They resent having to create something they don't even know. What's a Hamlet? they ask with simian inquisitiveness. They share their poetic drudgery with each other, while searching for fleas and eating the cigarettes thrown to them by their unseen caretaker. Called Swift (Lindsey Ball), Milton (Robert Meza), and Kakfa (Mai Hong Le), the three monkeys growl their discontent, but inadvertently come up with a Shakespeare quote every now and then. They've learned to "put an antic disposition on" to get treats. This experiment hath mad them mad, says Meza's Milton. The laughs come from a certain rudimentary knowledge of Hamlet, but Ives' situation has comedy built in. Ives juggles like a circus clown.

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The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: A Rollicking Good Time and Free

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Gaby Quintana
The Chicken Ranch is back in business
The setup:

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is the musical for which the phrase "a rollicking good time" may have been invented. Despite the deceptive lure of the (gasp!) shocking title, the subject matter is about as clean-cut as a Tupperware party, unless you are offended by seeing attractive young women in lingerie or studly cowboys shirtless. It opened in 1978 on Broadway, running for 1,584 performances, garnering a number of Tony Award nominations, winning several, before spawning a multi-city national tour that ended up with a seven-month run in Los Angeles.

The execution:

The two-story set, designed by Marjorie Kellogg, serves well to capture the various goings on, providing an upstairs series of "rooms" behind open Venetian blinds where the girls can take customers. Miss Mona runs the establishment in the fictional town of Gilbert, but aficionados know that the plot is based on the real-life "Chicken Ranch" that existed for years in La Grange, Texas.


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Godspell at A.D. Players: A Glorious, Heartfelt Production

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of A.D. Players
The set-up:
If there's any Broadway musical that's ripe material for A.D. Players it's Stephen Schwartz's folksy story of Christ and His message, Godspell (1971). The fit is beyond reproach. In a glorious production bolstered by heartfelt performances, this Sunday school lesson masquerading as a musical explodes into one of their most satisfying shows in memory.

The execution:
Broadway in 1970/71 had two God shows running simultaneously: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Vegas revue Jesus Christ Superstar, glitzy and irrelevant, and Schwartz's Godspell, simple and homespun. As if it had wafted in from San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, the Schwartz musical is all hippy and feel-good, and you can almost smell the patchouli if not the pot wafting backstage. This is a "let's put on a show" show, and we must believe that the actors, who use their actual first names for their characters, have just wandered on stage and started to play act. That these pros at A.D. carry off such quaint pretense so completely and with such innocence is one of the marvels of this production. They are a happy colorful tribe in their tennis shoes and counterculture garb. At any moment you expect them to burst into Hair.


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