Do you hear that Houston — a lofting melody floating on the summer breeze? Well, get used to it because the whole city is about to break out into catchy tunes. You can thank this seasonal shower of songs to H-Town’s theater community, as they’ve all gone musical crazy this year.
Yes, the usual suspects like Broadway at the Hobby Center, Theatre Under the Stars and new kid on the block, Bayou City Theatrics, have summer offerings, but it seems many of our regional drama theaters have also caught the musical summer flu. Some — looking at you Stages — even have two musicals dueling (dueting?).
In fact, you can pretty much pick a musical genre or era and there’s a show for you. But with so much out there — over 10 shows at my last count, from outdoor revivals to world premiere cabaret — it’s hard to choose. So let’s take a trip across town and through musical history and find that perfect show to cool your summer time blues, with great stories set to rock, pop, country, and yes, even the blues.
Trav’lin the 1930s Harlem Musical at Ensemble Theatre
Time travel back to the Harlem Renaissance with a jazzy show celebrating the work of songwriter and pianist J. C. Johnson. While his name recognition might have faded in some circles, the man was quite the influence on jazz and blues and collaborated with icons like Bessie Smith and Fats Waller. Each of the show’s characters are based on or inspired by the stories Johnson told about his own life in Harlem.
George Gershwin Alone at the Alley Theatre
If you’re not ready to leave 1930s New York just yet, check out this one-man show about one of America’s greatest composers, George Gershwin. Playwright Hershey Felder, who first publicly performed Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” when he was 16, created and stars in, well alone, this tribute and examination of George Gershwin’s life and music. Felder just might be persuaded into a sing-along encore, so brush up on your “Summertime” before the show and get ready to join in on the fun.
Motown the Musical at the Hobby Center
Let’s groove through several decades and states to join music legend Berry Gordy in Detroit where he’s about to discover the likes of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder. They're all set to make an appearance in this multiple-Tony-nominated story, based on Gordy’s autobiography. The show features over 40 Motown hits, so there’s sure to be your favorite in here somewhere.
Mack and Mabel/Honky Tonk Angels at Stages
Stages is playing overachiever when it comes to summer musicals. Mack and Mabel, on now, depicts the sometimes funny sometimes tragic love story of real life silent film makers Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand. Director Kenn McLaughlin integrates some 21st century innovative video work into this revival of the 1970s Broadway musical about the dawn of Hollywood.
When Mack and Mabel closes, the three Honky Tonk Angels on a journey to follow their dreams for Nashville stardom take the mike for a this jukebox country musical. Sure it looks to be light on plot, but with it stuffed full of country classics like “Delta Dawn” and “Stand by Your Man” who’s going to care?
Mack and Mabel runs now until June 28; Honky Tonk Angels runs July 15-Aug. 24.
First Date at The Hobby Center
We arrive back in the 21st century and 21st-century relationship problems, where all the single 20 to 30-somethings are still looking for “The One.” The Broadway hit, set up as a date in real time between dating veteran Casey and blind-date-newbie Aaron, lets the whole restaurant butt in to give their own opinion as to whether this date is from heaven or hell. First Date is the final show of Theatre Under the Stars wild child, TUTS Underground’s 2014-2015 eclectic season, and features many of our favorite hometown actors in the cast.
The University of Tamarie at Catastrophic Theatre
If you’re looking for a more edgy comic show, enroll in this Houston tradition. In the 18th installment of Tamarie Cooper’s annual musical extravaganza, she puts education and more specifically the Texas State Board of Education, John Hughes movies, standardized tests, and college life on her satire curriculum. When the Catastrophic Theatre gang puts that all into a theatrical blender and presses Tamarieize, it’s bound to be some crazy August fun.