The Play's The Thing
Guide to Houston's hottest summer theater: 16 shows, from Shakespeare to Snoopy — and more
Summer in Houston is always a great excuse to beat the heat by diving into some cool theater, and no I don’t mean the nearest cineplex. Instead, I recommend spending those hot nights experiencing live action, romance, comedy, and lots of musical interludes from some of our world class theater companies and organizations.
I’ve scanned the schedules and noticed a few distinctive trends this summer with lots of family-friendly musicals and some daring songstresses ready to sing their stories. For those wanting a little more heft to their plays, we can also find stages filled with provocative drama and political intrigue. No matter what the preference, Houston theater will offer plenty of sizzling shows to keep us entertained and a few to make us ponder and think long after the curtain comes down.
Freaky Friday, June 2-July 2
The Alley Theatre teams with the Cleveland Playhouse, La Jolla Play House and, yes, Disney to stage this new musical version of the classic young adult novel, turned classic '70s Disney movie-turned-2003 remake about a mother and daughter who switch bodies to learn valuable, though madcap, life lessons in teen/adult empathy. Disney certainly has a track record for their musicals successfully invading Broadway, so see Freaky Friday now and maybe brag years from now that you saw it when.
Something Rotten, June 6-11
Meanwhile a few blocks away in the Theater District, Broadway at the Hobby Center brings the cheeky sendup of both big Broadway musicals and Shakespeare that depicts the Bard as a theatrical rockstar battling rivals in the creation of the first play where actors break out into song for no apparent reason. You don’t have to be an English lit major to enjoy the show, just have a good, silly sense of humor.
The World According to Snoopy, June 7-18
Also at the Hobby Center but in Zilkha Hall, Theatre Under the Stars brings everyone’s favorite beagle to town in a show that just recently had its world premiere at Texas State University, though the musical is a reimagining of the show Snoopy!!! the sequel to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Snoopy features a gallery of Peanuts characters but, doggone it, we all know who the rightful star is.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, June 7-July 1
Looking for a decidedly family-unfriendly musical? Then best head outside the theater district in June for Obsidian Theatre’s very up-close-and-personal production of the Tony award-winning rock tale of glam goddess Hedwig. She’s got reason to be a bit irate.
Simply Simone, June 24-July 30
What woman takes four actresses to play her, Nina Simone, of course in this bio-musical making its regional debut at the Ensemble Theatre. The show gives a taste of the fascinating life as well as genre spanning range of the soulful legend. June will be a very good month for celebrating diva geniuses.
Always…Patsy Cline, June 28-August 20
In honor of Stages 40th anniversary, the company is bringing back the Houston favorite written by the company’s founding artists director Ted Swindley. The show celebrates the real life friendship between Cline and local fan Louise Seger, who in this production will be played by another Houston favorite Susan Koozin.
Tamarie's Merry Evening of Mistakes and Regrets, June 29-Aug 12
For 20 years, summer in H-Town has meant another singing, dancing extravaganza from Tamarie Cooper, but in 2017 she goes big by going a bit more intimate for her latest world premiere offering with a cabaret setting and seating at the MATCH. While the format might be somewhat different, we don’t expect any subdued songs, stories or costumes from Tamarie and her wild cast of Catastrophic Theatre regulars.
Pippin, July 11-16
There's lots of magic to do in the Theatre Under The Stars production of the hit Broadway musical, starring an all Houston-based cast, including local fave Holland Vavra in the starring role at the Leading Player. And it's free, as part of the annual Miller Outdoor Theatre summer series.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, May 24-June 25
Not based on the John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart 1962 film but on the original Dorothy M. Johnson short story, this theatrical version adds characters and contains many different plot points from the movie. The Stages Theatre production also reflects very contemporary issues and questions about law, civility and truth vs. myth that make this play set at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century seem all the more timely for the 21st.
1984, June 1-17
For another story from the past — one depicting a very dark future — that might very well resonate with present day audiences look again to Obsidian Theatre for this Michael Gene Sullivan adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece. The novel recently (and quite coincidently I’m sure) became a world-wide bestseller once again almost 70 years after its first publication.
Cry Havoc, June 7-18
4th Wall Theatre brought in the innovative New York theater company Bedlam last year for their brilliant rendition of Shaw’s Saint Joan. Now Bedlam member, Stephan Wolfert, returns to Houston and the 4th Wall stage to mix Shakespeare and real life veterans stories in this one-man show that illustrates the therapeutic power of theater.
The Last Wife, July 15 – August 13, 2017
Main Street Theater can’t seem to get enough of Henry VIII. Last fall, it was one of the few regional companies in the U.S. to attempt the epic two-part Wolf Hall production and now they’ll stage a contemporary retelling of Henry’s relationship with Catherine Parr, the only wife who managed to stay alive and married long enough to become his widow.
In a Word, July 27-Aug 12
Mildred’s Umbrella begins their 2017-2018 season a bit earlier than everyone else with this award-winning new play from Lauren Yee about memory and loss. The American Theatre Critics Association recently awarded Yee the prestigious Francesca Primus Prize, given to an emerging female playwright, for In a Word.
Houston Shakespeare Festival, July 28-August 6
The annual twofer brings one of Shakespeare’s most unusual love stories, with no deaths, and most wily and intriguing villains to Miller Outdoor Theatre on alternating nights. Gender bending, mistaken identities and lots of drunken hijinks make Twelfth Night one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, while the intelligence and warped charm of Richard III make this bad king one we almost can’t help wanting to win. Best of all, the shows are always free.
Church, Aug 4-19
Horse Head Theatre has a reputation for staging drama in and on unlikely stages, and this year is no different as they partner with the Heritage Society to perform Young Jean Lee’s sermon-like play, Church , in one of Houston’s oldest churches, the historic 1891 St. John Church in downtown Sam Houston Park. Let the performance spirit move you.