best january theater
14 best January shows no Houston theater fan should miss, from Pretty Woman to Broadway bigs
For stage fans, 2023 begins with a theatrical, musical bang, as the majority of Houston theaters celebrate the new year with new productions.
From juicy scandal to jazzy noir to the most timely of issues, the play's the thing this month with some choice musicals also playing. Fans can look forward to three big Broadway tours coming to town, aerial thrills from Cirque du Soleil, plus HGO’s lavish winter productions. Even the Alley rocks out with an off-Broadway sensation.
Here are the best bets for theater in Houston this January.
Pretty Woman: The Musical from Broadway at the Hobby Center (January 3-8)
The ultimate ’80s romcom with a bite — specifically the love story between a (shall we say) working girl and corporate raider — gets a musical 21st century twist in this Broadway smash. This show boasts a new original score by Grammy winner Bryan Adams (yeah that “Summer of ’69” Bryan Adams) and Jim Vallance, and a book by the movie’s director the late, comic great Garry Marshall and screenwriter J. F. Lawton.
Even with the update, the musical sticks to its creative roots. It might be one “big mistake — huge” to miss this trip down Rodeo Drive, as the show is only in Houston for one week.
The School for Scandal from Classical Theatre (January 12-28)
For the second production in their all-comedies season, Classical produces one of the hallmarks of English Restoration theater by Richard Sheridan. With character names like Lady Sneerwell, Snake, Candor, and Surface, plus vicious love and marriage plots that make the Real Housewives look like amateurs, the show promises to school audiences on comic scandal.
Fourth Wall Theatre Company AD, Philip Lehl, directs and sharpens the satire with a Fake New spin on story and heightens the hijinks as a cast of six actors plays 16 characters.
The Marriage of Figaro from Houston Grand Opera (January 13-28)
One of the world’s most beloved comic operas goes groovy time-traveling as Tony Award-winning director Michael Grandage has set Mozart’s masterpiece in late ’60s Francoist Spain. Full of bright colors and costumes evoking the Moroccan influence on the country, this updated production, first staged by HGO in 2016, gives a new vision to the opera’s synthesis of transcendent music and a story of love both fickle and true.
The production will showcase both new and HGO fav faces as bass Nahuel Di Pierro makes his HGO debut as Figaro, while Elena Villalón in the role of Susanna makes her first return to the company after completing her training with the HGO Studio. Look for bass-baritone Adam Plachetka as the Count, soprano and HGO Studio alumna Nicole Heaston as his wife, and soprano and HGO Studio alumna Lauren Snouffer as Cherubino. Ian Rutherford returns to HGO to direct the revival of this production, with HGO artistic director Patrick Summers conducting.
Jesus Christ Superstar from Broadway at the Hobby Center (January 17-22)
This dazzling London revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s classic rock musical was originally supposed to arrive in Houston in 2021 in celebration of the show’s 50th anniversary, but not even COVID can keep a superstar from its musical-loving followers.
This production won the the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival and pays tribute to the historic 1971 Billboard Album of the Year while resonating with a 21st-century perspective with rock concert staging. After many a trials and tribulations these last few years, this Jesus Christ Superstar should bring us some dance, drama, and music good that's for the soul.
The Sound Inside from 4th Wall Theatre (January 19-February 11)
In keeping with their very contemporary plays season, 4th Wall presents this Tony nominated new one by Adam Rapp that explores the art of writing and artistic relationships. An Ivy League writing professor, Bella Baird, hasn’t published anything in years and has become used to being alone — until she develops an unexpected relationship with a peculiar, but promising student.
With every new encounter, revelations are brought to light until a shocking question leaves the other with an impossible choice. Renowned New York theater artist Lorrel Manning directs.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Garden Theatre (January 20-29)
One of Houston’s newest theaters, that has also shown versatility in its season lineups, takes on one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. Appropriate for a play about faeries making mischief and starting love wars in an enchanted forest, this production, helmed by critically acclaimed local director Vance Johnson, will explore theater magic.
How? The company reports that the actors will build the show right before the audiences eyes, using props, costumes, and set pieces that seemingly come from nowhere.
Cambodian Rock Band at Alley Theatre (January 20-February 12)
While the Alley doesn’t ordinarily present many musicals, or in this case, a play with large sections of live rock music, this theatrical experience from playwright Lauren Yee is no ordinary show.
It caused a sensation off-Broadway in 2020 before pandemic closed the production early, and now the Alley will co-produce a multi-city regional theater tour of the show. Cambodian Rock Band tells the story of a Khmer Rouge survivor returning to Cambodia for the first time in 30 years, as his daughter prepares to prosecute one of Cambodia’s most infamous war criminals.
Backed by a live band playing contemporary Dengue Fever hits and classic Cambodian oldies, the narrative moves through time as father and daughter face the music of the past.
Roe at Stages (January 20-March 5)
Proving once again the predictive power of art and art programming, Stages added Lisa Loomer’s Texas-centric historical drama about Roe vs. Wade to their season lineup months before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.
In this play about the humans behind the groundbreaking Supreme Court case that still reverberates across individual lives and political landscapes, the story chronicles the divergent private journeys of two Texas natives in the years following the court’s monumental ruling: attorney Sarah Weddington, who argued the case at the Supreme Court at the age of 26, and plaintiff Norma McCorvey “Jane Roe.”
Koozå from Cirque du Soleil (January 25-March 5)
Every winter, we look forward to the world’s most famous traveling circus pitching its sophisticated tent at Sam Houston Parkway. For this new spin on a classic Cirque show, the kid-friendly Koozå celebrates the origin of Cirque du Soleil and the celebration of two circus traditions – acrobatic performance and the art of clowning.
Under the watch of a mysterious trickster with electrifying powers, the show follows the self-discovery adventures of the Innocent who is magically transported to an exotic yet zany kingdom. Look for the High Wire, Teeterboard, and Wheel of Death acts in particular to make this one of the most gasp-inducing of the Cirque extravaganzas.
Paradise Blue at Ensemble Theatre (January 26-February 26)
Genius playwright (MacArthur Genius Grant, that is) Dominique Morisseau goes Detroit noir in this jazz story that is part of her powerful Detroit cycle of works.
In this one, trumpeter, Blue, contemplates selling his once-vibrant jazz club in Detroit’s Blackbottom neighborhood to shake free the demons of the past and better his life. But where does that leave his devoted Pumpkin, who has dreams of her own? And what does it mean for the club’s resident bebop band?
Stir in a mysterious woman with her own plans for the neighborhood, and Detroit may never be the same.
Honor at Moody Center for the Arts (January 27)
The arts lecture becomes performing art itself in the creative hands of Houston-born artist Suzanne Bocanegra. Her latest lecture/monologue/performance piece will weave her own personal narrative with her interpretation of a 16-century tapestry of the same name in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Together personal and art history reveal a multitude of different characters and stories. But, while Bocanegra will be on hand for the performance, award-winning screen actress, Lili Taylor will be on stage playing the role of Bocanegra. Honor marks the fourth "Artist Lecture" Taylor has worked on with Suzanne Bocanegra, including in previous CounterCurrent festivals.
The performance piece will be just one event in conjunction with Moody’s next major visual art exhibition “Narrative Threads: Fiber Art Today.”
Macbeth Muet at Main Street Theater (January 27-30)
Not many productions of Macbeth will ever be described as both strangely moving and delightful, but this vision of the Scottish play from Canada’s La Fille Du Laitier Theatre Delivery Service certainly qualifies as both.
Back in 2018, Main Street first brought to town this two-person silent production that uses food and kitchen instruments to tell the story, and for a New Year’s theatrical gift Main Street presents the show once more.
While the Bard’s words will not be uttered, the tragedy still resonants even when told with the aid of raw eggs and a hockey glove.
Werther from Houston Grand Opera (January 27-February 10)
To balance the comic brilliance of Figaro, HGO brings us a tragic rarity in this Jules Massenet opera based on the Goethe novel. This tale of a poet’s unrequited love for a woman who cannot be his returns to HGO for the first time in 40 years. French director Benoît Jacquot makes his HGO debut in this co-production with the Opera de Paris and Royal Opera House.
We hear that Jacquot’s staging has been noted for its perfect moonlit trysts and stolen glances that gleam through the character’s obsession. One of opera’s most celebrated tenors, Matthew Polenzani, leads the cast as Werther in his long-anticipated Houston debut.
Three-time Grammy winner, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, also debuts alongside Polenzani, and world-renowned conductor Robert Spano taking the podium.
Chicago from Theatre Under the Stars (January 31-February 12)
The hits keep on coming at the Hobby Center, as the merry murderess, the Cook County Jail, and their totally honest lawyer are back to "Razzle Dazzle" once more in the classic jazz-age story of fame, law, media, and PR that remains especially timely even today.
One of two shows of the TUTS season that they'll present instead of produce, this latest Chicago tour corresponds with the 25-year anniversary of the celebrated and Tony-winning, late-'90s revival that brought us all that jazz and rewrote the book on what a revival can be — without actually rewriting the book.