Seeing is Believing
Bring It On: Cheerleaders, a winter wonderland and the Chicken Ranch pack TUTS'2011-12 season
Seeing is believing, maybe a tired cliche, has been used to describe a UFO documentary, a 1941 mystery novel and a film about Bobby Darin. For the 2011-2012 season, Theater Under the Stars (TUTS) has adopted the title phrase to describe its program offerings, promising to present something for everyone.
Looking at the lineup, there is very little to justify the theme. Other than it's catchy, cute and based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love — which incidentally is not being programmed — I am puzzled finding a connection.
But marketing mystery aside, TUTS has earned a reputation for staging works that just make audiences happy. And isn't that what musical theater is mostly about? And for that, I don't have to see to believe.
The works speak for themselves, even if there is little innovation. With most shows being circa 30 years old — except one that clearly attempts to reach out to teenage audiences — TUTS is playing it safe, distinguishing itself from the bolder strategy of Gexa Energy Broadway at the Hobby Center.
Here is the lineup:
Premiering in 1950, the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls ran for 1,200 performances winning a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1951. After a film starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in 1955 and many revivals later, the music and lyrics by Frank Loesser have become a standard in many nostalgic classic jazz collections. You'll recognize a lot of the tunes like "Luck Be A Lady" and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat,” taking you back in time when a stereotypical gangster could sing and dance and showgirls had class.
Moving forward in time, a whooping four years later, the movie world brought us Christmas through the musical eyes of a Jew.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, although it was meant to reunite Crosby with Fred Astaire, who passed on the opportunity after reading the script.
The film was a big money maker and will do the same for TUTS — its Nutcraker, per se. Back to Houston by popular demand, the production showcases a large troupe of dancers, musicians with elaborate staging, costumes and choreography.
It's war plus a vaudeville mix — with snow falling on your head. TUTS has promised to create a winter wonderland scene and include the audience while they are doing it. Favorite tunes include "Blue Skies,” “Count Your Blessings” and of course, “White Christmas.”
Following the earning holiday season, the only new work to come to Houston via TUTS is a teenie bopper pleaser. Having premiered this January in Atlanta, Bring it On: The Musical, is loosely based on a 2000 comedy film (plus four direct-to-video sequels and a parody) about dueling high school cheerleading squads.
But indeed, big names are behind the show including Tony Award winner Jeff Whitty, who brought us the witty Avenue Q, and music by Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning composer Tom Kitt (Next To Normal). Expect impressive acrobatics, good one-liners and a fun spectacle. Forget the story line, this is about cheerleading stunts. It mostly ignores the films, which is a good thing.
I was 8 years old the first time I saw Annie, in Spanish, and found it strange the first time I was asked to sing "Tomorrow" in English — it will forever be ingrained in my formative memory as "Mañana."
Based on a comic strip, the original 1977 Broadway production ran for six years, winning a Tony for Best Musical. Young talent for this production will be provided by TUTS' own Humphreys School of Musical Theatre.
Better known as The Bird Cage, this production of La Cage Aux Folles (because everything in French is sassier) won three Tonys including Best Musical Revival and is the only musical to have won awards for every staged production, original and revivals included.
The story centers around a drag queen chanteuse who tries to deceive his partner's son's fiance's Republican parents by impersonating a Barbara Bush type figure while de-homosexualizing their humble (and fabulous) home. It's gay musical theater at its best.
Following in that theme, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas closes the TUTS season. Inspired by the real story of Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, the original Broadway production opened in 1978. Classy-brassy madam Miss Mona Stangley clashes with Melvin P. Thorpe, a character modeled after Marvin Zindler. The story juxtaposes some of the most beloved subjects: Football, Texas A&M, risqué girls, a hot-headed sheriff, money and sex.
All in all, the season is fun, entertaining and nostalgic. Maybe TUTS isn't presenting us with hardcore-cutting-edge-groundbreaking shows, but I'll be hard pressed to find patrons that would object to seeing any of these productions.