Underground Shocker

Naughty, naughty: New underground theater brings ax murderers, hardbodies and S&M to Houston stages

Naughty, naughty: New underground theater brings ax murderers and S&M

TUTS Underground announcement July 2013 50 Shades of Grey
A promo shot from TUTS' production of 50 Shades of Grey Photo by © Cliff Roles
TUTS Underground announcement July 2013 Hardbody
Hands on a Hard Body performing at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in New York Photo by © Chad Batka
TUTS Underground announcement July 2013 Lizzie Borden
Lizzie Borden Photo courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars
TUTS Underground announcement July 2013 50 Shades of Grey
TUTS Underground announcement July 2013 Hardbody
TUTS Underground announcement July 2013 Lizzie Borden

Theatre Under the Stars, the otherwise family friendly presenter of happy musicals at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, has officially lost its innocence with the spawning of the organization's newest alter ego.

Think of the recently launched TUTS Underground performance series as not akin to the bipolar Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but rather as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz dressed up in dominatrix duds — leather whip included — and slithering about shadowy alleys in search for a secret, dirty romp with a cross-dressing coterie of fetish-loving mortals sporting silver ties. It's more than wicked (musical pun intended), and there's no clicking heels to whisk you back home.

TUTS administrators describe these new offerings as edgy, captivating, rockin' and risque — a far departure from the virginal, mother-approved shows like The Little Mermaid, Xanadu and Evita that are scheduled as part of the regular TUTS 2013-14 season.

 "I want to bring important theater to Houston — shows that make people think and view the world around them differently."

Instead, TUTS Underground will present a quartet of works that include Lizzie (Oct. 10-20), based on the true story of Lizzie Borden, a Massachusetts ax murderer who was controversially acquitted of butchering her father and stepmother; 50 Shades! (Dec 17-22), a spoof on the erotically explicit novel by E.L. James; and Hands on a Hardbody (June 12-22, 2014), a musical based on a 1997 documentary in which 10 Texans vie to win a Nissan truck by being the last one to keep at least one hand on the vehicle. The fourth selection has not yet been determined.

"I want to bring important theater to Houston — shows that make people think and view the world around them differently and from a new and exciting angle," Bruce Lumpkin, artistic director, said in a statement. "Houston is ready for this. TUTS is ready for this."

Performances will be held in Zilkha Hall, the smaller and more intimate of the two Hobby Center theaters. TUTS Underground fills a void left when former Hobby Center resident troupe, The Masquerade Theatre, halted operations mid-season in 2012 as a result of financial duress. TUTS' presented Dixie's Tupperware Party in June as an experiment that tested whether Houston theater goers would buy into a twisted edition of a company that has largely targeted PG audiences.

Sold out shows, one after the other, delivered the answer.

TUTS is treating Underground as an immersive experience that extends outside the performance itself, pledging to engage guests from when they enter the theater till after curtain call. An al fresco wine and beer garden for mixing and mingling will serve as a forum to discuss the shows. Tickets will range from $24 to $49 and will go on sale starting Aug. 4.