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Photo by Michael Danner

A party to celebrate an art exhibition immediately conjures images of well-dressed people standing around sipping wine, but that won’t be the case this Saturday, November 5 at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts. Instead, attendees at Saturday night’s Urban Nights: A Communal Art Experience will be drinking a very special beer.

The Moody Center invited Emeka Ogboh, a Nigerian-born, Berlin-based artist whose lightbox work Spirit and Matter is featured at the center, to collaborate with local brewery Astral Brewing on Japa, a stout that’s intended to capture the flavors of Houston. The result is a beer that has smoky, spicy, and sweet flavors.

“I do a lot of work around beer,” Ogboh tells CultureMap. “Most times, people see beer as just something for consumption, but I see it more like an entry point.”

In this case, the beer serves as an entry point for how Houston’s Nigerian community feels about their adopted city. Before creating the beer, Ogboh distributed a survey to members of the local Nigerian community. One of the questions asked respondents to describe the flavor they most associate with Houston.

“That is a tough one. How do you summarize a city in one flavor,” Ogboh acknowledges. “Savory and spicy were at the top of the list. A lot of people said ‘diverse,’ which is not really a flavor. It’s saying Houston is not bland.”

Emeka Ogboh and Astral Brewing brewmaster Ian McDonald Ogboh and Astral Brewing brewmaster Ian McDonald tasting Japa.Photo courtesy of Astral Brewing/Moody Center

The name “Japa” has meaning, too. Taken from the Yoruba language, it’s the term Nigerians use to describe someone who immigrates to another country, a group that includes Ogboh’s brother and his family.

“That is the story of Nigerians in Houston” Ogboh says. “We are here as economic migrants. It’s better opportunities for them. They come for school or to work.”

“Emeka does super interesting work,” adds Astral co-founder José Ceja. “It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to work with someone outside our comfort zone.”

In addition to tasting of Japa, the Urban Nights party will feature food trucks, dance, art installations, and a performance by Houston hip hop artist Lil’ Flip. It’s presented in celebration of the the center’s latest exhibit, Urban Impressions: Experiencing the Global Contemporary Metropolis. On display through mid-December, Urban Impressions explores how people experience cities in the 21st century.

As for Japa, the stout will be available at the Moody Center while supplies last.

The Urban Nights party happens from 6-10 pm Saturday, November 5. For a complete list of performers, please see the Moody Center's website.

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Houston-born America's Got Talent star jazzes up new TUTS' production of Broadway smash Chicago

Razzle dazzle 'em!

When Christina Wells steps onto the Hobby Center stage as Matron "Mama" Morton in the 25th Anniversary Tour of Chicago, she knows she's coming full circle.

Wells takes on the famed role in the highly anticipated Chicago run produced by Theatre Under the Stars, which runs January 31 through February 12 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

Houston — and national —audiences fell in love with her during her breakout, Season 13 of NBC's America's Got Talent.

"The city of Houston showed up for me," she tells CultureMap, explaining the hometown love she felt in her appearance on the talent show. "I feel such joy in returning here. You know, performing is a two-way street, and I feel like, we did it!"

Wells' gratitude for her home and her career runs deep. The H-Town native is a trained registered nurse, and didn't step into performing full time until after her stint on the hit show. By that point, she was in her 40s, with two grown children.

All the stars seemed to align, pointing her in a brand-new direction.

"I was always that nurse who would whip open the curtain on a patient before surgery and say, hey!" Her voice notches up, evoking an emcee warming up the crowd. "So, I always brought that kind of entertaining aspect to it."

Following the AGT appearance, she secured and agent and began the path to full-time acting. The single mother (her sons are now 27 and 21, and she has a toddler grandson) calls it her "second adulthood."

Chicago is her first national tour, and every day is adventure for Wells, being in a new city every week — sometimes multiple times a week — and learning who she is in this new phase of her life.

"It's just surreal," she says about having the tour stop in Houston. "I started in community theater and I looked up to TUTS. That was the goal."

A goal she met in 2021, with a dream role of Ursula the sea witch in Disney's The Little Mermaid. Now, she's back on the Hobby Center stage in another iconic role in an another iconic musical.

Matron "Mama" Morton is in charge of the women's ward of the Cook County Jail, where she oversees the musical's accused murderers, taking the occasional bribe in exchange for favors and preferential treatment Her big number, "When You're Good to Mama" is often a showstopper, sung by some of show business' biggest names. Think Patti LaBelle, Lilias White, Jennifer Holliday, and Queen Latifah.

That might nbe intimidating to some. Not to Wells.

"I try not to think of stepping into other people's shoes," she says. "I want to myself to this. I want to be authentic in it. [Mama's] a big woman, and she loves these girls. She protects them. But she's tough. She gets what she wants."

The musical, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, opened to mixed reviews on Broadway in 1975. But its 1996 revival fared better. That iteration of the show is still running on Broadway.

And the 2002 movie musical was a hit, starring Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, and Latifah. It explores the idea of celebrity criminals and a corrupt justice system, blending those dark themes with some of Broadway's most instantly recognizable tunes such as "All That Jazz," "Razzle Dazzle," and "Nowadays."

Being part of the tour has taught Wells a lot, both about the business of performing and about her self. She prioritizes singing over everything else, she says. And she's tapped into her own desire for authenticity in her roles to amp up her acting. She credits the show's creative team, especially the show's director and assistant choreographer, in helping her to grow in her craft an confidence.

That confidence is something she wants to share.

"Opportunity and talent don't just belong to the young," she says. "Everyone has value."

That's the message she shares with others when she offers workshops and talks, where she not only offers her own journey as an example, but encourages others to tap into theirs.

"I'm a cheerleader," she explains. "I have one friend who teases me, 'Don't listen to her; she'll have you going back to college and leaving your terrible boyfriend.'" Wells laughs. "But I say, stand in my confidence for a little while. If I'm going to have a platform in this life, I'm going to tell you to believe in yourself."

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Chicago runs January 31 through February 12 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (800 Bagby St.). For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit TUTS online.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Christina Wells plays "Mama" Morton in TUTS' Chicago.

New City of Houston law now requires locals to chip in for their precious pets

plug and play

Starting on Wednesday, February 1, all dog and cat owners in the city of Houston will be required to microchip their pets.

The new rule is officially going into effect after the Houston City Council passed an ordinance last year. Initially, there was a year-long grace period for enforcing the microchipping requirement, but that ends on Wednesday.

It's part of a three-step process to completing a pet registration with the city. The city says the microchips help animal control return pets that are brought to city facilities that are lost.

The City of Houston Municipal Code requires that anyone who owns, keeps, possesses, or has control of a dog or cat that's at least 4 months old must have their pet registered, microchipped and vaccinated against rabies every year.

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Continue reading this story, with accompanying video, on our news partner ABC13.

Where to eat in Houston right now: The most swoon-worthy restaurants with open tables on Valentine's Day

where to eat on valentine's day

Valentine’s Day is two weeks away. Couples who wish to celebrate at a Houston restaurant need to make their plans now.

Instead of listing every establishment with a prix fixe, this list offers suggestions of newer or more offbeat options. All of the restaurants listed below show at least some reservations available online as of Monday, January 30.

Of course, those who want to avoid the Valentine’s Day crowds may want to consider going out the weekend before. People who aren’t football fans will find plentiful options on Super Bowl Sunday.

Axelrad
Couples looking for a more casual celebration should consider the popular Midtown bar, which will host a market curated by Shop Local Market. The evening also includes a screening of the cult classic movie True Romance, tacos by Boombox Tacos, and cocktail specials.

El Topo
Chef-owner Tony Luhrman will collaborate with former Top Chef contestant Sasha Grumman (Sasha’s Focaccia) on a five-course, $140 per person menu that explores the intersection of Texan and Italian flavors. Dishes include cherries and chicories salad, ricotta cavatelli with guanciale, and smoked tenderloin with masa polenta. Beverage pairings ($25 for non-alcoholic, $50 for alcoholic) are also available.

George’s Bistro & Bar
This neighborhood restaurant in West U. will supplement its regular menu with a three-course, $100 per person prix fixe. Choose lobster bisque or fried mozzarella to start, followed by either a 10-ounce filet mignon or pan-seared sea bass. Finish with chocolate covered strawberries and lemon meringue pie.

GJ Tavern
Chef Tim Redding will serve a six-course, $135 per person menu at this intimate downtown restaurant. Dishes include East Coast oysters, fried asparagus with crispy prosciutto, octopus, roasted flounder, and New York strip. Two seatings available.

Hidden Omakase
Chef Niki Vongthong will serve a special, Valentine’s themed version of her $175 tasting menu from February 9-12. Look for dishes such as oysters with ikura and yuzu, wagyu udon, and sour cream panna cotta.

Indianola
Agricole Hospitality’s Texan-inspired restaurant in EaDo will supplement its regular menu with a few Valentine’s Day specials, including three different shared entrees — mesquite-grilled veal chop, snapper with lemongrass butter, and chicken fried piccata — as well as Mexican hot chocolate lava cake. Miss Carousel, its companion cocktail bar, makes for a worthy pre or post-dinner destination.

Louie’s Italian American
This East End newcomer will supplement its regular a la carte with a four-course, $60 prix fixe that includes shared starters, lemon and ricotta ravioli, redfish with salsa verde, and olive oil cake.

The Lymbar
Chef David Cordua’s new restaurant in Midtown will offer a three-course, $85 per person menu. Start with choices such as snapper ceviche or chicken chicharrones before picking an entree such as chicken ballotine, gemelli pasta, or beef tenderloin tacos arabes. A few dessert choices are available, but people should get the tres leches.

Navy Blue
The Bludorn team’s newly opened Rice Village seafood restaurant will serve a three-course, $145 per person prix fixe. Start with one of six appetizers, including oysters, seafood gumbo, or crab cake. The six entree choices include blackened snapper, lobster ravioli, and dry-aged striploin. Finish with any dessert from the menu.

Passerella Ristorante & Wine Bar

This Italian restaurant in Cypress from the owners of The Union Kitchen will offers its Valentine’s menu from February 10-19. Choices include wild mushroom tart, lobster ravioli, veal osso bucco, and bone-in pork milanese.

Pondicheri
Chef Anita Jaisinghani’s Lover’s Thali is a two person, $50 dinner that includes Potato Cake Chaat, Vegetable Korma (carrots, cauliflower, snap peas), and sides such as citrus pilaf, grilled zucchini, and avocado herb salad. Add chicken for $10 or shrimp or scallops for $15. Available Saturday, February 11 through Valentine’s.

Roma Ristorante
Rice Village’s homey Italian restaurant will serve a three-course, $59 per person prix fixe. Starters include Caesar salad, octopus, and arancini. Risotto, chicken cacciatore, veal scallopini, and crispy skin salmon are the entree choices. Finish with one of three desserts.

Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Houston’s oldest craft brewery will host a six-course dinner that includes beer pairings. Even better, the $100 per person price includes tax and gratuity. Look for dishes such as French onion soup paired with Spring Bock; oysters Rockefeller paired with Bishop’s Barrel No. 11; and lamb chops paired with Bishop’s Barrel No. 20.

State of Grace
The luxurious steak and seafood restaurant in River Oaks will serve a five-course, $145 per person menu on Valentine’s. Everyone starts with caviar and and oysters before selecting from four appetizers, three pastas, and six entrees. Choices include roasted bone marrow, grilled strawberry salad, blue crab risotto, braised lamb shank, and a surf and turf of filet and lobster ($15 supplement).

Urbe
Chef Hugo Ortega’s street food concept in Uptown Park will serve a three-course, $95 menu that’s designed to feed two people. Available on February 10, 11, 13, and 14, choices include chicken taquitos, ceviche, braised pork shank, huitlacoche quesadilla, and skirt steak. Drink specials will provide pairing options.

Photo by Ajna Jai

Share a Valentine's thali at Pondicheri.