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4th Wall Theatre Company presents Fairview

4th Wall Theatre Company presents Fairview

Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

At the Frasier family household, party preparations are underway. Beverly is holding on to her sanity by a thread to make sure Grandma’s birthday is perfect, but her sister can’t be bothered to help, her husband doesn’t seem to listen, her brother is M.I.A., her daughter is a teenager, and maybe nothing is what it seems in the first place.

Fairview is a searing examination of families, drama, family dramas, and the insidiousness of racism in America.

Photo courtesy of Pikrepo

4th Wall Theatre Company presents Sanctuary City

4th Wall Theatre Company presents Sanctuary City

Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok presents the powerful story of two young DREAMers who fight to establish a place for themselves in America, the only country they know as home. Poignant, timely, and highly theatrical, Sanctuary City illuminates the triumphs and challenges these lifelong friends face, and how much they are willing to risk for each other when they have everything to lose.

Photo by Averie Woodard on Unsplash

4th Wall Theatre Company presents The Sound Inside

4th Wall Theatre Company presents The Sound Inside

When Bella Baird, an isolated creative writing professor at Yale, begins to mentor a brilliant but enigmatic student named Christopher, the two form an unexpectedly intense bond. As their lives and the stories they tell about themselves become intertwined in unpredictable ways, Bella makes a surprising request of Christopher that neither knows if he can fulfill.

Brimming with suspense, Adam Rapp’s riveting play explores the limits of what one person can ask of another.

Photo by Melissa Taylor

Mary Poppins herself on why families should see the TUTS production this holiday season

A Jolly Holiday

This holiday season, Theatre Under The Stars is presenting an eye-popping, spectacular, and wonder-filled production of the Disney classic Mary Poppins. Based on the Disney film and book by P.L. Travers, this brand-new production of the hit musical runs December 6-24 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

As the cast gathers and rehearsals begin — mere weeks before the first performance — CultureMap sat down with Olivia Hernandez, who plays the practically perfect nanny, to talk flying, family bonding, and finding new ways to approach such an iconic character.

CultureMap: Is this your first time picking up the umbrella and playing Mary Poppins?

Olivia Hernandez: It's not actually — I've played her once before, and I think Mary is the prefect convergence of my skills. Not only is she vocally exciting for me to sing, but I relate to her a lot.

CM: How so?

OH: She's such a complex character. She's fun and imaginative but also firm and determined. I was reading the P.L. Travers book that the musical and movie are based on and had so much to discuss with our director, Julie Kramer. Mary is so unexpected at every turn!

The first adjective the book uses to describe her is "vain," and I had always wondered what that was about. But when you think about it, she is very put together and particular about things, especially the way she looks. She knows how something is supposed to be, and won't settle for anything less. She's not your typical archetype.

CM: What's it like bringing this iconic character to life?

OH: It’s challenging, because first and foremost I want to be a Mary Poppins that people recognize, and not confuse anyone. But since the musical is a little different from the movie that everyone is so familiar with, and incorporates some elements from the book, it gives me the chance to bring myself to the role.

It's a challenge to put all those things together, but hopefully we're coming up with an end result that makes people think more about her than they ever have before.

CM: You said rehearsals just began — have you started flying yet?

OH: Not yet, but I'm so looking forward to it! I've never flown before, but I'm very unafraid of heights so I'm excited to get up there.

CM: What's your personal favorite part of the show?

OH: "Feed the Birds," for sure. It's just such a beautiful song, so haunting and touching, and Susan Koozin is incredibly moving when she sings it. That specific moment in the musical is a very important lesson that Mary is teaching Jane and Michael, and it's a song that sticks with everyone.

CM: Why should Houstonians come see the show this holiday season?

OH: It’s such a great show to bring your whole family to. There are lessons to be learned by everyone in this show, and the whole family learns to reconnect with each other through Mary Poppins. That's a really relevant lesson right now, as a lot of us are disconnecting from each other (especially while connecting more to our phones).

This show helps you remember what’s important, and it's perfect for the holidays for that reason, especially after a really rough two years.

And what’s not to love? Every time we bring up Mary Poppins to someone, people have such warm feelings about it. I get it! I grew up watching the movie and it's my husband's absolute favorite movie. It's special when something has that sort of staying power.

I also think it’s really wonderful to see such a diverse group of people in our cast. In a lot of ways, this cast really reflects what Houston looks like, with people from many different backgrounds and abilities and a lot of young people. It's exciting to see them all and see what we create together.

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TUTS' production of Mary Poppins runs December 6-24, 2022, at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts. Click here to purchase tickets.

Photo by Melissa Taylor

Olivia Hernandez portrays the practically perfect nanny.

Photo by Alley Theatre

Alley Theatre presents A Christmas Carol

Alley Theatre presents A Christmas Carol

Inspired by the original novella, playwright Rob Melrose captures Charles Dickens’ witty wording and evocative style to surprise audiences with parts of the familiar story they didn’t know were there. With rich Victorian costumes, magical elements created by acclaimed magician Jim Steinmeyer, and holiday carols, A Christmas Carol tells the beloved story of Scrooge and his miraculous transformation.

Photo courtesy of Dallas Children's Theater

Moore Vision Entertainment presents Seussical the Musical

Moore Vision Entertainment will kick the holidays off with the family musical Seussical, a musical journey that brings together all of Dr. Seuss’s beloved characters.

Seussical follows the entertaining adventures of Horton the Elephant, who must protect his friends in the invisible world of Whos from the naysayers of the Jungle of Nool. He is also entrusted with the task of guarding the abandoned egg of Amazing Mayzie. Horton faces ridicule, danger, kidnapping, and a trial. The powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community are challenged and emerge triumphant in this story.

The cherished Dr. Seuss books have been turned into a magical musical extravaganza from Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The imagination runs wild amidst the toe-tapping cornucopia of musical styles, ranging from Latin to pop, swing to gospel, and R&B to funk.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.