Capsule Reviews

A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline Nobody can sing Patsy Cline the way Jenny Thurman can, and she gets to do it again in this two-hour musical tribute. All the hit songs are here: "Crazy," "Walkin' After Midnight," "Leavin' on Your Mind," "Back in Baby's Arms." It's like a living jukebox of country music nostalgia. Dean Regan's script isn't much, just a loosely structured bio recounting the highlights of Cline's career (she died in a plane crash in 1963, still at the top of the pop and country charts). So it leaves plenty of room for the tunes. Chamblee Ferguson plays a radio show host reading the singer's biography to listeners between records. He also cameos as a hillbilly comic on the Grand Ole Opry and as a Vegas wisecracker who was Cline's opening act. Jeff Kinman, Tony Martin, Jimmy Nelson and Sara Shelby-Martin are the backup singers who kill time between Cline songs, crooning old radio ads for Ajax ("The foaming cleanser!") and Mr. Clean. Thurman, who also sang the lead in Always...Patsy Cline and did some Cline tunes in WaterTower's Rockin' Christmas Party, has perfected her impersonation of the star's familiar vocal style. She can caress the notes or belt 'em to the rafters. But whether you're a Cline fan or not, you'll be a dedicated Thurman fan after seeing this production. Now if only someone would let Thurman sing for herself, instead of as Patsy Cline, we could see what this talented woman could really do. Through December 31 at WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, 972-450-6232. Reviewed this week. (Elaine Liner)

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown The Peanuts gang seems poised for a pop-culture comeback, and this lighthearted production of the old musical (reworked for a Broadway revival in 1999) is reason enough to get reacquainted with Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder and everybody's fave black-nosed beagle, Snoopy. The characters sing and dance and crack G-rated jokes in two hours of gentle, whimsical vignettes adapted by Clark Gesner and Michael Mayer from Charles M. Schulz's comic strips. Directed by Terry Dobson, with sprightly choreography by Michael Serrecchia, the cast in Theatre Three's production makes the audience forget they're really watching grown-up actors. Megan Kelly as Lucy and Arianna Movassagh as Sally are especially good at throwing themselves into their kiddie roles with playground-sized energy and wide-eyed wonder. Ric Leal makes a snappy Snoopy, fighting the Red Baron from atop his oversized doghouse and dancing with puppylike glee as he waits for dog chow in the Act 2 showstopper, "Suppertime." Through January 15 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St., Suite 168 in The Quadrangle, 214-871-3300. Reviewed this week. (E.L.)

The Gift of the Magi Feeling a little anemic Christmas spiritwise? This production by the Classical Acting Company is just the tonic for the holiday-weary. Dallas actor-writer Lee Trull blends two O. Henry stories--Magi and Compliments of the Season--into a seamless one-act that loses not a morsel of the writer's trademark irony and wit. It's the classic tale of an unexpected Christmas miracle. Jim (Steven Walters) and Della (Elise Reynard) are newlyweds circa 1907, living in a sparsely furnished walk-up in Lower Manhattan, "married to each other, married to poverty." Jim, a writer, regales the delicate Della with fanciful stories, from the baseball player he met at a busy lunch counter to the wild and woolly adventures of three down-and-outers who find a kid's lost doll and try to cash in on a $100 reward. Rich in love, Jim and Della are poor in finances, down to their last few pennies. No gifts, they promise. But they can't help themselves. Each thinks of the perfect present the other will love. But what must they sacrifice to buy them? No spoilers here, in case you've forgotten O. Henry's famous tragicomic twist at the end of the story. But even if you know it, you'll get swept into the simple elegance of this beautifully acted and precisely staged production (directed by Matthew Gray). When Walters sweeps Reynard into his arms for a slow waltz across the floor to the warm notes of a far-off cello, it's as lovely a moment in the theater as we've witnessed all year. Shows this good really do feel like a gift. Through December 24 at the Arena Theater, Fannin Hall, Richland College, 12800 Abrams Road, 214-505-1655. (E.L.)

Nuestra Pastorela The best translation of nuestra pastorela might be "our own Nativity play," but that does nothing to describe the madcap zaniness Chicano troupe Cara Mia's nine actors--many of them non-professionals--have injected into the traditional story of Christ's birth. Before the play really begins, two of the actors, pretending to be audience members, argue with each other loudly in Spanglish up on the stage (where the rest of the audience is seated, to echo the intimate humility of the typical Mexican pastorela). After donning bright red clown noses, the two become gibberish-spouting shepherd-clowns joined by another clown, three devils, the angel Gabriel and eventually Jose and Maria. The chief devil has decided that baby Jesus is "trying to get our job"; after all, if he has the ability to cleanse humans of their sins, what work is left for devils? So he and his diablo colleagues must intervene in the shepherds' journey to Bethlehem by tempting them with all seven of the deadly sins. There are points at which the tomfoolery drags on too long to maintain its burst of biting humor, but the enthusiasm of the cast is infectious. Through December 19 at the Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak St., 214-946-9499. (Claiborne Smith)

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The Santaland Diaries This is the fourth year Dallas actor Nye Cooper has channeled the Spirit of Christmas Gay in David Sedaris' minty, flinty one-man show about a New York newcomer hired as a lowly Santa's helper at Macy's Herald Square. With fresh direction by WaterTower Theatre's Terry Martin and a spiffy new set by Clare Floyd Devries, it feels like a brand-new show. Cooper, as always, can generate laughs just with the strategic arching of one black eyebrow. But now he's comfortable enough with the audience to take his time telling the story of the cynical elf-for-hire who finds himself caught up in the strange magic of life inside Santa's "magic tree." In short chapters, we follow "Crumpet" through elf training, his first long days on the job, his crush on fellow elf Snowball, the psychic wounds of being shrieked at by harried parents and the final run-up to the big day when at last he can shed his velvet knickers and pointy hat. Cooper's performance catches all of Sedaris' wry timing (the author first read this material as a series of essays on National Public Radio), but he brings his own wry touches to the part. He makes one delicious Crumpet. Through December 23 at the Stone Cottage, Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, 214-450-6232. (E.L.)

Snow White The British call the kind of production under way at the Trinity River Arts Center a "panto," which means that the audience should hiss and boo when Queen Isawicked (Allyn Carrell) tromps onstage and blithely accept that Prince Gerald, who saves Snow White (Emmy Gladney) by kissing her, is played by a woman (Lauren N. Goode). But since the opening number is a little rap that goes "I'm gonna tell ya a little story/'Bout a girl named Snow," audience members get their bearings early on in this distinctly non-Disneyfied Snow White. Jacque Mellor's script, and the actors performing it, capture the verve and irreverence of childhood imagination where many children's plays stodgily posit the wee tots as little adults, with adult expectations. The producers haven't meddled with Snow White's story so much as they've enlivened it: She must overcome Queen Isawicked, her vengeful stepmother, by surviving a poisoned apple as well as the hapless Hunter Bob (Kevin M. Connolly), who knows he is "not the brightest candle in the window." And The Mirror (Robert Silva) still knows who's the fairest of them all, but in Theatre Britain's Snow White, he's mordant and a little sassy, a thoughtful nod at pleasing the adults attending this children's show. Through December 19 at the Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway, #180, 972-490-4202. (C.S.)

The Underpants Two years ago, Steve Martin adapted Carl Sternheim's 1911 satire of stolid German bourgeois morality, Die Hose, by Americanizing the original playwright's language and by extending the play's gags to his own daffy uses. The result is like an hour-and-a-half American sitcom that just happens to be set in Dusseldorf in 1910. It's springtime, so when young and beautiful Louise Maske's (Amy Storemski) panties inexplicably fall to her ankles one day at the train station, everyone in town happens to be out enjoying the weather--and Louise's underpants. That happens to you all the time, you say? But do you have a boorish husband who refuses to have sex with you because he's measured out every last penny and decided a child would not be financially advantageous? Poor Louise is soon hounded by potential renters--a dashing but pompous poet (Mark Shum) and a sickly barber (Jon Paul Burkhart)--who profess to have non-amatory reasons for wanting to live under the same roof as Louise. Plano Repertory's cast pulls off more than a few genuinely laugh-out-loud moments but also relies on hyperbolic gestures where more inventive physical comedy would have carried the mood. Through December 19 at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano, 1509 H Ave., 972-422-7460. (C.S.)

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