Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues When Smith, a superstar on the vaudeville circuits of the 1920s, died in a car accident in 1937, rumors started that she bled to death after being refused treatment at a whites-only hospital. Edward Albee picked up on the tale for his controversial 1960 play The Death of Bessie Smith, even though it wasnt true (she actually was treated at the scene by a white doctor and died before reaching a hospital). The authors of this new musical biography, Jubilee Theatre members Rudy Eastman and Joe Rogers, stick to the facts and deliver a powerful, clever and uncluttered two-hour show about the life and career of a musical legend. They find the perfect leading lady in Sheran Goodspeed-Keyton, who belts the blues like a legend-to-be. Her voice leaves the audience awestruck and begging for more. When shes not singing Smiths signature tunes, including After Youre Gone and St. Louis Blues, Goodspeed-Keyton shows strong acting skills in poignant vignettes about the singers sorrow-filled later years. The supporting cast of four male singers is tops, too. Well worth the drive to Cowtown, this show offers a look back at a time when Smith was empress, queen and reigning goddess of the brand of music that hurts so good. Through April 18 (no show Easter Sunday) at Jubilee Theatre, 506 Main St., Fort Worth. 817-338-4411. Reviewed this week.
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Dirty Blonde When actress Julie Johnson is done up in full bewigged blond drag as the bawdy movie comedienne Mae West, this jumbled play by Claudia Shear comes briefly to life. But for most of the show, Johnson plays Jo, a dowdy, obsessed West fan who meets her match in Charlie (Terry Dobson), a fellow nerd and dedicated West-y who secretly dresses in spangles and curls to worship his favorite movie diva. As Jo and Charlie fall in love, they share scrapbooks and factoids (and later, makeup tips) about Mae West, whom Charlie met when he was a teen and she was one platform heel in the grave. All the exposition slows down a show that focuses too little on its title character. Five songs, none memorable, are woven into the narrative, making this not quite a comedy, not quite a musical. Supporting actors Robert Prentiss and Ricky Pope play various characters from Wests life, including her manager and her movie co-star W.C. Fields. Johnson does a passable version of Wests ooh-ooh delivery but lacks her hip-wobbling sex appeal. Through April 17 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St. (in the Quadrangle). 214-871-3300. Reviewed this week.
Forever Plaid This melodic and nostalgic musical tells the story of the Plaids, a 1950s quartet of crooners who, on their way to their first big concert, are killed in a bus wreck. From the afterlife, the Plaids perform one last concert, including jukebox hits Three Coins in the Fountain, No, Not Much, Moments to Remember, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Jamaica Farewell and more. The jokes are corny, the acting broad, but the music is heavenly. One very fast and funny sequence re-creates memorable moments from an Ed Sullivan show, including jugglers, plate-spinners and Senor Wences. Starring Mark Frie, Jon-Paul Burkhart, Cody Bowen and Jimmy Nelson. Through April 11 at ArtCentre Theatre, 1028 15th Place, Plano. 972-422-7460.
Lone Star/Laundry and Bourbon In two one-acts with six related characters, the gossip and heartbreaking secrets of small-town Texas life are explored in get-down funny vignettes. In the first play, three frowsy gals (Marisa Diotalevi, Sue Loncar, Lyn Montgomery) fold clothes and get rip-roaring drunk on the back porch. The second play looks at the men in their lives, chugging beer behind the local roadhouse. This half is the winner, with fine performances by Mark Nutter and Todd Terry as brothers hashing out a lifetime of pain over booze and Baby Ruth bars. The set by Randel Wright is so magical it gets its own round of applause. Through April 10 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears St. 214-828-0094. Reviewed March 18.
No Sex Please, Were British Back in the 1970s, this was one raunchy little sex comedy. Now its barely high camp. Newlyweds yearn for privacy as their apartment is invaded by a mother-in-law, a boss, a male secretary, a bank examiner, a policeman, two hookers and a wayward shipment of porn. In Theatre Britains production, the accents are perfect, but the pacing needs some punch. Still, they manage to keep slamming doors, dropping their trousers and running up and down stairs for the better part of two hours, all in the name of British comedy. Any episode of Fawlty Towers is a clue to the Brits attitudes toward slap and tickle 30 years ago. Nice comic turns here by actors Terry McCracken, Mark Waltz and Kevin M Connolly, who all understand that a farce needs forceful forward motion to keep it snappy. The costumes by Ryan Matthieu Smith are really groovy, baby. Through April 4 at the Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180. 972-490-4202. Reviewed March 25.