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By David Dow Bentley III “The People’s Critic”
Houston’s MUSIC BOX THEATER continues to amaze audiences with their seemingly bottomless reservoir of musical creativity and comedy flair. With its long-running and very talented quintet of regular stars, Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan, Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel, the brilliant troupe has been delighting full house crowds for more than a dozen years. That popularity shows no signs of a let up. Titled, “FEELIN’ GROOVY 8,” the cast subtitles this current show (which opened in June) as “9 Weeks of Peace & Music.” While they may not bring about World Peace, they most certainly prove once again that music is their collective forte. And their uniformly brilliant singing is perfectly matched by the superb 6-member Music Box Band, led by gifted lead guitarist, Mark McCain.
Regular visitors to the Music Box know that each new production has some clever theme. This edition undertakes to musically bring us “the best of the 60’s & 70’s,” using an unusual construction which, between song numbers, is cleverly (and amusingly) narrated by 3-time Emmy Award Nominee, Mr. Wrobel. With a dusty and ancient looking book in hand, he introduces the program by explaining that the very ground on which the theater now sits, formerly housed the 19th century saloon of one Joseph Becker. The crumbling volume, he tells us, is the discovered memoir of Becker’s grandson, Alfred, with the many tales of his own journey through love, loss and self-discovery in the age of peace-loving hippies, “flower children,” and drug experimentation. Wearing some of the funky, off-beat styles of America’s war-weary years of the 1960’s, the cast guides us along this journey with memorable songs of the era. As for details of Alfred’s complex tale, I suggest readers purchase a ticket to one of the upcoming August performances. But here is a sampling of the musical delights that await you.
The ensemble’s thundering opening is a loud wake-up call of The Who rock classic, “My Generation.” Brad then keeps the excitement going with the piercing resonance of his rendition of The Eagles hit, “One of These Nights,” sprinkled generously with his always amazing moments of falsetto. Kristina’s rich, mellow voice paired perfectly with the resonant electric bass notes of band member Long Le, during their fine rendition of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” In his colorful, tie-dyed shirt, Luke next stepped up with a fun-filled take-off of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and even did a hyper tour of the audience. Pleasant rhythmic guitar from Brad launches the next part of the tour, as Rebekah and Cay take us for a pleasant trip on the “Ventura Highway.” Then came some intoxicating fun as the cast spoofed the California kookiness of the era’s drug culture scene, while bursting with prancing joy and rhythmic movement during Starland’s “Afternoon Delight.” I found myself thinking that the show’s Technical Director, Pat Southard, was really on top of things, as the audio and lighting in this number all worked beautifully. Changing gears for an Elvis hit full of longing and desperation, the guys delivered a solid “Suspicious Minds.” To lighten that mood, Luke continued reading passages of Alfred’s memoir that recalled a corn-shucking episode so full of hilarious double entendres, it is much too racy to describe here. But happily, it gives Cay a great chance to portray one of Alfred’s love interests as she beautifully revisits Dionne Warwick’s warm, embracing, “Alfie,” while singing to the dreamy-eyed Mr. Scarborough.
When Ms. Dahl takes a much-deserved break, sitting on the front edge of the stage to calmly begin Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” the song soon bursts into an explosive Act One finale that even includes a sizable group of youngsters from Houston’s Tribble School of the Performing Arts. They enthusiastically joined in as guests of the ensemble cast.
The second act gets off to a great start as the ladies give a razor-sharp delivery of the Rolling Stones’, “Paint It Black,” and the guys pop in for its sassy finish. The Heart tune, “Crazy on You,” gave the cast ample opportunity to spoof the abundant psychodrama of the era of transcendental meditation, along with such nutty novelties as “scream therapy,” “whisper therapy,” and “shouting therapy,” all nicely tied together as Kristina’s fierce performance of that song shot into the stratosphere. Alone on the stage, Wrobel then toned things down beautifully with a tender rendition of Don McLean’s, “And I Love You So.” Performance of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” was unexpectedly interrupted by a brief moment of levity when Miss Taylor made a wide-armed gesture and accidentally poked her finger into the eye of the quickly wincing Scarborough. While he tried to suppress his own laughter, the quick thinking Taylor placed her hand on his head declaring, “You are healed!” which brought another round of loud laughter from the audience. But Scarborough quickly recovered to offer a calming and seductive take on the Hall & Oates tune, “Sara Smile,” that also featured several nice solo riffs from members of the sensational band. The gals then return to poke a bit of fun at the era’s cults with a coy delivery of Dusty Springfield’s, “Son of a Preacher Man.”
As keyboardist Austin Biel created the atmosphere of a silent movie with his lightly tinkling piano, fans of Paul Simon would not be disappointed by Luke and Kristina’s pairing for “American Tune.” Then movie fans got the in-jokes about “The Poseidon Adventure,” but it was no joke when Taylor gave her solid performance of “The Morning After,” the song that singer, Maureen McGovern turned into an Academy Award winner for that film as, “Best Original Song.” If all of that was the main course, then the final pairing of “Ooh La La” and “Gimme Some Lovin’,” must have been the tasty dessert. The cheering standing ovation that followed, suggested the audience was fully prepared to “Give ‘em Some Lovin’”
Following the popular June & July success of their summer production, “FEELIN’ GROOVY 8,” the company now has additional shows scheduled for August, with Friday & Saturday performances at 7:30 pm Aug. 11, 12, 18 &19, and one Sunday matinee at 2pm August 13th. The Music Box Theater is located in Houston’s CityCentre district, 12777 Queensbury Lane. Tickets for each show are $52 for reserved seating and $38 for general admission. For tickets or information, call 713-522-7722 or visit http://www.TheMusicBoxTheater.com, where you can also find details of the next show, “Back to the 80’s”
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com