Fine entertainment, as we all know, can be expensive. But every now and then something comes along to prove you can “get something for nothing.” For example, at various times this coming summer, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion will offer free admission to Houston Symphony concerts. But “free” is not a word we often associate with full musical theater productions. Never the less, the recent season opener at Hermann Park’s Miller Outdoor Theatre, featured Bob Merrill and Michael Stewart’s delightful musical, Carnival, and was free to all comers. The show was produced by Houston’s HITS Theatre organization, and in keeping with their motto, “The Theatre Where Kids Are The Stars,” the production was loaded with talented youngsters in addition to the many skilled adult actors.
Based on the Paul Gallico story, “Lili,” this is the tale of an orphan girl (Jackie Hester projected great energy and optimism in her portrayal of Lili) who joins a traveling French circus where she is at once infatuated by the rakish magician, Marco (Bobby Linhart), and secretly loved by the troupe’s embittered puppeteer, Paul (Joey Dane). While the love triangles in the piece are sometimes tiresome, Carolyn Franklin skillfully directs the production. The show featured a fine “pit” orchestra (ably conducted by Chris Nance), the pleasant set designs of Marci Harnden, and exceptional dance designs from choreographers, Alex & Victoria Arizpe. Lush Technicolor costuming and very entertaining puppetry sequences topped it all off. The wonderful cast choral work throughout was a tribute to vocal coaches, Marc Shellum & Katy Moore. All of these assets were beautifully on display in the well staged opening Carnival Parade.
Mr. Dane showed considerable vocal power in songs like “I’ve Got to Find A Reason,” his mellow, “Her Face,” and the poignant, “Everybody Likes You.” Miss Hester’s pleasant voice showed fine potential in Lili’s cheerful and endearing song of her hometown, “Mira.” Meanwhile, Mr. Linhart’s gallant and swashbuckling Marco was full of flashy and amusing bluster. Both the singing and the swordfight choreography were excellent in “A Sword and A Rose and A Cloak.”. In the role of Rosalie, Erin Simpson was a comic scene-stealer in songs like “Humming.” With her very beautiful voice, she also provides a touching duet with Linhart in “Always, Always You.”
A colorful and eye-popping carnival scene featured the talented Bluebird Girls, wonderful Can-Can dancers and an elegantly staged ballet. The delightful puppetry that followed closed with a tender “Love Makes the World Go Round” in which the slightly frail quality of Hester’s voice seemed made to order. Indeed, there are times when Hester’s beaming persona reminded one of Hollywood’s Jane Powell. Her rendition of “Beautiful Candy” was a joyful romp with a delicious whirl of full cast choreography, and the dance delights continued in an extravagant and acrobatic number titled, “Grand Imperial Cirque De Paris.” It was just one more proof that the Hits Theatre group is a really first rate company.
For information about HITS THEATRE and its summer classes for youth beginning June 1st, call 713-861-7408 or visit the website at www.hitstheatre.org For information on this season’s free musical productions at Miller Outdoor Theatre call 713-284-1321.
(The Villager 4.29.04)