Our heart belongs to Annie 

As two new shows open in San Antonio, I’m finding it hard to blend the disparate worlds of Cole Porter and Ann Richards into a single, unified introduction. But howzabout this:

If Rick Perry’s the absolute bottom, Ann’s the top!

(Nice try, Jenkins. – Ed.)

In any case, Ann Richards is not only tops, but also the subject of a superbly acted one-woman play by Emmy Award winner Holland Taylor, now lighting up the Empire Theater for just another week. Clearly a labor of love, the full title of Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards rather intimates that somewhere there’s a touring production of Ann: A Vicious Caricature. (In Midland, perhaps.) But even the most jaundiced conservative must concede that Richards’ life story — of a hardscrabble childhood in the Great Depression that culminates in the Governorship of Texas — is inspiring stuff. And given the state’s current political climate, it’s hard to believe that a progressive governor like Ann Richards ever existed. In that respect, Ann seems as fairy-tale as Annie.

The narrative takes a non-linear approach, beginning with a stirring graduation address at a local college and eventually, through flashbacks, illuminating Richards’ entire career. Act One concludes with the production’s most elaborate and entertaining set-piece: a working day in the capitol office of the increasingly frazzled governor. (For these scenes, Taylor wisely adds the recorded voices of Richards’ long-suffering assistants, a move that helps to break up the monologic feel of the show.) Throughout the evening, Taylor succeeds in projecting Richards’ natural warmth and wit, without neglecting, however, the governor’s famous potty mouth. (Her hair may be white, but her jokes are pure blue; an anecdote about a Great Dane is particularly ribald.) Taylor also handles Richards’ battles with alcohol — and her disintegrating marriage — with sensitivity and even pathos. Michael Fagin’s handsome design glides swiftly from scene to scene, and even includes a second-act surprise.

As a play, the text of Ann could use some trimming; in particular, Act One’s eighty-minute running time is far too much of a good thing. But like Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight!, Ann shines in the way that a good one-person play ought to shine: as an engaging character study of a fascinating individual, offered with sincerity and skill. Go see it.

Also downtown — but in St. Paul’s Square — the Cameo Theater co-produces Allegro Stage’s latest musical, Let’s Misbehave! I used to think that a Cole Porter revue was foolproof, but that’s before I endured the American Repertory Theater’s god-awful production of When It’s Hot, It’s Cole!, still one of the most painful evenings I’ve spent in a theater (and a disgraceful use of an exclamation point, to boot). So it’s no faint praise to report that Let’s Misbehave!, an unabashedly old-fashioned romp through nearly three dozen tunes, nicely accomplishes its basic aim: to present Porter in the style of a mid-century song ’n’ dance revue, without a lick of irony or camp. (Just to be clear about my critical viewpoint: I greatly prefer irony and camp.) Thus the first act takes place during a hot — indeed, too darn hot — afternoon in 1959, as a troupe of Broadway-bound thespians prepares for the openin’ of another show. Alas, the lead actress — a suspiciously named Miss Otis — is nowhere to be found, forcing the exasperated director to rehearse the numbers with a new girl. How can the show possibly go on?

Fret not: the show goes on. As conceived by Tom Masinter and my Trinity colleague Tim Hedgepeth, the production’s slender book draws on the backstage shenanigans of Porter’s brilliant Kiss Me, Kate, though the rudimentary characters sketched in Act One — the talented chorine, the entitled diva — are largely abandoned in Act Two. Allegro’s sextet of singer/dancers — Walter Songer, Roy Bumgarner, Shavonne Conroy, Katy Stafford Moore, Rick Sanchez, and choreographer Paige Blend — are familiar from local stages, and mostly in fine form (both Sanchez and Songer had a few vocally dubious moments). The overstuffed Act One struck me as a bit too frenetic; for Porter, the lyrics are paramount, and Let’s Misbehave’s staging occasionally got in the way of a song’s natural charm. When the revue slowed its tempo a bit — as in the lovely ensemble version of “I Love Paris,” or especially in Conroy’s wistful and beautifully modulated “It’s All Right With Me” — the evening made good on its promise of offering Porter straight up, without gimmicks, winks, or apologies. Even a postmodernist like me could get a kick out of that.

Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards

Through Dec 19

7:30pm Wed-Sat

2pm matinees Sat-Sun

Empire Theater

226 N St. Mary’s

(210) 226-5700

majesticempire.com

 

Let’s Misbehave!

Through Jan 2

Cameo Theater

8pm Thu-Sat

3pm matinees Sun

1123 E Commerce

(210) 226-7055

cameocenter.com


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