Curtain Going Up
A Houston spring arts preview
Ryan B. Martinez
It's no secret that Houston’s arts, like so many communities, were hit by the pandemic, and venues had to pivot to connect.
“What’s been really hard about the past two years is just planning for who knows, anything,” says Rob Melrose, artistic director of The Alley Theatre. “Having to be nimble and having to change plans on a dime has been really challenging. We learned how to be filmmakers last year: We did our entire season online.”
For many, the grit and innovation have paid off. Toying with formats, carving out safe physical spaces, and planning for better days just may have set up many local operators for a resurgence.
From Dawoud Bey’s vibrant street photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to the striking designs of Turandot at the Houston Grand Opera, to the sheer fun of the Houston Art Car Parade, residents and visitors can enjoy a rich cornucopia this year.
The city stands apart because of its diversity and broad support base, Melrose says.
“Because there are people from all different kinds of cultures, there’s so much to draw from..."
“Because there are people from all different kinds of cultures, there’s so much to draw from—from an artist’s perspective, but also from an audience perspective,” he says. “I think that’s what makes Houston unique.”
Here, a peek at the offerings.
Downtown’s Alley Theatre has three very different shows in store. Dead Man’s Cell Phone (April 15–May 8), a comedy by Sarah Ruhl playing in the Hubbard Theatre, begins with a café patron answering the obnoxiously ringing phone of a lifeless table neighbor and escalates wildly from there. Born with Teeth (May 6–June 5), a period play by Liz Duffy Adams set to world premiere in the Neuhaus Theatre, catches William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe in a web of political intrigue. Another world premiere, Noir (June 2–July 3), brings the vibes of the Alley’s Summer Chills series to its regular season. The musical boasts creative firepower from writers Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Kyle Jarrow (SpongeBob SquarePants) and director Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder).
This year the sunlit Menil hosts exhibits of humanistic photography (Bruce Davidson, through May 29), Swiss Surrealism (Meret Oppenheim, March 25–Sept. 18), wild landscape drawings (Joseph E. Yoakum, April 22–Aug. 7), and geometric installations (Walter De Maria, Oct. 29, 2022–April 23, 2023). For a live musical experience, catch four dates of the Elias String Quartet’s DACAMERA series (March 28–29 and April 4–5), a six-show run of Beethoven’s complete quartets. (Remaining shows will be at the Hobby Center.)
Ravishing set design, soaring music, and romantic strife mark the Houston Grand Opera’s run of Turandot (April 22, 24, 30; May 3, 6, 8). Director Robert Wilson and team deserve kudos for the sumptuous colors and stark shaping of their set design, which frames Puccini’s tale of a princess who blocks her suitors with riddles. Soprano Tamara Wilson plays the title character, and tenor Kristian Benedikt plays the one who makes it through. HGO will cap its season with Gounod’s adaptation of Romeo & Juliet (April 29, May 1, 7, 11).
The Houston Art Car Parade reached its zenith in 2019, when an estimated 250,000 people flocked downtown to cheer on more than 250 outlandishly decked-out cars. The event, a beloved staple since 1986, had to go virtual in 2020, but bounced back last year, and 2022’s revels may approach new peaks. The four-day frolic (April 7–10) includes the parade, live music, and food and drink on the main day (April 9), but expect sneak peeks and other side events before and after. Will the Roachster or the porta-potty go-kart make a return? Only one way to find out—show up!
The Hobby Center will host eclectic delights. Nineties era nostalgia awaits at Je’Caryous Johnson Presents: New Jack City (April 8–10), a night of storytelling and hip-hop based on the 1991 crime drama. Indian comic Kanan Gill (April 10), whose star was born on YouTube and has shone on Netflix and on tour, brings his stand-up to Zilkha Hall. Trixie and Katya (April 11), the drag queen duo who spun RuPaul’s Drag Race credits into cult-queer gold (their series, UNHhhh, is a spiritual heir to John Waters), will bedevil Sarofim Hall. Baroque musical ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston will present the English opera Dido and Aeneas (May 21–22).
As if its formidable permanent collection weren’t enough, MFAH has some impactful temporary exhibitions. Dawoud Bey: An American Project (through May 30), spans almost fifty years of the New York photographer’s work, with a focus on African American and other underrepresented subjects. The Obama Portraits Tour (April 3–May 30) features the iconic portraits of Barack and Michelle by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively. Exhibitions of work by M.C. Escher (March 13–Sept. 5) and Pakistani American artist Shahzia Sikander (March 20–June 5) promise visual feasts of their own.
The Houston Ballet will finish its season with flair. Choreographic delights await at Pretty Things (May 20–29), featuring ONE|end|ONE by Finland’s Jorma Elo; Hush by the UK’s Christopher Bruce; and Trey McIntyre’s title dance, during which the men of the Houston Ballet preen to David Bowie. Originals (June 2–12), a showcase of spectacle and local talent, includes a returning original by Stanton Welch and the premiere of a one-act by principal dancer Melody Mennite. Welch’s acclaimed Madame Butterfly (June 16–26) sure-footedly wraps the season.
This scenic venue in Hermann Park stages an eight-month season of broad-ranging entertainment. While the 2022 lineup wasn’t available at press time, each year you can expect a spread of classical music, jazz, world music, Shakespeare, ballet, musical theater, movies, and more. All shows are free and family-friendly, and bookings are awarded via application, making the series a truly homegrown affair. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets—and be sure to space out. With seating for 1,705 patrons and a vast sloping lawn, there’s room to stretch your legs.
Indulge in a pre-theater meal or a post-show cocktail at one of nearby GreenStreet's tony restaurants: The Palm, M&S Seafood|Steaks|Oysters, House of Blues Restaurant and Bar, and Guadalajara del Centro!
Check schedules, programs, and fees directly with the arts institutions before heading out.