Don't Mess with Texas

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, but did you know its origins? It may surprise you to hear that this slogan had an overwhelming effect for the better on highway littering in the late 80’s, and since then has taken on even more meanings than that for which it was intended.

The phrase projects a toughness, an attitude about Texas and its inhabitants that they will fight back. An image that perhaps was already in place way before the need for environmental concerns.

All political viewpoints aside, southerners embody a certain attitude of wild west strength. A strong sense of family, hard work, religious faith, and dirt, all coated in a layer of the world renowned dose of sweet southern charm.

Returning ‘home’ for this production of Carousel at Houston Grand Opera had a certain significance, as it had been quite a while since I’d been back, and it had certainly been since my childhood that I had spent this amount of time there.

The decision to come to Houston was difficult. The previous year, a huge choice had to be made. Receiving offers for two conflicting jobs, I had to turn one down, which hurt more than being unemployed. To finally be part of the musical initiative at the house I’ve spent the most of my career in, The Lyric Opera of Chicago, was a goal of mine, a seeming no-brainer. But with the running mate of a Parisian musical destined for Broadway, the choice was paralyzing difficult.

In the end, I accepted my offer for the pre-Broadway try out and turned down the original production of Carousel. The rehearsal date approached with little communication from the producers, and I grew nervous. I’m always wary as can be about handling work related matters as formally as possible.

My instinct was spot on. After all I had fought for to get both of the jobs, I suddenly had neither and was unemployed. The producers failed to obtain rights for what looked like a promising new Broadway show and I had turned down the other job. Rehearsals started in days. Too late to hope that there was still an opening.

So when I learned that this production of Carousel was going to be done in Houston, I knew I had to do it. Not only had I felt cheated out of Lyric’s production, but it’s a great, classic musical with an all-star creative team. Doing this, though, required turning down a job I previously accepted at my favorite local Chicago theater, a production of West Side Story, a production that proved to be moving. But I was determined to do this show….that and spending some time in Houston seemed long overdue.

I took up residence for the contract at my Aunt’s, which was somewhat nostalgic as it had clear similarities to the one I spent so much time in as a child. What's more, she retained certain memorable pieces:  a giant green marble dining room table that sat in the seldom used dining room, and the cute baby grand piano coupled with the memorable French impressionist styled painting of what seems to be a Parisian street.

To get from here to the opera house I was lent my great Aunt’s vehicle of choice, a giant Grand Marquis, with a backseat that was long enough to nearly lie flat on during road trips to Dallas, past the state’s protected blue bonnets and Indian paintbrushes.

With most of my childhood visits remaining solely in the suburbs, I was excited to possess this old land-boat of a car to explore downtown - previously uncharted territory for me which had become my new workplace.

The cast of nearly 70, not including the orchestra, poured in from all over the world for this operatic staging of this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The whole lot of them proved to be the ideal partners in crime for exploring Houston through its bar scene.

Downtown Houston is pretty much all newly developed, save for it’s oldest remaining commercial building, dating back to 1860, which houses a wine bar, La Carafe. Flanking this and all around the Market Square sits a variety of bars and restaurants...many of which were frequented by the cast on dinner breaks and after shows.

A couple of my favorite haunts in the area are Hearsay, for it’s beautiful ambiance with 2nd floor overlooking the restaurant and a burger that rivals some of the best I’ve had. Just a little further down the block from Hearsay is a delightful wine and cheese bar called Public Services Wine and Whiskey which I love for its classy demeanor.

Across the street from the Wortham Opera Center sits Blue Fish, a sushi restaurant with a decent happy hour that was my favorite option for a dinner break. Other restaurants worth mentioning that were frequented by the cast or on my other excursions included Barbarella, Woodrows, and Sam's Boat.

When I wasn’t getting into trouble with the cast, I spent time with the long lost family. My great-aunt Sylvia has always been known for her adventurous streak, taking my cousins and me on road trips to Galveston or Dallas, visiting museums, aquariums and perhaps her favorite, IMAX movies. This time I wanted to visit the Ima Hogg mansion which I had visited during my brief sabbatical to Houston in my middle school years. The only thing I remembered from the tour was it’s use of well placed doors opposite one another for cross breeze, an essential trick before the advent of air conditioning, in a city that is not-surprisingly the air conditioned capital of the world.