Ain¹t We Got Fun! -- Writer-director Michael McFaden has come up with a fetching idea, weaving a storyline around vintage, gay-themed songs from pre- and post-Depression-era America. But what should be a sprightly romp instead shudders to an exhausted halt a full two and a half hours after the opening number. The central plot involves Oscar and Benny, two Michigan gay boys who are getting it on under the radar, until Oscar meets four swishy swells vacationing from Chicago. Soon, Oscar leaves Benny for Chi-Town, where he and his benefactors land at a club whose star attraction is a female impersonator; before long, Oscar is recruited into the show as a boy model in assless chaps. This material could be a fizzy delight, but it's undermined by a series of unfortunate decisions and a profound lack of editing. Given the simple story, there is far too much dialogue and a clunky flashback device that grinds everything to a halt. The cast, too, is a mixed bag of performers ranging from excellent (Zac Hudak as the female impersonator) to barely functional. Through August 13 at the 14th Street Theatre, E. 14th and Prospect Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Christine Howey
The Buddy Holly Story -- Almost comical in appearance, but possessing a fierce commitment to his distinctive sound, Buddy Holly was a primal force on the rock-and-roll scene of the late 1950s, and this Carousel show manages to harness his magic. Director Victoria Bussert coaxes small but telling moments from the flimsy book written by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson, crafting a Holly who is entirely sympathetic without being a tragedy waiting to happen. In the title role, Pat McRoberts does a masterful job of embodying the obsessively talented artist. He adopts the stooped and head-tilted posture of a kid who spent every waking hour strumming. The best decision the authors made was to end each act with a concert set, allowing Holly's music a place of distinction. McRoberts and his duo (Tobia D'Amore and John Rochette) actually play and sing the memorable songs; their rendition of "Not Fade Away" is particularly kick-ass. For those old enough to remember, this is a great memory trip. And for younger folk, it's a journey to the roots of rock. Through September 2 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey
Jesus Christ Superstar -- One of the signal plays of our time, the 1971 rock opera reimagines the last week in the life of a very important fellow. Marrying the sacred and the profane, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical has the power to engage, and this production manages to captivate as it sketches the doomed savior as an achingly mortal man. Under the direction of Terri Kent, this straightforward production avoids some of the excesses of previous renditions. But the players vary in their ability to deliver the full impact of the show's score. Will North Cleckler (as Jesus) has a serviceable tenor, while Steel Burkhardt (as Judas) possesses the brooding good looks to front a boy band. However, Burkhardt misses many nuances of the tortured Judas that should give the play its thematic resonance. The glory of this show lies in the authors' unquenchable desire to prod and poke at the conventional wisdom of who Jesus was. This is heady and invigorating stuff. And always worth another look. Through August 13 at the Porthouse Theatre at Blossom Music Center, 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls, 800-304-2363. -- Howey
King Lear -- Considered perhaps Shakespeare's best work, this play is loaded with more family infighting than has ever been dreamt of on Wisteria Lane. When the King asks his daughters who loves him most, Goneril (an icy Melynee Saunders Warren) and Regan (Sarah Kunchik, in high dudgeon) vie with each other to see who can blow more smoke up the old man's breeches. But the youngest, Cordelia, answers with simple honesty and is dropped summarily from the will. Thus begins a chain of tragic events that ends in a rather ghastly double eyeball-ectomy, an attempted suicide, and a heap of corpses at the final curtain. In addition to whipping this 135-minute rendition (without intermission) at a brisk but clearly understandable pace, director Derek Koger makes some interesting decisions by casting a stalwart Alison Garrigan as the Earl of Kent and having Cordelia also be the Fool. The potent cast is led by Mark Cipra, who nails both the royal gravitas and the sense of mad foolishness of Lear as he deteriorates mentally. Presented by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival August 10 and 12 at Willoughby Fine Arts. www.cleveshakes.org. -- Howey
Sweet Love, Adieu -- This Cleveland Shakespeare Festival parody of Romeo and Juliet offers its share of giggles, but it's not nearly as amusing as it could have been, given a different directorial approach and some more capable performances. Spinning out the story of old Will's doomed love affair entirely in rhyming couplets, playwright Ryan J.W. Smith is intent on having fun with the familiar archetypes -- from an aged but randy Lord Edmund, who wants ripe young Anne for himself, to Anne's earnest stud-lover, William. Indeed, Smith romps through the rhyming dictionary with glee, his phrase structures nicely echoing the Elizabethan style. But multitalented director Larry Nehring chooses to play virtually each broadly written scene equally broadly, which inevitably punctures the fragile balloon of the farce. Clear opportunities for hilarity are missed: A series of swordfights, for one thing, could have become a clever running joke, but they come off instead as elementary exercises in Stage Fighting 101. Presented by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival August 11 and 13 at Willoughby Fine Arts, www.cleshakes.com. -- Howey
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