Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit — As musical-revue franchises go, they don't come much healthier than Forbidden Broadway, which has enjoyed several iterations over the past 25 years. Featuring comedy knockoffs of popular musicals, this most recent version is a mix of old material (Les Miz lampoons) and newer stuff, like spoofs poking The Lion King, wherein headdress-abused actors bemoan their lot in "Can You Feel the Pain Tonight?" The players throw themselves into one costume and wig change after another, with Greg Violand crooning a clever Robert Goulet parody and Tricia Bestic spoofing hyper Liza Minnelli. Also fine are Brian Marshall (his Cameron Mackintosh peddles show souvenirs such as chocolates shaped like orphans) and Carmen Keels, who nails a brassy Ethel Merman. Keels and Bestic also turn in a great duet as dueling Anitas (Chita Rivera vs. Rita Moreno) in West Side Story. Some jokes are fresh, as when they make fun of all the shows featuring puppets ("If you want a Tony/Flash a cloth cojone"). But a lot of the lyric gibes are repetitive, and some Broadway in-jokes get lost here in the hinterland. But it's fast and fun, and the voices are Broadway-quality. Through December 2 at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 East 14th Street, 216-241-6000. — Christine Howey
Osama the Hero — If you're thinking of Googling the title of this Cleveland Public Theatre show, realize that you might be put on the government's list of terrorist sympathizers. As a result, you may qualify for a mandatory, government-paid trip to a picturesque foreign land (the waterboarding in Syria is fabulous this time of year!). That kind of justifiable paranoia is explored in this provocative piece by Dennis Kelly. With garages being blown to smithereens all over town, the local gentry focus on Gary (Benjamin Gates), a young outcast who has voiced strange ideas about bin Laden. Via the play's straight-ahead and oblique approaches to the material, we see how the bland and cosseted comfort of celebrity queen Mandy (Katelyn Rae Cornelius) and her older consort Mark (Mark Cipra) contrasts with the downscale rage of Francis (Jeffrey A. Wisniewski) and snarky Louise (Chris Seibert). The script plays it a bit too cute in places, but director Raymond Bobgan keeps his talented cast on point, luxuriating in the playwright's finely detailed descriptions while painting a mural of reflexive, destructive fear. Through November 3 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727. — Howey
A Shayna Maidel — That phrase is not only Yiddish for "a pretty girl," it's also the name of a fine play, executed with tender skill by the Mandel Jewish Community Center in association with Tri-C East. While so many plays concern themselves with the raging dysfunctions of family life, this one reminds us of the horrific damage done to Jewish families during the Holocaust. Two grown sisters are reunited in 1946 Brooklyn; the younger of them, Rose (Bernadette Clemens), had fled the Nazi onslaught with her father, Mordechai (Mitchell B. Fields), while their mother (Jeanne Task) stayed behind with Luisa (Lara Mielcarek). Playwright Barbara Lebow employs memory flashbacks — involving Luisa, her mother, and her best friend Hanna (Natalie Green) — woven together with inevitably awkward moments, as the two women struggle to discover and understand each other and their domineering dad. Luisa resists many of these overtures, since she is intent on finding her husband Duvid (Ron Cuirle), another refugee from the war. Director Fred Sternfeld wisely allows this wrenching story to play out deliberately and quietly, finding acute moments of pain — particularly when the father calls out the names of family members, and Luisa, reading from a list she has kept, ticks off their often horrendous fates. Through November 4 at Tri-C East Performing Arts Center, 4250 Richmond Road, Highland Heights, 800-766-6048. — Howey
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure — In this collage assembled by Steven Dietz, based on an 1899 play by Doyle and William Gillette, Holmes is lured into taking a new case by the king of Bohemia, who wants Holmes to protect his scheduled marriage against a brewing scandal. The skulduggery thickens as the evil Professor Moriarty (a glowering Timothy Crowe) shows up, manipulating his henchmen to wipe out Holmes. This production is highlighted by Christian Kohn, who fashions a more contemporary but still believable Holmes. Rumpled and woozy from too many encounters with his hypodermic, he is a far cry from the stately detective played by Basil Rathbone in the World War II-era movies. Padding around his flat in robe and slippers, Kohn's Sherlock is more of a loose cannon. But the brain is as sharp as ever, as he proves early on with one of his signature profiles of his companion, Dr. Watson — right down to deducing that Watson has recently moved his dressing table (the good doctor's usually poorly shaved face is now poorly shaved on the opposite side). Nick Berg Barnes as Dr. Watson is as loyal and obedient as a well-trained golden retriever — though you do wonder why his patients would put up with his jaunting off to far-flung destinations alongside his nose-candy buddy at a moment's notice. Director Tim Ocel has his cast overact just enough, without pushing the entire enterprise into farce, resulting in a production that feels like an agreeable SparkNotes summary of the entire Holmes canon. So what if that canon, in this telling, emits a less-than-deafening boom? Through November 4 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. — Howey
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