Beauty and the Beast — Back for its third and final appearance, the Beck Center production of this Walt Disney epic hasn't lost any of its charm. Dan Folino is still comically shivering as the Beast, and Natalie Green will warm any little girl's heart as the beauteous Belle. Even though the show is almost three hours (with intermission), the small fry stay glued to their seats, thanks to Fred Sternfeld's lively staging and the bright choreography by Martin Cespedes. And the kids (not to mention oldsters) have a great villain to laugh at in Josh Rhett Noble's Gaston, a muscle-headed doofus for the ages. More humor is added by smooth Larry Nehring and tightly wound Douglas Collier as the anthropomorphic candelabra and grandfather clock, respectively. As always, the Beck voices handle Alan Menken's music and the lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice with élan, leading to the fairy-tale conclusion, which can still bring a tear. And if you have small ones in tow, be sure to let them see the characters up close after the final curtain, in the hallway outside. The expressions of wonder on the kids' faces are worth the price of admission. Through December 30 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. — Christine Howey
Black Nativity — Once again employing infectious African drumming, knock-'em-dead gospel singing, and spectacular choreography, this production can make even holiday grouches stand and shout, "Hallelujah!" The familiar story progresses from Mary and Joe's issues with securing room at an inn through the arrival of the three kings. But this is no ordinary tale-telling. Director and choreographer Terence M. Greene weaves the music seamlessly together with energetic dance that borrows from African folk, modern, and ballet to create an ever-shifting panorama of passion. In the key roles of Joseph and Mary, the achingly young Lloyd Boyd and Amber Ivy dance as if their lives depended on the next leap. Surrounding Mom and Dad are several talented young dancers, who add kinetic energy to what otherwise would be a fairly static first act. The dozen or so singers, meanwhile, rip into gospel melodies such as "Go Tell It on the Mountain" with immense feeling and skill. That said, the second act of Nativity is much less engaging than the first, as the proceedings devolve into a series of songs, with no storyline save the preaching of the minister. It's clear that Greene has the chops to create expressive, electrifying choreography, and many productions of this show make adjustments to jazz up the second half. Let's hope Karamu considers such alterations. But in the meantime, there's much to enjoy in Black Nativity just as it is. Through December 30 at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street, 216-795-7077. — Howey
Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead — This 100-minute, one-actor rant features the acidly funny writing of playwright Eric Bogosian, whose 1987 Pulitzer-nominated play, Talk Radio, was made into a movie by Oliver Stone. But not all of Bogosian's writing made the cut here, and his material is treated with an energetic but monotone performance. In the original skit, several characters rant wildly; in one such tirade, a wild-eyed guy fantasizes about taking a pig doggy-style. But in this production, director Sean McConaha and performer Sean Derry, the co-founders of B&C, have decided to focus largely on Bogosian's most obviously unhinged males. And Derry, a talented actor with an apparent preference for returning to familiar character types, makes only passing attempts to craft different people in each scene. He does have his moments: He clearly channels Bogosian's angst and generates plenty of laughter and nervous tittering. His diatribe on the mind-ripping highs of indulging in jungle sex while stoned is especially effective, particularly when he contrasts it to the upper-class pleasures of skiing. But clad in predictable down-and-outer garb, the barefooted and greasy-haired Derry looks like a stereotypical slug. He's too accomplished an actor, and McConaha far too gifted a director, to settle for such easy choices. Through December 30 at the Bang and the Clatter Theatre, 140 East Market Street, Akron, 330-606-5317. — Howey
White Christmas — In the theatrical version of this much-loved flick, song 'n' dance dandies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis get tangled up with the trilling Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy. Phil and Judy fall fast for each other, and they conspire to hijack Bob up to the snows of Vermont, where the gals are booked. The Carousel production, under the direction of Stephen Bourneuf, makes excellent use of an ample stage, smoothly establishing several different locales. In the key male lead roles, Richard Roland and Josh Walden won't make you forget the chemistry of Crosby and Kaye, but the Carousel duo certainly has its moments. Roland has a strong, pleasing singing voice, and he manages to play the straight man to Walden's antics as the compulsively comical Phil. While Walden pumps plenty of energy, he's not a natural clown and doesn't take as many goofy chances as he might, especially when he and Bob reprise "Sisters" in halfhearted drag. Pouting prettily in the role of Betty, Susan Derry acquits her singing chores well — as does Ellen Zolezzi in the role of Judy. But this script doesn't allow either gal to create a character that can stand up to the guys, so they tend to recede into the background. But the biggest disappointment is that the title song is presented as a sing-along with the audience, and not as the island of reverie it is in the movie. Even so, this White Christmas has its heart in the right place. Through Dec. 31 at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. — Howey
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