Jersey Boys — If you're still mourning the loss of Paulie Walnuts, the Bada Bing, and acid-tongued Adriana, you can get a bit of that feeling back — along with a hell of a lot of great music — in Jersey Boys at Playhouse Square Center. This touring production is as tight as Frankie Valli's falsetto-stretched vocal cords. The jukebox musical shows how four kids from the streets of New Joisey made it big as a monster 1960s hit-making machine called the Four Seasons. What sets this production apart from other yawn-inducing musical biographies is the syncopated staging and the crooning talent of the key band members. We learn how part-time hoods Tommy DeVito (superbly rendered by Erik Bates) and Nick Massi (an engaging but at times vocally challenged Steve Gouveia) brought young Frankie Valli into their struggling singing group. Mobsters are never far from the center of this tale, as the boys start racking up hits while Tommy plunges deeper in debt. Joseph Leo Bwarie makes his voice soar as Frankie, conveying the special nature of Valli's talent without attempting a vocal impersonation. And Andrew Rannells' preppy good looks as the initially naive but very smart Gaudio establish the perfect counterpoint to his bandmates' felonious personas. Directed by Des McAnuff, Boys harnesses both the thrills and the innocence of the time ("We thought Liberace was just a little . . . theatrical"), and transmits it unfiltered to the audience. Through July 20 at the State Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1518 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. — Christine Howey
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead — Produced in a substantially abridged form by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival and touring various outdoor venues around town, this play imagines how the two most minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet manage their meager existences in the shadow of the prince of Denmark. Living their lives in the uncertainty that is the sad lot of bit players, R&G spend their time flipping coins and pondering the oddities of chance (as the coins land "heads up" 92 times in a row). Racked with an ambivalence that makes Hamlet look like a paragon of decision-making, the pair can't even decide how to exit a room. Guided by director John C. Davis, the actors handle the heady and clever script in fine style. Erin McCardle gives Guildenstern a rational through line, and Allen Branstein's Rosencrantz dashes off in all (wrong) directions at once. As the Player King, the leader of a troupe of actors who wander through R&G's barren offstage life, Chris Bizub exudes thespian charm and arrogance in equal amounts. Conveniently, R&G is being performed in repertory with Hamlet — each concluded in two hours or less, with many actors playing the same characters in both. And since all showings are free of charge, you can easily afford to attend and cross-reference both plays, wallowing happily in the resulting synergy. Through August 3, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, free of charge at various locations, www.cleveshakes.org. — Howey
Two Gentlemen of Verona — Under the direction of Terry Burgler, this Ohio Shakespeare Festival production succeeds more than it fails, but ultimately, it falls just short of total comedic liftoff. All the humorous angst revolves around Proteus and Valentine, two young men who find themselves falling for (respectively) Julia and Silvia. But once Proteus eyeballs Silvia, he is gobsmacked by the lovebug and prevents Silvia and Val from eloping, so he can woo the lovely lass himself. Meanwhile, the spurned Julia disguises herself as a page to get near Proteus, who is busy pretending to help still another Silvia admirer, the clownish Thurio. In the two leading roles, Andrew Cruse and Andy Nagraj offer crisp presentations of Proteus and Valentine, although Cruse's characterization veers close to parody at times. Lara Mielcarek is a treat as Julia, and her self-lacerating speech as she pieces together a love note from Proteus that she tore up earlier is a small gem. In the role of much-adored Silvia, Katherine DeBoer is a bit uneven, forcing her reactions in the first act, but then settling into her character in the second. Director Burgler is a past master at staging Shakespeare, and here he has assembled all the requisite parts. But due to soft performances in smaller roles and some missed beats throughout, this light-as-air chiffon of humor sags ever so slightly in the middle. Through July 12, produced by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path, Akron, 330-836-5533. — Howey
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