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On Stage 

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Bee-Luther-Hatchee --In a world where reality-show contestants are rewarded for sabotaging their peers, the idea of discussing intellectual honesty may seem quaintly passé. But playwright Thomas Gibbons wrestles with a number of heavyweight issues, including intellectual-property rights, ownership of cultural identity, and a passel of racial conundrums. The ethical storms kick up when a heralded young African-American book editor tracks down the reclusive author of an inspiring memoir -- and finds the old southern black woman is not at all who she seems. But should the authorship of a book matter, if the words touch people in a meaningful way? There are real jolts generated in the exchanges that make up the second act, primarily due to a fine performance by Monte Escalante as editor Shelita. Gibbons constructs an ever-shifting hall of mirrors that keeps one's attention, despite some overly analytical dialogue and languorous pacing. There's a dandy surprise at the end of Act One and another near the show's close. By that time, most of the intellectual gamesmanship has been expended, and there's more than enough to think about. Through April 4 at Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7070. -- Christine Howey

Broadway Memories -- Memories are precious; we wouldn't want anyone going through our photo albums, drawing mustaches on our ancestors. Neither do we want our remembrances of the great, glossy show tunes from the 1940s and '50s delaminated by singers who either don't have the pipes or don't have the interpretive chops to do them justice. Yet that's what's happening at the Cleveland Play House Club while Broadway Memories is in session. Indifferently written and directed by Paul Floriano, who also performs, this musical pastiche conjures no magic from some 30 works by Gershwin, Porter, Hammerstein, and the other gods of the Great White Way. Maryann Nagel's soprano sounds tired, and her uptempo shredding of Miss Otis Regrets is borderline indictable, while Ian Atwood possesses a mediocre voice, further diminished by a virtually nonexistent stage presence. Animated Ryan Bergeron is unfortunately hidden away at the piano, and Floriano struts his threadbare baritone like a dollar-store Dean Martin. This carelessly assembled cabaret show, unwisely unamplified and performed in front of what appears to be a red fabric shower curtain, is less a remembering than a dismembering. Through April 3 at the Cleveland Play House Club, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change --The promotional material dubs this musical revue "Seinfeld set to music." But in reality, it's more like The Bachelor set to a metronome, with predictable book and lyrics by Joe DiPetro and a mechanically repetitive musical score by Jimmy Roberts. Just pick your courtship cliché, and there's a song to address it, whether it be the serious shortage of desirable single men or the characteristics of testosterone-poisoned males who date chicks. The first act focuses on the foibles of the dating scene, and the second plumbs about an inch or two into the depths of marital misunderstandings. It's rescued by some amusing dating and family-life gibes, as well as a cast of Cleveland-based performers that squeezes every ounce of good humor out of what, in lesser hands, would come off as threadbare material. Larry Nehring, in particular, is a delight to watch in every role, from dazed boyfriend one moment to TV huckster the next. Through June 27 at the 14th Street Theater, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Miss Gulch Returns! --Ever since Judy Garland traipsed down the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz, damn near every kid has awakened in the night, sweat-soaked and trembling, from visions of either the flying monkeys or the nasty Miss Almira Gulch, who morphs into the Wicked Witch of the West. She's become a cultural touchstone for all that is evil, mean-spirited, and petty -- in short, the perfect subject for a musical revue! In this 20-year-old show, the lady shares her feelings about herself, relationships with men, and life as a stone-cold shrew. As an added fillip, the role of Almira is played by a man, which turns most of the witty and deliciously wicked songs into gay anthems posing as lonely-woman blues. Nickolas L. Vannello is at his best when he's playing off the energetically supportive audience reactions. He sells all the songs as well as he can, given a voice that often goes flat as a Kansas prairie. He also doesn't quite exude the nasty edge and fluidly intimate style this character demands. But Miss Gulch is a load of laughs. Through March 27 at Kennedy's at Playhouse Square, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-7000. -- Howey

The Underpants -- Proper pantaloon positioning around the turn of the last century forms the crux of this Play House show, comedian Steve Martin's clever adaptation of a German farce. The one-joke premise is that Louise, wife of an uptight and boorish government bureaucrat, recently dropped her drawers in public while craning to see the king pass by on the street. The descent of her skivvies causes a tizzy all over town, and soon a couple of gentlemen appear on the the couple's doorstep, trying to rent their available room and find a way into Louise's notoriously loosely lashed undergarments. Chuckles abound, thanks to Martin's hair-trigger patter, but the production never attains the height of truly liberated farce. There are a couple of missing pieces -- namely, the beautiful Tanya Clarke's uncertain performance as Louise and director Peter Hackett's lethargic pacing, which is burlesque and Germanic to a fault. Hackett also tends to have his players pound on obvious character traits while ignoring subtleties that could provoke more amused reactions. With so many great lines, this show should be more likable than it is. Through March 28 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey

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