Last Call Cleveland's Corvette Summer -- When it comes to stand-up or sketch comedy, wielding a sledgehammer wears thin pretty quickly if more nuanced material isn't mixed in. This is where the talented group Last Call Cleveland appears to be mired. Integrating live skits and video segments with characters and snatches of scenes overlapping from one medium to the other, the new show aims its guns at a series of familiar targets and blasts each into dust without ever using the cast's inventive skills a little more dexterously. Some of the best vignettes are those that don't resort to extreme punch lines: A video clip shows what might have happened in World War II if a platoon of cowardly soldiers fed off an equally lily-livered sergeant; and, in an office scenario, a beefy CEO sends love notes to a male employee, with other white-collar chaps giggling about it like schoolgirls. Here's hoping that Last Call Cleveland keeps putting shows together and starts working more characterization into the sketches while disdaining the shortcuts to easy (or uneasy) giggles. Once that happens, the laughs will go on for a long, long time. Fridays through August 20 at the Cleveland Black Box Theater, 1210 W. 6th St., www.lastcallcleveland.com. -- Christine Howey
Miss Saigon -- Essentially a transcultural love story set in 1975, Miss Saigon focuses on a naive Asian bar girl who is romanced and knocked up by a depressed American serviceman. The show revels in contrasts, playing the delicacy of the young couple's affection against the rampant sleaze of prostitution and corruption. While the music is a bit of a trial, this production manages to surmount it with honest, nuanced performances by Robin Lee Gallo and Connor O'Brien as the star-crossed lovers. Director Scott Spence has wisely taken a pass on trying to redo the monumental helicopter effect from the original Broadway production, and the choreography by Martin Cespedes and costuming by Alison Hernan are also uncluttered and effective. (The lighting and turntable set, however, are short on eye candy.) For all the regrettable parallels between the Vietnam War and the current bloody escapade in Iraq, there is one major difference: We have to assume there's never going to be a musical called Miss Baghdad. And for that we must be grateful. Through August 15 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey
Oliver Twisted -- It has been claimed that there's a gene in some people's DNA spiral that compels them to seek out risky, potentially harmful activities, such as rock-climbing, deep-sea diving, and parking at expired meters in Cleveland Heights. True to their risk-adoring genes, the seven-member group titled Oliver Twisted (made up of former members of the now-defunct Second City Cleveland) does audience-inspired material exclusively, without the safety net of scripted modules. And thanks to a fortunate blending of physical types and personalities among the performers -- along with their determined insistence on yanking every loose comedic thread -- this is an improv experience that will leave you laughing far more often than wincing. The troupe's resident nutcase, Randall Harr, is a fairly normal-looking fellow who transforms into a maniacally, often hilariously intense embodiment of whatever animal, vegetable, or mineral he's been assigned. Mondays at Hilarities Comedy Club at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 E. 4th St., 216-736-4242. -- Howey
Romeo and Juliet -- Cleveland Shakespeare Festival's free outdoor production is intermittently successful, with a Juliet (Edie Hitchcock) who stands out for her sweet, tender innocence spiced by occasional flares of temper, but a mixed bag of other characters. This literal interpretation by director Juliette Regnier almost demands strong performances across the board, since few imaginative forays are attempted. In one instance, however, there is a lack of consistency: During a swordfight using invisible weapons, there is a metal-on-metal sound of the rapiers being unsheathed, but no effects for the clanging of the blades. The simple set, with hanging strands of tiny lights and reflective bits, is effective, even if it does recall omnipresent holiday icicle lights that droop off countless gutters and window ledges during the winter. All in all, this is a pleasant if not stirring Romeo and Juliet and a diverting way to spend a summer's eve outdoors. And if it helps you believe in an eternal bond that leapfrogs our mortal weakness, all the better. Presented by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival through August 14 at the Tri-C West Campus and Wade Oval Amphitheatre, 877-280-1646, www.CleveShakes.org. -- Howey
The Taming of the Shrew -- While many theater companies steer clear of this Shakespearean work because of its questionable stance on dominant-submissive relationships, Great Lakes Theater Festival giddily jumps into the gender-role melée. Director Drew Barr has attempted to blunt negative reactions to the play's message by emphasizing the artificiality of the play-within-a-play structure. Indeed, the first few words are spoken by an unseen stage manager who's dealing with a clumsy technician. From that moment on, reality and identities are up for grabs as a drunken tinker becomes a lord, a servant morphs into a gentleman, a schoolmaster is transformed into a nobleman, and combative Katherine is reborn as a languid Stepford wife. As the battling duo, Andrew May and Laura Perrotta are perfectly mated; when the two meet, sparks of laughter fly in all directions. There are also sterling supporting performances, among them Wayne Turney as a foolish old coot, Scott Plate as an ardent suitor, and Dudley Swetland as the frequently baffled Baptista. It would be a crime to miss this extremely un-tame Taming. Presented through August 21 by the Great Lakes Theater Festival at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
The Tempest -- A mystical and somewhat convoluted tale of magical powers, revenge, and young love, Shakespeare's Tempest is no cakewalk to produce, especially since the play begins with a furious storm that beaches a ship filled with Italian noblemen. While this production doesn't exactly strain a ligament in stretching to invent its theatrical effects, there are numerous reasons to fetch thy buns over to the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. Robert Hawkes, as the Duke Prospero, possesses a lustrous voice that can coax a smile or tear out of many a phrase. He has a splendid compatriot in Kim Weston's sprite Ariel, who almost looks as if she's suspended from wires as she leaps to Prospero's commands. Director Ron Newell, while shaping some scenes with precision, has put too much responsibility on the audience to fill in the aura of the play. Still, this Tempest has enough kick to spice up a sultry evening. Presented free by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival through August 14 at two locations, 877-280-1646, www.CleveShakes.org. -- Howey
Tick, Tick . . . Boom! -- "Everyone we know wants to do something else." That's a common state of affairs for people in their 20s, trying to balance their dreams with the pressures to pay rent, buy a car, and have enough left for an iPod. That's also the situation Jonathan finds himself in as the lead character in this new musical at Cain Park. Written by Jonathan Larson, creator of the hit Rent, this is an earlier show that essentially tells Larson's story on the brink of his 30th birthday in 1990. The title refers to the clock devouring his life as he struggles to succeed in New York as a composer and lyricist. He's in rehearsals for a workshop performance of his show, Superbia, while also trying to keep his girlfriend Susan happy and dealing with mixed envy of his suddenly successful gay friend Michael. Though there are a few glittering moments, the entire work is a frequently clumsy and often banal portrait of the artist. The three Cain Park actors spill over with relentless energy and do what they can to kick this musical hodgepodge to life, but it's ultimately a lost cause. Through August 15 at Cain Park's Alma Theater, along Superior Avenue between Lee and South Taylor roads, Cleveland Hts., 216-371-3000. -- Howey
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