Black Nativity -- Langston Hughes' Black Nativity, originally developed in 1961, is a refreshing change from the music-box regularity of other tuneful entertainments. By putting gospel songs and singers in the spotlight to show off the expressive improvisations and foot-stomping energy this idiom provides, Hughes created a rich theatrical platform that can be embellished by innovative directors and performers alike. Karamu's 19th version of this engaging show features a cast that sparkles under the direction of Terence M. Greene. While a couple of the individual voices are outstanding, the passion all the singers bring to more than 21 songs is thoroughly captivating. Add to that some dazzling modern dance and eye-popping costumes, and you have yourself one crackling fine production -- a joyous, firsthand experience of Christian salvation and hope, without any of the hate and exclusion that is passing for religious devotion these days. Through December 30 at the Karamu House Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7070, ext. 215. -- Christine Howey
Seussical! the Musical -- On the face of it, the charmingly rhythmic tales written by Dr. Seuss would seem natural for a musical. But this show falls well short of earning its exclamation point, despite the earnest efforts of the Beck Center company. When Seuss's original loopy rhymes are jammed into the composition machine by Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music), the result is an oddly charmless collection of tunes that rarely rise above the banal. The show's authors never capture the giddy bounce of Dr. Seuss's language, so almost inevitably, director Scott Spence's production is desperately short on whimsy. The central role of the Cat in the Hat is played by talented Marc Moritz more as a self-satisfied tummler at a Catskills resort than as the zany, borderline anarchist Seuss created. Adding to the dour atmosphere is scenic designer Richard Gould's neo-industrial erector set, which offers few of the swoops and curlicues so prevalent in Geisel's art. Perhaps the lesson is clear: Dr. Seuss is perfect, just as he is -- on the pages of books, in the hands of kids. Through January 2 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey
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