Beauty and the Beast -- Carousel's version of the ubiquitous show features some terrifically enjoyable performances, but it lacks visual appeal. Many scenes -- even intimate two-person moments -- are played on the theater's immense but essentially bare stage, sometimes in front of a painted backdrop or a silvery curtain. At times, it feels like a rehearsal run-through where no one bothered to wheel out the sets. This lack of imagination is a shame, because it detracts from the work of a fine cast. As the testosterone-besotted Gaston, Matt Stokes is a pleasure, as are the servants who were turned into home furnishings. Julia Krohn's Belle is sweet but a bit squishy, and her voice seemed too weary to sustain some notes. In his dialog scenes as the Beast, Curt Dale Clark is alternately intimidating and whimsical, though when he breaks into song, he loses some of his basso vocal range. Through May 14 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Christine Howey
Cabaret Sampler -- There's a serious lack of appreciation of cabaret in Cleveland, so it's wonderful that producer-director Laura Workman and friends have brought this show to Playhouse Square. Featuring five or six different singers each weekend, Cabaret Sampler offers a 15-minute taste of each performer's wares. As with any box of chocolates, there are a couple of rich and delicious truffles alongside the occasional spit-it-out-quickly caramel, but the overall effect is delightful. Opening weekend was highlighted by a terrifically emotive set by Beth Yager, who made fun of her dour promotional photo and nailed a couple of tunes; the endearing Rob Gibb, who fretted about reaching midlife (his crisis: performing in a cabaret show); and Ralph Diludovico, who encouraged an audience member to buy him a dirty martini in trade for one of his CDs. All of them will make return appearances, along with well-known local performers such as comical (and omnipresent) Kevin Joseph Kelly, Paula Kline-Messner from the long-running Menopause, the Musical, and Workman herself. Through April 23 at Kennedy's at Playhouse Square, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
Menopause, the Musical -- Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people on the brink of conquering the world. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? For them, there is Menopause the Musical, a hoot of a show written by Jeanie Linders. It's a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome, but the energetic cast of four and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak. All women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter. Through May 30 at Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
Midnight Martini Show -- There is a strange attraction in Frank Sinatra's loosely organized Rat Pack and their infamous, loopily disorganized Las Vegas shows that ran for a few golden years back in the 1960s. Frank, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. mixed pop songs, corny jokes, and Johnnie Walker into an irreverent, hip evening that seemed so easy. What the Midnight Martini Show at Pickwick & Frolic proves is that it ain't easy at all. This one-hour set attempts to capture the bored-with-it-all sophistication and the slightly inebriated intimacy that the Rat Packers achieved, but it fails on several counts, from the overly eager performers to the florid songs and lame drinking jokes. Which is not to say that this no-cover show doesn't provide a convenient glide path for those downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. Indeed, some of the American standards are sung well enough. Now the task is to find directors and performers who understand that being casually funny while delivering classic tunes takes a lot of work. Fridays and Saturdays at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th St., 216-241-7425. -- Howey
Restoring the Sun -- We've come to depend on science -- in particular, employing the scrupulous scientific method -- to achieve our modern lifestyle. But there are always those who seek to shortcut that process. Based on a true story, this world premiere features a pair of white coats boasting they've created nuclear fusion in water at room temperature. The story picks up as the duo visit Congress seeking megadollars to fund their research. Everyone appears to be dazzled by their claims, but it soon becomes apparent that the wrench in the works is the media -- a Washington Post reporter whose uncomfortable questions reveal that their experiments had no controls. Though the script is dense with electrochemical lingo, playwright Joe Sutton manages to keep the focus clear and compelling, up to a point. But ironically, he does exactly what he accuses the scientists of doing by showing only the evidence that supports his premise. Ultimately, the play begins to cannibalize its own arguments, and the script whirls through various iterations of the same faith-or-fact trope. The cast handles the material with style, but for a play with such a timely theme, the resonance after the final curtain is fairly dim. Through April 17 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. -- Howey
Split Second -- There's nothing more terrifying than the thought of our armed protectors using the weight of their authority and armaments to abuse suspects or civilians. This idea apparently occurred to Dennis McIntyre in the early '80s, when he wrote this play about an African American cop fatally shooting a white car thief. Of course, both fact and fiction have advanced our awareness of police misbehavior since McIntyre penned his work -- which is unfortunate, since there are some interesting moments in this piece. But overall, the story seems as stale as one of Kojak's half-slurped Tootsie Roll Pops, and the shooter's rationale for his moment of homicidal indiscretion is just as icky. While a couple of performers deliver their parts with panache, the weaker actors exert a drag on the entire production. Gifted artistic director Terrence Spivey is doing marvelous work at Karamu, but his direction of Split Second doesn't demand enough from the central characters, relying too much on stock interpretations. We need more from cop dramas these days. Through April 24 at Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- Howey
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