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
A Little Night Music -- This witty and challenging show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, peeks into the upstairs-downstairs lives of Swedes lusting after one thing, and it ain't herring fritters. At the center of the sensual storm is Fredrik, a middle-aged lawyer who is entangled in a sexless 11-month marriage to an 18-year-old sprite named Ann (bubbly Kimberly Koljat), who is the secret obsession of Fredrik's Calvinist-strict son, Henrik (played with morose monomania by Brad Herbst). The plot complications multiply faster than rabbits on Levitra, as horny Fredrik seeks to bed Desiree, an old flame and famed actress, even as her boy toy, the low-wattage Carl-Magnus, is cheating on his wife, Charlotte. As with virtually all Kalliope productions, the assembled voices range from good to spectacular. Frederick Hamilton is charmingly libidinous as Fredrik, and Marla Berg's Desiree is every inch the diva. But the drop-dead-wonderful performance is turned in by Kathleen Huber as Desiree's aristocratic but candidly acquisitive mother. She's worth the price of admission -- and maybe a couple extra bucks on the way out. Through May 8 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- 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
Polish Joke -- Nationality stereotypes have fueled punch lines ever since the first border was drawn between two countries, but no nationality has fared worse than the Polish. This cultural curiosity is engaged with refreshing directness here by playwright David Ives. Through a collection of nonlinear scenes, we follow the travails of Jasiu, an unhappy young man of Polish descent, who's trying to duck his heritage and achieve the American dream even though his surname ends in "ski." At times outrageously funny, thanks to a clever script and some fabulous mini-characters developed by a talented cast, the play ultimately tries too hard to have it both ways: laughing at the Polaks who live in the joke world, while honoring Polish people and traditions in the real world. Sheila E. Maloney is a scream as a Jewish yenta, the gassy Mrs. Flanagan, and the daft human-resources administrator. Leslie Fegan is equally entertaining in his portrayals of six variously loopy folks, and Kim Weston has perhaps the largest stage presence. Through May 1 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- 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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