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
Heaven and Hell (on Earth): A Divine Comedy -- If there's a limit to how many plays anyone can tolerate in a short time, this production of Dobama's Night Kitchen has found it. In a performance composed of 20 microdramas from the Actors Theatre of Louisville -- laid end-to-end in 90 minutes and featuring 35 characters -- one's brain tends to revert to a protoplasmic state of benign disinterest. Still, there are some moments that peek out from this heap of finely diced theatricality. In the young, fresh cast of eight, Eric Martig exhibits some serious stage mojo in three episodes -- even in the second one, where 40 percent of his lines are unintelligible. The best line of the evening is given by Catherine Gallagher, all dressed in black, waiting at a curbside stop, who notes: "There's nothing sadder than a goth on a bus." Thomas White and Giuseppe Diomede also have a couple nice turns. But many of these microwave-length scenes go nowhere and do nothing, exhibiting unsubtle satire and earnest, but misdirected sentiment. And a couple of the fledgling actors are just portraying emotions, not characters. Of course, that may change when they have more than a couple minutes to develop a persona. Through May 8 at Dobama Theatre, 1846 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-932-3396. -- 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 7 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey
Ten Minutes From Cleveland -- When you live in Cleveland, anything can happen, and that sense of impending doom mingled with black humor is much in evidence in this world premiere. The collection of playlets attempts to show how folks interact with each other at various familiar city venues, from the Jake to the Flats. When playwright Eric Coble focuses on the humor inherent in many of the vignettes, the results are giddily invigorating and frequently hilarious. Dobama's six-person cast is equal to the challenge of creating a representative group of Cleveland types -- although the poor are largely invisible (odd in this, the country's poorest major city). Ten Minutes feels like a caring postcard addressed both to our city and to Dobama, as this is the last major production before the theater company moves on to new stages next season. Happily, there are enough moments that work in this show to make it fond and fitting as Dobama's farewell to Coventry Road -- which is, appropriately, about 10 minutes from Cleveland. Through May 8 at Dobama Theatre, 1846 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-932-3396. -- Howey
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.