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On Stage 

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

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

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

Seven Ages -- Once you realize that the miracle of birth has entitled you to a one-way ride to eventual and permanent oblivion, it sort of kills the buzz. That's why so many writers have attempted to slow down the aging process: so that we can understand it a little better, before we're punted into eternity. This free touring production of seven brief one-acts was written to match Shakespeare's "Seven Ages of Man" speech from As You Like It, and it serves as a prologue of sorts to Great Lakes Theater Festival's production of that play next fall. Seven local playwrights were invited to shape a small dramatic interlude around different age plateaus, and the result, under the spry and sensitive direction of Sonya Robbins, is quite rewarding. Sure, there are a couple of clinkers, but several of the pieces are surprisingly affecting, given the brief time -- about 10 minutes each -- they have to create characters and make a point. Aiding the effort is a very capable four-person cast that handles all the roles and set changes with élan. Presented through May 13 by the Great Lakes Theater Festival. For more information, go to www.greatlakestheater.org. -- Howey

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