A Chorus Line -- This elegant metaphor for the human journey takes place in a stark theatrical version of a Skinner box -- an empty black space with mirrors on the back wall, where rewards and punishments are doled out by the frequently disembodied voice of the choreographer. He's the reigning deity in this claustrophobic universe, demanding honesty from the assembled hopefuls as he pierces their glib responses with insults or threats, trying to excavate the individual underneath the tinsel and tap shoes. By masterfully merging the performers' stories with songs, snatches of music, and lots of dance numbers, A Chorus Line became one of the longest-running productions in the history of New York theater. The Carousel production, under the solid but not particularly innovative direction and choreography of Donna Drake, makes excellent use of the expansive stage and still manages to capture many of the intimate moments that pull our emotional levers. Overindulgent pacing of many dialogue sequences ultimately allows the tension to seep away in the second act, but it remains a singular sensation to be in the presence of this iconic Broadway metaphor that can teach us all a little about ourselves. Through July 9 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. -- 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. Extended through July 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
Summer Evening and What Is Making Gilda So Gray? -- The verbal intricacies of personal relationships are explored in these two intriguing one-acts, expertly directed by Greg Cesear. In Wallace Shawn's Summer Evening, a man and woman are staying in a resort hotel, each simmering in a stew of repressed sexuality. When alone and speaking to the audience (or themselves), they express their desires with bold clarity. But when they're together, she avoids his touch, while he aches for contact. Scott Esposito and Kat McIntosh handle this arm's-length relationship with civilized obliqueness. But the unvocalized passion in Shawn's script could be enhanced with more physical attitude, while the dialogue scenes seem a bit choreographed. What Is Making Gilda So Gray (by Tom Eyen) ratchets up the absurdity, as a film director and his wife keep mistaking each other for their fantasy lovers. Each picks on the other's vulnerability (her small paunch, his height), and they quickly forget each other's personal preferences (he takes his coffee black) as they meet, separate, and rejoin. John Kolibab and Bernadette Clemens are enormously engaging as two people who are trying so hard to compensate that they never connect. Presented by Cesear's Forum through July 30 at Kennedy's Down Under, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
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