The Merry Wives of Windsor -- There are plenty of folks who wouldn't want to touch the complicated language of Shakespeare with a 10-meter pole. But now and then, a production of one of his works displays so much spirited action and so many irrepressible sight gags that the words cease to be an obstacle. The Merry Wives of Windsor, now presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival, is such a show. There are so many pratfalls, slap-and-tickles, and chases up the aisles that one might mistake this classic comedy for an out-of-control sitcom. Aiding that perception is director Sari Ketter's concept of setting all the action at the Garter Resort, which looks like a 1950s-era Howard Johnson's restaurant. The image is on target, right down to the orange-and-turquoise color scheme and period pop music. Likewise, the cast of 30 is uniformly sensational, each performer catching Ketter's frolicsome approach and making it his own. This Wives is as fresh and buzzy as a Key lime martini on a hot summer day. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through September 3 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Christine Howey
The Sound of Music -- Carousel Dinner Theater's latest production excels at bringing forth the humanity in this classic, in which the von Trapp family is forced to abandon its home and flee to the U.S. in 1938, just as the Nazis are goose-stepping their way through Austria. But the show narrowly misses some of the smaller moments, both dramatically and musically, that can wring a tear or two out of the most hardened cynic. The result is a solid staging of an old favorite that doesn't quite bring up all the goose bumps it might. Using the vast expanse of the Carousel stage to maximum effect, director/choreographer Mitzi Hamilton creates postcard-pretty tableaux and helps shape a few intriguing performances -- most notably Cristin Mortenson, who crafts a convincing portrayal of lively young Maria. The seven von Trapp children are played by kids who never get so cheek-pinchingly cutesy as to trigger an involuntary gag reflex in audience members -- a real danger with some productions. Through September 10 at Carousel Dinner Theater, 1275 Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey
You Can't Take It With You -- Written in 1936 by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, this flat-out hilarious play could be considered the starter kit for countless sitcom scripts. Set in the Sycamore family home in New York City, this halfway house for slightly batty individualists is headed by Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, a live-for-the-moment fellow who exited the hurly-burly of corporate life long ago to spend his days going to the zoo, tending his pet snakes, practicing darts, and just enjoying himself. It's a pleasure to see how the talented Great Lakes Theater Festival crew, under the direction of Drew Barr, creates a believably unhinged herd of folks that you're eager to spend three acts observing. Though some of the topical jokes of the time are faded beyond recognition, the actors prove their mettle by focusing on the humanity, not the peculiarities, of their characters. This makes the situations even funnier and the evening an untrammeled delight. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through September 3 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
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