Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit — As musical-revue franchises go, they don't come much healthier than Forbidden Broadway, which has enjoyed several iterations over the past 25 years. Featuring comedy knockoffs of popular musicals, this most recent version is a mix of old material (Les Miz lampoons) and newer stuff, like spoofs poking The Lion King, wherein headdress-abused actors bemoan their lot in "Can You Feel the Pain Tonight?" The hardworking players throw themselves into one costume and wig change after another, with Greg Violand crooning a clever Robert Goulet parody and Tricia Bestic spoofing hyper Liza Minnelli. Also fine are Brian Marshall (his Cameron Mackintosh peddles show souvenirs such as chocolates shaped like orphans) and Carmen Keels, who nails a brassy Ethel Merman. Keels and Bestic also turn in a great duet as dueling Anitas (Chita Rivera vs. Rita Moreno) in West Side Story. Some jokes are fresh, as when they make fun of all the shows featuring puppets ("If you want a Tony/Flash a cloth cojone"). But a lot of the lyric gibes are repetitive, and some Broadway in-jokes get lost here in the hinterland. But it's fast and fun, and the voices are Broadway-quality. Through December 2 at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 East 14th Street, 216-241-6000. — Christine Howey
Measure for Measure — This slick Great Lakes Theater Festival production of Shakespeare's comically reflective play about sexual hypocrisy and the effects of power and corruption is set in a "modern city." The head-honcho Duke skips town to discover why his city is going down the tubes, morality-wise. He puts in charge Angelo, a guy so wedded to abstinence his shorts squeak, but then disguises himself and hangs around. Angelo arrests a nobleman, Claudio, for knocking up his fiancée, Juliet, since there is a rule against boffing before marriage. And the penalty is death, which seems a tad harsh to Claudio's sister Isabella, an intern nun who begs Angelo to save her brother's life. Unfortunately, Angelo is turned on by hopeless pleading and seeks to trade Claudio's life for a roll in the sack with Isabella. Meanwhile, the Duke snoops around offering his advice and trying to sabotage Angelo's reign of repressive terror. As the Duke, Richard Klautsch has a deft sense of comic timing, but his friar sounds too similar to his Duke. Andrew May successfully portrays Angelo's attraction to Isabella, but he seems unsure about how diabolical to make him. More on point is Kathryn Chesaro, who makes Isabella believably pious and humble one minute, and fiercely unrelenting the next. In the role of Claudio, Jeffrey C. Hawkins delivers Shakespeare's mediation on mortality with admirable intensity. Director Risa Brainin has fun with her contemporary setting, arming characters with cell phones that are neatly integrated into the script. Thanks to Michael Klaers' lighting and original scoring by Brad Carroll, this GLTF production has a fresh and invigorating look and feel, making for a most satisfying theatrical evening, if not a transcendent one. Produced by the Great Lakes Theater Festival at Playhouse Square Center, the Ohio Theatre, 1518 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. — Howey
Pump Boys and Dinettes — Pump Boys is about some rumpled gas-station grease monkeys and the darlin' waitresses next door, and it's challenging to pull off: Its songs are only serviceable, and the jokes are old. If it's going to work, it needs down-home simplicity. But director Sean Cercone and lighting designer Paul Black are too fond of the haze machine, which fills the stage area with a light mist and makes visible the colored beams from swiveling and pivoting spotlights. The southern rednecks and rubes who sing the show's blues/country/rock/ gospel tunes are attacked by shafts of hot pink and throbbing purple. Playing the lead Boy is Pat McRoberts; he hits the notes, as do most of his compatriots, but the meanings of some songs disappear in the ever-present mist. Pianist and singer Steven Ray Watkins turns in a diggin' version of "Serve Yourself," even though he comes up dreadfully short in two other featured songs that require him to be amusing. And as for the Cupp sisters, hot Rhetta (Kate Margaret) is only lukewarm, and pixie-ish Prudie (Sarah Nischwitz) finds herself groping for the right melodies. If only this production had the straightforward honesty of director Cercone's program notes, in which he recalls the bluegrass music his dad played and shared with him — now that could be a great show, no swiveling spotlights required. Through October 27 at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. — Howey
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