Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
Ain¹t We Got Fun! -- Writer-director Michael McFaden has come up with a fetching idea, weaving a storyline around vintage, gay-themed songs from pre- and post-Depression-era America. But what should be a sprightly romp instead shudders to an exhausted halt a full two and a half hours after the opening number. The central plot involves Oscar and Benny, two Michigan gay boys who are getting it on under the radar, until Oscar meets four swishy swells vacationing from Chicago. Soon, Oscar leaves Benny for Chi-Town, where he and his benefactors land at a club whose star attraction is a female impersonator; before long, Oscar is recruited into the show as a boy model in assless chaps. This material could be a fizzy delight, but it's undermined by a series of unfortunate decisions and a profound lack of editing. Given the simple story, there is far too much dialogue and a clunky flashback device that grinds everything to a halt. The cast, too, is a mixed bag of performers ranging from excellent (Zac Hudak as the female impersonator) to barely functional. Through August 13 at the 14th Street Theatre, E. 14th and Prospect Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Christine Howey

Lies and Legends: The Music of Harry Chapin -- Folk-pop artist Harry Chapin was a fine man, but only a marginally talented songwriter. Some of his strengths and a lot of his weaknesses are trotted forth in this Beck Center show, a reunion for the five-person cast (minus Ken Benz, who died more than a decade ago at age 37) that performed the show in 1990. It's an emotional event for those in the Beck family, but it doesn't make Chapin's body of work any better than mediocre. As a composer, he often relied on the same loosely linked melodic structure, which repeated itself with little variation. And his lyrics -- frequently trite and overly sentimental -- were often just so many square pegs that he kept pounding into round holes. But when Chapin hit the mark (as he did on the ubiquitous "Cat's in the Cradle"), the results could be memorable. Dan Folino, the new cast addition, does everything he can to pump energy and humor into the proceedings, but his soaring pipes are wasted on some of Chapin's less distinguished efforts. Director William Roudebush, who also helmed the original production, uses the set's multilevel platforms and ramp to keep the songs animated. But ultimately, one has to be a stone-cold Chapin fanatic to happily endure 22 of these folksy musings laid end to end. Through July 23 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

Much Ado About Nothing -- It's hard to beat the all-natural punch of Shakespeare at Stan Hywet, set beside a gorgeous lagoon and featuring the talents of Terry Burgler, one of the founding artistic directors of the Ohio Shakespeare Festival. This rendition of Will's wacky comedy of lovers who love each other, lovers who hate each other, and folks who want to interfere isn't the OSF at its most compelling, but there is still an eveningful of enjoyment to be had. In one memorable comic interlude, director Burgler appears as Dogberry, the master constable. Whipping his ragtag bunch of deputies into shape with a secret salute and indecipherable commands, Burgler once again displays his easy familiarity with this material and his total command of both the meaning and the manic mayhem of Shakespeare's words. One longs for him to mount a Shakespeare play that he directs and in which he plays all the parts himself. Until then, this Much Ado will certainly do. Presented by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival through July 22 at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path, Akron, 330-315-3287. -- Howey

Our Town -- Sometimes you are fortunate enough to encounter a familiar classic that has been given such a new and startling spin that you're compelled to think, So that's what it's all about! Porthouse Theatre's production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town is no sleepy reading of the play in which you probably had a role in high school. In director Matthew Earnest's clean and contemporary take on the denizens of Grover's Corners, the cast is plopped down on a bare, black stage, with nothing but a couple of tables and chairs to help carve out playing areas. This spare and propless design has the bracing effect of concentrating all attention on the script and the actors, and that is where this production truly shines. It boasts as many laughs as a Neil Simon play, but the enduring themes are never given short shrift. Through July 22 at the Porthouse Theatre on the Blossom Music Center campus, 1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330-672-3884. -- Howey

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