Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

On Stage
The Play House's Christmas Story lives up to the classic movie.
The Play House's Christmas Story lives up to the classic movie.

Beauty and the Beast -- Merging seamlessly enriching sound effects and a couple of dazzling feats of illusion with his thoroughly committed cast, director Fred Sternfeld creates a spectacular stage experience that should be required viewing for two groups of people: children under the age of 12, and everyone else. Reprising their title roles from last year's Beck Center production, Natalie Green and Dan Folino make beautiful music together and separately. Green's Belle is sweet without being sticky, and her solos are wonderfully clear and pristine. While he sings with power and depth, Folino is best when emitting his low growls of displeasure and dealing with the Beast's social dysfunctions (urged by his servant to say something about Belle's fancy dress, he stares and then snaps: "It's pink"). Buoyed by choreographer Martin Cespedes' witty dance numbers, the production rarely loses its pacing and punch. This is an admirably well-conceived show performed to near-perfection. Hard to ask for more on a holiday evening. Through December 31 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2450. -- Christine Howey

A Christmas Carol -- As we grow into adulthood, most of us become keepers of certain family traditions at the holidays. Then, it falls to us to decide which aspects of the season to hold on to without variation and which others to improve by tweaking slightly. That's the task faced by the folks at the Great Lakes Theater Festival as they mount their annual production of A Christmas Carol. This is the 18th year in a row they've sent Ebenezer off on his ghostly time travels, and while they continue to get much of it splendidly right, a few new twists here and there probably would help keep their guests -- particularly the short, wide-eyed ones -- happy. Dudley Swetland once again invests the part of Scrooge with bountiful amounts of bile, and eventually whimsy. Presented by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through December 23 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

A Christmas Story -- This near-genius piece of American reminiscence is so period-perfect and charming that the squishy sentimentality (of which there is plenty) never leads to saccharine reflux. Philip Grecian is listed as the playwright, but everyone understands -- or should -- that the bulk of insights and telling detail comes from the mind of Jean Shepherd, who wrote the original story, co-authored the movie, and narrated the flick in his distinctive, triple-wry voice. Most of the Play House cast from last year has returned, and it seems that director Seth Gordon has tightened the pacing so that there's rarely a slow moment. Story rides a two-hour wave of intricate details to unerringly establish the late-'30s period and to help even the youngest patrons make the leap back to a time before televisions were omnipresent, when cowboy hero Red Ryder was king of the wireless. Through December 23 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey

The Rocky Horror Show -- The film version of Richard O'Brien's oddball rock musical was largely ignored and probably would have disappeared without a ripple back in the '70s. But some funky movie theaters started mounting midnight showings, drawing fans who dressed in extreme fetish outfits as a salute to the weird characters, if not just for the chance to dress in extreme fetish outfits. The result is an ongoing kinky love affair with a show that is immensely improved by the shouted comments from the regulars -- called "sluts" -- who know the script inside out and are ready with snappy jokes, puns, and insults. A capable and nicely twisted cast, gender-wise and otherwise, manages to invest the first act with plenty of raw energy and just enough edgy nastiness to keep Rocky rolling. From there, however, the casting decisions by director Scott Plate become a little dicier. Alison Garrigan, an actress of enormous strengths, plays wacko Dr. Frank in a twist on a role typically played by a male. While it might seem innovative, in this case it's one bend too many. Through December 23 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey

The Santaland Diaries -- When David Sedaris wrote this humorous, slightly acidic commentary for public radio, he never could have envisioned that it would become a Christmas staple. But his mini-memoir of his days as an Elf named Crumpet in Macy's giant Santaland complex has become as ubiquitous during the holidays as fruitcake jokes. Fortunately, the lines in this piece have plenty of snap, as delivered by Andrew Tarr, a young man with no shortage of elfin qualities himself. From lamenting his life in a hideous green velvet tunic to getting frothed up about the hot but fickle stud elf Snowball, Tarr plays Crumpet with a dry, self-deprecating wit that fits the material nicely. In this, his second season in this role at CPT, Tarr could probably stand to loosen up a bit and play off the audience more. And director Mindy Childress Herman could clean up a few of the transitions, since some of the brief vignettes tend to blur into each other. But generally, this is a can't-miss satire of Christmas crazies, with just enough heart to make you wish there really were a Santa and a battalion of elves. Through December 23 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey

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