Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

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The Color Purple It's possible to turn a complex and nuanced book like this renowned Alice Walker tome into a Broadway musical, but it's a daunting task. And this touring production now at Playhouse Square's Palace Theatre flubs the assignment on many levels. The musical's book, as written by the acclaimed playwright Marsha Norman ('night, Mother), focuses on poor and homely Celie. But it jumps from one tragedy (incest) to another (spousal abuse) without pausing for any character-shaping insights. As a result, her ultimate triumph feels canned and unreal. As for the music penned by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray: The tunes have a momentary lilt due to the gospel and jazz influences, but none have any particular staying power. That said, big-voiced Jeannette Bayardelle as Celie and Felicia P. Fields as the pugnacious Sofia (Oprah's role in the movie) succeed in communicating with the audience, inspiring shouts of encouragement and appreciation from the less inhibited. But for some, the odd plotline digressions — including an extended sequence of native African dances that feels like it dropped in from another musical — undermine the book's ferocious integrity. Even looking past opening night's multiple technical glitches, which have probably been fixed, this rushed and simple Purple is more a faded puce. Through April 8 at the Palace Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1615 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. — Christine Howey

Holes — Written by Louis Sachar, who won awards for the novel and Disney movie adaptation of the same name, this theatrical version cannot sort out the multiple storylines and eccentric flourishes that made the book and flick so enjoyable. Stanley Yelnats (that's Stanley spelled backward), who has been sent to a detention camp in the desert for supposedly stealing a pair of super-expensive athletic shoes, struggles to ingratiate himself with the other young dudes incarcerated there, where they all share the daily chore of digging holes in the desert. Stanley believes his family is cursed because his great-great-grandfather pissed off a gypsy fortune-teller, Madame Zeroni. So we have flashback scenes involving her that don't really track, since the cinematic touches that help explicate time and place in the movie aren't available. Adding to the lack of clarity is director Hassan Rogers' decision to cast the entire show with young, college-age actors, who give the production the feel of an extended skit put on by a group of enthusiastic day-camp counselors. In the role of Stanley, hefty Ethan Rosenfeld has a fairly interesting vibe, when he isn't staring at the floor. But Rogers imposes little discipline on his young players, which leads to slack pacing and many interchanges that feel improvised, although not in a good way. The lone exception is Durand Ferebee, as delinquent Zigzag, who is lithe and funny, and probably deserves his own show. Through April 6 at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7077. — Howey

The King and I Rodgers and Hammerstein's story of the Welsh widow contracted by the king of Siam to teach his gaggle of children — from a harem of obedient wives — is well known. And the songs, such as "Hello, Young Lovers," "Getting to Know You," and "I Have Dreamed," are dazzling creations that work in any time or place. Here, Jennifer Hughes brings a quiet resolve and occasionally fiery spirit to the role of schoolteacher Anna. Her singing voice, a soprano that is slightly more muscular than lyrical, delivers the goods as she slowly softens the king's sharp edges. As the ruler, Francis Jue is a slight fellow, and although he gets plenty steamed at times, some of the nuances of the king's character are not clearly drawn. Director Stephen Bourneuf maneuvers the large cast (approaching 50) with grace on the immense Carousel stage, and there are enough Asian actors to make the entire Siamese locale feel genuine. Also, costume designer Dale DiBernardo and scenic designer Robert A. Kovach spare no horsepower in making the show a treat to look at. But perhaps the most indelible sequence is the ballet done around the saga of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." This Siamese version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, featuring Asian blackface and choreographed in Eastern style by Vince Pesce (with a lot of help from Jerome Robbins' original blueprint), is totally enthralling. Through April 26 at the Carousel Dinner Theater, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. — Howey

Seeing Red This outreach production by the Great Lakes Theater Festival precedes the company's staging of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. It's intended to show some events that led Miller to write his powerful Salem-witch-trial allegory. Sampling real testimony from the actual committee proceedings, which involved key people from the theater world of the time, it has some flat spots, but generally fulfills its mission. The least well-known of the witnesses is Hallie Flanagan, National Director of the Federal Theatre Project, an unruffled target who fends off the absurd questions offered by various congressmen. Equally unflappable are Paul Robeson and Arthur Miller himself. But by focusing almost solely on the testimony, Seeing Red underplays the devastating effects these hearings had on witnesses who refused go along with the "patriotic" farce. Careers were destroyed along with lives, since there were more than a dozen suicides caused by these venal proceedings. Still, the four-person cast, under the direction of Andrew May, keeps the necessarily static production engaging. David Hansen is particularly good as Miller, who refused to name anyone in his 1956 testimony. And Justin Tatum does a passable Ronald Reagan in his appearance before the committee in 1947. While Joseph Primes cuts an imposing figure as Paul Robeson, his lack of crisp projection makes his lines difficult to hear. This free touring production is certainly worth a viewing, particularly if you're planning to see The Crucible in a few weeks. A free Great Lakes Theater Festival production, touring various locations. Details at — Howey

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