On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Five Guys Named Moe Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood Through April 10, 216-521-2540
Bee-Luther-Hatchee -- In a world where reality-show contestants are rewarded for sabotaging their peers, the idea of discussing intellectual honesty may seem quaintly passé. But playwright Thomas Gibbons wrestles with a number of heavyweight issues, including intellectual-property rights, ownership of cultural identity, and a passel of racial conundrums. The ethical storms kick up when a heralded young African-American book editor tracks down the reclusive author of an inspiring memoir -- and finds the old southern black woman is not at all who she seems. But should the authorship of a book matter, if the words touch people in a meaningful way? There are real jolts generated in the exchanges that make up the second act, primarily due to a fine performance by Monte Escalante as editor Shelita. Gibbons constructs an ever-shifting hall of mirrors that keeps one's attention, despite some overly analytical dialogue and languorous pacing. There's a dandy surprise at the end of Act One and another near the show's close. By that time, most of the intellectual gamesmanship has been expended, and there's more than enough to think about. Through April 4 at Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7070. -- Christine Howey

Broadway Memories -- Memories are precious; we wouldn't want anyone going through our photo albums, drawing mustaches on our ancestors. Neither do we want our remembrances of the great, glossy show tunes from the 1940s and '50s delaminated by singers who either don't have the pipes or don't have the interpretive chops to do them justice. Yet that's what's happening at the Cleveland Play House Club while Broadway Memories is in session. Indifferently written and directed by Paul Floriano, who also performs, this musical pastiche conjures no magic from some 30 works by Gershwin, Porter, Hammerstein, and the other gods of the Great White Way. Maryann Nagel's soprano sounds tired, and her uptempo shredding of Miss Otis Regrets is borderline indictable, while Ian Atwood possesses a mediocre voice, further diminished by a virtually nonexistent stage presence. Animated Ryan Bergeron is unfortunately hidden away at the piano, and Floriano struts his threadbare baritone like a dollar-store Dean Martin. This carelessly assembled cabaret show, unwisely unamplified and performed in front of what appears to be a red fabric shower curtain, is less a remembering than a dismembering. Through April 3 at the Cleveland Play House Club, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-795-7000. -- Howey

I Love You, You¹re Perfect, Now Change -- The promotional material dubs this musical revue "Seinfeld set to music." But in reality, it's more like The Bachelor set to a metronome, with predictable book and lyrics by Joe DiPetro and a mechanically repetitive musical score by Jimmy Roberts. Just pick your courtship cliché, and there's a song to address it, whether it be the serious shortage of desirable single men or the characteristics of testosterone-poisoned males who date chicks. The first act focuses on the foibles of the dating scene, and the second plumbs about an inch or two into the depths of marital misunderstandings. It's rescued by some amusing dating and family-life gibes, as well as a cast of Cleveland-based performers that squeezes every ounce of good humor out of what, in lesser hands, would come off as threadbare material. Larry Nehring, in particular, is a delight to watch in every role, from dazed boyfriend one moment to TV huckster the next. Through June 27 at the 14th Street Theater, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

A Grand Night for Singing --For those who consider musical theater as necessary for survival as unpolluted air, there's a new company in town dedicated solely to producing such fare. And based on its first production, Kalliope Stage is going to be a mandatory addition to the entertainment schedule. Grand Night is a collection of songs penned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for hit Broadway shows including Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and Oklahoma! The time is the late 1940s, and the music is loosely arranged by the four seasons. But the real stars are the five performers, who explore every nuance of these time-honored songs with their exceptional vocal talents. Directed with style and wit by Paul F. Gurgol, this is a gleaming treasure of musical excellence; it should not be missed by anyone who loves it when people burst into song for any damn reason they want. Through April 4 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey

Five Guys Named Moe -- This rousing musical revue is built upon a story line (by Clarke Peters) that's scrawny as a Depression-era chicken. A fellow named No Max, having recently split with his gal, is lost in his blues and mired in whiskey when five zoot-suited gentlemen -- named No Moe, Eat Moe, Big Moe, Little Moe, and Four-Eyed Moe -- arrive to dispense musical advice on matters relating to pettin', pokin', drinkin', and messin' around. But it's the songs, re-creations of works by jazz legend Louis Jordan, that surprise and amuse, despite their often dated lyrics. Dressed in neon hues and eye-popping saddle shoes, the mighty Moes leap from one foot-stomping jingle to another. The diamond in this cast of lesser gems is Kyle Primous's No Max, who croons "Early in the Morning" in a voice so rich with despair that it almost seems otherworldly. Through April 10 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 26-521-2540. -- Howey

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