On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

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Rosenstrasse Cedar Lee Theater
A Bright Room Called Day -- Those who draw parallels between Hitler and George W. are usually dismissed as paranoid leftists who hate their country -- the same kinds of things that were said of German citizens sweating bullets about the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1930s. This is the milieu where Tony Kushner places A Bright Room Called Day. The play employs two scenarios: a group of embattled Berliners trying to survive in 1933 and a contemporary woman named Zillah obsessing over the latest outrages of the Bush administration. Bright Room speaks directly to the charge that fascism can always take control if enough people don't speak and act. The tension created between the historical scenario and the audience-directed rants from the tormented Zillah develops a compelling momentum that nails you to the back of your seat. If you're up for a vigorous, brutally candid look at where many believe our country is headed, get over to CPT soon. Through October 30 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727. -- Christine Howey

Crowns -- In the African American community, churchgoing women still bedeck their heads in feathery and sequined flights of fancy, and that tradition is given a loving and rousing tribute in this show. Playwright Regina Taylor has adapted this work from the book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, mixing stories, mini-profiles, and gospel music into an evening spilling over with exuberance. Even though the meandering script never lingers long enough on any one character to register a distinct personality, the gifted Play House cast of six women and one man infuses the 100-minute production with enough energy to power one of Elton John's old electrified chapeaus. Tony Award winner Trezana Beverley delivers a whirlwind interpretation of Mabel, a woman who dances and sings with high-spirited abandon and has the most "hatitude" of them all. Through November 7 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. -- Howey

The Phantom of the Opera -- While it's tempting to poke fun at this Broadway warhorse and its glitzy pretension, this touring production at the Allen Theatre displays none of the tired disinterest or mechanical line readings that can plague casts in such oh-so-familiar shows. The story's the same: A Paris opera house is haunted by a tuneful ghost, who demands his own box at every performance and a generous monthly stipend to boot. He falls for Christine, the lovely understudy who vaults to stardom thanks to the Phantom's ethereal leverage and a flood of notes he keeps sending to the opera's hapless managers. Meanwhile, the company's nominal stars huff and puff their way through performances that are vexed by unseen voices and the occasional dead man hanging. Scary stuff aside, every Phantom must rely on strong performances in key roles to carry the day. Fortunately, Gary Mauer and Rebecca Pitcher musically anchor this rendition as the Phantom and haunted Christine. For those who love these quasi-operatic show tunes, this production stands more than a ghost of a chance of pleasing. Through November 7 at the Allen Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Summer of '42 -- Yep, it's a musical version of the movie, and it's a good thing Kalliope decided to do it, since it requires adolescent boys to sing and act. Thankfully, this company's dedication to splendid voices and evocative presentations has landed it some very talented local high schoolers, who perform like seasoned troupers. Hermie falls for an older woman (of say, 30) named Dorothy, acted and sung to perfection by Jodi Brinkman. The original music by David Kirschenbaum ranges from average to excellent, with the high points being a hysterical double-date song sketching the awkward moves boys make on girls in "The Movies" and a tender ballad titled "Promise of the Morning." Through November 7 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216-321-0870. -- Howey

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