On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Daughter of a Buffalo Soldier, the Life and Legacy of Marjorie Witt Johnson -- It's hard to feel bad when you're dancing, young Marjorie Witt Johnson learned as a black student at Oberlin College back in 1930, and it changed her life forever. By combining her pedagogical curriculum in social work with a fast-blooming interest in modern dance, Johnson pursued her passion for integrating dance into social-group dynamics, changing lives and creating some stunning choreography in the process. Johnson's artistic home for 10 years of her long and fulfilling life (she's now 96) was Karamu House, where her story is now being told as a co-production with the Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre. Performed almost totally in movement, supported with small bursts of dialog and longer stretches of narration, this original dance-theater piece is almost entirely captivating. As conceived by director/choreographer Dianne McIntyre and Michael Medcalf, who is a lead performer and artistic director of CCDT, the first act traces Johnson's life from growing up in Wyoming to the crowning appearance of her dance troupe, the Karamu Dancers, at the 1940 New York World's Fair. The second act is a fascinating reconstruction of the dances Johnson created some 65 years ago -- and they have lost none of their evocative energy or wit. Through May 22 at Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7077. -- Christine Howey

Menopause, the Musical -- Everybody enjoys musicals dealing with energetic young people on the brink of conquering the world. But what about the people in the audience: the nearsighted, overweight, and wrinkled denizens of middle age, who rarely see their own physiological mysteries put into song? For them, there is Menopause, the Musical, a hoot of a show written by Jeanie Linders. It's a foot-stomping 90-minute revival meeting for women who've had to deal with The Change while also trying to maintain their careers and family relationships. Menopause is frequently repetitious, even teetering on the brink of tiresome, but the energetic cast of four and spirited direction by Patty Bender and Kathryn Conte maintain the flow, so to speak. All women with a few decades on them -- even those who only use "menopause" as an excuse to get out of going to football games -- will probably get a stiff neck from nodding in agreement and a tender side from all the laughter. Through May 30 at Playhouse Square Center's 14th Street Theatre, 2037 East 14th St., 216-241-6000. -- Howey

Midnight Martini Show -- There is a strange attraction in Frank Sinatra's loosely organized Rat Pack and their infamous, loopily disorganized Las Vegas shows that ran for a few golden years back in the 1960s. Frank, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. mixed pop songs, corny jokes, and Johnnie Walker into an irreverent, hip evening that seemed so easy. What the Midnight Martini Show at Pickwick & Frolic proves is that it ain't easy at all. This one-hour set attempts to capture the bored-with-it-all sophistication and the slightly inebriated intimacy that the Rat Packers achieved, but it fails on several counts, from the overly eager performers to the florid songs and lame drinking jokes. Which is not to say that this no-cover show doesn't provide a convenient glide path for those downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. Indeed, some of the American standards are sung well enough. Now the task is to find directors and performers who understand that being casually funny while delivering classic tunes takes a lot of work. Fridays and Saturdays at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 East 4th St., 216-241-7425. -- Howey

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