On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations.

A Chorus Line -- This elegant metaphor for the human journey takes place in a stark theatrical version of a Skinner box -- an empty black space with mirrors on the back wall, where rewards and punishments are doled out by the frequently disembodied voice of the choreographer. He's the reigning deity in this claustrophobic universe, demanding honesty from the assembled hopefuls as he pierces their glib responses with insults or threats, trying to excavate the individual underneath the tinsel and tap shoes. By masterfully merging the performers' stories with songs, snatches of music, and lots of dance numbers, A Chorus Line became one of the longest-running productions in the history of New York theater. The Carousel production, under the solid but not particularly innovative direction and choreography of Donna Drake, makes excellent use of the expansive stage and still manages to capture many of the intimate moments that pull our emotional levers. Overindulgent pacing of many dialogue sequences ultimately allows the tension to seep away in the second act, but it remains a singular sensation to be in the presence of this iconic Broadway metaphor that can teach us all a little about ourselves. Through July 9 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. -- 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. Extended through July 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

Moby Dick! The Musical -- An enthusiastic cast can save a musical of questionable quality, as can a few good singing voices or some inventive staging gimmicks. This is obviously what director Scott Spence had in mind when he decided to mount Moby Dick! The Musical. So his young cast emotes like crazy, the singers turn in some fine work, and virtually every theatrical device is thrown into the mix. But it's all sound and flurry, signifying not much. Recognizing that the average whale carries about two tons of blubber, the best that can be said for this material is that it is true to the species. Among the 20-some songs are too many self-consciously serious ballads, a weak takeoff on Gilbert and Sullivan, and lots of repetitive melodies. Another problem is the cutesy premise: A school for girls holds a fund-raiser by presenting a musical version of the Herman Melville classic, picking up props from around the campus. But once the curtain goes up, the authors seem to forget these are actually students -- there's no in-fighting or backstage snits, and none of the kids makes fun of the school's headmistress (played in drag by Kevin Joseph Kelly), the rather ripe target who portrays Ahab. Through July 3 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey

The Secret Garden -- While this children's story about the redemptive effects of friendship, gardening, and the occasional helpful bird may not be to everyone's taste, the Cain Park production excels in several areas. As for the story, a recently orphaned girl, Mary (a convincing Sara Masterson), is transported to the home of her seemingly uncaring uncle, Archibald Craven, and his sickly son, Colin. But Mary manages to melt Archie's frigid heart by nurturing and sometimes bullying the little boy back to health. There are fine singers in nearly every role, with Patrick Janson (Archibald), Sandra J. Simon (his dead wife), Hannah Laird (maid Martha), Mitch McCarrell (Martha's brother), and Timothy Rhein (a singing physician) being particularly effective. Playwright and lyricist Marsha Norman lays on the morals with a heavy hand, befitting a play that's intended for the younger crowd (say, eight and up), but Lucy Simon's score is often quite lovely. An added attraction is the two-level set of Victorian windows and doors designed by Russ Borski. Director Meryl Friedman and music director Larry Hartzell have mounted a handsome show that may not fully engross all adults, but the music makes it worth the trip. Through July 3 at Cain Park, on Superior Rd. between Taylor and Lee rds., Cleveland Hts., 216-371-3000. -- Howey

Women on the Verge of . . . Figuring It Out! -- Maybe it's the uncertain ellipsis in the title, followed by the overly confident exclamation point. Or maybe it's the slightly condescending notion that women, after all they've been through, are just beginning to, duh, catch on. In any case, the title for the feminist Red Hen Productions presentation of two one-acts is worse than the two scripts themselves, though not by much. In Harvesting the Marigold Seeds, playwright Maureen Brady Johnson wants us to connect with a woman, almost 50, who's still afraid to plant other flowers because of her domineering mother's obsession with award-winning marigolds. This is obviously a woman on the verge of something . . . like being committed. The second play, Brownie Points, boasts a cute premise -- a 28-year-old Brownie whose life has been measured in merit badges. But the intermittently amusing monologue by Nicole Nattrass soon loses focus and pace, and is only saved by the performance of Natalie Stefanek as Brownie Veronica. Under the direction of Rose Leininger, Stefanek conveys the goofy persona of this woman while retaining a core of dignity. No small feat there. Presented by Red Hen through June 26 at the Cleveland Black Box Theatre, 1210 W. 6th St., 216-556-0910. -- Howey

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