Passion -- Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical Passion is either a) a 110-minute love song that rarely varies in tempo or tone, or b) a lyrical exploration of the tragic yet redeeming possibilities of unrequited love. In this Beck Center production, well-staged by director Victoria Bussert, both descriptions are accurate -- but the final product isn't as satisfying as Sondheim's more familiar work. The story, set in 1863 Milan, involves an army captain named Giorgio who is in mid-affair with beauteous but married Clara. When he's reassigned to a new post, he and Clara continue their crush via emotional letters. But then Fosca -- the wan and unhealthy young niece of Giorgio's new commander -- falls for the young soldier, even though he still pines for his bella Clara, who advises her lover to remain true to their adulterous liaison. The contents of the lovers' letters and most conversations are sung in Sondheim's characteristically layered and intricate compositions -- which is the good news. The bad news is that it's basically the same melancholy tune the whole way through. Still, there are moments of exceptional beauty, including one song that unveils a tender truth regarding people who love not because it is a choice, but because it is simply who they are. The strong cast is highlighted by three performers who handle this heavy vocal lifting with grace: Jodi Dominick is lustful and lively as Clara, Sandra Simon is a plain, sweet-voiced Fosca, and as Giorgio, Jared Leal manages to wrap his flexible pipes around Sondheim's score, although he doesn't quite exude the requisite stature and power. Passion may not be the best Sondheim has to offer, but it takes chances -- as does Beck Center in taking on this piece -- and that's why it deserves a look. Through May 6 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Howey
Thoroughly Modern Millie -- Based on the not-so-classic movie of the same name, this airheaded musical, directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, brings a whole new definition to the term "broad acting." While there's nothing inherently wrong with jumping on every gag with the size-48 brogans of a circus clown, you need a cast that can sustain that manic level of overreaching and still make the evening palatable. And that's where the Carousel crew falls a bit short. As for the story line, it's pure Broadway schmaltz: Millie, a rube from Kansas, shows up in the big city in the flapper decade of the 1920s, with her eye fixed on meeting and marrying a sugar daddy. She winds up at a rooming house owned by a suspiciously friendly Asian woman, Mrs. Meers, who, it turns out, shuttles the girls in the front door, finds out which ones have no family or friends, and then sells the grown-up orphans into Shanghai slavery as prostitutes. While ducking Mrs. Meers, Millie gets a job at an insurance company and sets her talons for the pompous boss, Trevor Graydon. But he falls instead for Millie's pal, Dorothy Brown. That's just the beginning of the confusion in this froth that involves a supposedly penniless loser, Jimmy Smith, who is really rich, and Mrs. Meers' two sons, who have their own agendas. Through April 28 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey
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