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Capsule reviews of current area theater presentations. 

Always, Patsy Cline -- You'd think a play about an iconic singer who died in a plane crash at 30 would present a chance to take a profound emotional journey. But Ted Swindley, author of Always, Patsy Cline, turns this show's namesake into a walking jukebox. Still, even such a wretchedly written show can't torpedo Always, thanks to an outstanding performance by Christine Mild in the lead role. Before Patsy nose-dived into a Tennessee forest, she established herself as a transformative and riveting crossover country singer. Always is seen through the eyes of Louise, an inveterate fan, who spends her time making moon eyes and telling the audience how down-to-earth the singer is. But, thankfully, Cline's songbook dominates the show, with Mild's clear notes rising effortlessly to capture Patsy-perfect phrasing. Mild handles almost 30 of Cline's numbers with such hypnotic grace and sure-handed control, you want to ease back and let her sing all night long. Lily Mercer plays Louise with a good-ol'-gal sensibility, but overdoes the two-finger "look at me" gesture, and her performance feels constrained by the playwright's one-track love fest. Director Donna Drake squeezes out a couple of nice moments between the two women. But mostly, Drake wisely gets out of the way and lets Mild do her thing. When you leave Carousel, you'll have to admit, in the words of the Act One closer, "She Got You." Through August 26 at the Carousel Dinner Theater, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100 -- Christine Howey

The Lion King -- From the opening animal gathering in "The Circle of Life" to its reprise at the final curtain, this is a show that leaves patrons slack-jawed in amazement. A simplistic yarn about a lion cub suffering the death of his father, it offers few surprises. But The Lion King is more about exuberant, imaginative staging, and on that score it trounces virtually any theatrical event. Ever. Julie Taymor, who directs and designs the mind-bendingly brilliant costumes, is possessed of a genius that is frankly unquantifiable. Add the remarkable animals to a musical mosaic by Elton John and Tim Rice, and the stunning visuals created by Richard Hudson's scenic design, and you have a theatrical experience that will stake out a corner of your memory for a very long time. Mufasa, the daddy lion, is played with immense dignity and touching "humanity" by Geno Segers. Michael Dean Morgan has a boatload of fun as Zazu. As Mufasa's brother, the villainous Scar, Kevin Gray is a sneaky sleazebag, and Gugwana Dlamini brings raucous humor to Rafiki, the storyteller. If you are open to wonder and awe, and you aren't afraid to open up the childlike part of you that wants to be thrilled by sights you can't imagine, this is your show. Through September 9 at the State Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1518 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000 -- Howey

Nine -- Based on Federico Fellini's autobiographical film 8 1/2, this work explores the unchained libido of film director Guido Contini, a married man who doesn't let his wife cramp his style. From the start, the stage is filled with Guido's conquests. Jumping back-and-forth in time, we observe 9-year-old Guido's encounter with his first hooker, as well as the 40-year-old version's interactions with assorted females. The undeniable star of this show is the music composed by Maury Yeston. Ranging from tender ballads to a mini-operetta, the offerings are dazzlingly eclectic and constantly involving. Regrettably, Yeston's lyrics often don't keep pace and can be agonizingly banal. Director Victoria Bussert and music director Nancy Gantose-Maier wisely concentrate on putting the talented cast in the best positions to deliver their musical blockbusters. As Mistress Carla, Trista Moldovan is decked out in a black-lace body stocking so hot she could pop old Federico out of his crypt. Maryann Nagel is excellent as Liliane La Fleur, Guido's always complaining producer. And a standout performance, although largely mute, is delivered by Aric Generette Floyd as young Guido. The second act is much shorter and thinner than the first, and ultimately, the play only scratches the surface of Guido's intricate, earthy personality. But while the material is less than perfect, if you just focus on the music, Nine is quite often a "10." Through August 19 at the Cain Park Alma Theatre, corner of Lee and Superior roads, Cleveland Heights, 216-371-3000. -- Howey

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