Mercury Summer Stock
Everyone needs a little (make that a huge) ogre in his life, and you won't find a better one than the big greenie played by Patrick Ciamacco in this lively production. Yes, the artistic director of Blank Canvas Theatre is moonlighting as the title character in this musical that feels a lot like Beauty and the Beast with attitude. Shrek is an ugly outcast who keeps others at arm's length, until a princess (Sara Masterson) pierces his defenses. Director and choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault has not spared the horsepower on costumes and scenery, and the young cast performs with unflagging spirit. Even though some of the scenes and dance numbers go a bit flat, Brian Marshall as the height-challenged Lord Farquaad is always there to brighten the proceedings. And Ciamacco is totally wonderful, mastering the Shrek voice we've come to expect and singing his songs with professional pizzazz and feeling. And his donkey/sideman, played by Justin Woody, can conjure laughs from the simplest lines. Reason enough to put this ogre on your theater to-do list.
Through June 29 at Mercury Summer Stock, Regina Hall, Notre Dame College, Green Road between Mayfield and Cedar roads, South Euclid
The Emperor's Ears
Talespinner Children's Theatre
When a gaggle of country folk are given a looking glass, you'd think they'd be happy. Turns out, not so much—in the delightful children's play The Emperor's Ears, now at the Talespinner Children's Theatre. This adaptation of a Serbian folktale by Michael Sepesy has plenty of humor, heart and audience participation, so that even the slow spots don't mar the charming story it presents. Once the townspeople start seeing themselves in the mirror, they are horrified to see that they're really ugly. Says one to the peddler who brought the glass, "How dare you depress us with the sight of our own faces!" To mollify them, the peddler (an enthusiastic Katelyn Cornelius) tells them the title story, about an emperor's son who was born with goat ears. As directed by Alison Garrigan, the six-person ensemble performs with verve and specificity. While not as visually stimulating as some TCT productions, Ears is well structured and keeps the story uppermost, a good thing so the youngest patrons can stay connected to the action.
Through July 6, produced by Talespinner Children's Theatre at the Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Ave., 216-264-9680
The Lantern Theatre
Are you sorry you never got to see plays put on in a barn, the ones like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney always launched? Well, fret not. There's a big red barn in Valley View that is the site of a lovely 45-minute production, perfect for the whole family. It is John Henry, written by accomplished Cleveland playwright Eric Schmiedl, and it's happening at the Lantern Theatre on Canal Road, just a few pedal pumps away from the Towpath bike trail. This theater, now in its second summer of operations, is housed in a barn built in 1905, and features a 40-foot-high room that once served as a hayloft. Now it's a stage for a tidy production focusing on the legend of the title character, the famous steel-drivin' man. It opens with a couple period folk tunes strummed out by Bobby Williams, who plays the title role, and Bill Hoffman, who plays Hopper, John Henry's pal and "shaker." The story is narrated by Elijah (a wide-eyed Terrell Richardson, Jr.), who also interacts with the other two as a young man eager to "do something" and not just go back to school. Whether you drive to the theater or include it as part of a family bike hike and picnic, it's a very special treat.
Through July 28 at the Lantern Theatre, Saturdays at 1 and 3 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., at 7243 Canal Road in Valley View, 216-401-5131
This yarn is now being presented as the inaugural production of the new Mamai Theatre, in residence at Ensemble Theatre. First penned by Euripides eons ago, it takes no prisoners as it tells the tale of a scorned wife who burns with such searing rage at her unfaithful husband that she commits multiple murders, including the filicide of her two young children. In this translation by Brendan Kennelly, the story has been moved into modern-day suburbia, complete with a grassy stage and a gaggle of contemporary observers. And while the strong cast scores many compelling moments, the overall impact of the play is muted by repetition in the script and a couple curious directorial decisions. In the title role, Tracee Patterson is a seething monument of female frustration and anger. Her Medea has some of the mystical powers of Euripedes' witch, including the ability to poison a gown and a headdress that sicken her rival and then make her burst into flames. This is tragedy served raw, finally asking whether this awful bloodbath is actually Medea's glory. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.
Through June 30, produced by Mamai Theatre Company, at Ensemble Theatre, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-570-3403.
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Cleveland Shakespeare Festival
Sometimes resembling a track meet and at other times a wrestling match, Two Gentlemen of Verona, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, is a mostly untrammeled pleasure. This comedy, directed with inventive flair and a great sense of pure fun by Pandora Robertson, is now making the repertory CSF tour around town, paired with Measure for Measure (which will be reviewed here next week). The light story of Valentine and Proteus, and their entangled romances, is a splendid platform for various kinds of hijinks. And a consistently on-the-mark cast delivers Shakespeare's wry musings while fulfilling their daily aerobic allotment—marching and running around and through the audience during the entire 90-minute piece. Joseph Dunn as Valentine and Kyle Huff as Proteus have the good looks and stage presence to essay these two love muffins, while Hillary Wheelock's Silvia exudes a nice combination of come-hither sexiness and aloofness. This is free theater, all you have to do is show up and sit down (on the lawn chair or blanket you brought). And that makes for a damn fine summer evening.
Through August 4 at various outdoor venues, check schedule at cleveshakes.com
This Rogers and Hammerstein classic has all the songs you've grown to love for more than 60 years: "Some Enchanted Evening," "Cockeyed Optimist," Bali Ha'I," and tons more. But at the core of this tune fest is a strong stance against racial prejudice that must have been shocking when the show opened on Broadway in 1949. With two plotlines involving entrenched racism and miscegenation, it's not a subject that can easily be avoided by any audience member. The central love-struck roles of Emile de Becque and Nellie Forbush are handled with style and elegance by Greg Violand and Kayce Cummings. Most of the chuckles, however, are triggered by Tim Welsh, whose Luther Billis is a sailor in the weasely tradition of Phil Silvers as the similarly-named Sgt. Bilko. Under the direction of American musical guru Terri Kent, with choreography by MaryAnn Black and music direction by Jonathan Swoboda, this version has a splendid blend of fine voices along with romance, slapstick, and the aforementioned cultural relevance. Even with one key performance that isn't up to snuff, it's another home run for the Porthouse company.
Through June 29 at Porthouse Theatre, on the Blossom Music Center campus, 1145 West Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls, 330-672-3884
Guys and Dolls
Great Lakes Theater and PlayhouseSquare
Those lovable cardsharks, bone-shakers, horserace touts and their dames are back again, filling the fictional streets of New York City with their tortured syntax and great songs, in Guys and Dolls. This co-production by Great Lakes Theater and PlayhouseSquare gets plenty of things right—including a couple juicy performances and some ensemble dance scenes that jolt the Hanna stage to life. But a surprising vacuum that develops around a couple of the main characters makes this theatrical hand less than a royal flush. More than 60 years old, G&D is a classic Broadway treat with a bulletproof book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, and legendary music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Those creators were playing with a deck stacked with aces: the Damon Runyon-inspired characters who disdain contractions in their mashed-up lingo of real slang and made-up palaver. Kirsten Wyatt as Adelaide chews the scenery into a fine paste, squeaking and squealing with delight and rage as she tries to corral the ever-elusive Nathan. And while the male leads are less enthralling, the handsome production and the always-wonderful music make this a sure bet.
Through June 30 at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St., co--produced by Great Lakes Theater and PlayhouseSquare, 216-241-6000
Smokey Joe's Café
if you're looking for a pleasant diversion on a summer evening, you'd better put this show on your menu. But if you prefer musicals to have meaning and substance, this show may just seem like just so much "Yakety Yak." Yes, the songs of 1950s-rock mavens Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are back, and this production—directed by Scott Plate and choreographed by Gregory Daniels—works its tail off to deliver the goods. Many of the songs are familiar, such as "Stand By Me," "Jailhouse Rock," and Kansas City." However there are a bunch of other tunes that never received mush airplay back in the day. And for good reason. The nine-person cast is in almost constant motion, with some standout singing and dancing. This is essentially a concert show, since virtually no words are spoken and there is no story line in evidence. But it's neat to see black and white folks together, singin' and dancin' their hearts out. Especially when that happened so rarely back in the Eisenhower era.
Through June 30 at the Cain Park Alma Theatre, corner of Lee and Superior in Cleveland Heights, 216-371-3000.