The Lion King
There's a reason The Lion King is one of the top five longest running Broadway shows. It's a bulletproof stage franchise that can withstand infinite cast changes and never lose its core ability to awe and inspire. While this version now at Playhouse Square has a couple wrinkles that past touring shows have avoided, the takeaway for repeat visitors or virgins is still basically the same: The Lion King rules. From the opening "Circle of Life" parade of creatures, featuring the jaw-dropping human-animal hybrid puppetry imagined by director Julie Taymor (and Michael Curry), your imagination is fully engaged. Of course, the story follows a predictable arc as the lion pup Simba grows into adulthood after his father Mufasa is lured to his death by his evil little brother Scar. Simba and Scar are destined to snarl at each other until their final showdown, resolved in true Disney fashion. In the dense jungle of Broadway musicals, The Lion King has earned it's lofty status as one of the most popular shows ever. And every visit here just reinforces that honored position.
Through August 4 at Playhouse Square, 1615 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000, playhousesquare.org
12 Angry Men
Blank Canvas Theatre
It's hard to know when a theater company actually develops its own personality, its distinctive position in the local theater firmament. Blank Canvas Theatre, now in its second year of operation, is still a work in progress in terms of the kinds of shows it produces—ranging from the ridiculous (Texas Chainsaw Musical) to the sublime (last year's exemplary Next Fall). But what can be said now is that BCT always presents a well-thought-out production featuring performances that are fine-tuned to the tone and intent of the script at hand. The latest example of that skillful work is 12 Angry Men, the American classic by Reginald Rose. Opening virtually on the day that the controversial verdict came down on the Trayvon Martin murder case, acquitting defendant George Zimmerman, this 55-year-old play could not be more current. The dozen jurors (and one guard) on stage craft an ensemble performance that feels genuine in all respects. Even if there is ultimately less edge and vitriol than one might want, director Patrick Ciamacco blends these actors well and the result is as gripping as ever.
Through July 27 at Blank Canvas
Theatre, 79th Street Studios, 1300 West 78th St., 440-941-0458,
Mercury Summer Stock
Sure, it seems that any theater calling itself "summer stock" should be happening in a cozy barn with hay stacked in the corner. Defying that cliché, Mercury Summer Stock takes place in a capacious auditorium on the Notre Dame College campus. But other than the location, this theater has all the youthful zest and spirit one associates with summer stock, and the current production of Ragtime is a good example. This story of the racial and gender turns American society was making at the turn of the 20th century features some truly lovely tunes by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics). And there are enough fine voices in the MSS cast, under the direction of Pierre-Jacques Brault, to give voice to these thoughts. Particularly outstanding are Nicholas Bernard as Coalhouse Walker Jr., a man destroyed by violence and bigotry, and Nicole Sumlin as his wife Sarah. A strong ensemble and creative choreography by Brault makes this a memorable event.
Through July 20, produced by Mercury Summer Stock at Regina Hall, Notre Dame College, 1857 South Green Rd., 216-771-5862, mercurysummerstock.com