Great Lakes Theatre
It has been observed that corporate CEOs (okay, some of them) share a disturbing number of traits with sociopaths. Both groups tend to be narcissistic, care little to nothing about the fates or feelings of others, and are able to, um, kill people with impunity. This comparison is brought home with powerful clarity in Richard III at the Great Lakes Theater. It features a gleaming, contemporary set of glass and steel that any corporation could easily move into at a moment's notice. And the power brokers vying for dominance in these halls are conniving and vicious. None more so than the crippled "rudely stamp'd" King Richard, who prowls the bloody halls of England's ruling class, eliminating his competition with a ruthless efficiency that has immediate bottom-line results.
Directed by Joseph Hanreddy, this production literally drips with blood. Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry VI, pours a few gallons of plasma off the balcony into a waiting tub every time another person is dispatched. It's a stylish way to handle the gore, reflective of a production that is slick and entertaining from start to finish. The cast is led ably by Lynn Robert Berg as Richard, limping about on his twisted legs as he coos and snarls to put people in their place. It is a masterful and often witty performance that never becomes tiresome.
Through November 2, Hanna Theater, 2067 East 14th St., 216-241-6000, greatlakestheatre.org.
From My Hometown
Dreams of musical stardom always abound, which is why the singing competitions on TV always grab huge ratings. The same was true back in 1980 when this show is set. As conceived by composer and performer Lee Summers, three young hopefuls arrive in NYC to audition at the Apollo Theatre. Each is from a different city (Philadelphia, Detroit and Memphis) with its own rhythm and blues heritage. This show is all about the music, featuring more than 30 songs. That is both a good and a bad thing, since the performers have to nail a lot of familiar songs like "Me and Mrs. Jones" and "(Sittin') On the Dock of the Bay," which they only succeed at part of the time. As Memphis, Miguel D. Osborne is the most accomplished performer, exuding charisma, and showing some stellar pipes, especially in the low range. Tyrone M. Gordon as Phillly and Joel S. Furr as Detroit each have fine moments, but their voices are not up to all the demands of the songs. In addition, the choreography (uncredited) is fairly repetitive and the set design (uncredited) is literally a collection of brick walls for almost the entire show. Director Nathan A. Lilly finds some humorous turns in the paper-thin storyline in between the tunes. With top-flight voices and razor sharp choreography, this could be a memorable musical treat. As it is, it's an R&B dream that never quite comes true.
Through October 13, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077, karamuhouse.org.
Cleveland Play House
If a combination of folk music and liberal politics (remember those?) sounds like a perfect sort of entertainment for you, then you best hustle down to see Wooody Sez at the Cleveland Play House. While the production is unsatisfying in some respects—acting being one of the primary shortcomings—the four talented musicians display a range of songs that have the potential to amuse, enlighten and even shock. In a linear and dutiful manner, the show tells the story of Woody Guthrie, the iconic songwriter and performer known for penning classic songs such as "This Land Is Your Land." Finding his true voice during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Guthrie sang and composed songs that fought for the rights and celebrated the pride of the common men and women who are often trampled by society. The piece is devised by David M. Lutken (with director Nick Corley and others) who also plays Guthrie while tripling as the music director. In his Woody persona, Lutken has a comfortably rumpled down-home style of delivery that works well for the most part. And when he slows down to present a powerful song, such as "Dust Bowl Disaster," you can feel the dirt and sand creeping into your pores. The other three musician/actors smile a lot and expertly play a variety of instruments from fiddles and guitars to a dulcimer and a couple soup spoons. But Helen Jean Russell, David Finch and Leenya Rideout never succeed in creating memorable minor characters who interact with Guthrie. This leaves us with a pleasant and well-executed raft of songs, which makes for a fine folk music concert. But as a theatrical piece, Woody Sez doesn't say nearly enough.
Through October 6, Allen Theatre, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000, clevelandplayhouse.com.