thoroughly Modern millie
Marked by large casts of enthusiastic and mostly young performers, summer stock should be a high-energy, refreshing treat. Mercury Summer Stock has this particular theatrical subcategory nailed, as they have for some years now. And their production of Thoroughly Modern Millie is an unabashed treat from start to finish. Featuring some fine voices and a couple spot-on comedic turns, this show is a cure for what ails y'a. Or, if nothing ails y'a at all. Based on the Julie Andrews movie, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Dick Scanlan, it's all about Kansas rube Millie who moves to the Big Apple to seek a redo as a modern gal of the 1920s. To wit, she has her cloche hat set on finding a rich boss she can wed. But in her first moments on the street, she literally runs into Jimmy Smith, an apparently poor and snarky New Yorker, and immediately hates him. So you know where that's going to end up. In the title role, Caitlin Messer sings well and has plenty of innocence and verve as Millie, and Jason Goldston certainly has the pipes for Jimmy. As the office tyrant Trevor Graydon, Brian Marshall is a hoot, trilling the Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired "Speed Test" with ever-increasing rapidity. Another standout performance is Hester Lewellen as the hotel manager Mrs. Meers — a former actress who is now working for a white slavery ring. It is well staged by MSS director Pierre-Jacques Brault with snappy pacing and clever, small set pieces. The costumes by Colleen Bloom are a period delight, as is the choreography by Jens Lee. Indeed, the entire large ensemble performs the song-and-dance numbers with high spirits, even when technical skills fail them a bit. But hey, this is summer stock. And you won't find a better example of it than here at Notre Dame College.
Through June 28, by Mercury Summer Stock at Notre Dame College, 1857 South Green Rd., South Euclid, 216-771-5862,
the floating dolls
The piercing wail of a crying baby can drive anyone up a wall, so this Polish folktale is certainly based on a real issue in people's lives. And that's a nice change from many kids' stories told at Talespinner Children's Theatre. This adaptation by Toni K. Thayer is charming, as Mama and Papa (Debbie Kepler and Ben Merold) try everything to quiet little Anatol. The crying is represented by actors beating the floor with their hands and other objects, which doesn't exactly convey the mind-numbing pain of the real thing. Still, cue an old woman (Lauren B. Smith) who prescribes a nine-doll cure: The parents are supposed to make the dolls, give them secretly to others (or just throw them in the river), and the crying will cease. The cast — which also includes Hannah Storch, Dan Rand and Richie Gagen — moves and dances with expressive glee under the direction of executive artistic director Alison Garrigan. And there are some very cute touches, including a Fosse-esque bunching of four actors into a unit of needy citizens (muttering "dolls...dolls...dolls...") that is both arresting and amusing. And it finishes with a lovely moral that might help the next time a baby in your house goes on a crying jag. Or not.
Through July 6 at Talespinner Children's Theatre, Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Ave., 216-264-9680, talespinnerchildrenstheatre.org.
In this play, novelist and short story writer Ed Falco tries his hand at a two-hander that travels some well-worn territory: Marital discord, kinky sex, and drugs to name a few. And it's mostly an amazing, intense experience, thanks to his deft script, two spectacular performances and the masterful direction of Sean Derry. Walter and Jan have been married for 18 years, but it's a relationship that is fraying around the edges. Walt is worried about his students' lack of respect and his prom-attending daughter's likely sexual activity. Oh, and speaking of sex, he eventually admits to having an affair with a student in his class, a 20–year-old male transsexual and bizarre taxidermist/artist named Cassie. Turned on by those encounters, he introduces Jan to a whole new sex toy. This throws Jan into some serious soul searching accompanied by copious amounts of pot, and things get uglier from there. The only fly in this bubbling stew of betrayal and resentment is the device of having the off-stage demon in the mix being a weird transgender person. Yeah, we get it, trannies are different. But to make Cassie the highly-sexualized fulcrum of this tale, immediately justifying Jan's shock and revulsion with most audience members, is just a tad too easy for a writer of Falco's skill. Other than that, this is a rip-snorting piece that rivals the intensity of Albee's George and Martha, and other renowned on-stage wedded disasters.
Through June 28 at None Too Fragile Theater, 1835 Merriman Rd., Akron, 330-671-4563, nonetoofragile.com.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Another sure sign of summer is that the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival is up and running again, offering free productions of two of old Will's scribblings at various outdoor locations around town. Their first effort this year is the always-popular comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, and this one is quite a hoot. Directed with infectious good humor and sprightly wit by Dusten Welch, the 90-minute intermission-less romp is, you should pardon the expression, fun for the whole family. Director Welch has double- and triple-cast these roles, which makes for some entertaining juxtapositions. But the most fun is generated by Hillary Wheelock, who brings snap and sizzle to Puck, and Allen Branstein who has scenery-munching fun as Bottom. There's plenty of running around and screaming, so even kids will enjoy this production. And adults will get a splendid dose of rowdy Shakespearian fun.
Through June 29, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, free at various outdoor locations, cleveshakes.com.