- Michael Russo and Erin Childs sing about love in a changing world in Ensemble Theatres Let Freedom Ring.
Let Freedom Ring! -- Bill Rudman and Eric Coble have fashioned a revue from the many musicals with an active social (i.e. liberal) consciousness. The 40 or so songs raise issues from class warfare to exploited workers, from the futility of war to the banality of suburbia. But as inspired as the concept is, the flow of the tunes is often spotty, and the mostly young cast doesn't generate the chemistry necessary to glide the show over its rough spots. Some of the best moments come when similarly themed songs from different eras are grouped in a medley that illustrates how pervasive our social ills can be. For those who appreciate hearing their pet political stances turned into melodies, this is a bracing and informative ride through some of the further outposts of stage musical history. But there are a few song sequences that strain logic and could leave some scratching their heads. Here's hoping a tightened version reappears down the road, with actors who can match the depth of some of these complex and politically important musical milestones. Presented by Ensemble Theatre through September 17 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave., 216-321-2930. -- Christine Howey
A Murder of Crows -- This frequently comical rant on hypocrisy, bigotry, and heroism is the latest in a number of playwright Mac Wellman's works produced by Convergence-Continuum. And if an hour seems like a short show, it's not when you're listening to Wellman's breathless, airtight screeds, which are often directed actor-to-audience, with no pretense of a fourth wall. In this unnamed town, where the only jobs these mouth-breathers qualify for are hauling sludge from the grease pit and cleaning airplane restrooms, fate stinks. And this dead-end existence comes spewing out in speeches that are ripe with the poetry of confusion and disgust, overlaid with absurd allusions and bracing obscenities. Even the throwaway lines have bite, as when bigot Howard describes wife Georgia as "a venal old biddy with the mind of a circular saw." Under the direction of Clyde Simon, the Convergence-Continuum players lend understated power to Wellman's dense and often overlapping dialogue. Produced by Convergence-Continuum through September 23 at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074. -- Howey
Respect -- This ode to the travails and triumphs of women as they have clawed their way from second-class citizenship to empowerment skims over far too much history while trying to cram in the personal journey of playwright Dorothy Marcic, but imaginative staging and a relentlessly effusive cast make it all work disarmingly well. Marcic, possessor of a Ph.D. and a penchant for didacticism, assembled the show as a spin-off from her scholarly treatise on women and popular music. She found that the songs we sang along with and hummed, at various stages of recent history, were a fairly accurate barometer of the status of women in society at that time. The result is an evening featuring more than 60 songs -- some presented in full, some only in fragments -- that evoke regret and celebration of what women have been put through. Of course, any theatrical presentation that tries to encompass massive social movements of several decades in two hours is going to be accused of shallowness. But once you accept the fact this production is plopped in the kiddie pool, intellectually speaking, there's plenty of fun to be had in stomping around and splashing. Through October 1 at the Hanna Theatre, East 14th St. and Prospect Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey