- Dig in to Urinetown, through November 4 at Carousel.
Hamlet -- Some shows sound just about perfect on paper: When Beck Center envisioned a production of perhaps the best play ever written, directed by the supremely talented David Hansen and featuring a stellar cast highlighted by the chiseled and powerful Sarah Morton as the melancholy Dane, it must have seemed a sure winner. Alas, even the cross-gender casting of the Prince doesn't succeed in lifting this soporific effort above the merely competent. Perhaps it's the monochromatic off-white set, which unintentionally echoes the deliberate, one-gear pacing of this excursion into madness and tragedy. Or perhaps it's the fact that Morton, a splendid performer when delivering her own scripts, seems unable to harness this iconic role. The challenge is always to retain Shakespeare's musical lilt while making the dialogue expressive and understandable. Morton, however, either dismantles Will's melodies and delivers her lines naturalistically -- "Alas . . . [sigh, beat] . . . poor Yorick . . . [shrug, sigh, beat] . . . I knew him well" -- or she stiffly goes with the poetic flow and loses meaning in the process. She is supported gamely by fine actors (George Roth, Nicholas Koesters, Anne McEvoy), and there are a couple of electric moments -- especially when Hamlet confronts his (her?) mother Gertrude. But overall, this Hamlet is as colorless as its pasty surroundings. Through October 22 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Christine Howey
Love¹s Labour¹s Lost -- This oddball romantic comedy is a feast of wordplay, and the crew at the Great Lakes Theater Festival leaves not one chuckle, chortle, or titter untickled. The King of Navarre and his three lords have committed themselves to pursuits of the mind and decided to forgo pleasures of the flesh, drinking, feasting, and so forth. But they've barely broken the spine on their dusty tomes before the sultry Princess of France and her hot trio of ladies-in-waiting hit town. Then it's cue the hormones and duck for cover. Meanwhile, a crazy Spaniard named Armado is incensed that a local doofus named Costard has been diddling a milkmaid he's been eyeing. To get in Armado's good graces, Costard agrees to deliver the Spaniard's love letter to the dairy queen, at the same time one of the lords tells him to deliver a mash note from him to one of the princess' ladies. Of course, the notes are switched, and the romp is in full gallop. This production -- from its cast (including Andrew May and Jeffrey C. Hawkins) to its set (Russell Metheny) to its direction (Drew Barr) -- oozes wit and charm. Produced by the Great Lakes Theater Festival through October 21 at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. -- Howey
M4M -- There is something in the heart of authoritarian governments that loves to restrict the sexual pleasures of their citizenry. You'd think they'd be too busy to bother, what with all the wars to promote, elections to steal, and poor people to abuse. Shakespeare addresses this and related issues in Measure for Measure, one of his "problem plays" in that it layers tragedy, satire, and broad comedy in one frequently dense ball of manipulation and deception. Cleveland Public Theatre's version features six males who play all 18 roles, male and female, just as in the Bard's time. And it's a rousing evening, featuring one astonishingly fine performance (by Michael Mauldin) and others that are quite good. This production has a sweaty and muscular sensuality, due to director Craig J. George's imaginative use of the playing area and costume designer Jenniver Sparano's B&D getups. The stage looks like a small football field, with seating along the sidelines. There's fresh energy at work at CPT, under new artistic director Raymond Bobgan, and M4M is a terrific example of how exciting this theater can be. Through October 14 at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., 216-631-2727. -- Howey
Urinetown -- Artistic director Sean Cercone is to be commended for his courage: Given songs titled "Privilege to Pee" and "Snuff That Girl," it couldn't have been easy deciding to mount this edgy and hilarious show in the frequently placid confines of Carousel Dinner Theatre. In this piece about a desperate water shortage and restrictions on free peeing, director Jennifer Cody keeps the dialogue pace very slow -- consider it the "large-print" version -- presumably to make sure that no one in the sprawling, well-fed audience loses track of the proceedings. But fine performances abound, particularly from tiny Karen Katz, who brings a feisty vibe to Little Sally. Al Bundonis handles Officer Lockstock's meta-narration ("Welcome to Urinetown . . . not the town, the musical!") with slick precision. And Robert Stoeckle is a cloyingly venal presence as Caldwell B. Cladwell. Although Michele Ragusa is a bit too petite for restroom-diva Penelope Pennywise, she works her powerful voice to maximum effect. Thanks to excellent singing voices from top to bottom, some dazzling dance numbers choreographed by Brian Loeffler, and taut execution from a talented chorus, this Urinetown is a golden shower of pleasant surprises. Through November 4 at Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. -- Howey