- Wes Shofner shares Keebler's secret ingredient with Tom Kondilas in Demon Baby at Convergence-Continuum.
Beauty and the Beast — Back for its third and final appearance, the Beck Center production of this Walt Disney epic hasn't lost any of its charm. Dan Folino is still comically shivering as the Beast, and Natalie Green will warm any little girl's heart as the beauteous Belle. Even though the show is almost three hours (with intermission), the small fry stay glued to their seats, thanks to Fred Sternfeld's lively staging and the bright choreography by Martin Cespedes. And the kids (not to mention oldsters) have a great villain to laugh at in Josh Rhett Noble's Gaston, a muscle-headed doofus for the ages. More humor is added by smooth Larry Nehring and tightly wound Douglas Collier as the anthropomorphic candelabra and grandfather clock, respectively. As always, the Beck voices handle Alan Menken's music and the lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice with élan, leading to the fairy-tale conclusion, which can still bring a tear. And if you have small ones in tow, be sure to let them see the characters up close after the final curtain, in the hallway outside. The expressions of wonder on the kids' faces are worth the price of admission. Through December 30 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540. — Christine Howey
Christopher Columbus or (Did You Say Sphere?) — Let the title be your tip-off that this isn't your usual theatrical enterprise. Written by the fervently avant-garde Belgian playwright Michel de Ghelderode and presented by Cesear's Forum, this dramatic fairy tale is exuberantly unhinged. Columbus, played by a wacky but consistently charming John Kolibab, seeks escape from the droning world and sets off to find his Eden. But he is beset at all sides by craven royalty, grasping natives, and obfuscating intellectuals rendered creatively by Robert J. Williams, Nancy Telzerow, and Vincent DePaul. This is the kind of show that allows the director to go nuts with theatrical gamesmanship, and Greg Cesear adds plenty of fun, including a soap-bubble gun. But the whole piece is swamped by the oppressive presence of one performer, Jean Zarzour, who acts like she's doing a lounge act — if Motel 6 had a lounge, that is. Portraying different women, she uses the same insufferable mugging and tired comic shtick for each "character." She also apparently believes that revealing her matronly cleavage is drop-dead hilarious. If you can filter her out somehow, there's a delicate and defiantly skewed play trying to take wing. Presented by Cesear's Forum at Kennedy's Down Under through December 16, 1618 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. — Howey
Demon Baby — In moments of stress, we all turn to one thing or another (a good friend, a long nap, a bottle of Ketel One) to find solace. But in this play, children's author Wren finds herself psychologically shifted by the appearance of a "demon baby," a garden gnome who sits on her chest, cackles, and issues random questions. Wren has recently moved to London, where her hubby, Art (Tom Kondilas), has been relocated. Trouble is, she isn't having much fun — not in her flat, where she's afraid the nearby construction workers are staring at her, nor with Art's boring, artificial co-workers, Cat (a sharp and funny Amy Bistok) and Charles (Arthur Grothe). The elements are here for an amusing fling, but Erin Courtney's script consistently sacrifices idea-development for momentary wit, dooming the hour-long show. Dawn Youngs is remarkably believable as Wren, given the slender threads she's given to act, but neither she nor Wes Shofner (as the remarkably credible-looking gnome) can give this fluff any heft. First-time director Geoffrey Hoffman keeps the pace brisk, but he can't turn this Baby into anything other than a semi-intriguing irrelevancy. Through December 22, produced by Convergence-Continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074. — Howey
Reflections — In its short time in Cleveland, Kalliope Stage has forged a reputation for mounting imaginatively staged musicals featuring a collection of great vocal talent. Even so, it is facing some serious funding problems, and those issues may be affecting the work onstage, if the current production is any guide. Billed as a cabaret offering of jazz favorites, the five-person singing crew looks like they've shown up for a colonoscopy rather than an evening of great tunes. It's not that they don't smile; there are pasty smiles in profusion. But there is no chemistry among the performers, who dutifully shuffle center stage for their assigned bits and then return to their seats. Occasionally rising above this musical miasma, directed by the usually excellent Paul F. Gurgol, are Liz Rubino and Kris Comer, who actually act the songs they're singing and inject some passion into the proceedings. Rubino's "Stormy Weather" and Comer's "I Got It Bad" are definite highlights. But Jared Sampson, Chris Pohl, and Katrya Oransky-Petyk either overact or don't bother at all, leaving their tunes gasping for an injection of creative phrasing or, at times, simply the right notes. A sad effort from a superior company. Through December 15 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-321-0870. — Howey
We Gotta Bingo — This is an audience-participation play — think Tony and Tina's Wedding, but substitute Bingo Night for Wedding Night. Basically, St. Patrick's church has been demolished by mistake, so two Catholic churches have combined to throw a bingo fund-raiser, and you're invited. Here's the problem: This kind of church affair has none of the emotional horsepower that a wedding does. Moreover, the dialogue and songs range from mediocre to total crap, despite the relentlessly upbeat performers, who manage to elevate the material to sporadically amusing. And before any bingo is even played, plenty of bad jokes must be endured as members of the cast roam the room, chatting up the audience. On stage, large Patrick Ciamacco is a force to be reckoned with as Bucky. And June Lang as Rosa adds some barbed commentary about the Irish interlopers. Director Ross Young also keeps the energy at a fever pitch, and the room is decorated up the wazoo with kitschy wall hangings and a proscenium-mounted fraulein lugging a tray of frosty beer mugs. But this premise needs some witty writing — at least snappy enough to equal the talent of the performers — before anyone can verifiably shout "Bingo!" Through December 15 at the East 14th Street Theatre, 237 East 14th Street, 216-241-6000. — Howey
White Christmas — In the theatrical version of this much-loved flick, song 'n' dance dandies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis get tangled up with the trilling Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy. Phil and Judy fall fast for each other, and they conspire to hijack Bob up to the snows of Vermont, where the gals are booked. The Carousel production, under the direction of Stephen Bourneuf, makes excellent use of an ample stage, smoothly establishing several different locales. In the key male lead roles, Richard Roland and Josh Walden won't make you forget the chemistry of Crosby and Kaye, but the Carousel duo certainly has its moments. Roland has a strong, pleasing singing voice, and he manages to play the straight man to Walden's antics as the compulsively comical Phil. While Walden pumps plenty of energy, he's not a natural clown and doesn't take as many goofy chances as he might, especially when he and Bob reprise "Sisters" in halfhearted drag. Pouting prettily in the role of Betty, Susan Derry acquits her singing chores well — as does Ellen Zolezzi in the role of Judy. But this script doesn't allow either gal to create a character that can stand up to the guys, so they tend to recede into the background. But the biggest disappointment is that the title song is presented as a sing-along with the audience, and not as the island of reverie it is in the movie. Even so, this White Christmas has its heart in the right place. Through Dec. 31 at the Carousel Dinner Theatre, 1275 East Waterloo Road, Akron, 800-362-4100. — Howey