- Robin Lee Gallo (left) stars in Miss Saigon, at Beck Center through August 15.
Miss Saigon -- Essentially a transcultural love story set in 1975, Miss Saigon focuses on a naive Asian bar girl who is romanced and knocked up by a depressed American serviceman. The show revels in contrasts, playing the delicacy of the young couple's affection against the rampant sleaze of prostitution and corruption. While the music is a bit of a trial, this production manages to surmount it with honest, nuanced performances by Robin Lee Gallo and Connor O'Brien as the star-crossed lovers. Director Scott Spence has wisely taken a pass on trying to redo the monumental helicopter effect from the original Broadway production, and the choreography by Martin Cespedes and costuming by Alison Hernan are also uncluttered and effective. (The lighting and turntable set, however, are short on eye candy.) For all the regrettable parallels between the Vietnam War and the current bloody escapade in Iraq, there is one major difference: We have to assume there's never going to be a musical called Miss Baghdad. And for that we must be grateful. Through August 15 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540. -- Christine Howey
Oliver Twisted -- It has been claimed that there's a gene in some people's DNA spiral that compels them to seek out risky, potentially harmful activities, such as rock-climbing, deep-sea diving, and parking at expired meters in Cleveland Heights. True to their risk-adoring genes, the seven-member group titled Oliver Twisted (made up of former members of the now-defunct Second City Cleveland) does audience-inspired material exclusively, without the safety net of scripted modules. And thanks to a fortunate blending of physical types and personalities among the performers -- along with their determined insistence on yanking every loose comedic thread -- this is an improv experience that will leave you laughing far more often than wincing. The troupe's resident nutcase, Randall Harr, is a fairly normal-looking fellow who transforms into a maniacally, often hilariously intense embodiment of whatever animal, vegetable, or mineral he's been assigned. Mondays at Hilarities Comedy Club at Pickwick & Frolic, 2035 E. 4th St., 216-736-4242. -- Howey
Pete 'n' Keely -- The celebrity pairings of show-folk are endlessly fascinating to those of us who buy our socks off the sale table at Target. That's probably why James Hindman assembled this theatrical pastiche around two fictional pop singers who fall in and out of love with each other faster than they change pinky rings. As sporty confections go, Pete 'n' Keely is a promising work, focusing on "America's Singing Sweethearts," a Steve & Eydie-like duo who are reuniting on a live 1968 TV show. The setup puts many potentially humorous elements into play, but this effort by the usually adept Kalliope Stage group disappoints both musically and comically. One of the major disconnects is that neither Hindman's words nor Paul F. Gurgol's direction adequately captures the electrifying intensity of doing TV without the luxury of tape-editing and redos. And though the score is studded with pop standards, the singing is only serviceable, despite the performers' undeniable vocal strengths. Ultimately, the show sags because its stars don't develop the knowing, cynical, edgy relationship this play requires. Through August 8 at Kalliope Stage, 2134 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-0870. -- Howey
The Taming of the Shrew -- While many theater companies steer clear of this Shakespearean work because of its questionable stance on dominant-submissive relationships, Great Lakes Theater Festival giddily jumps into the gender-role melée. Director Drew Barr has attempted to blunt negative reactions to the play's message by emphasizing the artificiality of the play-within-a-play structure. Indeed, the first few words are spoken by an unseen stage manager who's dealing with a clumsy technician. From that moment on, reality and identities are up for grabs as a drunken tinker becomes a lord, a servant morphs into a gentleman, a schoolmaster is transformed into a nobleman, and combative Katherine is reborn as a languid Stepford wife. As the battling duo, Andrew May and Laura Perrotta are perfectly mated; when the two meet, sparks of laughter fly in all directions. There are also sterling supporting performances, among them Wayne Turney as a foolish old coot, Scott Plate as an ardent suitor, and Dudley Swetland as the frequently baffled Baptista. It would be a crime to miss this extremely un-tame Taming. Presented through August 21 by the Great Lakes Theater Festival at the Ohio Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey
The Tempest -- A mystical and somewhat convoluted tale of magical powers, revenge, and young love, Shakespeare's Tempest is no cakewalk to produce, especially since the play begins with a furious storm that beaches a ship filled with Italian noblemen. While this production doesn't exactly strain a ligament in stretching to invent its theatrical effects, there are numerous reasons to fetch thy buns over to the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival. Robert Hawkes, as the Duke Prospero, possesses a lustrous voice that can coax a smile or tear out of many a phrase. He has a splendid compatriot in Kim Weston's sprite Ariel, who almost looks as if she's suspended from wires as she leaps to Prospero's commands. Director Ron Newell, while shaping some scenes with precision, has put too much responsibility on the audience to fill in the aura of the play. Still, this Tempest has enough kick to spice up a sultry evening. Presented free by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival through August 14 at two locations, 877-280-1646, www.CleveShakes.org. -- Howey
Whose Mess Is This! -- In comedy, as in sports, on any given day you can be a winner or a chump. That's especially true when the comedy is partly improvised. This effort's two beer-bellied comedians, Jeff Blanchard and Don Mitri, lumbered onto the stage and performed (mostly) prepared skits and songs based on randomly selected subjects such as sex, romantic love, platonic love, and power. A lot of humor could spring from those concepts -- but not in this theater. Their incomprehensible bit about platonic love had something to do with a bed filled with money that they then replaced with stones. When it isn't being puzzling, the show features an overload of tired shtick, antique stereotype gags, and atonal songs -- although a parody titled "Everything's Beautiful at the Buffet" was cute. Blanchard and Mitri no doubt can be funny in other venues, or perhaps with this material on other evenings (although that strains credulity). But on this night, the mess was all theirs. Through August 21 at Kennedy's Down Under, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- Howey