- Shane R. Tanner is a fearsome Bill Sykes in Oliver!, at the Palace Theatre through August 8.
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. -- Howey
Oliver! -- Where's Charles Dickens when you need him? As a peerless chronicler of social injustice, he'd be the perfect person to comment on the unfairness of a downtown theater charging up to $50 per ticket for a Broadway retread populated by a cast of too many noninteresting, nonunion performers. As a second-tier touring company, the performers have either forgotten or never were instructed by director Graham Gill about their responsibilities to actually develop characters and translate their blocking into something resembling actual behavior. Passionless singing by Nancy (Renata Renee Williams) and an unfortunately cuddly Fagin (Mark McCracken) combine with an oversynchronized kids chorus to make this Oliver! an empty dinner bowl. As Oliver, Ryan Tutton has a mop of tousled hair and an overbite, but that isn't enough to capture this ragamuffin's unquenchable spirit. On the plus side, Andrew Blau is a cocky and accomplished Artful Dodger, Jimmy Flannery nails his two crotchety characters, and Shane R. Tanner makes a fearsome Sikes. However, many scenes are deflated by actors telegraphing their moves and relying on rote memory for their line readings. Combine that with a show that naturally tends to sag in the second act, and the result is a soggy, disappointing effort. Through August 8 at the Palace Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. -- 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
Romeo and Juliet -- Cleveland Shakespeare Festival's free outdoor production is intermittently successful, with a Juliet (Edie Hitchcock) who stands out for her sweet, tender innocence spiced by occasional flares of temper, but a mixed bag of other characters. This literal interpretation by director Juliette Regnier almost demands strong performances across the board, since few imaginative forays are attempted. In one instance, however, there is a lack of consistency: During a swordfight using invisible weapons, there is a metal-on-metal sound of the rapiers being unsheathed, but no effects for the clanging of the blades. The simple set, with hanging strands of tiny lights and reflective bits, is effective, even if it does recall omnipresent holiday icicle lights that droop off countless gutters and window ledges during the winter. All in all, this is a pleasant if not stirring Romeo and Juliet and a diverting way to spend a summer's eve outdoors. And if it helps you believe in an eternal bond that leapfrogs our mortal weakness, all the better. Presented by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival through August 14 at the Tri-C West Campus and Wade Oval Amphitheatre, 877-280-1646, www.CleveShakes.org. -- 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