Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jerry's Queens

(Christopher Sieber and George Hamilton in the touring production of "La Cage aux Folles.")

It takes a 24-carat curmudgeon to give the gate to one of Jerry Herman's Broadway extravaganzas. The shows work on the same principle as soulful pooches: they melt all resistance, with their puppyish bonhomie, and then they proceed to lick you into total submission with their melodic impishness.

If "Hello, Dolly!" was his gentle, elegant Golden Retriever strutting on a staircase, then "Mame" was his dizzying pink poodle of a charmer and "La Cage aux Folles" is his Saint Bernard - clumsy and loving, dispensing gay family values with the same tender care as "Peter Pan's" Katie Nana.

For last year's Broadway revival, director Terry Johnson replaced the jeweled lavishness of Arthur Laurents' original production with a more earthy rhinestone sparkle, making it endearingly tacky and the gay element more central with a fluorescent honesty. The touring version, now at PlayhouseSquare, retains much of this joyful approach and, with the nuanced diva vulnerability and outrageousness of Christopher Sieber's Albin, preserves the whimsical professionalism you got for twice the price in New York.

Unfortunately, there is some mongrel blood in the performance of George Hamilton as Georges, Albin's comparatively "straight" husband. Hamilton brings to mind the days when John Kenley would requisition long-in-the-tooth celebrities and give them a script and a week to master it. Admittedly well past 70, Hamilton is still dashing and looks born to his ascot. However, this elegance is rendered in a fashion much closer to a Madame Tussaud's waxwork than an aging roue in St. Tropez.

Adding the wrong kind of absurdity to this production is a black head microphone perched on Hamilton's silver mane doing a remarkable impression of the asp that bit Cleopatra.

Yet it takes more than a poisonous snake to assassinate such a queenly piece of musical theater.

"La Cage aux Folles" runs at PlayhouseSquare through Sunday, Nov. 20. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Theatrical cavalcade

(Kristy Cruz as Sherry and Rachel Gehlert as Grace in Dobama Theatre's production of "Tigers Be Still." Photo courtesy of Dobama Theatre.)
By now, my multitudes of readers numbering in the dozens may have noticed my month-long silence. A brief explanation: in a life fixated on fiction, I try to make it a point to live up to such titles as the most happy fellow and the constant nymph. So when struck with what James Agee called a death in the family, I was temporarily stopped from chronicling local productions.

Allow me to offer an apology to Ensemble Theatre for not being able to make timely comments on their vibrant production of Clifford Odets' "Waiting for Lefty." Just as protesters were filling Wall Street and St. Clair Avenue in a stroke of perfect synchronicity, the theater offered a production of the ultimate protest play riveted in a picturesque anger that brought to mind one of Diego Rivera's murals of anguish. Artistic director Celeste Cosentino shows every indication of bringing this revered company into a happy new epoch.

Meanwhile, on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, Dobama Theatre has found its voice in a cerebral ode to the disenfranchised. Anyone who grew up savoring the whimsical malcontents of "Catcher in the Rye" and "Catch-22" will appreciate the different flavors of alienation in Kim Rosenstock's "Tigers Be Still."

Director Marc Moritz has become a Merlin in the art of synchronizing the comic ticks and phobias of women who haven't left the couch in six months, teenagers expressing their anger through popsicle-stick art therapy, and a high-school principal who runs his school with the savvy of Moe, Larry and Curly. All in all, it's an evening of comic discontent for those who thrive on "The Daily Show."

(Mary Pickford in the 1919 silent movie of "Daddy Long Legs.")
Moving downtown to Cleveland Play House, we have the local premiere of a new musical based on Jean Webster's "Daddy Long Legs." Long before teenage girls were swooning to the pop-diva witches of "Wicked," their great-grandmothers derived equal joy from the romantic letters of an orphan girl named Jerusha. This 1912 epistolary novel of Jerusha's growing attachment to her unseen benefactor, like "Wicked," is a lovely fable of female empowerment. Webster's idealization of innocent girlhood blossoming into spunky determination sparked three generations and was brought to life by such illustrious nymphs as Mary Pickford, Janet Gaynor and - ooh-la-la - Leslie Caron.
(Robert Adelman Hancock as Jervis and Megan McGinnis as Jerusha in Cleveland Play House's production of "Daddy Long Legs.")

The new Paul Gordon-John Caird musical is approximately half a pleasure. It faithfully follows the trajectory of Webster's charming novel and contains a cast of two ideal performers, Robert Adelman Hancock as Jervis and Megan McGinnis as Jerusha. Each is as lovely and plaintive as any antique illustration. But - and this is a big one - they both have to contend with composer-lyricist Gordon's monotonous blankness. The score fails at its most essential task: to evoke the era and inner life of its source material. No matter how winning the story and cast, the lack of melodic inspiration proves to be an insurmountable obstacle, smothering its delicate story.

(Cara Corrigan as Fredrika Armfeldt and Dorothy Silver as Madame Armfeldt in Fairmount Center for the Arts' production of "A Little Night Music." Photo by Kathy Sandham.)

On the other side of the musical-theater universe is Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." Based on Ingmar Bergman's film, "Smiles of a Summer Night," it also draws its existence from a gorgeous artifact. In this case, however, the music and lyrics embellish, enchant and transform its source material. There are two things no civilized Clevelander can afford to forgo, and they are both onstage at Fairmount Center for the Arts: on a national level, a major work by Sondheim, and on the local level, a major actress named Dorothy Silver.

To thrive, this 1973 musical needs glamor, wry sensuality and musical panache. Fortunately, Fred Sternfeld's production has all of these elements in varying degrees. In spite of costumes that often resemble corseted potato sacks, the conviction of the cast and the lilt of the waltzes bring to life the show's jaded romanticism.

Tracee Patterson manages to combine sophistication and heartbreak as the musical's yearning heroine, Desiree. Matthew Wright pulls off the difficult stunt of being a charming fool as Fredrik. Katherine DeBoer, as Charlotte, makes sexual jealousy a savory dish. And Luke Wehner, as Henrik, not only bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Buster Keaton, he's also as adept eliciting wounded, tender vulnerability as Keaton was at straddling a locomotive. Natalie Green sensually flames as the maid Petra, and, unfortunately, as the only canker in this blossom, Anna Bradley gives a performance of amazing vulgarity and ineptitude as Anne Egerman.

The hardest aspect of reviewing Dorothy Silver is not to give in to the temptation to make an allusion to the precious metal her name evokes. Of all the virtues of her performance, the two things worth noting are her uncanny ability to suddenly appear 20 years younger onstage and her genius at taking whatever mood she cares to emphasize - here, weary melancholy and wry mischief - and burn these images into our brain.

Even rendered on a miniscule budget, this musical remains an extravagant gift.

"Tigers Be Still" runs at Dobama Theatre through Sunday, Nov. 13. For tickets, call 216-932-3396.

"Daddy Long Legs" runs at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare through Sunday, Nov. 13. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

"A Little Night Music" runs at Fairmount Center for the Arts through Sunday, Nov. 13. For tickets, call 440-338-3171.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Muck up your Shakespeare

(Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel in the 1953 MGM movie version of "Kiss Me, Kate.")
Every classic worthy of its Cliff's Notes has been hurtled through the centuries. Some of the happier landings have included Jane Austen's "Emma" in a Beverly Hills High School retitled "Clueless." With a Jones added to her name, Bizet's Carmen burned up a commissary in a World War II parachute factory. And in each case, the creators made sure that the original values logically flowered in its new soil.

(Broadway's fabled acting couple, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, do it the Elizabethan way.)
When the producers Saint Subber and Lemuel Ayers decided to update Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" in a theater in post-war Baltimore, they had book writers Sam and Bella Spewack carefully parallel the original story with two feuding, egomaniacal theater folk, who were once married, and a parcel of Burlesque rogues that precisely mirror the Bard's Elizabethan madcaps. Most importantly, the work was imbued with the caviar of Cole Porter's score, which justified the transformation with its high style, romance and innuendo. For example, "If your baby is begging for pleasure, let her sample your measure for measure." Still, the creators had the integrity and sagacity to retitle the work "Kiss Me, Kate."
(Phyllis Diller is one of the many odd references shoe-horned into the Great Lakes' production.)
If the Great Lakes Theater had embraced the same truth in advertising, they would have retitled their take on the play "Gag Me with a Spoon, Bitch." For this production uses the antics of Katherine and Petruchio to function as the grand marshals of a pageant of '80s mayhem. Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect is the insertion of what seems to be a translation by the Bee Gees of such daunting couplets as "What, sweetie, all bummed out?" and "I've come to wive it wealthily in Hollywood." They even throw in a direct reference to Porter's "Where is the Life that Late I Led?"
(Jane Fonda, whose aerobics are the true muse of this production.)
Back in 1948, Porter pulled off the remarkable feat of spinning the Bard's poetry into musical rapture. In comparison, the updating of the dialogue in this production is akin to aesthetic vandalism for cheap laughs. Admittedly, director Tracy Young's '80s tomfoolery - with its use of Keith Haring's art, Jane Fonda aerobics classes breaking out on the streets of Hollywood, and a tongue-in-cheek spoof of Tom Cruise in "Risky Business" - have sass and energy. But they help bury Shakespeare, and the story of Kate and her Petrouchio doesn't begin to emerge until the last 20 minutes.
(That special age for whom this production has been fashioned.)
What the company has given us is an ideal production for Shakespeare-hating junior-high students, who are incapable of dealing with Elizabethan language or customs of another era. It's also an aphrodisiac for those who never got over their high-school crushes on Madonna.
(Jim Lichtscheidl and Sara M. Bruner, whom we hope to see in an authentic "Taming of the Shrew" someday. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.)
Underneath the Jamie Lee Curtis hairdo and the Hollywood running suit, Sara M. Bruner and Jim Lichtscheidl provide traces of a meaningful Kate and Petruchio amid the '80s detritus. By the end of the evening, their warm personalities and genuine chemistry help melt the production's cynical disdain for the play. Invariably, it's too darn cold and too darn funky.

"The Taming of the Shrew" runs through Saturday, Oct. 29. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fruits of the Fuhrer

(Laura Perrotta is Fraulein Schneider and John Woodson is Herr Schultz in Great Lake Theater's production of "Cabaret" at the Hanna Theater in PlayhouseSquare. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.)
Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theater both commenced their season with whiffs of ol' Deutschland.They requisitioned works that owe their very existence to the machinations of the Fuhrer.

If Hitler hadn't wrought his havoc, many iconic masterpieces would never have come into existence. Humphrey Bogart would have had no excuse to woo Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca," and a young Englishman named Christopher Isherwood wouldn't have had the opportunity to dally with a manic young English eccentric who later would be turned into Sally Bowles as the Nazis were coming to power. Without these "Berlin Stories," there would have been no subsequent "Cabaret," no Oscar for Liza Minnelli and Great Lakes would have had to resort to - horror, horror - yet a third production of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)."

Similarly, if Bertolt Brecht, the subversive librettist of "The Threepenny Opera," hadn't enraged the Nazis, he would not have had the chance to flee the homeland for the wilds of Hollywood. Thus, he would never had been able to reshape his opus about Galileo for the magnificent girth of Charles Laughton. And 64 years later, Cleveland Play House would not be moving to its new digs, the renovated Allen Theatre, with its most fully realized production since "Of Thee I Sing" almost two decades ago.

(Adolf Hitler, without whom these works would never have been written.)
Both theaters have taken decidedly different approaches to their season openers. Kander and Ebb's musical, "Cabaret," like egg foo young, is constantly being reinvented, and no matter what recipe always remains wildly popular.

"The Life of Galileo" is one of those academically worshipped classics that rarely leaves the shelf. It is one of those massive work, if done successfully, guaranteed to enhance any ambitious theater company's reputation, though not fill the coffers.

Great Lakes' "Cabaret" has the disadvantage of being a bargain-basement knockoff of an haute-couture gown. The production is an admitted recreation of Sam Mendes' 1998 New York revival. Director Victoria Bussert is better known for effects than shaping felicitious performances, resulting in a smudged ghost of Mendes' original.

The evening is not without grace notes. One of the joys of a local company is watching a performer grow with the years. From the beginning, Laura Perrota has been a stunning stage presence, but as time has passed she has taken on the translucent quality of fine crystal. As the world-weary Fraulein Schneider, Perrotta radiates a lifetime of loneliness transformed into wondrous fulfillment when Herr Schultz (the Gepetto-like John Woodson) offers escape through marriage. Their tender rendition of Kander and Ebb's exquisite "Married" is the evening's oasis in a desert of dime-store decadence.

In a representation of the Third Reich as menacing as a junior-high Halloween party, only Sara M. Bruner's George Grosz-like Fraulein Kost evokes the moral rot taking root in Germany. Unfortunately, these three stellar performances illuminate only a fraction of the prolonged proceedings.

Painfully, we have to deal with Eduardo Placer's grotesque, baby-like attempts at squalor as the Master of Ceremonies. Even more vexing is Jodi Dominick's excruciating Sally Bowles. In the Mendes revival, Sally was turned into a charming but pitiful neurotic. Dominick, however, has come up with a performance so shrill that it brings to mind the screeching violins of Bernard Herrmann's classic score for "Psycho." Ultimately, her offense against the title tune brings to mind Norman Bates' slicing and dicing of Janet Leigh in the shower. This is one "Willkommen" that is hardly welcome.

(Paul Whitworth plays the title role in "The Life of Galileo" at the Cleveland Play House. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.)
There are many parallels between Brecht and his Galileo. Both were genius scoundrels who not only redefined the universe but were also magnificent escape artists. "Galileo" is one of those plays that demonstrates that great art has a grain of autobiographical truth. The title character was a 17th-century scientist who was able to survive the wrath of the Pope and the Inquisition. Twentieth-century playwright Brecht escaped the Nazis and the McCarthy era and took advantage of almost every opportunity and artist he ever met.

Play House artistic director Michael Bloom, utilizing Brechtian wisdom, handed this production to a director, Michael Donald Edwards, who not only understands the playwright's epic theater, but also how to make it fresh and new. Edwards, employing Brecht's idea of alienation, fills the stage with hip-hop clergy, slides of corrupt Cleveland politicians and Gershwin's "Fascinatin' Rhythm." These techniques, which have been overused in everything from Bayreuth to Shakespeare, here seems newly minted, keeping the work as current as a broadcast on CNN and as exciting as a carnival.

Most importantly, the production's center is Paul Whitworth's luminous Galileo, who is indeed the heavenly body around which everything spins. It's rare when a theater is able to turn a masterpiece into a reflection of the heavens.

"Cabaret" runs at the Hanna Theatre through Sunday, Oct. 30. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

"The Life of Galileo" runs at the Allen Theatre through Sunday, Oct. 9. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jesus goes to Canada, Palin comes to Cleveland

(Heather Anderson Boll, left, is Deb and Caitlin Lewins is her daughter, Hannah, in Dobama Theatre's production of "Grizzly Mama." Photo by Steve Wagner.)
After feasting on the giddy cha-chas, ditzy drag and gorgeous goosing of Beck Center's "Hairspray," there was no way I could live through another Cleveland summer. The endless ethnic festivals, outdoor rock concerts and Porthouse Theatre's squalid tattering of "Hello, Dolly!" were sure to curdle any facsimile of a soul I might possess.

So I took flight, looking for salvation through theatrical splendor. Landing at Canada's Stratford Festival, I found, to my horror, that the poisonous brewings of the Tea Party had infected this sacred institution. In a fit of Republican greed, the festival decided to go for star lucre by featuring the well-known kisser of Brian Dennehy on all of its advertisements.

Director Des McAnuff used Dennehy to corrupt Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." In the manner of a new-age Boss Tweed, Dennehy's Toby Belch, like a smiling demon, turned "The food of love" into "the ham of theatrical egotism." We still scream at the image of Dennehy as a road-company Jackie Gleason in golf togs, a mugging Big Daddy in a white suit or an Old-West claim jumper hogging center stage, as if it were his private gold mine. Making matters worse were the addition of a dozen songs, stretching the evening to over three hours and further burying the love story, which should be the play's beating heart.

Speaking of Republican takeovers, the festival gave us a "Camelot" with an Arthur and Guinevere with the hormonal appeal of Ike and Mamie. Even with a genuine hawk and a Lancelot with Canadian-Mountie dash, the whole affair played like an endless Medieval Rotary Club pageant.

However, we do offer hosannas for a production of "Jesus Star Superstar," also directed by McAnuff, every bit as divine and revelatory as the 2000-year-old best seller on which it is based. Yet we have to mention that it is a frightening indication of the apocalypse when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice out-trump Shakespeare and Lerner & Loewe.

Coming back to Cleveland, we find Dobama Theatre tenaciously sticking to its mandate to live in the present. So instead of a hoped-for Kaufman and Hart-type farce about Franklin and Eleanor, we have "Grizzly Mama," a political spoof commissioned by the theater to eviscerate liberals, conservatives and everything else mentioned on CNN. Playwright George Brant's dark farce has the punch of a savvy political cartoon. Among his delightfully exploded targets are Blackberry-addicted teenage girls who literally speak in Twitterese, feckless liberals who spoil their children and implacable conservatives who sacrifice their children on the altar of right-wing values.

In Brant's helium-filled, anything-goes universe, the daughter of a fictionalized Gloria-Steinem liberal rents a cabin in Alaska next to a suspiciously Palin-esque politician. To avenge her dead mother's feminist honor, the liberal must figure out a way to assassinate the Palin stand-in. The evening never offers substantial insights into anything that approaches the human condition, but those who thrive on the Comedy Central skits of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will be more than satiated by Brant's skewering of everything from hunting and psychiatry to mother-daughter rivalries.

Directed by Laura Kepley, the production moves with a sure-footed velocity that camouflages the ephemeral material, which is designed to implode a week from Tuesday. As the avenging liberal, Heather Anderson Boll has the Meryl-Streep aquiline grace to exude a wounded dignity and a Lucy Ricardo flair for pratfall-a-minute zaniness. Caitlin Lewins, as her daughter, Hannah, manages the picturesque balance of wide-eyed radiance and adolescent arrogance. As the unseen Palin daughter, Erin Scerbak humanizes the evening with ingratiating, gum-chewing pathos.

If the play were revived in 20 years, it would serve as a perfect time capsule for a world besotted by technology and momentary values. Perhaps this is why some of us choose to dwell in lost literary lands.

"Grizzly Mama" runs at Dobama Theatre through through Sunday, Oct. 2. For tickets, call 216-932-3396.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Drag I Sing!

(The finale of "Hairspray" at the Beck Center in Lakewood. Photo by Kathy Sandham.)
You might as well don your lime-green flip flops and ride your Schwinn over to Beck Center's production of "Hairspray." The evening overflows with pleasures akin to a tall glass of strawberry-watermelon Crystal Lite on a humid summer day - wonderfully refreshing in myriad fruity, artificial ways. This 2002 musical is taken from John Waters' 1988 ode to chubby girl-power, desegregation and early '60s fashion faux pas. Waters is America's own heart-of-gold cinematic flasher, sort of a Tourette Norman Rockwell indulging in pastel,  subversive Americana ranging from drag-queen housewives to pink flamingos, all utilized to champion the obese and disenfranchised.

After almost a decade, "Hairspray" is joining the ranks of "Bye Bye Birdie" as a perennial, warm-hearted teen romp spawning a superb movie adaptation and endless productions from civic centers to summer camps. Thanks to Martin Cespedes' homage-laden musical staging giddily merged with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's popsical score, the evening takes on the aura of a summer costume party, which is wildly appropriate in a show whose Big Mama is in reality a Big Papa. What makes the show so charming is the effortless manner in which it combines the bubble-gum fantasies of a fat girl who wants to dance on a fictionalized teenage TV dance show with the historical urgency of the early '60s Civil Rights movement, pulling off that rare tightrope walk of being profoundly silly.

(Tracy Turnblad's older sister, that forgotten inamorata of the '70s and '80s, better known as Linda Ronstadt.)
The most felicitous aspect of the Beck Center realization is the way every cast member suggests a past icon and every dance seems reminiscent of a beach-party movie, a cut scene from "Birdie" or a Michael Kidd frolic out of "L'il Abner." In synch with this approach is our heroine, Tracy Turnblad, played with melting ardor by one Brittany Lynne Eckstrom, who could be Linda Ronstadt's chubby little sister. In the same costume-party mode, Kevin Joseph Kelly's Edna Turnblad evokes Ernest Borgnine as McHale dressed for the Navy Drag Ball. Continuing the merry masquerade, we have a TV-show host, Corny Collins, played by a Pee-Wee Herman look-alike named Matthew Ryan Thompson; a teen hero, Link Larkin, played by Cody Zak as a lithe, young Val Kilmer; and a gospel diva, Motormouth Maybelle, played by Tina D. Stump as a jubilant cross between Hattie McDaniel and Aretha Franklin. And for pure comic eccentricity and charm, we have Anna Bradley's Penny Pingleton, looking like an eroticized Pippi Longstocking filching the evening with every gigantic crack of her bubble gum.

This is not to be thought of merely as an evening of period laughing gas. For the show, particularly in this incarnation, cherishes the Waters template of tolerance and inclusion, offering the same kind of delicious paradox as finding Granny in her bustier baking legendary apple pies in a leather bar.

"Hairspray" runs at Beck Center through Sunday, August 14. For tickets, call 216-521-2540.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Home Again

(The national tour of "Jersey Boys" is at PlayhouseSquare through Sunday, July 17)

The brand of reader who would gander at the Eunuch undoubtedly realizes by now its intent is to supply a portal to our forebears' joys. It is a site to proclaim hosannas when local theater manages to encapsulate those flashes of insight or madcap Charlestons that took Grandma Sadie's mind off the butcher bill. For our core belief is that which was once valuable endures like pan-gold nuggets and the dross from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Me and Juliet" to the new Spider-Man extravaganza will sink into murky oblivion.

For example, at PlayhouseSquare, "Jersey Boys" - in a month-long run - has become the equivalent of a nostalgic trip to the seashore loaded with sex and sass. It's an evening intended to thrill anyone old enough to have worn or embraced anyone in a leisure suit. In reality, it is the best of a sub-specimen of musical theater known as the jukebox musical, where the canon of a one-time pop phenomenon, in this case Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is fired ad nauseum.

One would think it would be a Herculean task to imbue emotional heft to a show whose heart beats in the melodies of "Sherry" and "Walk Like a Man." However, the creators, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, have been savvy enough to mythologize Valli's Brooklyn wailings much the same way Warner Bros. rhapsodized George M. Cohan to stand for an entire era. Just as the Cohan film utilized the skill of director Michael Curtiz and the undying charisma of its star, James Cagney, "Jersey Boys" uses the propulsive energy and falsetto Valli dynamism to create a neurotic epic of mobsters, small-time gamblers and drug-store Casanovas. It's what would have happened if Martin Scorsese had taken on "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

(Raine Thorne, left, as Karen O'Kane and Jacob Allen as Prince James in the Ohio Light Opera production of "Jubilee." Photo by Matt Dilyard.)

The Ohio Light Opera in Wooster caters to a far more silken, crinoline taste. It is one of the few places left in the United States to satiate those who still have loving and vague recollections of Jeanette McDonald singing Friml or Bobby Short crooning Porter. Commencing with Gilbert and Sullivan, evolving into European-strudel operetta and eventually segueing into Broadway, they have performed a hit-and-miss archeology through the decades. "Jubilee," written in 1935 by Cole Porter and Moss Hart, proves to be one of their most successful excavations. It chronicles that time when operetta was giving way to red-hot-and-blue Americana. The company tends to falter when presenting post-Rodgers and Hammerstein book musicals, but fortunately "Jubilee" still partly clings to operetta tradition. The book - with its royal blue-bloods on the lam from responsibility, sultry dancers and zany bad-boy playwright (Hart's first fictionalization of Noel Coward)- brings to mind the screwball comedies you can see any night on Turner Movie Classics.

(Jackie Kelk, left, and Montgomery Clift as the young princes in the original 1935 production of Cole Porter and Moss Hart's "Jubilee.")

However, the moment that makes the long drive to Wooster worth it is when the petulant princess and fun-loving playwright airily rise out of bed and perform one of Porter's lesser-known but delightful list songs, "A Picture of Me Without You." It is here that we not only experience the DNA of Porter's magical touch, we also see the raison d'etre of the pre-1950s musical comedy. Utilizing a 25-cent budget on a show that begs for a small fortune, thanks to the Ohio Light Opera's bonhomie, the production is given life by Julie Wright Costa's vintage eccentricity as the queen, Ted Christopher's endearing goofball of a king and choreographer Carol Hageman's adept unearthing of lost joie de vivre. Both Woody Allen and Thomas Wolfe claim it's fruitless to try and go back, but Wooster proves them partially wrong.

"Jersey Boys" runs through Sunday, July 17 at Playhouse Square. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

"Jubilee" runs in repertory with eight other works at the College of Wooster through Saturday, Aug. 13. For tickets, call 330-263-2345.