Respect: A Musical Journey of Women: This is a high energy, historical and hysterical look at women's changes from 1900 to today as illustrated by popular song. Dorothy Marcic (writer/ narrator), who wrote a book on the subject, constructed this piece around her own experiences. Slide pictures sometimes add to the message, as the ensemble shows how women have gone from, as Marcic puts it, "codependency to rebel to adult cynic to responsible adult," able to partner equally with men. With a bare bones set and musical accompaniment from the upstairs band, these three women give it their all -- whether sharing how they want to be "Johnny's Girl" at a slumber party or stomping out how "These Boots are Made for Walking." The shift goes from "Stand By Your Man" to "You Don't Own Me." Interacting with Marcic, the singers show how the times have changed from Rosie Riveter to "Rosie Homemaker" to Rosie the CEO and how women have all too often depended upon men. Jeanette Fitzpatrick shows it best with a hilarious rendition of "It Must Be Him," as she vows to die if her man doesn't call. Fitzpatrick to the stage is like a fish to water. In both acting and through song, she shows her mastery. Songs like "Take Another Piece of My Heart" show more of her grit. The focus becomes a bit scattered in the second act, but the nostalgic songs keep the show going, and the hilarious interpretations keep you laughing -- a worthwhile journey. (Through August 8 at the Cuillo Centre, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. 561-835-9226) -- Rachel Galvin
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris: The show brings to life the songs of a legendary songwriter, singer, actor, and filmmaker whose work spanned the 1950s and '60s. Although Dutch-born, Brel's career was born in Paris, and he wrote in English, French, and Dutch. This tribute begins with French-born Tangi Colombel's introduction in his native tongue. Then he and three other actors paint the canvas of Brel's life through his song, with on-stage piano accompaniment. The quartet illustrates Brel's range, humanity, depth, and realism in a way that even those unfamiliar with his work can grasp. Together, their synchronized choreography, complete with a few do-si-dos and jazz hands, makes the piece come alive, but their perfect harmonies bring out the mood. The shadowy set adds a gritty undertone. The actors make each piece their own with sometimes-melancholy, other times gut-wrenching emotion. Colombel is naturally comedic and romantic, throwing his body into the mood; his handsome, chiseled face and French accent bring to life the poetry of Brel's words. Lisa Manuli's expressive face and voice bring out Brel's heart in every piece. Avi Hoffman brings out Brel's humanity, hitting the mark again and again, whether pulling up a stool and sharing his heart's wounds, stumbling like a sailor, swooning over love, or recalling the nightmares of a regrettable youth. Laura Turnbull shows Brel's wide-eyed fascination with the passing of time. (Through September 5 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-514-4042.)
Heaven Help Us! The Swingin' New Rat Pack Musical: This toe-tapping world premiere about God sending the Rat Pack back to Vegas to help a suicidal lounge owner is stylishly presented, with a terrific cast belting out some great tunes -- some 29 hits pop up in the show, ranging from brief refrains to full-blown song-and-dance numbers. Co-creator Ray Roderick's snappy direction and choreography and a fine on-stage jazz combo also sparkle. But the performance and production strengths only emphasize the weaknesses of the decidedly half-baked script: Heaven's creative team needs to get back in the kitchen. (Through September 5 at Florida Stage, Plaza Del Mar, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan, 561-585-3433 or 800-514-3837.)
The Shakespeare Project: King Lear, A Midsummer Night's Dream: The New Theatre's annual Shakespeare fest is played in true repertory, with Lear, the Bard's greatest tragedy, alternating nightly with Dream, that popular comedy of lunacy, love, and poetry. Director Rafael de Acha and his superior design team deliver two visually striking productions. But while the journeyman acting company is competent, few individual performances soar. Lear is given a formal, stark staging that's powerful if not emotionally stirring. Dream has an interesting East Indian look with the battling faerie king and queen -- Oberon and Titania -- presented as dancing dervishes, but the show's comic antics are more amusing than flat-out funny. (Through August 22 at the New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables, 305-443-5909.)
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