The Exonerated Director Cynthia Levin and a strong cast and design team vividly animate and humanize a show that, in past productions, has been staged readers-theater-style with actors sitting on stools. The latter approach has value, certainly, because these stories of six former death-row inmates are inherently rich and heart-wrenching. What Levin does, though, is emphasize the theater over the reading, trusting that a Unicorn audience has already done its homework. In the graceful way it brings real tragedy into dramatic focus, the show recalls the brilliant docudrama The Laramie Project. Through May 22 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529.
A Gathering of Gangsters Seventy years before Kansas City had its first gangsta, it was teeming with gangsters -- the kind whose bling consisted of white spats and a fedora. Union Station is the hub for the kickoff show from a new theater troupe whose interactive mysteries (with dinner) befit the historic setting. The first one's set in 1933, the year of the infamous massacre, and concerns a gang of ne'er-do-wells whose train is nearing the station. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through July 9 at Union Station, 30 W. Pershing, 816-813-9654.
Go, Dog, Go! Theatre for Young America's new show is based on a vintage children's book by P.D. Eastman, whose credits include Mr. Magoo scripts and a collaboration with the genre's godfather, Dr. Seuss, on The Cat in the Hat Dictionary. Director Valerie Mackey takes advantage of the book's eye-popping illustrations and repetitious prose to create a physical romp that embraces all mixes of canine diversity. Assisting a show geared to the youngest of audiences are such TYA veterans as Parry Luellen and Chris Clegg. Through May 20 at Theatre for Young America, 5909 Johnson Dr. in Mission, 913-831-2131.
Grease In the musical's well-known song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee," Rizzo, the promiscuous ringleader of the Pink Ladies, unfavorably compares virginal Sandy to the perky movie princess. On the heels of Dee's death in February, this Wyandotte Players production could resonate with some unexpected weirdness. If not, there's still a virtual homecoming parade of energetic numbers and fun stock characters, such as the poured-in-his-pants Danny Zuko and his idiotic homeys. One can only hope that the climactic transformation of sweet Sandy into a hot babe is half as delicious as Olivia Newton-John's onscreen metamorphosis. June 3-12 at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College Performing Arts Center, 7250 State Ave., 913-449-2301.
Perfect Wedding If this comedy by Robin Hawdon has any deep message, it's probably that weddings should not occur in the same hotel where there was a bachelor party the night before. Using such elements of classic farce as mistaken identity and slamming doors, the play sabotages its title event with a series of mishaps, not least of which involves a member of the wedding party who is erroneously thought to be a call girl. Glenn Pierce directs the six actors who play the betrothed, various friends and relatives, and the ever-ripe-for-ridicule mother of the bride. Through May 21 at the Olathe Community Theater, 500 E. Loula, 913-782-2990.
Rockula! Late Night Theatre's new show, subtitled The Hair Band Vampire Musical, is just as cheesy as the name implies. But who farms cheese better than Late Night? Ron Megee's script about, well, a vampire hair band from the 1980s, is at once a witty homage to the banality of VH1's Behind the Music series and an artful celebration of how metal and goth drink from the same trough. And there are elements of classic Greek theater in the way the company spills blood. It's an ambitious piece of work yet doesn't take itself too seriously -- after all, there's a production number staged to Ram Jam's "Black Betty." Through May 21 at Late Night Theatre, 1531 Grand, 816-235-6222.
Tapestry Quality Hill Playhouse abandons its usual musical-revue format of standards and show tunes with this comprehensive salute to the career of Carole King. Led by musical director Molly Jessup, filling in for a recuperating J. Kent Barnhart, a cast of six journeys through all of King's various wardrobe changes: her early years as a wildly successful songwriter who, with partner Gerry Coffin, wrote such '60s classics as "Up on the Roof" and "One Fine Day"; and the albums on which she voiced her own compositions, such as the recording that gives this production its title, as well as subsequent hits such as "Jazzman." May 20-June 19 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., 816-421-1700.
Trains Across America Of all the suggestions thrown on the table the past couple of years to boost attendance at Union Station, who would have thought the answer would be found with Kansas City's theater community? The past month alone, audiences could take in the U.S. premiere of the Kansas City Rep's Young Lady from Rwanda or an interactive murder mystery from the new Mystery Train company. The latest entry, from Theatre for Young America, promises adventure, drama and humor in a show that salutes -- not surprisingly, given the venue -- the importance of trains in American history. It is written and performed by Danny Cox, who is simultaneously moonlighting in the Unicorn's drama The Exonerated. Through May 21 at Union Station's H&R Block City Stage Theater, 30 W. Pershing, 816-460-2020.
Tuesdays With Morrie Mitch Albom, recently on the best-seller list with The Five People You Meet in Heaven, first gained national attention with the book that Oprah Winfrey turned into an Emmy-winning TV movie. Craig Benton plays the character based on Albom, a sports writer who makes weekly pilgrimages to the bedside of his dying mentor, played by Richard Alan Nichols. If it ends up being something more than the equivalent of a Lifetime movie on testosterone, the thanks can go to director Donna Thomason, whose last project was the unexpectedly fabulous Affluenza. Through June 26 at the American Heartland Theatre, 2420 Grand, 816-842-9999.
The Voysey Inheritance The upside of corporate greed or political corruption is that old plays embossed with these themes never go out of style. This 1905 Harley Granville Barker (who?) drama has been trimmed of an hour and, surely, enlivened significantly by David Mamet. This play (the best the Kansas City Rep has done all season) about a wealthy British family who learns that its riches have been unethically earned crackles with the wit and energy Mamet might give a play about the Enron scandal. That it's still set at the turn of the last century proves he's a gifted reinterpreter who has given his source due respect. Through May 22 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-2700.