Theater;theater Mini-Reviews

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OPENING

* 42nd Street - Warner Theatre - Musical about a chorus girl who becomes a star. Through Sunday; 202/432-SEAT. Not reviewed.

NOW PLAYING

* Beauty and the Beast - Kennedy Center Opera House - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). Disney tries to rewrite the book on theatrical spectacle with this stage version of the 1991 hit animated movie. Costume designer Ann Hould-Ward makes it possible for actors to sing and dance as candlesticks (with real flames), silverware, even carpets; other grand effects include a floating, fireball-hurling enchantress and a midair transformation from beast to handsome prince. There are some terrific songs and one fine dance, as the cast clinks beer mugs in creative configurations; this is cerainly suitable for the entire family. But this staging of the tale of a beauty who gradually falls for an increasingly lovable beast is told with more dazzle than charm. Through Sept. 29; 202/467-4600.

* The Fantasticks - Ford's Theatre - (TWO STARS). Watching Joe Sears and Jaston Williams - the Tuna guys - in the revival of this simplest of musicals (which now boasts a cast of 14, rather than nine) is like watching race cars stick to the speed limit. The farceurs never get to cut loose, since this a gentle romantic tale about growing up. With its light mocking of classics, undemanding score and bare-stage presentational style, this "Fantasticks" is what it has been for nearly 37 consecutive years off-Broadway: a pleasant little show. Through July 28; 202/347-4833.

* The Fifth Season - Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. The world premiere of a new musical about single women homesteading on the Great Plains at the turn of the century. Through July 14; 301/924-3400. Not reviewed.

* The Gigli Concert - Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). Howard Shalwitz and Michael Hebert deliver grand, soulful performances in Irish playwright Tom Murphy's drama. Mr. Shalwitz plays a nervous, tippling quack peddling something called "dynamatology"; Mr. Hebert plays a gangsterish developer who says he wants to sing like the legendary tenor Beniamino Gigli. They are both fantasists who need to get a grip on reality, and though the sentimentality and sheer volume of wind in Mr. Murphy's script cost the show some poignancy, this play sure gives the actors an opportunity to glow. Through June 30; 202/393-3939.

* King Mackerel and the Blues Are Running - Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater. Songs of coastal Carolina life. Through July 14; 202/467-4600. Not reviewed.

* Measure for Measure - Shakespeare Theatre Free For All - (THREE STARS). Despite the inevitable distractions of free outdoor theater, the huge crowd hangs on every phrase as this last (and arguably wisest) of Shakespeare's comedies unravels its plots and complicated lessons. Kelly McGillis gives a highly emotional performance as Isabella, the would-be nun who can save her brother's life by sleeping with an abusive substitute duke (Philip Goodwin, quite severe as the prim fascist), and Daniel Southern is a real crowd-pleaser as the white-faced bawd, Lucio. This is one of those miraculous plays that shows virtually no rust after nearly 400 years, and Michael Kahn's production gives the weighty issues their due while getting a few more laughs than you might think this searching play offers. At the Carter Barron Amphitheater through June 23; 202/628- 5770.

* Passion - Signature Theatre - (THREE STARS). Stephen Sondheim's compressed, murmuring musical about a soldier who forsakes his beautiful but married mistress for an ugly, sickly obsessive, but passionate woman. …