Aida: A powerhouse trio of principals makes the Actors' Playhouse Aida a fabulously entertaining evening of theater and one of the season's happiest surprises. For those who already love the show, here is a chance to experience the Elton John-Tim Rice score persuasively, passionately sung and acted by Desmon N. Walker, Christopher A. Kent, and Melanie Penn -- as exciting a lineup as this show is likely to have and, in the case of Kent's Radames, an improvement on the original Broadway cast. On the other hand, for those who find this dumbing-down of Verdi's opera more than a little appalling, David Arisco's production, conducted with zest by Eric Alsford, nearly makes a case that the music is not as bad as it sounds. -- Octavio Roca Through April 10. Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293.
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Ann and Debbie: It can't possibly be their fault, so don't blame the stars. In fact give Lucie Arnaz and Elizabeth Ashley two points for doing everything humanly possible to try making this dud about an odd couple of widows actually work. All their glamour, presence, acting and overacting, terrific timing, gorgeous legs, and distinctive voices (together with wishing, hoping, and praying, for all I know) still can't make Lionel Goldstein's slight, vulgar, mindless little skit pass for a real play. Harmless schlock just ain't what it used to be. -- Octavio Roca Through April 10. Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy., Miami; 305-442-4000.
The Syringa Tree: Pamela Gien's semiautobiographical one-woman show centers on a precocious white girl and her world-weary black nanny in apartheid-era South Africa. Joseph Adler's colorful, evocative production features the talented Claire Tyler playing dozens of characters in an intense, well-researched performance. There are drawbacks, though. Many unexplained references in the text and the thick accents make some of this hard going. Nevertheless several sequences are riveting. -- Ronald Mangravite Through May 1. GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1119.