Hot stuff

Summer's here and the time is right for, well, getting out of the heat and getting into the seats of the theaters where these fine local productions are playing.

'Experiment America'

Friday, 9 p.m.

Institute of Contemporary Art

100 Northern Ave., Boston

$20, 21+, 617-478-3103

This multimedia experience, masterminded by Mikhael Tara Garver with contributions from more than 50 artists, writers and performers, transfigures the entire ICA into a spectacular four-car pileup of the senses that ends with a dance party on the waterfront. You may find yourself part of a story in progress -- just go with the flow. It's fun that way.

'Hotel Nepenthe'

Through Sunday

Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts

525 Tremont St., Boston

$25, 866-811-4111

You've seen this plot before: The lives of a diverse bunch of stran-gers, every one with a secret, intersect in intriguing ways in a neutral locale -- in this case the titular hotel. And they turn out to not really be strangers after all. But it's way better than the movie "Identity"-- way better!


'Car Talk: The Musical'

Through July 15

Central Square Theater

450 Mass Ave., Cambridge

$20-$50, 866-811-4111

More proof that anything can be a musical, this is based on the NPR program of the same name, a weekly mix of corny jokes, Boston accents and car maintenance advice. Like the show, it's not only about cars. It's about life. Cars are just the, uh, vehicle of exploration.

'Show Up'

June 28 through July 7

Codman Square Great Hall

6 Norfolk St., Dorchester


This play by local writer Paloma Valenzuela explores, through multimedia and abstract monologues, the crisis of a rapper named "The Ripper," who is forced to shoot a video without his booty-shaking models. The moral: There's a difference be-tween a prop and a human being!

'Steel Magnolias'

July 13 through 28

NextDoor Theater

40 Cross St., Winchester

$20-$25, 781-729-6398

This is the original tragicomic play that inspired the 1989 film. Set in a beauty parlor in Louisiana, it details the ups and downs of a group of close-knit female friends with poignancy and wit. Its unfair reputation as mindlessly emotional "chick lit" is ironic, since it was written by a man, Robert Harling, in reaction to his sister's death.

'The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity'

July 27 through Aug. 25

Calderwood Pavilion, BCA 527 Tremont St., Boston

$6-$42, 617-933-8600

This play nearly won the Pulitzer, which is remarkable, considering it's about pro wrestling, a seemingly silly subject --but that's sort of the jumping-off point for play-wright Kristoffer Diaz's exploration of a world trapped between sports and theater, where the moves are often fake, but the charisma is almost always real.

'The Pirates of Penzance'

Through June 24


2 Arrow St., Cambridge

$20, 866-811-4111

Chicago theater troupe the Hypocrites present this unique version of Gilbert and Sullivan's classic naval spoof. It's quite true to the original, but with some notable quirks, such as the actors all playing their own instruments in lieu of an orchestra, short shorts and a tendency for spontaneous beach ball volleys. Why? Because beach ball volleys are fun. Duh.

'Billy Elliot: The Musical'

July 24 through Aug. 19

Boston Opera House

539 Washington St., Boston

$30-$110, 800-982-2787

The heartwarming British film about the boy who just wanted to dance lent itself unusually well to Broadway adaptation. This gives us hope for that "Car Talk"?show we wrote about earlier. "Billy" works because dance is always more fun to watch live. The title character's ignorance of gender expectations in pursuing his dream holds a timeless lesson for everyone: Do what you truly love, not just what you think will make others love you.


July 25 through August 12

Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common, Park St. at Tremont St., Boston

Free, 617-426-0863

Commonwealth Shakespeare returns to the Common with a fairly obscure but highly relevant selection, about a Roman general whose contempt for the average "plebeian" leads to his downfall. It's a depiction of a Rome rife with social tensions due to inequality. Hmm. Can you say "Occupy movement" and/or "Arab Spring"?

'Michael Jackson: The Immortal'

Aug. 3 and 4

TD Garden

100 Legends Way, Boston

$50-$175, 800-745-3000

Few people can match the combination of idiosyncratic weirdness and innovative genius that Michael Jackson simply was, but among those few are the folks behind Cirque du Soleil. Therefore, this Cirque tribute to the King of Pop seems perfectly natural, perhaps even inevitable. Not to speak for the dead, but we're pretty sure the Neverland Ranch owner would love it.

'Bye Bye Liver: the Boston Drinking Party'

Saturdays through Dec. 22


2 Arrow St., Cambridge

$20, 866-811-4111

Ah, alcohol -- people always forget it's a drug. And then they wonder why it's making them so ridiculous. For some, it becomes a truly unfunny problem, but --praise Dionysus -- for most, it's just a good, if occasionally embarrassing, time. This play takes a satirical aim at the pitfalls of the alcohol culture, complete with drinking games for the audience.

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