THE WHIPPING MAN Though it takes a couple of detours into potboiler territory, Matthew Lopez’s drama is on balance an unflinching exploration, in vivid close-up, of slavery’s ugly legacy. Directed by Benny Sato Ambush and anchored by Johnny Lee Davenport’s fine performance as Simon, a former slave hoping to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Through Feb. 16. New Repertory Theatre, at Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown. 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org
HAIRSPRAY An irresistible score combined with an outstanding cast make this production a highlight of the theater season. Director Susan Kosoff and musical director Matthew Stern have cast the show with a healthy mix of familiar faces and new talent to populate Baltimore circa 1962, and every performer seems to be inspiring each other to up their game. There is not one weak link in this 36-member strong company, who deliver the show’s message of tolerance with such energy, humor and optimism, they’ll send you out of the theater singing and dancing for joy. Through Feb. 23. Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston. 617-879-2300, www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org Full story for BostonGlobe.com subscribers.