Saturday, February 3, 2018

theatre review - HAMILTON - National Tour: ASU Gammage - January 31, 2018

the national tour cast
photo by Joan Marcus
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 25th.

"You'd probably have to be living under a rock to not know anything about the musical phenomenon that is Hamilton....With the musical on the verge of total world domination, the big question is, "does Hamilton live up to the hype?" The answer is a resounding "yes"! ...It's been a while since there has been a musical that has changed the way we think about the art form. I'd have to go back about 30 years to when Les Misérables first took the world by storm to find a piece of musical theatre that found a similar way to bring an epic story to life so vibrantly on stage. While Hamilton doesn't quite have the same emotional payoff that Les Misérables has (chalk that up somewhat to the slight disconnection from the audience to the cast that this show will face when playing very large venues as it tours across the country), it has an infectious energy and modern sensibility that Les Misérables didn't. Miranda's intricate and massive score, the use of the multi-racial cast, the vibrant and distinct creative elements, and Kail's focused and precise direction come together to make this an epic masterpiece. Hamilton makes history accessible like never before by using modern musical styles and a cast that is more representative of the make-up of America to humanize and breathe life into the people in our history books.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

concert review - KELLI O'HARA - Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts - January 27, 2018

Kelli O'Hara
Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

"This past Saturday night kicked off the first of four concerts in the 2018 "Broadway @ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts" series with a sublime evening of song and story featuring Tony winner Kelli O'Hara. The series features popular Sirius XM radio host Seth Rudetsky as host and pianist, with a different Broadway performer each evening. Rudetsky draws on his expert knowledge of Broadway to engage each guest to speak about their experiences in an informative and spontaneous conversation in between songs. O'Hara's charming and spunky personality and soaring voice brought both plenty of laughs and poignancy during the discussion and her sublime and pristine vocal abilities were rewarded with not only applause but also a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the evening....Future dates for shows in this year's season of "Broadway @ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts," are Megan Hilty on February 24, Kristin Chenoweth on March 17 and Vanessa Williams on April 7.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

review - IT'S ONLY A PLAY - Phoenix Theatre - January 26, 2018

Tony Latham, Debra K. Stevens, Toby Yatso, D. Scott Withers, Pasha Yamotahari, Rusty Ferracane, and Ashley Stults
photo by Reg Madison Photography
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 11th.

"...Terrence McNally's comedy It's Only a Play... stars some of the top comic actors in the Valley. While the play itself is a bit long and includes a lot of famous name dropping and backstage drama that might go over the heads of those not well versed in the in-depth knowledge of the business of Broadway and New York City, it still amounts to a fun, charming and often times hilarious ride through the nonstop behind the scenes theatrics at the opening night party for a new Broadway play...McNally's characters are funny and interesting individuals that are fairly fleshed out and three dimensional, though they are also almost all narcissists who truly only care about themselves. ..Director Matthew Wiener has assembled a cast of gifted comedians who get some big laughs from McNally's funny script, though not every joke lands and a few aren't delivered as successfully as they could be. Chalk that up partly to the unfamiliarity of some of the names that are dropped that are very specific to New York and Broadway as well as the somewhat uneven tone and direction the play goes in the second half of the second act which pads out the play and shortchanges some of the humor of the show.... " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

theatre review - JERSEY BOYS - National Tour: Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre - January 23, 2018

Chris Stevens, Jonny Wexler, Tommaso Antico, and Corey Greenan
photo by Joan Marcus
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 28th.

"...part docudrama, part rock concert, Jersey Boys...tells the true behind the scenes story of how four guys from New Jersey became the pop sensation The Four Seasons. The national tour of the Tony winning show is in town for a week-long run in a production with a talented cast led by Jonny Wexler, who is excellent as the group's lead singer, Frankie Valli....a gifted cast who effectively evoke the foursome with crisp creative elements and smart direction that are modeled on the original Broadway production. It is a show filled with the rich and intriguing story of the struggles these men endured to make music that is still well-known today, and the combination of the true story with so many hit songs is what makes Jersey Boys incredibly entertaining.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

theatre review - CABARET - Spotlight Youth Theatre - January 20, 2018

Aaron Brown and Sophia Donnell
Photo by Joanne Wastchak
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 28th.

"... another stunning example of Kenny Grossman's expert directorial abilities and the amount of amazing youth talent in the Valley....In her Spotlight debut, Sophia Donnell is a knock-out as Sally. ..Donnell's performance is one of the best I've seen in a youth production this season. Vincent Pugliese is cunning, lovable, fearless, scary, and forcefully commanding as the Emcee. ..As Cliff, Aaron Brown evokes the realistic sincerity of a young writer as well as an appropriate level of both hesitancy and recklessness once Sally comes into his life. ...With an excellent cast and superb direction, Spotlight's Cabaret is especially potent and shocking. It is a production that explodes with grit and glamour, while also being raw and realistic in portraying the immediacy and heartbreaking horrors of Nazism. Some people don't think a youth theatre should present shows that have serious, adult themes like Cabaret, but when it's done with such honesty and emotion it's hard to argue why they shouldn't." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - VERDICT - January 19, 2018

Bella Tindall, Carrie Ellen Jones, and Peter Cunniff
Photo by Renee Ashlock
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 4th.

".In Agatha Christie's Verdict, the famous mystery writer goes against her signature style that she so skillfully exhibits in her other plays and books. Instead of slowly providing clues and character's motives, to have the audience guess "whodunit?," she crafts an interesting and intriguing expose into the finer details of just what happens in the aftermath of a murder.
... Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre's production of this psychological drama features astute direction and a fine cast led by Peter Cunniff, who delivers a superb portrayal in his first lead role in a straight play after appearing in dozens of musicals in town...." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE GRADUATE - Mesa Encore Theatre - January 18, 2018

Christian Boden and Kim Lavelle
Photo by Candice Thornton
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 28th.

"The 1967 film The Graduate is a classic movie that still stands today as a biting satire on the young, misunderstood and delusional youth of the 1960s and their bored, materialistic, two dimensional and unappreciated parents. Therefore, I'm not quite certain what's to gain from a stage adaptation when the film said exactly what it needed to say under Mike Nichols' expert direction. Terry Johnson adapted the film screenplay, and the 1963 novel by Charles Webb that the film was based on, into a faithful stage version that loses much of the visual starkness of the movie and adds in several new and not exactly necessary scenes. Mesa Encore Theatre's production does a good job of instilling the requisite anti-establishment tone of the piece and, while the entire cast is fine, Kim Lavelle is simply sublime as the sexy seductress Mrs. Robinson...." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

theatre review - SHOW BOAT - Arizona Broadway Theatre - January 14, 2018

Jamie Parnell and Brittany Santos (center) and Cast
photo by Scott Samplin
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 10th.

"When Show Boat premiered in 1927 it was hailed as a landmark musical of the time, as it was one of the first shows to successfully combine both comedy and drama with a story that featured a wide range of characters, including parts played by both white and African-American actors. ...focused on such serious topics as racism, addiction and abandonment....was almost like the Hamilton of its time in that it completely changed the way the musical art form was and would ever be again....With a cast who expertly embody their characters and whose voices deliver some stunning vocals on the show's many classic songs, Arizona Broadway Theatre presents a slightly scaled down and edited version of this groundbreaking show, providing a a beautiful production of this rarely produced American musical classic..." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - LIFE COULD BE A DREAM - Hale Centre Theatre - January 16, 2018

Micah Jondel DeShazer, Kale Burr, Angela Kriese, Vinny Chavez, and Danny Karapetian
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 17th.

"Roger Bean can pretty much be given the title of "King of the Jukebox Musical." The creator of the hit revue The Marvelous Wonderettes, along with its numerous sequels, Bean has also crafted over half a dozen other shows that feature familiar tunes from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Hale Centre Theatre is currently presenting one of his latest creations, Life Could Be a Dream, and though it isn't quite on the same level as Wonderettes... it still makes for a fun, charming and heartwarming journey back in time with a cast who deliver two dozen well-known tunes with an infectious glee....Hale's cast features five performers who all have numerous previous credits appearing on the Hale stage. Vinny Chavez, Kale Burr and Danny Karapetian make a winning threesome as the school friends Denny, Eugene and Wally, respectively, while Micah Jondel DeShazer does well as the quiet loner Skip and Angela Kriese is charming as Lois. All five create unique individuals while providing a good mix of vocal contributions from solos to harmonies that blend beautifully under Lincoln Wright's astute music direction....Cambrian James' direction and choreography infuse the entire production with a wealth of fun moments, with plenty of humor and always changing dance moves that feature synchronized period moves delivered well by the cast. ...It may be a lightweight musical but it still results in a fun trip down memory lane that is filled with laughs and over two dozen tunes of yesteryear. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

theatre review - ERMA BOMBECK: AT WIT'S END - Fountain Hills Theater - January 13, 2018

Cathy Dresbach
photo by Carly Weekley

Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 28th.

"...Erma Bombeck was a household name and the voice of reason for housewives and homemakers across the country. Bombeck, who was a wife and mother of three, found great success due to her uncanny ability to write in her syndicated columns and books what people across America were thinking. Fountain Hills Theater presents the Valley premiere of the new one woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End, which features one of Phoenix's favorite comical actresses, Cathy Dresbach, as Bombeck. While the one act play may be slight, Dresbach's wry delivery and ability to breath life into the somewhat disjointed script results in a fun romp through the past...does a fairly good job of painting the backstory to how Bombeck became a success while folding in many of her funny lines and quotable quips. But there aren't a lot of layers or much substance in the show, which barely runs over an hour. ...What's also missing is any drama or a more in-depth account of the trials and tribulations she went through to become as successful as she did. ...Director Ben Tyler and Dresbach do a good job bringing a liveliness to this slightly static show. ...Dresbach is a gifted comic and knows how to deliver some of Bombeck's most famous lines to get laughs.... " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, January 15, 2018

theatre review - GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN - Compass Players - January 12, 2018

C.D. Macaulay and Steve Murphy
Photo by John Menard
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 28th.

"...with today's politically charged climate Gore Vidal's The Best Man feels like it could have been written as a biting satire and cautionary tale of the result of last year's election. ...Director Jeanna Michaels has assembled a very competent cast to portray the vast range of characters. ...Steve Murphy and Matthew Cary portray Russell and Cantwell, respectively, and they are both well equipped to deliver the necessary gravitas of these vastly different opponents. ...C.D. Macaulay is excellent as the former president...Compass Players' production proves that Gore Vidal's The Best Man is still fresh and, unfortunately, still relevant today. Though the fact that some of the dialogue gets laughs now...only shows how forward-thinking Vidal was in crafting this intriguing expose into the political wheeling and dealing that goes on behind closed doors and how unfortunate and disgraceful the state of politics has become.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

theatre review - MAN OF LA MANCHA - Arizona Theatre Company - January 11, 2018

Philip Hernandez and Carlos Lopez
photo by Tim Fuller
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 28th.

"Taking a classic musical that is beloved and cherished by many and changing its time period, style of music, and overall feel and visual theme can often prove to be an exercise in futility. Therefore, I'm happy to say that Arizona Theatre Company's production of Man of La Mancha, which adds Spanish and flamenco influenced song and dance to the score and changes the time period from the Spanish Inquisition of the late 16th century to the 1950s Franco-led regime, proves to be exceptionally vibrant and full of life. It's like a breath of fresh new air has been instilled into this 50-year-old classic musical and the end result is one of the best shows I've seen at ATC as well as one of the most exceptional productions I've witnessed since reviewing shows here in the Valley..... " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

theatre review - SEE HOW THEY RUN - Hale Centre Theatre - December 30, 2017

Lindsay Hope, Vinny Chavez, Ami Porter, Jacob Goodman, and Alexis Harris
photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 10th.

"Philip King's See How They Run may not be as well known as other classic farcical comedies such as Lend Me a Tenor, but it sure amounts to one fun and funny farce. With the necessary requirements of split-second timing and performances that go far but don't go too far over the edge into caricature, farce is always hard to pull off well. Fortunately, Hale Centre Theatre's cast and creative team hit the ground running and virtually never stop in a production that features excellent physical comedy and a nonstop abundance of hijinks and hilarity....While the play takes about 15 minutes to set the scene and introduce the plot and all of the characters, and some of that is a little slow going to completely jell. Once the insanity starts, the punchlines fly and the parade of characters start to run into and out of the Vicar's house, and you truly appreciate how well crafted King's script is. He even adds a fitting coda at the end for a perfectly hilarious punch. Under Cambrian James' spotless direction...The entire cast are adept at delivering the lunacy and split-second timing the play requires, along with perfectly played facial expressions, double takes, and well delivered punchlines. ...See How They Run is a well written comedy and with a firecracker cast and polished direction. Hale's excellent production is first-rate, fresh, funny and entirely delightful.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

theatre review - RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA - National Tour: ASU Gammage - December 19, 2017

Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 24th.

"The musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II include some of the most recognizable and romantic songs in the history of musical theatre. of their beloved creations, Cinderella, started out as a TV musical and..took over a half of a century to become a full-fledged Broadway musical, it is a lush and romantic show filled with many modern touches. The touring production is at ASU Gammage for a week and features a talented cast and lush production elements. It makes for one tasty holiday theatrical treat...this stage adaptation drops some of the small screen characters, adds others, and also incorporates a few songs that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for other musicals and movies, most of which were eventually cut from those works. ...also features an updated book by Douglas Carter Beane that fleshes out the original mostly stereotypical characters...These additions help transform the show from a simple fairy tale into a richer piece full of characters that have more dimension and a story that incorporates social injustice to portray the battle of cruelty verses kindness. Beane also incorporates many bits of humor and, while not all of the jokes land, they at least make the overall show more contemporary....Tatyana Lubov projects an air of simplicity, a deep sense of caring for her fellow members of the Kingdom, and natural elegance as Cinderella with a singing voice that shines. As Prince Topher, Louis Griffin is both quirky and noble as the young man who doesn't quite know what to do with his life. Like Lubov, his vocals are lush and layered and soar on his many solos and duos. Both Lubov and Griffin have a natural ease in delivering Hammerstein's lyrics with a clear understanding of the romance they derive, and the duo create a couple you instantly root to see succeed. As the fairy godmother Marie, Leslie Jackson is equally humorous and commanding with a magnificently sung "There's Music in You....Gina Rattan's tour direction, modeled on Mark Brokaw's original direction, is quite good. However...there are a few jokes that are rushed or not delivered appropriately enough to get the laughs they should. Josh Rhodes' original choreography, staged for the tour by Lee Wilkins, is simply beautiful and delivered expertly by the large cast. Anna Louizos' set design is rich and layered with an abundance of effective elements. ...William Ivey Long's Tony winning costumes, which include several that transform before our eyes, truly spectacular. Ken Posner's lighting is rich and expressive.... Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella has a lush, romantic score as well as an updated book that adds a fresh spin on this famous fairy tale. With a cast who embody these beloved characters with ease and an abundance of magical moments that deliver both gasps and rounds of applause from the audience, the national tour of this well-known story is a beautiful and magical crowd pleaser." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

theatre review - AGNES OF GOD - Compass Players - December 8, 2017

Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 17th.

"Questions of faith, spirituality, doubt and morality plus the role of science and the power of love combine in John Pielmeier's classic drama Agnes of God. Compass Players, one of the newest theatre companies in the Valley, opens their second season with a searing production of this complex and compelling play.
Dr. Martha Livingstone, a court-appointed psychiatrist, is assigned to assess the sanity of a young nun named Agnes who lives in an isolated convent and who has been accused of murdering her newborn baby. But Agnes claims to have no memory of giving birth to the infant. And just who fathered the child? Did faith play a part in the birth and death of the child, or is Agnes a mentally unstable woman who killed her baby? Livingstone squares off with the convent's Mother Superior as secrets and the truth are revealed....With just a few pieces of furniture, character-specific costumes, and a gifted cast, director Jeanna Michaels has beautifully brought Pielmeier's work to vibrant life. ...Only the use of a couple of short video segments to portray flashback scenes is a bit of a disconnect. ...Michaels also plays Dr. Livingstone. As this strong, educated woman, Michaels is adept in showing how Livingstone struggles with her own logic and convictions and how the events of her rough and raw past have formed and influenced her to resent religion. Megan Holcomb is superb as Agnes...Holcomb's portrayal of the insecure, diminutive, terrified and haunted girl is stunning. As Mother Superior, Frances Murphy is very good in showing how this calm and composed woman is protective of Agnes and afraid that if the young woman is exposed to the real world it will tear away her innocence....While at first Agnes of God appears to be an intricate murder mystery, it is a superbly calculated and cunning raw character study of three very different women and an intense drama that portrays the views of society concerning faith and facts, as all three women question their own beliefs and who they are. With precise, confident performances, Compass Players presents a beautiful, powerful production of this provocative play that draws distinct lines between faith and reality and the presence or absence of God." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)