Friday, April 11, 2014

theatre review, 9 to 5, Hale Centre Theatre, April 9

Chelsea Janzen, Brandi Bigley and
Emily Giauque Evans
Click on this link to read my complete Talkin' Broadway review of 9 to 5 (highlights below) currently running at the Hale Centre Theatre through May 17th.

"The hilarious 1980 movie 9 to 5 was released at a time when many women had entered the workplace and were feeling oppressed, underpaid and unappreciated for their contributions to the business world. Seeing the film's three leads, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, portray three working women who get revenge on their sexist boss hit a nerve across the U.S. and the film became a huge hit. Parton's infectious title song from the film was so successful that it not only went to number one on the Billboard charts but was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. The screenplay was co-written by Patricia Resnick and the film's director Colin Higgins, and Resnick and Parton reunited almost thirty years later to turn the film into a musical comedy for the stage. While the musical had a relatively short (six month) Broadway run, its themes still resonate today, and the fun in seeing how these women get revenge on their boss along with some peppy tunes by Parton make it an endearing show. The production currently being presented by the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert has a perfect cast, inspired direction, and manages to wring just about every comic nuance and uplifting moment from Resnick's script and Parton's score.

As the three leads, Brandi Bigley, Emily Giauque Evans and Chelsea Janzen as Violet, Judy and Doralee, respectively, excel in their parts, with never once trying to mimic Tomlin, Fonda and Parton's mannerisms or accents. Bigley makes Violet a professional with a hint of briskness and frustration that ties nicely into the dialogue about how she is constantly passed over for promotions. She has good comic timing, but also effectively and warmly shows Violet's serious side. When Violet believes she has accidentally poisoned Hart, Bigley brings a heightened level of zaniness to the character, but never makes her unrealistic. She has a lovely singing voice and has a large dose of fun with her solo "One of the Boys." Judy is the character in the show with the most growth, and Evans' portrayal of her starts out as a mousy woman prone to crying and frantic and nervous looks, which works well for this "fish out of water," since Judy has gone back to work after years of being a non-working housewife. But she blossoms with her new-found confidence and Evans gives a powerful, moving and soaring performance of her solo "Get Out and Stay Out." Janzen gives Doralee a nice country twang, but never once tries to mimic Parton's famous accent. While she has the least to do of the three leads, she gets one of the best scenes when she confronts Hart with a gun, and Janzen delivers that moment effortlessly with sheer comic abilities and conviction. She also has the touching solo "Backwoods Barbie" that she delivers with a lovely sense of resilience.

Hector Coris is appropriately lecherous and domineering as Hart, though he manages to not make Hart a caricature but instead a realistic portrayal of an old-fashioned tired businessman who just happens to be unhappily married and believes that the women in his office are all just "girls" for his personal use. While Coris is the bad guy in the show, he is having a blast playing "mean" and when he gets tied up and hung up in a harness he manages to turn that sequence into a comic gem, flying high above the audience with glee. As Roz, the co-worker who has a hidden love for Hart, Tracy Payne Black is a knock-out, with an appropriate level of sass. Her "Heart to Hart" solo, in which she confides her love for Hart, gets a powerful and hilarious delivery. Corey Gimlin as Violet's co-worker Joe, who is interested in having a relationship with the somewhat older Violet, is touching and endearing with a sweet amount of charm. The duet that he and Bigley share, "Let Love Grow," gives them both a lovely moment to shine.

Nicely done creative elements include Adam DeVaney's set design that uses square earth-tone colored patterns, which are also used in a lighting design projection on the stage floor to give us a flavor of 1980s corporate America. Period touches include the abundance of typewriters, rotary phones, and that aforementioned large Xerox machine that transcend us back in time. The combination of Addy Diaz' costume designs and Cambrian James' wig designs bring back all of the bad style choices of the early '80s with a period perfect combination of big hair, billowy blouses, dresses with padded shoulders, scarves and oversized eye wear. Jeff A. Davis' lighting designs are well done and lush. I also liked the use of a few simple projections that include a rotating clock projection on the stage floor and the heart projections that shine on the side walls. 9 to 5 is a rousing, goofy, period piece musical with just the right amount of poignancy amongst the laughs. Fast moving and full of high energy, with a stellar cast and perfect direction, the Hale production of the show charms and impresses.

The Hale Centre Theatre production of 9 to 5 runs through May 17, 2014, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-118

Photo: Nick Woodward/Hale Centre Theatre

theatre review, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, Arizona Theatre Company, April 6

Yolanda London, Bob Sorenson,
Mark Anders, Kyle Sorrell
and Jon Gentry
To read my complete Talkin' Broadway review (highlights below) of Around the World in 80 Days at the Arizona Theatre Company through this Sunday, just click on this link.

"Based on Jules Verne's classic novel, Mark Brown's theatrical adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is a combination of suspense, adventure, comedy and romance. Using only five actors to portray over thirty characters, Brown has crafted a play with many comical moments set amongst the adventure that add laughs from the well-written humorous dialogue as well as the fun in seeing how quickly the actors become the many characters they play. Having been produced around the world since its premiere in 1991 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the play is receiving a serviceable production from the Arizona Theatre Company with a more than capable cast and fairly impressive creative elements.

Verne's novel, while extremely elaborate, actually has a fairly simple plot. In 1872 London and with the expansion of rail lines across Asia, wealthy Phileas Fogg states that it is now possible to travel around the world in just eighty days. He wagers his life savings of £20,000 when he accepts a bet from members of the upper crust Reform Club who don't believe he can succeed in his globe-trotting expedition in such a short time. However, the wager puts his fortune and his life at risk when a police detective, who thinks Fogg is a robber on the run, follows him on his journey, putting as many obstacles in Fogg's way as he can until he has the means to arrest him, which turns the adventure into a completely different one than the determined and relentless Fogg had originally imagined.

Saar's direction is effective, though he can't seem to do much with the unfortunate pacing lags in Brown's act one script. Still, he manages to draw effective characters from all of his actors and provides a few comical moments, some stirring action sequences, and a large amount of charm in act two. Creative elements are nicely done with Carey Wong's two-tiered set including a revolving staircase and a large world map that appears above several times throughout the show. While creative, the set is actually vastly underused, with only one main scene playing out on the upper playing area. The design also includes a large set piece upstage center that, while it moves back and forth a few times, is also really only used for one scene and its presence throughout the show blocks a large part of the images projected on the back scrim. Fortunately Wong also provides a moving set piece that is extremely effective in portraying the typhoon sequence and the train track traveling sailing device. David Lee Cuthbert's lighting design is mostly clean and bright, with many of the scenes taking place during the day, though the night time rescue of Aouda is nicely lit in moody and exotic hues. He also provides a nice lighting effect to theatrically resemble a moving train. The projections, by Gregory W. Towle, are effective in how they display the various exotic locations of the journey and resemble sepia toned postcards along with a superb giant clock projection that fills the entire back. Karen Ledger's costumes are abundant, elaborate and colorful, and considerably help the actors to quickly assume the many characters they play. Aouda's lush and colorful dresses are especially well done.

So while Brown's adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is a little lacking on the "adventure" aspect due to the small cast and the inability to clearly portray the many action packed sequences from Verne's novel, there is a large amount of charm and several effective and touching moments toward the end. The Arizona Theatre Company production is good, but not great, with a talented cast, serviceable direction and, with the exception of an elaborate set design that is somewhat underused, nicely done creative elements. If audiences can make it through the somewhat plodding first act they will be treated to a second act that is vastly superior and an ending that is touching and charming, delivered by a cast that is having a grand time in bringing Verne's classic story to stage.

Around the World in 80 Days at Arizona Theatre Company runs through April 13th at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (602) 256 – 6995.

Photo: Tim Fuller / Arizona Theatre Company

theatre review INTO THE WOODS, Grand Canyon University, April 6

Rachel Callahan and Joy Flatz
Click here to read my complete Talkin' Broadway review (highlights below) of Into the Woods playing at Grand Canyon University through this coming Sunday.

"Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods is one of the cleverest musicals ever written. They seamlessly weaved together familiar fairy tales that we all grew up with into a musical where the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel all interconnect with each other. Sondheim's score and Lapine's book come together effortlessly in a show that has just as many comical moments as it does reflective ones. The production that is running at Grand Canyon University through April 13 is just as creative and effortless, with impressive costumes, sets and make-up, assured direction, and an almost perfect cast.

Into the Woods includes some of Sondheim's most intricate and humorous rhyme schemes and some of Lapine's funniest and most touching dialogue. It isn't a far stretch to assume that these well-known tales all happened in the same place, and since most of them have scenes that take place in the woods, it also seems fitting that the setting of the woods would be the way to connect them all. But what Sondheim and Lapine also did was to create an entirely original fairy tale, the story of the Baker and his wife who are desperate to have a child, as the way to bring these famous stories together. The Baker and the Baker's Wife live right next door to a Witch. She tells the couple that she placed a curse on their family and that is why they are unable to have a child. However, if they wish to have the curse reversed there is a potion that is made up of four items that they can bring to her and the curse will be lifted. The ingredients of the potion aren't clearly spelled out and when the Baker and his wife are sent off to the woods by the Witch to get the items, they meet up with the other fairy tale characters who are also in the woods: Jack on his way to market to sell his cow, Little Red on her way to her grandmother's house, Rapunzel who lives in a tower in the woods, and Cinderella who is on her way back from the ball. They, and the audience, quickly realize that the four required items are related to these other characters and are yet another creative way that Sondheim and Lapine combine the stories into one adventure.

While the direction, cast and creative elements are extremely well done, my only quibbles are that some of the humorous lines are too rushed, or delivered too seriously, thus losing a few punch lines in Lapine's well-crafted book, and two songs have some slight directive flaws. "Your Fault," where the characters are trying to determine who is to blame for the bad fortune they are now facing, is staged with the characters constantly pushing each other, which adds an unnecessary and continually repetitive movement to the song that detracts from the lyrics. The Witch's solo, "Last Midnight," ends with her being overpowered by a smoke effect before the song is finished, completely making her hidden by the smoke for the last 30 seconds of the song. Perhaps having her move forward to be in front of the smoke and then stepping back as the song finishes, as if it is sucking her away, would be a more accurate way to depict the ending of this song. And, though the band is nicely directed, the score loses some of its lushness when played by only five instruments.  But those negative moments are small when compared to the good work that GCU is performing. This is a delightful, witty and enchanting production of one of the most creative and ingenious musicals. With some of Sondheim's brightest gems, including the ballads "No One is Alone," and "Children Will Listen," Into the Woods is a show that also has important lessons and messages underneath the comical exterior. The GCU production is able to get those messages across, and moves smoothly and swiftly with a well-directed cast that presents this complex tale in a worthwhile and worth watching production. "

Into the Woods at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre runs through April 13, 2014. The theatre is located at 3300 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix and ticket and performance information can be found at or by calling (602) 639-8880.

Photo: Daryl Webb/Grand Canyon University


Monday, March 31, 2014

theatre review SUPER COWGIRL AND MIGHTY MIRACLE, Childsplay, March 23

Osiris Cuen, Carlos A. Lara and Chanel Bragg
To read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway of Super Cowgirl and Mighty Miracle click on this link.

"José Cruz Gonzalez's play Super Cowgirl and Mighty Miracle tells the story of six-year-old Cory and the stray dog she befriends much to the disapproval of her grandmother. After touring around a dozen schools in the state over the past few months, the sweet and touching Childsplay production has come to the Mesa Arts Center for two weekends running through March 30th.

Cory's father is out of work and has also lost his home, so they've been living in his truck. When a faraway job opportunity comes up, the decision is made to have Cory live with her estranged grandmother Autumn. We quickly learn that Autumn, who is African-American, didn't approve of her daughter marrying Cory's father, who is Latino, preferring she marry a fellow African American, and that Autumn is struggling financially herself. With a group of vicious and wild dogs roaming the foreclosed homes in the neighborhood and Cory and her grandmother finding it difficult to live together, it seems that a friendly stray dog might be the "miracle" these two strong female characters need to fend off the wild dogs and help them realize how lucky they are to have each other.

Super Cowgirl and Mighty Miracle's tale of a grandmother and granddaughter who don't agree might be a familiar story, but it is one that touches upon many emotions and situations. With the added urgency of a pending possible foreclosure and the use of a multi-cultural family, it also is a story for modern times. The Childsplay production has three talented actors, effective direction and simple yet effective creative elements. Targeted for kids aged five at up, children of all ages as well as adults will find this story, and this production, to be both realistic and touching and a way to not only talk about what it is that makes a family but also how little "miracles" can help us get through our lives.
Super Cowgirl and Mighty Miracle at Childsplay runs through March 30, 2014, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets start at $12 and are on sale at or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office (480) 350-2822 (ext. 0) The show will also continue touring at schools throughout the state into May.

Photo: Tim Trumbule

theatre review THE LAST FIVE YEARS, Desert Stages Theatre, March 22

Jimmy Shoffman and Leigh Treat
Click here to read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway of the production of  The Last Five Years at Desert Stages Theatre.

"The Last Five Years is a small scale, two person, romantic musical that tells the story of a failed marriage. Based on an actual relationship in composer Jason Robert Brown's past, it is a story of both hope and hurt with some terrific songs from Brown. The production running at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale gets many things right in their intimate staging of this modern musical.

Writer Jamie and actress Cathy are your typical young, artsy and aspiring New York couple. Both in their twenties, he's a writer, who finds success fairly quickly; she's a struggling actress. Over the five year period of the show we see them meet, fall in love, fight a little, have some touching moments together, get married, squabble, fall out of love and ultimately separate. The theatrical gimmick of the piece is that, at the beginning of the show, Cathy is shown at the end of the relationship, hurting and heartbroken, and moves backward in time to their first date, while Jamie starts at the very beginning of the relationship, eager and feeling he has finally met the girl of his dreams, and moves forward through all the pressures and struggles of their lives to the end with him ultimately moving out of their apartment.

Since the two characters barely interact, Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years is a slightly confusing story to tell and a challenging show to sing, but still a rewarding theatrical journey to take. The Desert Stages production has good direction, great musical direction and fine actors playing both parts, with Jimmy Shoffman especially exceptional as Jamie. If you're a fan of contemporary and serious Off-Broadway musicals, or of musicals with intricate songs that tell stories, even with a few small quibbles, there is much to like in The Last Five Years at Desert Stages Theatre. "
The Desert Stages production of The Last Five Years runs through May 18th with performances at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are available at or by phone at (480) 483-1664

Photo: Heather Butcher/Desert Stages Theatre


concert review PATTI LUPONE, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, March 21

To read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway of Patti LuPone's "Far Away Places" concert, just click here.

"For all the intensity Patti LuPone is known to bring to her stage performances, she exudes an equal amount of joy as well. This was evident in the expanded two-act concert version of her cabaret show Far Away Places at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts this past Friday.

Patti LuPone says she's always considered herself to be a "gypsy" and one who has "wanderlust," so an evening about songs that are set in numerous countries is a perfect fit for her to tell us about her journeys and experiences. She originally premiered the show in the summer of 2012 during the inaugural weeks of the new cabaret spot 54 Below in New York. In this two-act concert version, several songs have been added, expanding it to just under two hours. With a heavy focus on Kurt Weill, the material for the original cabaret piece was eclectic yet still provided a good mix of serious songs, humorous character pieces, and a few show tunes as well. The additional material provides even more chances for her to showcase her voice as well as more evenly balance the heavier Weill songs with more modern ones from Billy Joel, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.

The accompanying quintet was led by musical director Joseph Thalken, who also orchestrated much of the material, played piano and supplied backing vocals. The rest of the band included Larry Saltzman on banjo and guitar, Andy Stein on violin and saxophone, Paul Pizzuti on percussion and drums, and Tony Geralis on keyboards and accordion. All five men also performed with LuPone at 54 Below and can be heard on the live recording of that concert that has been commercially released.

Far Away Places was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, and Patti LuPone is touring this two-act version of the show across the U.S. this spring as well as presenting several other solo concerts of two of her other shows and performing several concerts with her Evita co-star Mandy Patinkin.  Information on all future concert dates can be found at Patti LuPone's Far Away Places played the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Friday March 21st. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at "

Patti LuPone's Far Away Places played the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Friday March 21st. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

theatre review DAMES AT SEA, Hale Centre Theatre, March 10

Vinny Chavez, Laura Pyper, Emily Giauque Evans,
Kate E. Cook, Tedd Glazebrook and
Julian-Sebastian Peña
My complete Talkin' Broadway review of Dames at Sea at the Hale Centre Theatre can be found by clicking on this link.

"Dames at Sea is a fun and frivolous musical send-up and homage to 1930s movie musicals like 42nd Street where an understudy must step in to fill the shoes of an incapacitated lead and become the star of the show. With a good measure of the "let's put on a show" exuberance from the films of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and a large dose of the elaborate musical numbers from the Busby Berkeley movie musical extravaganzas, Dames at Sea manages with just a small cast of six to provide plenty of fun and high energy musical moments to the well-known story. It was a modest hit when it originally premiered Off Broadway in the late 1960s and featured Bernadette Peters in one of her first starring roles. The Hale Centre Theatre production running through April 29th features a hardworking and multi-talented cast, sure-footed direction, rich and varied choreography, and some impressive costumes.

Director and choreographer Cambrian Jones does a nice job of grounding the cast in the 1930s period of the show, making the humorous moments pop and also providing a nice range of dance steps. I especially like his inventive choreography that involves the use of a ladder during "Good Times Are Here to Stay" and the lovely use of umbrellas in "Raining in My Heart." He provides an abundance of fancy footwork in this production. Jones adds a nice creative directorial touch to the act one closer when bricks of the theatre being demolished appear to fall from the ceiling and he also designed the wigs for the show which are perfectly in line with the period as are the make-up designs for the women. I also really appreciate the decision to not expand the cast, using only six actors, as was done in the original Off-Broadway production in the late 1960s. Mary Atkinson's costumes provide a nice range of styles and looks, from pleated skirts and embroidered tops to cleanly designed sailor outfits. She also designed some colorful and sparkling costumes for the finale. With a minimal set design by Adam DeVaney, this theatre in the round production still manages to provide plenty of spectacle with the use of anchors and life preservers surrounding the audience and the front of a ship in one corner of the theatre.  Dames at Sea might have a series of overly contrived situations, a mostly lackluster score, and a second act that is much better than the first, but it is a show that is enjoyable, fun, silly fluff. It is also a charming valentine to the big movie musicals of the 1930s. The Hale Centre Theatre production is fun and frivolous with clean and clear direction, a cast that easily plays both the comical and serious moments and has no problem in essaying the abundance of fun, high energy choreography.
The Hale Center Theatre production of Dames at Sea runs through April 29th with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-118

Photo: Sam Miller