Friday, January 13, 2017

theatre review - FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - Arizona Theatre Company

the cast
photo by Tim Fulle
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 29th.

"...Fiddler on the Roof...is a perfect musical with a beautifully written book and a score full of classic tunes.....it's also a show that seems to be continually produced on a nonstop basis. For their 50th anniversary season, Arizona Theatre Company presents a production of this show, which also recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary, that is as perfect as the show itself. If you've seen this musical before and planned to skip this latest offering, I urge you to reconsider, as ATC's production has both a perfect cast and superb direction that makes the show seem as fresh and emotionally relevant as ever. Set in 1900s Russia, Fiddler on the Roof focuses on the poor Jewish dairyman Tevye, his wife Golde, their five daughters, and the large group of townspeople who inhabit their village of Anatevka. They attempt to hold onto their religious customs and traditions against changing times as they face anti-Semitism and the potential expulsion from their homes by the Russians. ...David Ira Goldstein's direction is spotless and his talented cast achieve rich portrayals with every line of dialogue and lyric well thought out, realistic, and effectively delivered. Eric Polani Jensen and Anne Allgood are simply exceptional as Tevye and his wife Golde....I've seen over a dozen productions of this show and Jensen is on par with Topol, Harvey Fierstein and Alfred Molina, all of whom I saw either on the road or on Broadway......Fiddler on the Roof is an exceptionally powerful piece of musical theatre with a superb book and score that portray the story of a simple group of people who face a changing world. With an exceptional cast and solid direction, Arizona Theatre Company's production breaths a huge amount of heart and life into this fifty-year-old classic and makes it seem as fresh and powerful as ever." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

theatre review -THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD - Tuscany Theatre Company

the cast
photo by Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 14th.

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood is an incredibly fun musical that combines a murder mystery and a comedy with a huge amount of audience participation on top. Tuscany Theatre Company presents a solid production of this Tony winning Best Musical that features superb direction, great period creative elements, and a very game cast. Created by singer/songwriter Rupert Holmes...is an ingenious show, as Holmes took the final, unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, which focuses on young Edwin Drood and the possible suspects who want to murder him, and turned it into a musical-within-a-musical that includes the audience voting on how the story ends...If Dickens hadn't died before finishing the novel the musical wouldn't be quite as much fun as it is because the audience's involvement in the last quarter of the show provides an amazing way for them to connect with the material. The show is presented as if you are at a lively British music hall in the early 1900s, which gives the actors the opportunity to ham up the parts they play and interact with the audience. The rambunctious narrator continually interjects and interacts with the audience, and the part of Drood is played by a woman. ....Director Andrea McFeely has done an exceptional job in ensuring that both the comedy and the drama resonate. She has also found a way to have the joy that the actors are feeling wash over the footlights and out into the audience. While not every member of her cast is a gifted singer, which is a slight drawback in some of the more vocally challenging songs, they all effectively manage the dual roles they are given with fun facial expressions and exaggerated gestures that play up the humor in the show. ...As the Chairman...Chris Dennis is exceptionally charming and very good. Hillary Low brings a bright, joyful sensibility to the part of ...Drood, and Jared Kitch is quite effective as Drood's uncle John Jasper..who.. is in love with Rosa Bud, Edwin's betrothed. AJ Marshall plays Rosa...with an appropriate sense of mystery beneath a demure exterior. Monserrat Himler is excellent as Princess Puffer, the madam of an opium den...Steve Morgan and Allyson Igielski play brother and sister orphans from Ceylon...(they) are hysterical in their portrayals, with Igielski exceptionally impressive with her vocal skills, diction and accent, and Morgan's wide-eyed comical expressions and gestures superbly delivered. ...Shannon Perkins' rousing choreography delivers plenty of upbeat moments which add to the joy of the show. Creative elements are very good, with Mike Smyth's simple set design using large movable, painted curtains to portray the backdrops of the scenes along with a few smart set pieces. Carrie and Danie Grief's costumes are rich and intricate and perfectly in touch with the characters, the period, and the feeling of being back in the days of the British music hall. Brian Nason's evocative lighting design is quite effective in setting the many moods of the piece, from bright, lowbrow comedy to dark mystery. ...With firm direction, colorful creative aspects, and an enthusiastic cast who have a lot of fun with their parts, Tuscany Theatre Company's production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood will make you laugh and leave you feeling that the magic of the theatre is alive and well at the Tuscany Theatre.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

theatre review - COOKING WITH THE CALAMARI SISTERS - Herberger Theater Center

Stephen Smith and Jay Falzone
photo courtesy the Calamari Sisters
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 29th.

".The fun and frothy Cooking With the Calamari Sisters is a witty spoof of local cable TV cooking shows with large doses of improv and musical comedy ladled on top. This show has played in various theaters across the country and comes to Phoenix for a month long run in a fairly simple production that features two of the show's creators as the lovable sisters. The end result is delicious....Brooklyn born, raised and based Delphine and Carmela Calamari have a New York public access TV cooking show and they have come to Phoenix to share their love of cooking with their fans. Throughout the fast-paced 90-minute show the two sisters will squabble, sing, swear and satiate the audience with the wonders of Italian cuisine as they prepare a three course Italian dinner. They'll also bring up several audience members to help with their cooking demonstration or to serve as contestants in a fast-paced contest. The real fun of the show is that Carmela and Delphine are portrayed by Smith and Falzone in drag. They are both gifted comics with impeccable improvisation skills and also deliver some zany and inspired musical numbers. ...there isn't much of a set, which is a slight detriment to the show, but fortunately the loud and colorful costumes and a few zany props provide plenty of inspiration throughout. Falzone, Smith and Lavender have crafted a fun conceit of a show with two lovable characters and plenty of wacky dialogue and fun spoofy lyrics to well-known Italian songs. Having two of the creators play the sisters for this local stop on the tour makes this a laugh out loud funny affair and a rip roaring good time of a show...." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, May 6, 2016

theatre review - PICNIC - Mesa Community College - April 29

Cedar Eileen Cody, Dolores Mendoza, Brandon Caraco, Samantha Hanna, and Andrew Blahak
Photo by Tom J. McCoy / Mesa Community College

"William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winning play Picnic centers on several life-changing events over a 24 hour period in 1950s Kansas. Clear casting and specific direction of this classic drama are crucial to ensure that the somewhat nostalgic situations in the play are handled expertly and that the turn of events don't come across as too melodramatic for a 21st century audience. The good news for Mesa Community College's recent production, which just ended this past weekend, is that the casting, especially of the three main females who are all strong-willed women determined to make it on their own, couldn't have been better and the solid direction kept things centered and specific to the period.
...While it may seem like not much really happens during the majority of the play, except for the arrival of Hal and the growing attraction between him and Madge and how that plays out, there is actually a lot that happens in this 24 hour period. Almost all of the characters go through major changes over the course of this one single day, which is a major compliment both to Inge and his ability to not only write complex characters and to Kevin Dressler's casting and succinct direction, as all of the actors delivered rich portrayals with their characters growing and naturally ending up in a different place then when they began. Flo, Rosemary, and Helen are all strong and dominant women, forced it seems into taking on these typical male characteristics of the 1950s since all three of them don't have husbands to shoulder the burdens of raising children or dealing with the daily chores that were generally set aside for the man of the house to handle. As those three women, Cedar Eileen Cody, Samantha Hanna, and Dolores Mendoza were nothing short of spectacular. ..Sean Peteet's muscular physique and stamina worked well for the part of Hal and, even though this was his first stage role, Peteet exhibited the right amount of confidence within the desperation of Hal's predicament. Kaidi Phillips and Gina Hoyt were winning as Flo's daughters Madge and Millie. ..
Technical credits were sublime for the production, with a lovely set design by Kara E. Thompson full of realistic touches...While Picnic is set in the time period that it first appeared on Broadway, seeing it today brings an added nostalgic element by viewing the way people lived sixty years ago but also having a clearer understanding of what obstacles they faced. It also centers on normal, simple characters in a more simple time. These are the kinds of people who go about their normal daily activities and get excited about a new dress or the Labor Day picnic. Since Inge's characters are much like the average theatregoer, the characters and events of the play are still relatable even though sixty years have passed. With such a wonderful cast and lovely technical designs, MCC's production of Picnic was a rewarding journey to the past."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

theatre review - PETE, OR THE RETURN OF PETER PAN - Childsplay - April 30, 2016

Alan Khoutakoun, Gavin Austin Brown, and Rebecca Duckworth
photo: Tim Tumble
Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 22nd.

""Peter Pan," J. M. Barrie's story of the boy who wouldn't grow up, seems to never go out of fashion. ...Childsplay presents the world premiere of Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan, a modern day sequel to Barrie's tale written by Dwayne Hartford, in a production full of heart, humor, and high flying adventure. With cell phones, words like "cool" and "awesome," karate, and, most importantly, female characters that are just as strong as the male roles in the show, Hartford's adventure brings a fresh, modern sensibility to Barrie's story. Wendy and Henry are the great, great grandchildren of the original Wendy from "Peter Pan."...When she opens up a box ...it sends up a beacon to the sky that brings Peter Pan from Neverland to Wendy's side. ...Wendy butts heads with the somewhat conceited Peter but still finds the adventure that she desires. But is Neverland the solution that Wendy seeks to escape from her controlling mother, or just a temporary stop on the journey to learn some valuable life lessons? Hartford creates identifiable characters and situations that will resonate with any parent or child. His continual use of humor keeps the show light. But there are also plenty of well-choreographed fight sequences (by David Barker) that incorporate the entire cast and bring athletic and comic-infused adventure to the show. While Hartford wisely keeps any hint of schmaltz out of the show, don't be surprised if you find yourself a little misty eyed like I was during the play's moving and heartfelt final scenes. The only downsides to the production are small, but a cast of only eight does make Neverland seem a little desolate and, while the end result is a fun and even moving adventure, there could be a little tightening of the script to speed up some of the action in the two hour running time....Director David Saar elicits wonderful performances from the cast and effectively uses Carey Wong's inventive, scaffolding-style, two-tiered scenic design to create plenty of inventive playing areas. ...Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan is a fun-filled adventure that wisely updates Barrie's famous story to modern times while also giving an equal balance to the female characters. The days of Wendy playing "mother" and tending to the lost boys' house while Peter and the boys are off on an adventure are long gone. While it could be tightened up a bit, with a gifted cast, clear direction, and fun creative elements, children of all ages will most likely jump at the chance to join Peter and Wendy on their fun filled adventure."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

theatre review - URINETOWN - Tuscany Theatre Company - April 21, 2016

Lauren Scoville and Adam Bei
Photo by Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 30th.

 "... Urinetown is a musical that is a crowd pleaser...nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three, including awards for the very funny book by Greg Kotis and the witty score with music by Mark Hollmann and lyrics by Hollmann and Kotis. Tuscany Theatre Company's production of this satirical comedy is well directed with simple yet vibrant creative elements and a cast who know how to correctly wink at the audience as they dive headfirst into the material to ensure that the satire lands effectively, while also instilling their characters with plenty of warmth. The musical is set in the not too distant future. Water has become so scarce that private bathrooms have been banned, doing your business in the street or even behind a tree faces severe consequences,; and a corporation has been put in charge of a series of pay toilets scattered across the land ...Kotis also instills a playful parody of famous musicals and musical conventions into the proceedings while also shedding light on such serious topics as greed, capitalism, and even ecological disaster. Hollmann's music is ever changing, with brisk, upbeat numbers, charming romantic ballads, and a rousing gospel tune; and the lyrics are continually witty and colorful. ...Director Andrea McFeely knows exactly how to guide her cast to deliver the satire, romance, and self-mocking tones of the piece, and they do so, for the most part, perfectly. As Bobby and Hope, Adam Bei and Lauren Scoville are simply adorable. Scoville's sweet nature and Bei's determination make them a realistic couple with a shared purpose. /.. Harold LeBoyer is OK as Hope's father. I just wish he were a little more strong and forceful to project a sense of menace and darkness in the role....While most of the ensemble work well there are a couple of actors who cross the line from satire into overacting and McFeely would be wise to pull them in line in order to not draw attention away from the intended focus of a few scenes. Karli Giles Kemper's assured music direction delivers lovely vocals throughout, including some tight harmonies from the ensemble during the rousing "Run, Freedom, Run!." Shannon Perkins's choreography is excellent...Urinetown is an extremely clever musical with an ever-changing plot, interesting characters, and some very catchy musical numbers. While it may not appeal to everyone, since it is dark and satirical, it is very creative and ultimately an extremely appealing show. Tuscany Theatre's production has very good leads and a strong supporting cast that, when combined with spot on direction and choreography, make for a very solid production."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - BRING IT ON - Spotlight Youth Theatre - April 23, 2016

Phoebe Koyabe, Katie Czajkowski, Carly Grossman, Maggie Waller, Sam Primack,
Trey DeGroodt, Clay Rollon, and Brandon Reyes
Photo by Alayne Vogel

Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 8th.

"..it is refreshing that the recent musical Bring It On takes little more than the name and theme of the 2000 cheerleading movie it comes from. With a completely new plot and characters, the musical is an exuberant evening of comedy, music, dance, and energetic cheerleading acrobatics. Spotlight Youth Theatre presents the Phoenix regional premiere of the show in a high energy production with superb direction and featuring an excellent cast of teenagers. The plot follows high school senior Campbell, the perky, driven cheerleading team captain of the Truman High School squad. When she is redistricted to Jackson High, which is over in the "hood," she goes from being the top of the pack to the outcast who has lost her main goal. Not only does she not quite fit in but Jackson doesn't have a cheerleading team. ...Jeff Whitty's witty script does coast a little in the beginning until Campbell gets to Jackson High, where it really takes off, but it also doesn't always go where you think it will go, which is refreshing. ...With a score by three different composers you might think that the music wouldn't quite gel, but it does, with many effective numbers including rousing ensemble numbers and soaring ballads with music styles that range from traditional musical theatre to R&B, hip hop, and even a little rap....Carly Grossman plays Campbell with the appropriate amount of high energy as well as fear for her new surroundings...Grossman also has realistic acting skills to pull off the loneliness and confusion of suddenly being an outsider along with superb vocal skills to also effectively sing about that experience. As Danielle, the leader of the "crew" at the new school whom Campbell attempts to befriend, Phoebe Koyabe has the perfect blend of sass and "you think you're better than me but you aren't" attitude but also displays a compassionate side as well. ...At just 15, Koyabe's soaring vocal abilities are exceptional. Grossman and Koyabe also instill their parts with a clear sense of vulnerability beneath self-assured exteriors. Maggie Waller is Bridget, who also gets redistricted along with Campbell. ..Waller is a comic gem in the part...Trey DeGroodt is exceptional as La Cienega, one of Danielle's crew. I absolutely love how this character, who is clearly either transgendered or simply a gay man who prefers to wear drag, requires no explanation, back story, or heartbreaking revelation and is completely accepted by the Jackson students, no excuses required. DeGroodt's portrayal is clichĂ©-free and full of substance and style, from his line delivery to the way he walks, sings, and dances....Director Kenny Grossman draws superb, honest performances from his cast with everyone delivering realistic, caricature free portrayals....Choreographer Lynzee Foreman seamlessly weaves together the cheerleading sequences into the story...The only downside in the dancing is due to the low Spotlight ceiling which doesn't allow for any high flips and pyramids (which were a huge highlight when I saw the show on Broadway) to be incorporated into the cheer sequences....With an exceptional cast, sure-footed direction, and vibrant choreography, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production is a fun filled, high energy, high flying time that does full justice to this story about self-esteem, true friendship, and acceptance."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

theatre review - THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART - National Theatre of Scotland - Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts - April 22, 2016

Jessica Hardwick
Photo by Peter Dibdin
Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 24th.

The National Theatre of Scotland's ...original play The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart has come to Scottsdale for a week long run, and what an exciting and immersive theatrical experience it is. ..the plot follows young academia Prudencia Hart who has come to the small town of Kelso, on the Scottish Borders, to attend a conference. It is a snowy, cold, wintry night and when she finds her car snowed in she sets off to find a place to stay for the night. Little does she know what is waiting for her at the very hellish bed and breakfast that she's booked for the evening. ...Delivered almost completely in rhyming couplets...the play is fun and energetic, though it does have some downright spooky moments...the audience sits at large tables, with the actors bringing the storytelling and live music throughout the crowd as the tale unfolds. The cast of five are exceptional. Jessica Hardwick is Prudencia and she is luminous as the smart, social outcast who finds herself in a very strange situation. ..Wils Wilson has not only directed a gifted cast, but with minimal props and virtually no set, manages to create the settings of the piece exceptionally. ..David Greig's script is impressive, especially in his ability to use rhyming couplets to tell Pru's story. However, there are a few moments when it gets bogged down just a bit or where the shift in tone, from outright comedy to intense drama, is a little jarring. But sit back and simply let the story of Prudencia's dance with the devil unfold all around you and you will most likely find yourself very happy you took the journey.  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

theatre review - THE DROWSY CHAPERONE - ASU Lyric Opera Company - April 17, 2016

Alex Kunz and Brittany Howk
photo: Tim Trumble
Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 24th.

 "The Drowsy Chaperone, which is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary of opening on Broadway, is one of the most joyful musicals of the past several decades. The show is narrated by a man who doesn't just love musicals he LOVES them. There is one musical he is especially enamored with, and the joy that particular show brings him washes over the orchestra pit and into the audience in Lyric Opera Theatre's exceptional production of this Tony winning show. This show is set in the apartment of a single man who is feeling a bit blue so he decides to play the cast recording of his favorite show, The Drowsy Chaperone to cheer himself up. This fictitious 1928 musical is one that he says perfectly achieves the escape from reality that musicals can provide. As he plays the record for himself, and for us as the fourth wall is fairly nonexistent in this show, the musical comes to life in his apartment....Tony winning bookwriters Bob Martin and Don McKellar are to be commended...in their decision to include such an interesting character, Man in Chair as he is called, someone that anyone who loves musicals can immediately identify with. His obsession with musicals, and this musical in particular, and how we get to know him as a person is what makes him not only three dimensional but a person we truly care about. The ASU / Lyric Opera Theatre cast is exceptional in delivering superb vocals as well as plenty of laughs. As Man in Chair, Alex Kunz is exceedingly endearing. The few times when he speaks about himself, his past, and his personal feelings make us also care deeply for him. The superb voices and refined comic abilities of Frances Tenney and Brittany Howk add plenty of lift and zing to their roles as the Drowsy Chaperone and Janet Van De Graaff, respectively. Their individual solos of "As We Stumble Along" and "Show Off" are excellently delivered with big, belting voices. As Janet's fiancĂ© Robert, Drake Sherman's clear vocals and winning stage presence are especially appealing....Director Robert Kolby Harper adds numerous original touches to make the production shine. His decision to bring Man in Chair out into the audience at several points in the show (completely unobtrusively, so if you're concerned that you may be pulled into the action on stage you have no worries) makes perfect sense, especially since he does continually talk to the audience throughout the show, so this is a logical next step. He keeps the pace fast but makes sure the charming moments shine through, too.... Choreographer Molly Lajoie has crafted plenty of upbeat dance steps into the show and together she and Harper incorporate the ensemble members seamlessly into the action. Music director Brent C. Mauldin achieves beautiful, lush sounds from both the cast and the impressive twelve-piece band. ...While The Drowsy Chaperone is ultimately zany and full of fluff, it is an exceptionally well-crafted musical with a big heart. If you happen to be feeling blue like Man in Chair is at the start of the show, with an impressive cast, flawless direction, and excellent creative elements, this production will definitely make you laugh a lot and leave with a smile."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS - Arizona Broadway Theatre - April 19, 2016

Cassandra Norville Klaphake and Mark DiConzo
Photo by Scott Samplin

Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 8th.


"Based on a true story, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas may not be the best musical ever written but it does feature some catchy tunes and lovable characters. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production features an impressive cast and lush creative elements that combine to overcome many of the flaws of this underdeveloped and anticlimactic musical. Set in the fictitious small town of Gilbert, Texas, in the 1970s, Miss Mona is the proprietress of the Chicken Ranch, the local brothel. Mona is fierce but compassionate and extremely loyal and protective of her girls. She is also loyal to the local Sheriff Ed Earl and we soon discover that they also share a romantic past. When the big city investigative TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe threatens to expose the Chicken Ranch in an effort to protect the morals of the citizens, it threatens Mona's livelihood as well as her relationship with Ed Earle. The lively score by Carol Hall features memorable, folksy country western tunes and upbeat ballads. But the book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, which is based on King's investigative story about the actual Chicken Ranch, is sorely lacking in character and plot development...Fortunately, the ABT production plays up the romance between Mona and Ed Earle, which helps give some shading to their characters, and features an exceptional cast and superb choreography by Kurtis W. Overby, which help bring plenty of showbiz razzle dazzle to the proceedings. Director Andy Meyers, who also is a hoot as Thorpe, does his best to try to make some sense of the minimal plot. He draws fun portrayals from his cast, with the female ensemble making each of Mona's girls a distinctive character. ...Cassandra Norville Klaphake isn't just all business as Mona, but also projects a motherly love for these young women. Her earthy voice interjects feeling into her songs. Mark DiConzo is a comic joy as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, adding "good old boy" ticks and mannerisms to his stage movement and a deep Texas cadence to his vocal delivery. It all adds up to a very funny portrayal. ....Meyers and Overby create several showstopping moments ...By playing up the romance between the leads, which adds heart and heat to the production, and clarifying a few things with wise directorial choices, ABT's production does what it can to sidestep the flaws in the original book. With a very good cast and some impressive choreography, the end result is a high energy, extremely professional production that provides a fun, nostalgic look back. Just try not to pay too much attention to the lack of plot developments."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

theatre review - 9 TO 5 - Desert Stages Theatre - April 15, 2016

Skylar Ryan, Brandi Bigley, and Harley Barton
Photo by Heather Butcher
Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 8th.

 "The musical 9 to 5, which is based on the 1980 film comedy, is a quirky comic gem that follows three underpaid and underappreciated working women who get revenge on their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss. Scottsdale Desert Stages production, while a bit bare bones, features talented leads and spirited direction that instill plenty of heart within the humorous show....
Director/choreographer Cambrian James provides a fast pace and fun movement, and has found a cast that deliver with ease just about every comic bit as well as the several uplifting moments in Resnick's book. ..While the set design is minimal, Aurelie Flores' costumes and James' wig designs bring back the horrifying looks of the '80s with big hair and loud prints adding to the humor of the show. The three leads all create believable three-dimensional characters. Brandi Bigley, Harley Barton, and Skylar Ryan as Violet, Judy, and Doralee are all excellent...Bigley....interjects a realistic sense of frustration under Violet's professional demeanor that comes with the territory of being passed over for promotions, because she is a woman, when she knows she can do a better job than the man who got promoted. Bigley also adds plenty of zaniness and a big dose of fun to the part, with good comic timing, especially when Violet believes she's poisoned her boss. Her two co-stars are equally impressive. Barton blossoms as Judy, the recently divorced woman who has gone back to work and often finds herself crying but then finds her footing, and eventually herself, over the course of the show. Barton has a big, booming voice that does justice to the soaring ballads Judy sings. ...Ryan is extremely likable and feisty as Doralee but also has plenty of charm and really makes you care for her....Ryan also has a strong voice and her solo, "Backwoods Barbie," is touching. The fact that Barton is just 17 and Ryan is in her early 20s and are both delivering such well-rounded performances is exceptional....9 to 5 is a fun, funny, fast-paced musical with characters you can root for. With talented leads, and James' always professional directorial and choreographic touches, DST's production is energetic and wacky but also full of charm."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE OUTGOING TIDE - Theatre Artists Studio - April 16, 2016

Judy Lebeau, Steven Fajardo, and Michael Fleck
photo: Mark Gluckman



"There have been numerous books, films, TV shows, and articles that focus on the impact of dementia and Alzheimer's disease on both the individual suffering from it as well as their family members. Bruce Graham's play The Outgoing Tide is a realistic account of the toll the disease takes on a family of three but with plenty of humor to not become completely depressing. Theatre Artists Studio's production features a gifted cast who brings an emotional resonance, and a large dose of compassion, to this illness that effects so many people while effectively depicting the difficult choices people make in dealing with it. Set in a small cottage on Chesapeake Bay, Gunner and his wife of over 50 years, Peg, are visited by their son Jack. ...Gunner knows he's starting to lose it and Peg is trying to convince him, with Jack's help, to move into an assisted living facility. But after seeing a close friend deteriorate in a similar situation Gunner has no desire to end up there. So he's come up with a solution that will forego any relocation to a nursing home and provide for his family, but he just has to tie up some loose ends first....Graham's script slowly gives us information about the fractured dynamics and emotional baggage of this family. ...The result will most likely be felt differently depending on how close one has been to dealing with a family member suffering through one of these diseases. But no matter what, this somber play's final scene packs an emotional punch. The Theatre Artists Studio cast are all giving effective, realistic, and moving performances. Michael Fleck instills the role of the opinionated but lovable Gunner with a sure-footed stubbornness..Yet it is the way he shows Gunner's courage and conviction concerning the decision he makes that will resonate in how pure it is. Judy Lebeau deeply conveys the ongoing pain, frustration, and struggle in dealing not only with Gunner's memory lapses but with her desire to do what she believes is best, ...As their son Jack, who always gets put in the middle of his parents, Steven Fajardo is equally adept at portraying a man who, while going through a difficult period himself, finds himself having to pick sides. Director Judy Rollings sets the right tone throughout, with a good balance between the almost gallows humor of a few moments and the more quiet scenes. ...While a fairly simple play, The Outgoing Tide features believable characters and a situation that many people have unfortunately encountered. It is a quiet play, with many tender moments as well as some very funny ones, and with a gifted cast and clear direction the Theatre Artists Studio presents a beautiful production that gives voice to an issue that few people wish to talk about."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - MEET THE DRYERS - Brelby Theatre Company - April 16, 2016

Mia Passarella and Devon Mahon
Photo by Anjali Patel

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 30th.

 "Brelby Theatre Company's original play Meet the Dryers is a laugh filled journey set on a horrible Thanksgiving Day that focuses not only on this very funny family but on our obsession with social media....a loving family that oozes warmth and love. Brelby's production, while slightly uneven, is very fun, with as much charm and humor as the sweet and comical Dryer family. Teenager James, the youngest Dryer, has an active imagination and has been feeling left out, so he has taken creative liberties to post exaggerated, fictionalized stories about his family online. When the truth about James' online fiction comes out over Thanksgiving it creates even more strife than usual in the extended Dryer family. ...Writers Shelby Maticic, Megan O'Connor, and Luke Gomez have created interesting characters and a plot that is intriguing and keeps us wondering how it will end. ...The trio of writers have created individuals we can all identify with, along with an obsession that we almost all have. While the play is full of warmth and plenty of laughs, there are a couple of small issues. When we first meet each of the Dryer family members we see them instead as the fictionalized version that James has created. This is a bit jarring and confusing at first and, with ten characters to introduce this way and some of these fantasy sequences overstaying their welcome, it takes a while to set the main plot in motion. Also, in the second act, when things get more serious and heartfelt, there are several similar lines that are spoken in overlapping unison by different characters. While this is an interesting and different creative touch, it comes across as slightly pretentious, especially since it is completely different in tone and style from the rest of the play. The cast is composed entirely of Brelby company members which helps in achieving natural and realistic relationships among the characters. They are all gifted in creating believable people and in portraying them realistically with both humor and charm....Director Shelby Maticic has done an exceptional job of staging the action so that all spaces of Chrispen's excellent set are used effectively ...Pretty much everyone today is obsessed with social media...It is that fascination that is expertly portrayed in Meet the Dryers along with a family anyone would love to call their own. While the main plot is slight, and I have a few small issues with the script, it is the combination of fun, identifiable characters with clean and smart direction and creative production design that turns this play into a charming, funny, heartwarming, and zany treat."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

theatre review - VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE - Theater Works - April 13, 2016

Bruce Laks, Debra Rich, and Cathy Dresbach
Photo by John Groseclose

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 24th.

 "Christopher Durang's latest play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, won the Tony Award for Best Play and is centered around a trio of middle-aged siblings dealing with the shortcomings of their lives. The comedy is receiving a fine production from Theater Works with a cast of excellent Valley based actors and adept direction by Daniel Schay. While it is a comedy, there is an unexpected underlying sadness to this production as Schay passed away suddenly last week on the day before the show opened. The cast and crew have banded together to pay tribute to Schay with their very funny and moving portrayals....Cathy Dresbach is excellent as Sonia, who is full of self-pity and feels that she hasn't lived...Dresbach excels in creating a nuanced portrayal. She expertly plays the dramatic and humorous sides of the role, and her heartbreaking but hopeful delivery of a phone call Sonia receives in the second act is a master class in acting. Debra Rich is Masha, a commanding woman who is always used to having her way but also now feels old and vulnerable...Since Masha is the antagonist of the piece it is rewarding that Rich makes the part slightly comical and likable. This is especially commendable since Durang has written the part to be somewhat unrealistically negative, nasty, and mean to Sonia. Both Rich and Dresbach also add plenty of realism to their parts, especially in how they make us believe their characters are soul searching for the answers to their future and the decisions they make. Vanya is a less showy role since he is the quiet and mostly subdued observer, and Bruce Laks is fine in the part, especially in how Vanya attempts to mediate at times the insanity that is swirling around him. Vanya has a comical rant in the second act, where he rages on how he misses the past and worries about the future, and while I believe it goes on a bit too long (something I felt even when I saw the original pre-Broadway production of this play), Laks keeps his outburst realistic and heartfelt....Director Dan Schay did a fine job with his direction, with the right balance between the serious and humorous moments, not letting the funny bits get too broad or too out of control. ...While Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has a couple of flaws in the script and occasional unrealistic characters, it is a modern tale with likable, though slightly odd, characters and a huge heart at its center. It is that heart, along with Durang's smart dialogue that makes this play a warm, comical gem. Theater Works' production features some great performances and is full of warmth and laughs. Schay was the executive director of Theater Works and former managing director at Phoenix Theatre and beloved across the Valley. His work on this production is a fitting tribute to a life dedicated to the arts."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - BLACK PEARL SINGS - Black Theatre Troupe - April 14, 2016

Dzifa Kwawu and Shari Watts
Photo: Laura Durant


 " Frank Higgins' 2006 play Black Pearl Sings, about a convict and a song collector in the 1930s, is receiving a strong production by the Black Theatre Troupe. It is a play about how powerful music is and the importance of documenting it in order to preserve history. With superb performances from Dzifa Kwawu and Shari Watts it is a rich and rewarding journey....Susannah, a white woman working for the Library of Congress to collect songs, and Pearl, an African-American female convict in the Texas prison where Susannah has currently set up shop. Pearl grew up amongst the Gullah people on Hilton Head Island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, and Susannah is interested in obtaining from her the rare folk songs she learned from people on the island and hopes that it will help her secure an academic job. Pearl is more interested in finding her daughter, and the two women realize they can use each other to find the freedom they both so eagerly seek.... focuses on racial issues but also touches upon the struggles of women in the male-dominated world of the 1930s. ..David J. Hemphill has done a lovely job directing Kwawu and Watts. They both deeply embody these very strong-willed women, warts and all, and in doing so create realistic individuals. ...Kwawu and Watts are giving two of the strongest and fully fleshed out portrayals I've seen on stage this season. ...Higgins' story of these two women—one black, the other white, one educated, the other not—in the turbulent racial and sexual times of the 1930s, makes for an intriguing but also exceedingly entertaining play. With superb portrayals by Kwawu and Watts, Higgins' tale of the importance of saving and preserving the past makes for a very powerful and emotional experience."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)