Friday, May 15, 2015

theatre review - THE WIZARD OF OZ - Don Bluth Front Row Theatre - May 11

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Gary Caswell, Rick Davis, Emily McAtee and Allie Angus
Photo credit: Lori Kunzelman
"As probably the most loved family movie ever made, it's not surprising that five different theatre companies across Phoenix are presenting stage versions of The Wizard of Oz this month. Not only is it an instantly recognizable title, but the songs from the film are extremely well known and the characters are iconic. The production at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre has a more than capable cast to bring these characters to life and is a perfect musical outing for families as well as anyone who loves the film. While the limited scenic abilities of the Don Bluth space require a bit of imagination to make some of the fantasy elements come to life, there are several nifty and inventive creative choices, and the intimacy of the small space provides a unique way to experience the emotional connection of the story of Dorothy and her trip to Oz....Director Don Bluth has assembled a talented cast that are skilled in making these characters their own while at the same time paying homage to the well-known film portrayals. Emily McAtee has a charming, sweet disposition, making for a quite touching Dorothy... Rick Davis' wide expressive eyes and confused looks and statements perfectly play into the fact that the Scarecrow doesn't have a brain. Davis also throws himself around the stage, hurling and flopping all over the place, just how a man made of straw would move...Derek Neumann's portrayal of the Tin Man is quite good, with an excellent singing voice and a soft-spoken disposition that works well. ...Gary Caswell is a hoot as the Lion, adding in a few very funny ad libs, and occasionally breaking the fourth wall to have a personal connection with the audience, who loved every time that happened. ...Virginia Olivieri and Stephanie Vlasich are both seamless in their portrayals. Olivieri is a gem as the Wicked Witch of the West, instilling both that role and her Kansas counterpart Almira Gultch with a deep sense of evil ..Olivieri relishes her characters' evil ways with glee..Vlasich brings the right amount of love and joy to the part of Glinda, the good witch... Joe Bousard gives a solid portrayal of both Professor Marvel...and the title character....Director Bluth adds some nice creative touches throughout...Corinne Hawkins' costumes are excellent...Don Bluth's production of The Wizard of Oz features a very talented cast and some fun creative decisions that work well with a small cast in a small space. While the small space means some aspects of this show can't be fully realized, and requires the audience to use their imagination, the intimacy of the small theatre allows the classic story to come to life literally right in front of your eyes, in a fun and unique way."

theatre review - SPELLBOUND! - Southwest Shakespeare Company - May 9

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Joe Cannon and Janine Colletti
photo: Mark Gluckman
"Cymbeline has a reputation as being one of Shakespeare's most convoluted plays, thus making it somewhat difficult to stage and pull off with success. Southwest Shakespeare Company is presenting the world premiere of a new musical adaptation of the play entitled SpellBound!...While it isn't a complete success, SpellBound! has many things to recommend it, including a melodic score and a talented and spirited cast. It is a swift moving, easy to follow adaptation that reduces the play to a length of just under two hours....Containing almost twenty songs, the folk/soft pop score by Shishir Kurup and David Markowitz includes an abundance of lush melodies played by a fantastic onstage band. While the tunes are varied and the song lyrics advance the plot with both added exposition and character development, some of the lyrics are left lacking in their simplicity; others are too modern, compared to the time period of the piece ("walk the walk and talk the talk" is a glaringly bad one); and some include false rhymes. But while some of the lyrics could be better, the songs still result in an intelligent musical score...Director Jared Sakren and Michael Flachmann's adaptation is fairly faithful to the original, though a few characters and plot points are removed—none that are sorely missed....Janine Colletti is superb as Imogen, making her three dimensional. She is sweet, endearing, feisty, and full of life, and also gives plenty of emotional lift to her well-delivered songs. Kyle Sorrell brings a perfect sense of urgency to the role of Posthumus and, once the results of the bet are known to him, adds in layers of jealousy, rage, pain, and sorrow. Joe Cannon instills the scheming Iachimo with an abundance of cockiness yet is deeply emotional in his superbly sung confession....Kathleen Berger is deliciously evil as the Queen, with an excellent singing voice, and Matthew Zimmerer is playfully broad as her buffoon of a son Cloten...Jeff Thomson's large set design works well...with Michael J. Eddy's expressive lighting it creates an enveloping atmosphere. Maci Hosler's costumes are superb, with excellent designs for each character that complement their status and actions. Also, the vibrant creative elements and Aaron Blanco's fight choreography create a smashing battle of multiple fighting partners amidst puffs of billowing smoke....While SpellBound! may not be a complete success, it does a fine job in reducing the lengthy plot to one that even someone new to Shakespeare can easily follow. And while the score has its shortcomings, with some additional work on the lyrics I think this version of the Cymbeline story could have a healthy future life."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

theatre review- A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD - YouthWorks / Theater Works - May 8

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Skyler Washburn and Tyler Lewis
(photo: Wade Moran)
"Theater Works' Youth Works theatre group is closing their 2014/2015 season with a superb production of A Year with Frog and Toad. The musical adaptation of the popular children's books by Arnold Lobel follows one year in the lives of best friends Frog and Toad as they do various things to enjoy the seasons together. They plant flowers in the spring, go swimming at the local pond in the summer, rake leaves, tell scary stories on a stormy fall evening, and go sledding in the winter. Youth Works' excellent young cast, made up mainly of high school aged kids, combine with colorful creative elements to make this a fun-filled production for children of all ages....As Frog and Toad, Tyler Lewis and Skyler Washburn are splendid. Both are charming and energetic performers with clear and strong singing voices...Washburn brings a sense of frenzy to the always worrisome and insecure Toad and has a great deadpan delivery of his humorous lines...Lewis has just as much fun as Frog, instilling the character with a deep sense of kindness. While the rest of the cast is quite good, Karson Cook is very funny and an audience favorite as the very slow-moving snail and Kendra Goodenberger is charming as the young Frog...Director Chris Hamby knows how to get clear, distinct performances from each of his actors, even those with the smallest parts...Choreographer Paul Pedersen provides some fun ballets and scene change dances as well as an upbeat and touching tap dance for the two leads. Ken Goodenberger's musical direction achieves some stunning choral harmonies across the large cast....Creative elements are vibrant and colorful....The benefits of having a good friend are at the heart of both Lobel's original books and this musical adaptation. Youth Works' production of A Year with Frog and Toad is charming fun, perfect for children and adults of all ages. "

theatre review - LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL - Brelby Theatre Company - May 3

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Mia Passarella, Alexandra Utpadel, Mary Jane McCloskey, Lydia McCloskey, and April Rideout
(photo: Shelby Maticic)
"At the center of the story of Little Women is a strong, determined family that bands together through thick and thin. The same could be said of the Brelby Theatre Company who just opened a great production of the musical version of this literary classic. Brelby has their own resident company of actors who continually appear in many of their productions. This steadfast group comes together time and time again, along with a few actors new to Brelby, to create some of the most inventive theatre in the Phoenix theatre scene. They may not have elaborate sets and budgets, but the theatre they create is challenging, moving and almost always thrilling....While Allan Knee's book for the musical makes a few small changes to the famous novel, and obviously can't include every detail from it, the musical amounts to a fairly accurate representation of the major events of the novel and the end result is a joyous, uplifting experience. Not every song in the score, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland, is a winner, but there are plenty of varied pieces of music, many rousing ensemble numbers for the March clan and several soaring numbers for Jo....Alexandra Utpadel is splendid as Jo, giving the character an urgency and energy that is infectious...perfectly show how she is full of fire. Her vocals are just as good, instilling each song with a clear meaning as well as perfect tone, control, and power that sends the songs soaring. It's an excellent performance....Mary Jane McCloskey is touching as Marmee... and McCloskey's rich voice brings out the emotions beneath the lyrics, especially her moving act two "Days of Plenty." As the rest of the March's, April Rideout, Lydia McCloskey, and Mia Passarella are all excellent as Meg, Beth, and Amy. While Rideout doesn't get much to do as the oldest sister, she imparts a nice sense of romance in her portrayal. McCloskey brings a sweetness to Beth, as well as a closeness to the relationship she has with her sisters and her mother. Passarella is hilarious as the youngest sister Amy. She is jealous of Jo, and overly dramatic; as the youngest of the group, she also changes the most from young girl to young woman, and Passarella shows the changes in Amy expertly....Shelby Maticic stages the entire production effectively, achieving exceptional portrayals from her cast. With just a few small set pieces, Brian Maticic's set design is extremely minimal, with several pieces of wooden boards of different lengths set toward the back of the stage to depict the rising peak of the attic of the March house, where Jo goes to write. While it may not be the best design to depict the various locations of the story, it never detracts from the action and actually makes the importance of the March house, and the family within, always present throughout. William Gratza's costumes, on the other hand, are anything but minimal, with impressive, beautiful period dresses and appropriate suits for the men.
Little Women is an extremely well-known story and while the musical doesn't add anything new to this popular coming of age tale and might feel a bit episodic or melodramatic, since it mainly only includes the highlights from Alcott's novel, it still is a moving emotional journey of these young women. Brelby's production is simple, but that works to its advantage to get straight to the core of this one family's story of joys and heartbreak."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

theatre review- A CHRISTMAS CAROL - Hale Centre Theatre - Dec. 4

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Bryan Stewart and Mark Kleinman
Photo Nick Woodward - Shaw /Hale Centre Theatre
"It's December so that means there are several theatrical versions of A Christmas Carol playing throughout the Valley. Hale Centre Theatre's annual production opened last week and Hale pulls out every trick they have to bring this well-known tale to magical life in a glorious production full of emotional resonance....Mark Kleinman makes a great impression as Scrooge. He does an excellent job in portraying the gruff, heartless man, yet shows how the ice slowly starts to melt around his heart as the Ghosts take him on this journey. It is a well-rounded performance...Hale's production has a very large cast... includes Bryan Stewart as Bob Cratchit, Mark Hackman as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Andrew Lipman as Marley's Ghost, Cami Anglemyer as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Vinny Chavez as Scrooge's nephew Fred....Stewart is superb as Cratchit, bringing a wonderful sense of love and warmth to the part, especially in the scenes with the Cratchit family. He also delivers a beautiful rendition of "What Child is This?" Lipman adds a touch of comedy to his portrayal of Marley's ghost, which makes it less frightening for the younger audience members but still successful. Hackman is full of life as Christmas Present while Anglemyer brings the appropriate sense of melancholy to her lovely take on the Ghost of Christmas Past. Chavez is excellent as Scrooge's nephew, providing a sense of glee and joy that are a nice counterpoint to the stern and rigid Scrooge....director David Dietlein stages his scenes perfectly so everything flows like clockwork. The intimate setting also draws the audience into the story. Hale has spared no expense or theatrical device in bringing the beloved story to life. ...My only quibbles are that some of the accents in the ensemble aren't consistent and Dietlein doesn't include the iconic ending image of Tiny Tim riding on Scrooge's shoulder....Still, with excellent leads, a large cast that portray multiple parts, and superb creative elements, Hale's A Christmas Carol is a great adaptation of Dickens' classic tale and a perfect way to spend the holidays.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

theatre review- MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET- The Palms Theatre - Nov 30

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Jim Coates and CastPhoto: Mike Benedetto / The Palms Theatre

"Adapting a popular film for the stage can result in a theatrical endeavor that adds new layers to the film property or a misfire where the stage version adds nothing, or even detracts from, the movie. It's a shame that the musical stage version of Miracle on 34th Street results in nothing more than the film plot on stage with a score that is adequate at best. The feel-good themes of the movie still come across, and the Palms Theatre production has a charming cast, colorful sets and costumes, and a winning small orchestra, yet Meredith Willson's score features only one memorable tune and that's a song he wrote many years before he wrote the score for this show....The Palms cast is adequate with Jocelyn Kleinman a winner as Susan. She has excellent line delivery and facial expressions, and perfectly gets across the role of this young cynical girl. Janine Smith is also effective as Doris, with the right amount of mistrust portrayed in her body language and vocal inflections. She has a lovely singing voice, too. Kleinman and Smith also make a realistic mother/daughter duo. Danny Karapetian is fine as Fred, it's just a shame the part is so woodenly written, though he does have a nice bit of business in the second act courtroom scenes. As Kris, Jim Coates is appropriately charming and jolly.
...Director Victor Legarreta manages to move the plot along swiftly and get effective performances from his cast, though he should have pulled his actors in a bit as some of them overact and a couple of them chew the scenery a bit too much just to get an unnecessary laugh. Tia Hawkes' costumes are lovely and colorful, and the scenic design (on loan from another production, I believe, since no credit is given in the production) is quite elaborate and works well on the small Palms stage....
While Miracle on 34th Street may not be the greatest way to spend the holidays, the plot, characters and themes are still heart-warming. The Palms facility is decorated nicely for the holidays, the buffet style food is fairly good, and while you may not come out singing any songs from the show you will most likely still have an enjoyable time."

theatre review -TOMMY J & SALLY - Black Theatre Troupe - Nov 29

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Sarah Chapman and Roosevelt Watts
Photo: Laura Durant
"Plays about differences in the races and the sexes are usually highly intriguing. So it's shame that playwright Mark Medoff's Tommy J & Sally is over talkative and at times even boring when the subject matter and situations should result in a suspenseful, crackling drama. Black Theatre Troupe's production opened last week and, while the direction, cast and creative elements are professional, they can't do much to improve upon the shortfalls of Medoff's script....The cast for this production is fine, with Roosevelt Watts' portrayal of Tommy adept with the right layers of pain, suffering, confusion, trust issues, etc. Sarah Chapman is good as Sally, with an adequate portrayal of the pop star, ex-addict who claims she is in rehab, though possibly might still be using. I only wish we got a better sense of fear from her when Tommy starts waving his gun around. Chapman has a pleasant singing voice which is put to good use on the short pieces of songs in the show......Director Janet Arnold keeps the action moving and the tension fairly high but can't get around the shortfalls in the contrived script. Set designer Thom Gilseth has created a realistic apartment setting and Mario Garcia's costumes are character appropriate...Famous playwrights often have misfires and Tommy J & Sally is definitely that for Medoff.

theatre review- PIPPIN - National Tour: ASU/Gammage - December 2

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Lucie Arnaz
Photo: Terry Shapiro
"The current Broadway revival of Pippin received numerous accolades and won four Tony Awards including the one for Best Musical Revival....While the book of the show still leaves a little to be desired, the pop-rock score by Stephen Schwartz is wonderful, including several showstoppers, and the direction by Diane Paulus expertly combines a circus theme with the story of a young man on a quest to find himself. This is an exceptional production and features several performers who come to the tour straight from the Broadway cast, including John Rubinstein, who originated the part of Pippin in the original 1972 cast...It is an interesting story about a young man on a search for his purpose in life, a life where living in a castle and being wealthy may not be what is best, yet living a life of modesty and simple joys might not either. It is a simple and often told tale but director Paulus has enveloped it within a circus tent that explodes with acrobats, tumblers, trapeze artists, dancers, and other magical moments that elevate this simple tale into one of mystery, suspense, and pure enjoyment....At the center of the show is Sasha Allen as the Leading Player...she turns out to be quite good in the part. While she isn't quite as stellar as Tony winner Patina Miller was on Broadway, and her dance moves might not be quite as sleek as some of the other performers on stage, she manages to create quite an impression...Kyle Dean Massey is Pippin. Massey, who just played the role on Broadway this year, is handsome yet instills the role with a somewhat nerdy, awkward nature which works well. ...John Rubinstein is now playing Pippin's father, King Charlemagne, and Sabrina Harper is Charlemagne's much younger wife Fastrada. Both are excellent in their supporting roles, with Rubinstein a forceful but fun King and Harper perfect as the conniving second wife who dances up a storm. As Berthe, Pippin's grandmother, Lucie Arnaz stops the show with her first act solo "No Time at All" that includes a nice amount of trapeze work which she pulls off elegantly with the assistance of Dmitrious Bistrevsky. It's a performance you'll remember long after the curtain comes down. Kristine Reese is Catherine, the young widow Pippin meets who makes him realize the possibilities of a simple life. She has a powerful voice, is earthy and charming, but also very funny and touching. ...Paulus moves the show along at a quick clip but also allows the right amount of time for the circus choreography and acrobatics by Chet Walker and Gypsy Snider (co-founder of Les 7 Doigts de la Main) to perfectly interweave with the score and book by Roger O. Hirson....Is Pippin a perfect show? No, but it is one with many magical and memorable moments and when combined with Paulus' re-energizing of the material with her circus theme it elevates it into a joyful and dazzling experience of a story of self-discovery."

Monday, December 1, 2014

theatre review - JUNIE B. JONES in JINGLE BELLS, BATMAN SMELLS! - Childsplay - Nov. 29

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Kate Haas
Photo: Tim Trumbule
"The holiday family favorite Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! is back at Childsplay for a month-long run. The fun, infectious show is a welcome addition to the holiday season with plenty of comic hijinks and even a few lessons about sharing and acceptance—a good reminder for children of all ages, and adults too...Director David Saar has found an exceptional cast, made up of many Childsplay regulars, to bring these six year olds to vivid life. There isn't a misstep in the entire group, as they portray their characters with adept skill. As Junie B. Jones, Kate Haas is appropriately rambunctious, feisty, and a bit selfish, all traits any child can easily relate to...Kaleena Newman brings a nice, even tone to May which doesn't overtly make her into a complete antagonist...colorful, character specific costumes from Kish Finnegan, excellent wig designs from Katie Peck, ...Carey Wong's set design is colorful and effective and Saar's direction ensures the piece hits all the right comic notes but also isn't too preachy in teaching the lessons of the story. ...Full of humor and vivid characters, Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! is a hilarious, charming, touching, endearing, and warm holiday comedy that is a nice change from all of the Christmas Carol's and other standard holiday offerings one usually has to choose from at this time of the year. Childsplay has delivered yet another winning production for children of all ages."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

theatre review - Irving Berlin's White Christmas - Arizona Broadway Theatre

Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at

Nathan Brian and Patrick Graver
Photo: Mike Benedetto / Arizona Broadway Theatre
"The perineal holiday musical favorite White Christmas is back in town in a charming production at Arizona Broadway Theatre. Based on the classic 1954 film...With wonderful Irving Berlin songs and a fun "let's put on a show" plot, it's easy to see why the show is so popular. ABT's production has an engaging and talented cast, some energetic dancing, and a nice emotional payoff. It's a perfect way to start the holiday season....(as). Army buddies Bob Wallace (Nathan Brian) and Phil Davis (Patrick Graver), (they)...are an appealing twosome, naturally portraying a duo who seem to have known each other for a long time. Brian's deep voice is used to great effect on the title song as well as the act one closer "Blue Skies" and a sweet, touching "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)." Graver has an exceptional time in his many dance focused pieces, and throws himself into them, showing off his athletic dance abilities with ease. His performance of "I Love a Piano" with DiConzo is a showstopper. Mosby is a winner as the somewhat mistrusting Betty. Her delivery of some of Betty's more comical lines has a nice "bite" to it and her voice is exceptional, with her act two duet with Brian of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" with "How Deep is the Ocean?" a perfect shining moment for both of them. DiConzo has a bit less to do than the other three leads, but she manages to make a great impression in the dance sequences she shares with Graver and the songs she shares with Mosby....
Rori Nogee plays the role of Martha, who is helping to run the inn with the General. She has an abundance of sass she uses to deliver some of the best comedic lines in the show and her brassy voice excels on her solo, "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." Nogee is giving a well-rounded, winning performance. As the General, Reeves has real life experience, having served three tours in Vietnam, so his portrayal of this military man is extremely realistic. He also does a fine job in his emotional scenes without letting them get too sappy...Directed and choreographed by Stephen Casey, the production features some highly energetic dancing, like the great "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing" which includes several types of dance that Graver and DiConzo deliver with skill. ... Charles J. Trieloff's set design isn't overly elaborate, with just a few moveable set pieces to establish the rooms of the inn, backstage dressing rooms and a New York supper club, but the design works, though it isn't quite as elaborate as some past ABT productions. The absence of any drop at the back of the stage until the very ending is a bit strange, as the bare wall doesn't add much to the many scenes that play out in front of it. Trieloff unfortunately passed away shortly before the production began rehearsals. Wyllym Pryce's costumes are colorful, and a nice mix of patterns, fabrics, and period styles. The combination of Trieloff's set and Pryce's costumes during "I Love a Piano" is an explosion of black and white piano themed designs. Mark 4Man's music direction is excellent, achieving beautiful sounds from both the cast and the orchestra....White Christmas is a fun, romantic and comical musical and a joyous addition to the holiday season. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production has fine leads, good production elements and some excellent choreography by Casey, all wrapped up with some of the best loved and well known Irving Berlin songs."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

theatre review - HARVEY - Desert Stages Theatre - Nov. 22

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Ginger Muth and Rick Davis
Photo: Wade Moran/Desert Stages Theatre
"With a lovely lead performance and a fairly good ensemble cast, Mary Chase's heartwarming 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey is receiving a charming production at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale. The show features Rick Davis giving a winning performance as simple man Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend just happens to be a six foot tall rabbit named Harvey....Davis is giving a sweet, understated and perfectly measured performance as Elwood P. Dowd. While the character is eccentric and odd, Davis brings the appropriate amount of charm, caring, and love to him. He also perfectly captures the sheer happiness and sunny disposition of this man who wants to have a connection with everyone he meets...As Veta, Donna Kaufman has the range of emotions one would expect from a woman with a brother like Elwood, particularly in the last act when she has to make a very important decision about his future. Kaufman is appropriately high strung as Veta. Her crazy rants and wide range of emotions are in perfect opposite to Davis' performance, which is exactly what is needed and goes back to that theme of what is sanity and could the person we believe to be insane actually be the sane one? Madeline Hickman is funny, forward and sexy as Veta's daughter Myrtle Mae.... (Virginia) Olivieri not only plays a supporting role but also directs the production with appropriate shades of comedy and seriousness. She also has a clear focus on the craziness that the events of the struggle between the sane and insane can create. Brent Coatney (who also has a brief cameo as a taxi driver with a very important message) has created an effective set design that perfectly allows, with just a few moveable walls, a change from the Dowd home to the asylum. Tamara Treat's costume designs are a nice mixture of period designs....Harvey is a well-crafted comedy, and this production features a fairly effective ensemble cast with some great performances from Davis, Kaufman and Munch. It is recommended for any fan of classic comedies.

Monday, November 24, 2014

theatre review MARY POPPINS Phoenix Theatre Nov. 21

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Trisha Hart Ditsworth, Toby Yatso and Cast
Photo: Erin Evangeline Photography / Phoenix Theatre
"Practically perfect" is a phrase that P. L. Travers' iconic literary character Mary Poppins uses to refer to herself. Travers' series of children's books about the infamous nanny set in 1900s London were turned into the classic 1964 Walt Disney film Mary Poppins, which was then expanded into a big family friendly stage musical in 2004. While calling Mary Poppins "practically perfect" makes perfect sense, saying the same thing when describing the superb production from Phoenix Theatre is practically an understatement....The exceptional, led by Trish Hart Ditsworth's excellent portrayal of the strict, yet fun and ultimately loving Mary, and Toby Yatso's spirited take on Mary's chimney sweep friend Burt. Ditsworth has the exact disposition to realize the stern, somewhat cross, yet completely well-meaning Poppins. Her voice excels on the many well-known songs and the new ones as well. Yatso's long, rubbery legs bring an element of comical theatricality to the fun loving Bert...Katie Brown and Isaac Speyer are a winning duo as young Jane and Michael Banks. Speyer is absolutely adorable, with perfect delivery of some of the best comic lines in the show...Director Michael Barnard finds a way to not over-sentimentalize the storyline, allowing the impact of Mary's involvement on the Banks family to play out organically....Barnard and choreographer Sam Hay have combined to deliver several exceptional show stopping numbers...Creative elements are sublime with Robert Kovach's scenic design a combination of two-sided rotating large set pieces and moveable flats to portray the various rooms in the Banks' house and other locations in the show. Judy Ryerson's costumes include a wide range of stunning colors...Full of lively characters and important lessons about taking time to enjoy your loved ones as well as your surroundings, this is an exuberant, lively musical with fun songs and memorable characters that families can enjoy together. Phoenix Theatre's production of Mary Poppins is simply perfect.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

theatre review ANYTHING GOES Desert Foothills Theater Nov. 16

To read my complete review at (excerpts below) click here.

Matthew Harris and Kat Bailes

Anything Goes has to be just about the most fun one can have at a musical. Not only does the show have a score by Cole Porter with many well-known gems and a well written comical book, but the current production at Desert Foothills Theater includes some exuberant dance numbers, an effective set, excellent costumes, and a practically perfect cast in both the leads and the ensemble. You will leave the theatre with a big smile on your face, humming the many Porter hit songs as well as singing the praises of the talented cast.

This is one of those shows that has been revised several times since its first Broadway production back in 1934. Songs have been removed as well as other songs added in from other Porter scores.  The 1987 version seems to be the one most produced, so it's a treat for Phoenix theatregoers that Desert Foothills Theater is producing the 1962 version, as it's the only one to include "Take Me Back to Manhattan" and "Let's Misbehave", both of which receive terrific versions in this production.

When you have an actress like the knock out Kat Bailes who can not only sing but dance in the lead part of nightclub singer and cruise headliner Reno Sweeney, it is easy to create dance numbers around her talents instead of having to hide your star's lack of dancing skills...choreographer Mary Lee Baker has created some excellent dances for the entire company, including Bailes' Reno. Bailes is like a firecracker in this show, not just with her dancing and singing but with her well-timed comic delivery of her dialogue as well.

Glenn Parker is Moonface Martin, the comical public enemy who is disguised as a minister in order to not get caught. Parker has some great comic bits in the show, gets to do a little singing, which he pulls off well, and is simply fun and lovable to watch. Matthew Harris is Evelyn, the slightly crazy Englishmen that Hope is engaged to marry. He evokes a hilarious British accent, has a winning stage presence, and knows his way around a comic moment. His "Let's Misbehave" in act two with Reno is both funny and sweet. While the show is mainly an ensemble piece, with all of the leads getting almost equal time, it is Bailes and Harris that steal the show with their perfectly delivered performances.

Director Sarah Bernstein keeps the show moving along at a fast clip, with the comedy fresh, the songs sublime, and an effective use of the large multi-generational ensemble. Dan Kurek's musical direction is great, as is his conducting of the seven-piece band, making it appear to sound much larger.

All in all, DFT has produced a solid production of this classic show. If you're looking for a humorous, joyful musical, don't miss Desert Foothill's Theater's Anything Goes.

Photo: Tiffany Bolock / Desert Foothills Theater

theatre review WAIT UNTIL DARK Arizona Theatre Company Nov. 15

To read my complete review at (excerpts below) click here.

Brooke Parks, Ted Koch and Craig Bockhorn
Playwright Frederick Knott wrote two of the most famous stage thrillers, Dial M For Murder and Wait Until Dark. While both plays also received equally impressive film adaptations, the shows are now somewhat dated with a few plot holes and overly complicated and long set-ups, so it's understandable that they aren't produced that often. However, a revised adaptation of Knott's 1966 Wait Until Dark premiered at the Geffen Playhouse last year and the Arizona Theatre Company is presenting this new version in a well-cast, nicely staged production that manages to elicit plenty of chills.

Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation changes the time period of the play, moving it back twenty years to 1944, and makes a few other slight changes in the plot, including an excellent updated act one ending that packs a punch. Hatcher's adaptation has eliminated a few holes in Knott's original plot, and by setting it in the 1940s has added the elements of film noir and the impact of World War II into the mix, both added bonuses.

Brooke Parks is impressive as Susan. With a forward and direct delivery of her lines and an excellent stage presence, she portrays this very strong woman who is also incredibly smart though a bit too trustworthy at first. As she slowly realizes what is going on around her, Parks effectively shows how the independent Susan uses her blindness as an advantage and ratchets up her defenses so as not to become a victim herself.

Ted Koch is good as the deranged con artist Roat. He gets to play several different characters as part of Roat's plan to deceive Susan and, in a testament to Koch's abilities, each one looks and acts completely different. While Koch does project an appropriate sense of menace and rage as the out of control Roat, I just wish there were more of a sense of danger in his performance so I could truly believe he would actually do harm to Susan.

Director David Ira Goldstein is successful with his staging, effectively using just about every inch of Vicki Smith's superb basement apartment set to let the action unfold. He also gets nuanced performances from most of his cast, especially Parks and Rini. Even though the updated adaptation fixes a few of the shortfalls in the original script, the first act still takes a very long time to set up all of the plot elements and is overly talky, and unfortunately, Goldstein can't really do anything to remedy those issues.

Smith's set features many excellent period specific props and furnishings and includes the underside of the stairs to the floor above in the set's ceiling design. Don Darnutzer's lighting design provides plenty of "noir"-ish dark and moody moments, with shadows from outside streaming into the apartment through the venetian blinds, plus the appropriate thrill-inducing scenes, including a few in near total darkness. The design choices are impressive.

Experiencing the play live, with the thrilling climactic sequence playing out in front of you in near total darkness, is something you just can't get from the film version. The Arizona Theatre Company production has a more than competent cast, lush design elements and good direction, and, even with just a few shortfalls, still manages to be chilling and full of suspense.

Photo: Ken Huth

theatre review OLIVER! Mesa Encore Theatre, Nov. 15

To read my review at Talkin' Broadway, click here

David Chorley, Asher Angel and Alex Tuchi (standing center) and Cast
Classic musicals with familiar songs and big casts are the perfect fodder for community theatre, and Oliver! is a classic example. Mesa Encore Theatre is presenting a fairly good production of the Tony winning show with winning leads, lush costumes and fine direction—an overall effective telling of the familiar tale of an orphan boy named Oliver Twist.

Based on Charles Dickens' classic novel, Lionel Bart wrote the music, lyrics and book for the musical, and the show had a hugely successful run in London and a fairly decent one on Broadway in the early 1960s. In 1968 the film version won six Oscars including one for Best Picture. With a string of classic showtunes, the plot of the musical and novel follows young orphan Oliver Twist's journey from his miserable workhouse life to being pulled unwillingly by a young teen boy called The Artful Dodger into a life of crime. Oliver lives and works with a group of juvenile delinquent pickpockets who are led by an older thief, Fagin. But Oliver yearns to find love, and a life in crime doesn't seem to be his lot in life.

The musical is an abbreviated version of the Dickens novel and has several positive aspects as well as some negative ones. On the positive side, Bart's score is a smash, including a neverending stream of superb, rousing songs as well as two excellent ballads. However, the book does a disservice to the character of Oliver, who is off stage for about 1/3 of the show. Even the ending focuses more on Fagin than Oliver. Of course, MET's production can't do anything to remedy those shortcomings, and, fortunately, director Rusty Ferracane has found three gifted actors with clear, strong voices to take on the leads of Oliver, Fagan, and Nancy, the older female member of the gang who serves as a surrogate mother figure for Oliver.

Asher Angel is a complete joy as Oliver. He displays effective sour, sad looks early on when Oliver is at the workhouse, yet, with bright eyes and a big smile, shows the happiness Oliver finds in the new people and the experiences he encounters, even finding something positive within the manipulative Fagin. When Oliver believes he has found a happier living situation in the second act, the look of joy and love on Angel's face is priceless. Angel does well with Oliver's act one ballad "Where is Love?" and contributes nice additions to the many large ensemble songs Oliver takes part in. It's a sweet, winning performance.

As Fagin,David Chorley achieves a nice balance between drama and comedy, which allows the character to not be too menacing or too much of a buffoon. It works well, especially with the many scenes he has with the young boys in his employ. Chorley has a good delivery of Fagin's songs, giving "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" a fun, upbeat, rousing delivery as well as a comical, direct take on Fagin's second act solo "Reviewing the Situation." Sammie Lideen is quite good as Nancy, her full, rich voice getting the nuance beneath the lyrics of Nancy's moving ballad "As Long as He Needs Me," while also achieving a lively comical delivery of the two ensemble songs she leads, "I'd Do Anything," and "It's A Fine Life." And the act two opener "Oom-Pah-Pah" she sings with the ensemble is a knock-out.

As The Artful Dodger, Alex Tuchi is quite good, providing a big dose of charm to the role, fun facial expressions, and a nice voice for his several songs. The cast also includes Rick Williams as Nancy's evil boyfriend Bill, Jeffrey J. Davey as Bumble, Aimee Blau as Nancy's friend Bet, and Barbara McBain as the Widow Corey, and all do good work. Davey and McBain are a gem as the comical couple from the workhouse, with Davey's deep, rich voice simply lovely, especially during "Boy for Sale."

Ferracane has a tough task in directing a show with a large ensemble that includes about a dozen young boys, and, even due to a few shortcomings, he still manages to deliver a serviceable production. On the plus side, Ferracane derives good and even winning performances from many of the leads. He also doesn't overplay the comic or dramatic moments in the plot, letting the moments play out effectively. Mickey and Rhea Courtney's costume designs are superb, with some excellent pieces for the women in the cast. On the negative side, there is a slightly under rehearsed or unprepared ensemble, Noel Irick's choreography is fairly basic, with lots of repetitive motions, and Michelle Thompson and Rachel Smallwood's multi-tiered scenic design is unimaginative. Also, while the use of prerecorded tracks on one hand is good, as they provide lush orchestrations you couldn't get from a small band, at the performance I attended there were two glitches in the tracks, forcing at one point the entire cast to stand motionless on stage for almost ten seconds waiting for the tracks to catch up to the right point. Fortunately, when you have a Tony winning score that has so many well-known and well-loved songs, even these few flaws don't detract too much from the overall result.

Most community theatre productions aren't fortunate enough to have fully fleshed out production values, well rehearsed casts, and huge ensembles. Even with a few of those limitations, the Mesa Encore Theatre's production of the classic musical Oliver! delivers some really nice performances and is, ultimately, a fine production of the well-known and well-loved musical.

Oliver! runs at Mesa Encore Theatre through November 23, 2014, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center at 1 East Main Street in Mesa. Tickets can be ordered by calling (480) 644-6500 or

Photo: Sarah Rodgers