Saturday, August 29, 2015

theatre review - WICKED National Tour: ASU/Gammage - August 27

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis
Photo: Joan Marcus
highlights from my review at TalkinBroadway.com - click here to read the complete review

"The Broadway musical Wicked is a phenomenon. About to celebrate its 12th anniversary on Broadway and still running in London, the show has launched two National Tours and there have been successful productions in numerous cities around the world...The national tour of the popular musical just opened at ASU/Gammage for a six week run, the third time the show has come to the Phoenix area, and this tour boasts a superb cast and creative elements that deliver an energetic and emotionally fulfilling experience.  Telling the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she got to be that way and given that name, the musical is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire. While the main theme and characters of the musical are the same as the novel, there are many changes that book writer Winnie Holzman and composer Stephen Schwartz made to make the story and characters more accessible and as a result created a show that so many people fell in love with. The way that Holzman and Schwartz were also able to connect this version of the story to things we all know and love from the movie The Wizard of Oz also adds another layer to the storytelling that includes many fun surprises. Schwartz’ score is full of high energy and tuneful showstoppers. There are many twists and turns in the story, so no spoiler alerts for those who haven’t seen it, but the basic plot overview follows Elphaba and Galinda, from the time they meet at college to their later years when Elphaba has become the Wicked Witch of the West and Galinda has become Glinda the Good Witch of the North. But, to quote a line from the show, was Elphaba "born wicked, or did she have wickedness thrust upon her?" ...The current tour cast includes Alyssa Fox as Elphaba and Carrie St. Louis as Galinda, both of whom completely instill the characters with the drive and power that the original Broadway leads Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth did as well. They both embody their parts with ease, making them original, though St. Louis is a bit wackier than actresses I’ve seen in the part before, though she does have impeccable comic timing. They are also both very good singers, with St. Louis hitting some glorious high notes and Burns a powerhouse who belts out her big solos with a roar, including the showstopper "Defying Gravity" that she delivers with ease. The two form a great, believable partnership and make the characters their own....On opening night at Gammage, understudy and Phoenix native Beka Burnham was on for Liana Hunt as Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister. Burnham is a 2014 graduate from the Boston Conservatory who just celebrated her one year anniversary on the tour and the first time she saw Wicked was here on the Gammage stage. So it was nice to see a local girl in one of the main parts in the show and, even at such a young age, delivering an accomplished, nuanced portrayal. The production boasts... exceptional production aspects almost identical to Broadway with just a few small modifications in the physical aspect of the show to allow it to easily tour. This is the first time I’ve seen a tour of this show, having seen the musical numerous times on Broadway, so it’s nice to see that audiences outside of New York City get a production that is on par with the one on Broadway and that the cast is as good as ones I’ve seen in New York...."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

theatre review - BIG FISH - Actor's Youth Theatre - June 24

Miles Johnson, India Rose Chudnow and Jonah Carlson
Photo: Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography
Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at TalkinBroadway.com

"Turning a movie into a Broadway musical doesn't always meet with success. One recent show that didn't fare well in its musical transfer was Big Fish...the whimsical musical follows the story of traveling salesman Edward Bloom and brings to life the tall tales he'd often tell his son. It's a shame that the show only managed a three month run in New York, as the score by Andrew Lippa has many memorable tunes and John August's book paints some notable characters. With an extremely talented cast of teenagers who are able to successfully portray both the emotional and comical moments in the story, The Actor's Youth Theatre's Arizona-premiere production proves that a show that might have flopped on Broadway can be a success in regional theatres....The AYT cast is just about perfect, with Jonah Carlson excellent as Edward. Instilling the part with an assured take on a matter of fact "everyman," Carlson not only has you believing in Edward's seemingly imaginary tales but makes you care for him as well. His acting and singing abilities are top notch. As Will, Miles Johnson allows us to understand why he is agitated and has just about had enough of his father's tales, without making the frustration and skepticism appear as anger. This is important to make us care for him, which we do. ...Sidne Phillips is stunning as Edward's wife Sandra. She clearly projects Sandra's love for her husband and son...Phillips is also a smashing dancer and singer. Her delivery of "I Don't Need a House" is beautiful...Directors Julie Clement and Marcus Ellsworth do an exceptional job ensuring that the whimsy of the piece doesn't overpower the serious moments, but also let plenty of humor come naturally from the actors and staging. They paint some memorable moments in their lively staging and also make effective use of the center aisle in the theatre for a few key entrances and exits. Choreography from the trio of Ellsworth, Kristen Malarkey, and Corinne Mann is lively and original, including a superb "Little Lamb from Alabama" dance. ...While the main themes of the musical—love your family and live life to its fullest—may not be new, and the second act does bog down a bit, the important message of realizing that every person you meet is unique and that everyone can be the hero of their own story is something all of us could take to heart. On Broadway, Big Fish was a big musical, with large set pieces and elaborate special effects. Perhaps Actor's Youth Theatre's small budget production, which doesn't allow the spectacle to overtake the story, is how this musical needs to be seen. It lets the imagination and messages of Edward Bloom spring beautifully to life. The success of this production and the fact that the company's next show, Bonnie and Clyde, is another Broadway flop musical shows they aren't afraid to take challenges, not just keep producing the same family friendly shows over and over again, and proves why AYT is one of the best youth theatres in the Valley."

Monday, June 22, 2015

theatre review - MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT - Paradise Valley Community College - June 19

the cast of Spamalot
Photo by Tiffany Marie Bolock
Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at TalkinBroadway.com

"Written by the zany Monty Python comedy team...the hit 1975 movie Monty Python and The Holy Grail humorously told of King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. Almost 30 years after the film premiered, Idle created a musical version of the movie with John Du Prez called Spamalot. ...Paradise Valley Community College just opened their production of this musical comedy and their terrific cast, clear direction, and fine creative elements culminate in a charming and funny production....The plot is fairly basic. King Arthur forms the Knights of the Round Table and with Lancelot, Galahad, Robin and his trusty knave Patsy along for the ride, plus some assistance from the mysterious Lady of the Lake, they go on the search for the Holy Grail. ...The PVCC cast is definitely game for the challenge they have before them, with lots of them playing multiple parts and, under the solid guidance of director Andrea Robertson, ensuring the comic bits land effectively. At just 21, Philip Amerine may be on the young side to play the hapless leader King Arthur, but his make-up and acting choices make him appear much older and he is appropriately stoic and regal in the part...Brenda Goodenberger as the Lady in the Lake...has a lovely, commanding and beautiful voice that has a wide, versatile range and is full of power. Idle and Du Prez wrote several very good songs for the character...and Goodenberger knocks them all out of the park...Christian Boden is having a blast as Patsy...His perfectly agitated expressions and silly faces show Patsy's frustration with his place as Arthur's servant. But he also instills Patsy with a huge dose of warmth that effectively demonstrates his devotion to his beloved King. It is a delightfully silly performance. The men who play Arthur's three main knights are all gifted comics and are having a blast playing these parts. Tyler Lewis is a gem as the self-absorbed, vain and narcissistic Galahad. Lewis has great comic timing and a fantastic voice as well. His duet with Goodenberger of "The Song that Goes Like This" is a showstopper. Sky Donovan is hilarious as the not exactly brave Robin, with perfectly clear diction and a rousing delivery of his big solo "You Won't Succeed on Broadway." Sixteen-year-old Scott Snedden is charming as the somewhat sexually confused Lancelot; his disco coming out moment is a highlight. All of the supporting parts have well-executed comedic timing. The rest of the ensemble does very well with the comic parts and the zany songs, and they chew every possible piece of scenery they can find along the way....Robertson makes the series of vignettes seem cohesive and keeps the show moving along at a fast pace...Ken Goodenberger's musical direction achieves pleasant harmonies from the large cast and his conducting skills are exceptional, achieving a sensational sound from the fourteen-piece orchestra....Spoof and satire run rampant in this show and the cast knows how to play both lowbrow and highbrow humor just fine. With a spirited cast, simple yet effective creative touches and proficient comical direction, PVCC's Spamalot amounts to silly fun."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

theatre review - RUMORS - Desert Stages Theatre - June 14

the cast of Rumors
photo credit: Wade Moran
Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at TalkinBroadway.com

"From The Odd Couple to Brighton Beach Memoirs, Neil Simon has written many classic comedies, but his 1988 Rumors was his first attempt at writing a comedy modeled after a traditional farce. The story of four wealthy couples caught up in chaos and confusion has an abundance of humor, and Desert Stages' production makes for a fun-filled time with a winning cast and fast-paced direction....
It's the 10th wedding anniversary of wealthy Charlie Brock...and his wife Myra. They've invited some of their well to do friends over to celebrate, but there is one small problem: it seems someone has shot Charlie in the head. Fortunately, the bullet only graced his earlobe and he has fallen asleep in his upstairs bedroom after taking some Valium. But was it an attempted suicide or a botched murder? And why have Myra and all of the kitchen staff disappeared? ...Co-directors Virginia Olivieri and Gary Zaro have cast a good group of actors that form a well-oiled ensemble. While not everyone is as gifted in creating a fully fleshed out character...they all end up creating fairly believable characters and do a fine job of delivering the jokes with ease in this virtually nonstop laugh fest....The best of the bunch is the crackerjack team of Tim Fiscus and Amy Garland who play Lenny, Charlie's accountant, and his wife Claire. Fiscus whips himself up into a fever pitch, throwing himself into the numerous physical comedy moments that elicit plenty of laughs. Garland's comical line delivery combined with her sarcastic, agitated looks and gestures are priceless. They form a very realistic and believable couple, as do Wade Moran and Heidi Carpenter as Ken and Chris, the first couple to arrive. Moran does a great job making Ken an energetic, agitated, and expressive mess, and is a hoot when he partially loses his hearing. Carpenter is a gem as the confused wife who can't quite remember who she has told the truth to and who she hasn't. Carpenter and Garland also make you believe they've been good friends for a very long time....Olivieri and Zaro have done a very good job of ensuring that the pacing never lags, that their actors deliver the jokes with ease, and that the requisite timing of the farce, with the entrances and exits of the cast members through the synchronized opening and closing of the five doors on stage, are perfectly timed....While Rumors may have been Simon's first attempt at writing a farce, the end result of nonstop hijinks, crazy characters, wild situations, and plenty of laughter shows how gifted a comedy writer he is. DST's production is a lot of fun, with solid direction, effective creative touches and a good cast that includes an exceptional comedic performance by Tim Fiscus and effective work by Amy Garland, Wade Moran and Heidi Carpenter."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

theatre review - ANGELS IN AMERICA: PERESTROIKA - Nearly Naked Theatre - June 13

Drew Swaine and Raheem De'Angelo
Photo: Laura Durant / Nearly Naked Theatre
Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at TalkinBroadway.com

"Perestroika, the second part of Tony Kushner's two-part play Angels in America, is about hope, change, compassion, and making a leap into the unknown. Set in the mid to late 1980s, Kushner's Tony winning play follows the characters he so brilliantly created in the first part, Millennium Approaches, as they navigate their way through the fallout of the AIDS epidemic and the changing moral, political, and social views of that decade. While Perestroika is more complex than Millennium Approaches it also has less plot and character development and ends up somewhat overstuffed with an excessive amount of interwoven theories, including one that relates all of our pain to God's abandonment, that don't always make sense. However, even with the play's shortcomings and a few small quibbles, Nearly Naked Theatre's decision to perform both parts of Angels in repertory culminates in a rich theatrical experience....Director Damon Dering's cast has grown in their roles since their debut of Millennium last week. As Prior, Drew Swaine is simply stellar in the part...The sense of compassion and honesty that KatiBelle Collins brings to Hannah is very moving. Mike Largent allows us to see the sadness and passion that Louis feels, and the scene in which he and Collins, as Ethel Rosenberg, deliver the Kaddish for Cohn is deeply touching....Vickie Hall effectively displays the clarity that Harper encounters through her Valium-induced haze...Raheem De'Angelo's instills Belize with a strength and dignity...Pat Russel's Cohn is less nasty than before, which makes sense as he is close to death...One of my major complaints with Perestroika is that Kushner doesn't quite seem to know what to do with Joe, which means that Thomas Hicks has less of a character arc to play than the rest of the characters, though he still manages to show us the small changes that Joe makes. Brandi Bigley makes for a forceful Angel as well as a caring and matter of fact nurse....Dering does a good job in keeping his actors focused, even with the multiple characters some play, and keeps the over three hour play moving along, but even he can't do much to help with a few of Kushner's scenes that seem unnecessary or overly long. ...While Perestroika isn't quite as good a play as the first part, it concludes with a rewarding ending with most of the characters experiencing a feeling of self-awareness as well as forgiveness. While seeing Angels in America today doesn't have quite the emotional impact it did back when it first premiered in the early 1990s, Nearly Naked Theatre's production is admirable, with a good cast, clear direction, and fine creative elements. At the very end of Perestroika, Prior speaks to the audience and delivers a message of hope, repeating the statement the Angel said to him: "the great work begins." Even though it's been over 20 years since I first heard that call to action, it remains as moving today as it did then."

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 TalkinBroadway.com

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 TalkinBroadway.com

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 TalkinBroadway.com

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 TalkinBroadway.com

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."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

theatre review - THE QUILTMAKER'S GIFT - Theater Works - December 6

Josh Vern, right, and cast
photo: Wade Moran / Moran Imaging
Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at TalkinBroadway.com

""It is better to give than to receive" is something that every one of us was taught at a very young age and also a statement that has even more meaning during the holiday season. That saying is also at the center of the excellent production of The Quiltmaker's Gift playing at Theater Works in Peoria this month.  Josh Vern has the right blend of comical expressions and vocal prowess to pull off the selfish ruler. His temper tantrums are hilarious and his voice adds a nice luster to the many songs he sings. As the Quiltmaker, Carolyn Folks brings a lovely sense of sweetness to the part with a dollop of no-nonsense in her dealings with the King...a fun-filled holiday treat for children, families, and theatergoers of all ages."

theatre review - YEAR OF THE ROOSTER - Stray Cat Theatre - December 5, 2014

Ron May and Austin Kiehle
Photo courtesy of John Groseclose
Click here to read my complete review (highlights below) at TalkinBroadway.com

" Eric Dufault's Year of the Rooster...a provocative and thought provoking piece of work centered on the hopes of McDonald's employee Gil and his prize fighting cock Odysseus Rex. Part black comedy, part character study, it is a riveting comedy and Stray Cat Theatre's production has superb performances, excellent direction, and impressive creative aspects. Austin Keihle is nothing short of miraculous. Ron May is just as good as Gil. May's portrayal has similar shades of pain and love but also a fierce drive and obsession with what he believes is his meal ticket up and out. Gil Pepper is a broken man, and May lets us see his frustration, peek inside his suffering, and endure with him the pain he encounters from the humans in his life and the sheer joy and love he has for Odie. A firecracker of a production. An intense, funny play and Stray Cat's production of it is quite a winner."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

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

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

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 TalkinBroadway.com

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 TalkinBroadway.com

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 TalkinBroadway.com

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."