Thursday, June 29, 2017

theatre review - CATCH ME IF YOU CAN - Actor's Youth Theatre - June 26, 2017

Joey Grado and Liam Thibeault
photo by Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography
Click here for more information on this production that runs through July 1st.

"If you're looking for a snazzy, jazzy musical comedy, look no further than Catch Me If You Can, based on the autobiographical book and movie of the same name...While this show didn't run that long on Broadway, it has proven quite popular in regional theatres..Actor's Youth Theatre's production stars two multi-talented teens who deliver excellent portrayals of the two leads: a young con man on the run and the FBI agent trying to catch him.....The score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman has several memorable tunes, as well as many that are character specific or plot focused..The book by Terrence McNally touches on the important plot elements and turning points in Frank's life. While I like how the relationship between Frank and Carl is dramatized, the ending, showing what happened to them, feels a bit rushed and forced. There are also a few slow moments, especially the scenes with Hanratty and his fellow agents. But these are just a few quibbles in a fun and jazzy show. Director Julie Clement keeps the show moving at a quick pace..Joey Grado is Frank, and Liam Thibeault is Hanratty. They both excel in their roles, have great singing voices and charisma, and form a strong rapport with the audience. They also display a very good relationship with each other, even though one is the cat and the other the mouse...Jasmine Bassham is Brenda, the girl Frank falls in love with, and she delivers a lovely version of a beautiful ballad, "Fly, Fly Away," that perfectly captures the need to run away from something and to find oneself. ...The choreography by Corrinne Mann, Kristen Malarkey, and Marcus Ellsworth is fun, inventive, original, and somewhat period specific. However, the minimal set design and dark lighting (the use of a spotlight is good, but there are many times when the supporting cast are barely lit) don't quite evoke the idea of a 1960s variety show. ..Catch Me If You Can may not have proven popular in its initial Broadway run but it does have a catchy score, an intriguing book, and characters that actors can sink their teeth into it. With excellent performances by Joey Grado and Liam Thibeault, the Actor's Youth Theatre production is a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical endeavor." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

theatre review - THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NITE-TIME - National Tour: ASU Gammage - June 20, 2017

Adam Langdon
photo by Joan Marcus

Click here for more information on this production that runs through June 25th.


"..,the theatrical adaptation of Mark Haddon's bestselling book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time ...demonstrates the inner workings of the brain of a 15-year-old boy with issues that resemble autism through a combination of visual and aural designs and the use of imaginatively choreographed movement..,, a play unlike just about anything I've ever seen and a show not to be missed. The plot focuses on Christopher Boone and begins when his neighbor's dog is found viciously murdered. Christopher sets about trying to solve the murder of the animal while also dealing with understanding and navigating through the wide range of human emotions and family dynamics that his unique situation entails. Christopher, who always tells the truth, soon discovers that what he learns from his investigation reveals several secrets and lies that involve his family and the life he thought he knew. ..,The concise and straightforward language and the well-defined characters are delivered and portrayed exceptionally by a talented touring cast. Yet it is through the explosion of sight and sound that the book is truly brought to life by immersing the audience in non-stop visual elements that take us inside Christopher's mind. The combination of the gifted cast and the creative designs gives a unique glimpse into how a person's inability to understand human emotion might affect the people who love them.Marianne Elliott won a Tony for her direction and it's easy to see why. Elliott's ability to guide her cast—especially Adam Langdon, who is nothing short of brilliant—as Christopher, to deliver performances that are real, interesting, and full of emotion, and then surround it all with the immersive, creative and accomplished Tony and Olivier Award winning work of set designer Bunny Christie, video designer Finn Ross, and lighting designer Paule Constable, is both inspired and brilliant.... This is a truly engaging, rich and rewarding play with a thought-provoking insight into what an individual with such challenges might go through on a daily basis and what the impact on those who love them might be. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time lets you step into this world and see the beauty and wonder that lives inside.-Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

theatre review - REASONS TO BE PRETTY - Mesa Encore Theatre - June 11, 2017

Mitch Tellez and Brandi Bigley
Photo by Candy Thornton
Click here for more information on this production that runs through June 18th.

"...Neil LaBute's Reasons to Be Pretty, which focuses on four young adults facing serious relationship issues as they deal with body politics, presents a lot of interesting topics for discussion. Mesa Encore Theatre's small, intimate black box production, while slightly unsteady at moments, is both satisfying and unpredictable, just like LaBute's play. LaBute is well known for his explosive dramatic exposes into modern romance and relationships...his works often center on the issue of beauty and the cruelty of people. Reasons to Be Pretty...keeps those two topics constantly in the forefront. ...Greg and Steph have been a couple for four years but Steph is enraged and ready to walk out because she has discovered that Greg made a lame remark to his best friend—that he only thinks Steph's looks are average. ...Over the course of the play Greg and Steph will grow and learn from this moment while another couple, Greg's best friend Kent and his beautiful wife Carly, will face tensions of their own. MET's cast features exceptional work by Brandi Bigley as Steph; she creates an incredibly well-rounded, realistic woman full of pain and vulnerability. ...As Greg, Mitch Tellez is OK, delivering a very laid-back, low-key interpretation of this young man who is incredibly well read but can barely form an intelligible sentence. Tellez's soft-spoken delivery is very subdued and at many times he appears to be disengaged from those around him....As Kent and Carly, Phillip Herrington and Jillian Walker both do very good work. Herrington creates an appropriately ugly character ...Walker delivers a stunning monologue on the many downfalls of being pretty and, like Bigley, infuses Carly with empathy. Director Layne Racowsky does well in ensuring the heavier moments of the piece are balanced with humor and that her actors deliver realistic portrayals. ...Reasons to be Pretty is a captivating study of our obsession with beauty and how our constant striving for physical perfection involves just as many shortcomings as it does positive aspects. LaBute paints a fascinating tale with interesting characters, and MET's production makes for a stirring and intriguing dialogue of what is probably his most accessible and effective play. LaBute makes us see that, while beauty may only be skin deep, there are just as many reasons for people to wish they were pretty as there are drawbacks for those who are beautiful to wish they weren't.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

theatre review - THE WIZARD OF OZ - Valley Youth Theatre - June 9, 2017

Kendra Richards, Jared Barbee, Asher Sheppard, and Steven Enriquez
photo by Cliff Cesar
Click here for more information on this production that runs through June 25th.

"The Wizard of Oz is the classic, moving tale of a young girl's journey to find herself and it also proves to be a perfect theatrical endeavor for a youth theatre company. With a great cast and excellent creative elements, Valley Youth Theatre's sumptuous production results in a family-friendly crowd-pleasing hit....VYT's production pulls out all of the stops, with large set pieces, colorful and imaginative costumes and a cast who deliver superb performances of these iconic characters. Under Bobb Cooper's skilled direction, his teenage leads all achieve excellent performances that hint at but never truly mimic their famous film counterpoints. Kendra Richards delivers a perfect portrayal of Dorothy. From pensive and unsure to headstrong and optimistic, Richards hits all the right wide-ranging emotional notes that Dorothy experiences on her journey to Oz. ...As the three men Dorothy meets on the road to meet the Wizard, Jared Barbee, Asher Sheppard, and Steven Enriquez all deliver excellent performances. ...Alexis Harris has the right balance of menace and evil as the Wicked Witch of the West, yet includes just a hint of humor to not be too scary for any small children in the audience. As Glinda, Tiana Marks is regal and effervescent with a beautiful singing voice while Ethan Maxwell is both conniving and charming as the mysterious Wizard. Musical director Mark Fearey achieves a lovely sound from the large cast and orchestra. While the show features a slightly abridged ending that doesn't quite take us all the way back to Dorothy's Kansas bedroom, which is my only quibble, Cooper does add in a simply stunning version of "Over the Rainbow" sung by all of Dorothy's Kansas farm friends that is a showstopper in both its simplicity and its ability to be incredibly moving and filled with emotion. ..Karol Cooper's non-stop, jaw-dropping parade of imaginative, colorful and creative costumes are very impressive. ...Choreographer Nathalie Velasquez provides some fun and fancy steps that are well danced by the cast. With a highly talented cast and bright and colorful creative elements that help effectively create the fairy-tale, dreamlike world of Oz and the many colorful characters who live there, VYT's The Wizard of Oz is incredibly entertaining and a delicious treat for children of all ages. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

theatre review - DISNEY'S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST - Arizona Broadway Theatre - June 3, 2017

Tony Edgerton and Jill-Christine Wiley
Photo Courtesy of Arizona Broadway Theatre
Click here for more information on this production that runs through July 2nd at ABT in Peoria, then plays at the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix from July 7-16.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast ran for over 13 years on Broadway, so to say it was a blockbuster show is pretty much an understatement. ...Arizona Broadway Theatre's production may not have creative elements as elaborate as what was seen on Broadway, but with a talented cast, several large set pieces, excellent costumes, and direction that is never heavy handed, it is a solid production of this family friendly show. It also successfully delivers on stage the important message of the film—that beauty is really found from within....Jill-Christine Wiley makes for a vibrant Belle. She instills the character with a keen sense of determination, but she also paints Belle as sweet, spunky, smart, and full of life. Wiley has a beautiful singing voice filled with purity and ..As the Beast, Tony Edgerton.. does exceptionally well in showing how this petulant man-child grows from a snarling animal into a person who actually has genuine feelings for the people around him. ...The changes in the Beast and his growing confidence come through very clearly even though Edgerton is buried under a fairly elaborate Beast mask and wig. Like Wiley, his voice soars to the rafters on the few songs he has, with his "If I Can't Love Her" especially moving....Ben Stasny and Zachary Spiegel make a hilarious twosome as the witty, rambunctious, fun, and slightly lusty candlestick Lumière and the tightly wound, worrisome, and overly dramatic clock Cogsworth. TJ Nelson and Christopher Michaels are equally as good as Gaston and his comical sidekick Lefou. Nelson's strong voice and lean muscular frame work perfectly for this conceited, burly man, while Michaels doesn't overplay Lefou too broadly, which is a huge plus. Gerri Weagraff's Mrs. Potts is sensible and full of charm—her performance of the title tune is a winner— and Jon Gentry is sweet and loving as Belle's father. The incredibly hard-working ensemble skillfully play an abundance of roles. Director Clayton Phillips does good work, not letting his cast stray too far from the well-known and iconic film characterizations but also adding some nice original touches that play up the comedy and fantasy elements of the show. Choreographer Kurtis W. Overby's dances provide several showstopping moments and music director Adam Berger achieves an incredibly lush and full sound from both the fairly large cast and the seven-piece orchestra. ...Paul A. Black's scenic elements and lighting designs are highly effective, with a beautiful painted show curtain that evokes a deep, dark and mysterious forest and five large set pieces, including three that move and rotate, portraying the various rooms in the Beast's castle....Disney's Beauty and the Beast is one of the most loved of the Disney animated films and the stage version is a faithful adaptation that delivers many magical and heartwarming moments. ABT's production is full of humor and heart with fantasy-filled creative elements and a lovely cast and firm direction that make the whole production feel fresh and relevant today." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, June 2, 2017

theatre review - LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL - Spotlight Youth Theatre - May 28, 2017

Cate Carlino, Addison Bowman, and Sarah Pansing
photo by Joanne Wastchak
Click here for more information on this production that runs through June 11th.

".The 2007 musical Legally Blonde the Musical has become quite a staple in youth theatres and it's easy to see why. With its hilarious book and a score full of varied music and witty lyrics it provides a fun, upbeat story of empowerment and the importance of being true to yourself—qualities that prove quite powerful when performed by a group of talented teens. Spotlight Youth Theatre's current production features some of the most gifted youth performers in the Valley under the keen direction of powerhouse husband and wife duo Mark and Lynzee 4Man....As Elle, Addison Bowman is simply infectious and full of life in a vibrant performance..Her beautiful voice soars on Elle's many songs in a portrayal that truly succeeds. Sam Primack hits all the right marks as Emmett in a polished performance that features a solid singing voice and subtle acting choices ..Bowman and Primack also form a very cute and realistic couple. Lily Castle is an absolute joy as Paulette, with a stunning singing voice and fun Boston accent that add humor and a big shot of charm to everything Paulette says or sings. Jeremy Bassham provides plenty of snark and a huge ego as the slimy Professor Callahan, while Jacob Herrera gets the right balance of snobbery and uncertainty as Warner. In smaller parts, both Sarah Pansing and Jasmine Bassham are great as Warner's new girlfriend Vivienne and Brooke, an accused murderess Callahan and his students are helping to defend, respectively. Pansing's exceptional voice gets to wail on a couple of songs, and Bassham's performance of that act two opening jump rope routine is stunning. Joey J. Grado is full of heat and passion as the hunky UPS man Paulette gets tongue-tied over, and Ava Tyson, Maya Weber and Alyssa Armstrong are simply hilarious as the "Greek chorus" of Elle's sorority sisters who add moments of spark and sass to their many moments on stage. With an exceptional cast, succinct direction, and solid creative elements, Spotlight Youth Theatre's Legally Blonde the Musical is a joyous production filled with an abundance of humor but also a huge amount of heart. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

theatre review - BARE: A POP OPERA - Nearly Naked Theatre - May 27, 2017

the cast
photo by Laura Durant
Click here for more information on this production that runs through June 17th.

"Bare: A Pop Opera..., which centers on a group of high school seniors and is set in a Catholic boarding school, has situations and characters we've seen before in numerous other films and TV shows, the score has plenty of well-composed numbers and (director Damon) Dering has assembled a fairly talented cast who effectively evoke the numerous obstacles that face these young high school kids.... the story of two high school boys who are in love. The fact that they attend a Catholic boarding school and one of the boys is a closeted loner and the other a closeted popular jock only adds to the drama. There are also various other teenagers who have their own issues, including an overweight teen and a girl who falls for one of the closeted boys. Can these teens bare their souls and let their truths come out, or should they continue to keep them hidden away? ...While the subject material may not be that original, there is much to like in the score, with music by Intrabartolo composed and lyrics by Jon Hartmere. ...But with only a little dialogue and around 40 back-to-back numbers, the show does run a bit long, with several repetitive moments and some confusion in the plot caused by the entire show being sung....Dering's direction keeps the action moving and focused and he effectively uses the fairly simple set design by Paul Wilson and Brett Aiken to quickly establish the various locales of the show. While not everyone in the cast has an incredible singing voice, they all do quite well with the wide-ranging score, thanks to Curtis Moeller's skilled music direction. Cole Brackney Wandelear and Brandon Hayes are effective as Peter, the introspective loner, and Jason, the popular boy, respectively. They present clear portrayals of these two lost boys who find themselves when they find each other..While most of the supporting characters are one dimensional, Dering's cast all work well to create nuanced individuals. Alyssa Lucero and Johnna Watson are excellent as Jason's overweight sister Nadia, and Ivy, the girl who is in love with Jason, respectively. Both have superb singing voices that excel on their many songs. ...Bare has a simplistic rawness and freshness to it along with plenty of honesty in both its lyrics and its characters as well as an intriguing plot. While it is a good musical, with the few shortcomings in the script and score, it just misses being a great one. The talented cast and efficient direction allow Nearly Naked Theatre's production of Bare: A Pop Opera to effectively portray the provocative message behind the troubling personal concerns and sexual issues surrounding the teenage characters in the show. It is a moving production that touches upon the hardships and pain of love and suffering, but ultimately on the enduring strength and hope that tragedy often brings.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, May 29, 2017

theatre review - AIDA - Hale Centre Theatre - May 25, 2017

Ashley Jackson
photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
Click here for more information on this production that runs through July 1st.

"...With a Tony winning score by Elton John and Tim Rice, and a hip updated book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Harry Hwang, Aida focuses on a love triangle full of intrigue and romance. Hale Centre Theatre's production features three exceptional leads, sharp direction, and exquisite creative elements....While the musical is quite good, there are a few shortcomings in the score and book. Elton John's music is varied but it is also pop-rock ballad heavy and features two songs for Radames' father Zoser that are incredibly weak in their music style and the hip hop orchestrations that are vastly at odds with the rest of the score. ...the score sometimes interjects yet another ballad where dialogue could suffice. Fortunately, those ballads are all quite good. Also, the modern-day museum scenes that begin and end the show give the story an uplifting message that proves that love truly is eternal. While Hale can't do much to fix the few small drawbacks in the score and book, their three leads are superb, with Ashley Jackson making a sensational debut in her first performance at Hale. ..Jackson is simply exquisite as this fierce and forceful yet entirely passionate woman. As Radames, Ben Mason's ability to portray the character's infatuation and intrigue of Aida through his keen facial expressions and subtle gestures is exceptional. ...Victoria Fairclough's singing voice, with earthy, gutsy tones and a strong clarity, is equally adept in ensuring that Amneris' songs soar. ...Director M. Seth Reines, choreographer Cambrian James, and music director JR McAlexander form a dynamic trio who deliver nonstop and striking vocals and visuals throughout. ...The combination of a gifted cast who deliver stunning vocals, crisp staging, and Hale's always impressive creative elements manage to offset most of the small issues I have with the score and book, which makes Hale's Aida a powerful and emotionally rich musical journey. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, May 22, 2017

concert review - THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS - Phoenix Symphony Orchestra - May 14, 2017


by Gil Benbrook

I don't believe there is another film composer that has written as many instantly recognizable themes as John Williams. The recipient of a vast number of awards, including five Oscars and four Golden Globes, with 50 Academy Award nominations Williams is the second most nominated person in Oscar history with only Walt Disney with 59 nominations ahead of him. Williams won Oscars for his soundtracks to JawsStar WarsSchindler's List and ET and he also composed the scores for SupermanRaiders of the Lost Ark and the first three Harry Potter films. With the four recent concert performances of John Williams' music by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and another series of concerts already scheduled for next season, the popularity of John Williams is clearly not diminishing in the Phoenix area.

Under Robert Franz's fun, personable and passionate conduction, the Phoenix Symphony performed both many beloved and recognizable themes as well as some slightly lesser known selections from Williams' oeuvre. The playing by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra throughout the entire concert was superb.

The audience was thoroughly entertained by a trio of Star Wars selections, including one of Williams' most recent compositions, "Scherzo for X-Wing" from The Force Awakens along with "Across the Stars" from Attack of the Clones and The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back, which ended the first half of the concert and featured Franz dueling with Darth Vader on stage. But the full crowd was equally as moved by some of Williams' non-film compositions. These included the rousing "Summon the Heroes," which was written for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the sweeping and beautiful "Liberty Fanfare" which Williams wrote for the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

Steven Moeckel's expert violin solos brought a brightness and clarity to the romance filled Tango ("Por una Cabeza")  by Carlos Gardel as well as delivered a seriousness in the simplicity of "The Theme from Schindler's List." Moeckel's dedication and expert playing was matched by every other musician on stage at the Orpheum Theatre.

Other selections included a quartet of film flying numbers that soared to the ceiling of the Orpheum and which featured a beautiful woodwinds only arrangement of "Nimbus 2000" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, along with that film's "Hedwig's Theme," Hook's "Flight to Neverland" and "Adventures on Earth" from ET: the Extraterrestrial. While "The Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark is instantly recognizable, Franz and the PSO proved that some of Williams' other film selections are just as iconic. These included the stunning "The Devil's Dance from The Witches of Eastwick and the moving, brave and courageous "Hymn to the Fallen" from Saving Private Ryan. The Cowboys Overture, with its old West style is a prime example in how Williams is able to adapt his compositions to any type of film to help an audience instantly connect with the movie's time and place.

Williams is also a master in ensuring his arrangements draw upon the vast capabilities of the orchestra. He elicits heroic notes from the brass section while continually drawing upon the strings to evoke a sense of flight that send us soaring into space. He also instills a sense of longing or desire from his succinct ability to draw stunning notes from instruments such as the French horn, flute and oboe. It is his ability to know exactly which instrument will deliver the feeling that each moment needs to deliver the feeling of the screen character or action moment that has truly made Williams into the

The popularity of Williams will continue as next season includes another set of concerts solely dedicated to his compositions in May, another concert with music from both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes that will feature some Williams selections, as well as weekends in October and January where the first two Harry Potter films that Williams scored will be shown with full orchestra accompaniment.

”The Music of John Williams” with the Phoenix Symphony played four performances on May 12th, 13th and 14th, 2017 at the Opeheum Theatre in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at http://www.phoenixsymphony.org.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

theatre review - HOLMES & WATSON - Arizona Theatre Company - May 13, 2017

the cast
photo by Tim Fuller
Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 28th.

"Jeffrey Hatcher's 2011 play Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club which premiered at Arizona Theatre Company. His latest thriller, Holmes and Watson, also focuses on the famous detective and his friend Dr. Watson, and is receiving its world premiere at ATC. This is a truly smashing play full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Arizona Theatre's production features an outstanding cast and some stunning creative elements....It's been almost three years since Holmes' duel with Professor Moriarty that left both men presumed dead after falling into the forceful waters at Reichenbach Falls. But is Holmes dead or did he just disappear? ...Now, three.. men all claim to be Holmes, and Watson is summoned to an asylum on a remote island to determine which, if any, is actually the famous detective. Hatcher has crafted an intelligent mystery thriller...a drama filled with both intrigue and humor. ...very smartly written with no forced or false plot reveals and a play that I believe would be just as enjoyable on a second viewing to see how intelligently Hatcher builds and foreshadows the twists. While Hatcher's Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club was a good play, his Holmes and Watson is a great one. The ATC cast, under David Ira Goldstein's smart and swift direction, deliver superb portrayals....The combination of John Ezell's excellent two tiered set design...with the stunning animated projections by Jeffrey Teeter...with Don Darnutzer's lush lighting and Brian Jerome Peterson's chilling sound design results in some stunning stage images. Matthew LeFebvre's costume designs are equally as good, providing both period touches and mysterious elements. Full of intrigue as well as a few big laughs, Holmes and Watson is a very worthy addition to the many Sherlock Holmes stage and film adaptations. With an excellent cast and spot on production elements, Arizona Theatre Company's production is exceptional and a fitting end to the company's 50th anniversary season. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

theatre review - BEEHIVE - Phoenix Theatre - May 13, 2017




Click here for more information on this production that runs through June 4th.

"."Turn back the clock to the '60s," beckons the lyrics in the opening song of Beehive. Based on the crowd-pleasing roar and immediate standing ovation at the performance I attended at Phoenix Theatre, this travel back in time to the songs made famous by the girl groups and female singers of the 1960s is a most recommended journey. Created by Larry Gallagher...With over forty songs, ...it is a toe-tapping celebration of the importance of the music of the female singers of the '60s. Gallagher's narrative focuses on the changing styles of music along with key moments of the decade...and their relation to the rise of relevant social issues of that period. At first glance, Beehive might seem like a lightweight bit of fluff, with a lot of the first act spent on songs about silly school girl crushes ("Where the Boys Are"), silly jargon tunes ("The Name Game"), and the rise of the British Invasion on the music scene. But the inclusion of "The Beat Goes On" shows the shifting societal transition from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the deadly impact of the Vietnam War and how the music of the decade both commented on these historical moments and gave a voice to the youth of the generation. The second act is firmly focused on a few powerhouse female vocalists, including Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin, who gave rise to songs about female strength and empowerment, numbers that comment on social issues or tortured passion. Director and choreographer Michael Jenkinson has done great work with this production. His staging and dances serve both the style of song and the singer, with plenty of high energetic dance steps that add to the enjoyment of these familiar tunes. The Phoenix Theatre production is colorful and vibrant with six excellent singers and a smoking band led by the always excellent music director Alan Ruch. ...Brittney Mack, Chanel Bragg and Katie Hart deliver superb portrayals of Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin, respectively, with their performances smartly more of an homage to these famous women instead of a straightforward impersonation.....Beehive smartly shows how the music of the 1960s was a reflection of the women of that period and how the songs and the female singers proved inspirational regarding how women viewed themselves and the world around them. ...Beehive at Phoenix theatre is a true celebration of the powerful songs and women of the 1960s. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, May 12, 2017

concert review - LEA SALONGA WITH THE PHOENIX SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA - May 5, 2017

Lea Salonga


"...Lea Salonga's recent concerts with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra featured exceptional singing from Salonga and skilled playing from the PSO on excellent renditions of many songs associated with Salonga as well as numerous other hits from the Broadway and pop songbooks.
Lea Salonga won the Tony and Olivier Awards for her role of Kim in Miss Saigon and also sang for two Disney princesses, in the films Aladdin and Mulan. The passion she brings to songs from the musicals and films she has appeared in is just as strong when she sings songs for roles she didn't originate. She also makes sure that the meaning of every word she is singing is delivered with clarity. ...she still instills each word of the song with power...in "I'd Give My Life for You" from Miss Saigon, which is the passionate plea of a young mother that is also filled with pain and anger. "Reflection" from Mulan and "Burn" from Hamilton, while two very different songs, both focus on how a woman can become strong when faced with adversity and forced to stand alone without a man by her side. Three Stephen Sondheim songs, "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, "Another Hundred People" from Company, and "Something's Coming" from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein), also were a testament to Salonga's ability to inflict nuance and complete understanding on lyrics that are filled with soul searching, desire, and personal inflection. On all of these songs, as well as the other songs she sang, her enunciation was flawless and her punctuated delivery of each lyric was filled with meaning....two numbers from Les Misérables...were simply exceptional. ...In addition to musical and film songs, Salonga also included a medley of numbers written by Michael Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman featuring a lovely version of the Oscar-winning "The Windmills of Your Mind" and a soaring "A Piece of Sky" from the film Yentl...Salonga's stellar vocal control is full of power, precision and clarity. Her warm stage presence, clear connection with both the audience and the orchestra, personal stories, and spontaneous interjections made the whole affair genuine and refreshing..." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

theatre review - LA ESQUINITA, USA - Arizona Theatre Company - February 11, 2017

Rubén C. González
Photo by Tim Fuller
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 26th.

"...Rubén C. González's one man show La Esquinita, USA brings to life ten colorful characters in a small U.S. bordertown where the people and the city have all fallen on hard times. While it isn't a completely successful venture, it is exceptionally directed with rich creative elements, and González is a master craftsman in his ability to breathe life into these characters as he effortlessly transforms from one to another. ...The story centers on Daniel, a drugged out high school student who desperately needs money to pay off his debt to his dealer and who dreams of getting out of this broken-down town to join the military. ..González presents an interesting tale and eloquently establishes both a place and people that we've all seen, heard of, or come in contact with....While this play premiered back in 2010 it is clearly still just as relevant today. Director Kinan Valdez's firm touch and the superb lighting design by Michael Oesch and evocative sound design by Anahuac Valdez help assist González as he weaves together these divergent characters. The changes in light and sound transform the stage as quickly as González morphs, with changes in his vocal inflection and body language from character to character. It all plays out on Regina Garcia's excellent set that portrays a chainlink fence outside the abandoned factory with discarded tires and garbage scattered around a bus stop where Daniel waits for a bus that seems to never come. While González is exceptional in his portrayal of these disparate and desperate people, there are a few moments in his play where slightly unfocused themes or characters are introduced and it is unclear what, if any, point they have in the plot. ...Also, the ending is ambivalent, possibly to make us decide for ourselves what we think would happen to Daniel and the people we've met. ...makes it seem unfinished and even somewhat disappointing to not know what happened to this anxious young man. While I wish it were somewhat clearer and had a better ending, La Esquinita, USA is an intriguing character study that puts the spotlight on the many small towns across the land whose inhabitants find their once booming area now desolate and their dreams no longer within reach." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

theatre review - MATILDA THE MUSICAL - National Tour: ASU Gammage - February 8, 2017

Hannah Levinson
Photo by Joan Marcus

Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 12th.


"...Fortunately for the Royal Shakespeare Company, even though Matilda doesn't quite have the universal emotional appeal of (their) Les Misérables, it is a hugely entertaining family musical that had a healthy run on Broadway and the national tour is just as good as the Broadway production. Based on the children's novel of the same name by Roald Dahl and with a book by Dennis Kelly and a score by Tim Minchin, Matilda tells the familiar story of a young girl who is misunderstood and unloved but who finds love in books and through her school teacher...But things get worse when Matilda is sent to school, where the dreaded, sadistic Miss Trunchbull, who thinks all kids are "maggots," is the headmistress. Fortunately, Matilda's sweet but mousy teacher Miss Honey sees the gifts that Matilda has and together they help each other overcome their obstacles and demons.
...Hannah Levinson...embodies Matilda with a fearlessness that shows how she is smart but not cocky, fearless, and sassy, yet heartbreaking as well. ...As the mean Miss Trunchbull, Dan Chameroy has a ball in playing a sadistic, hateful and enormous character that you love to hate ...Other notable parts include Jennifer Bowles as Miss Honey, the school teacher who takes Matilda under her wing. ...creates a touching and effective character that you root for..Matt Harrington is hilarious and even a bit touching as Matilda's father, while Darcy Stewart is a hoot as Matilda's self-absorbed mother....The score by Tim Minchin includes many memorable songs, including Matilda's first act solo "Naughty" and the second act opener "When I Grow Up" that you'll be humming for days after you come out of the theatre. ..The entire creative Broadway team recreates their efforts for this tour. Director Matthew Warchus has conjured up a fantastic, almost imaginary world for us to visit..Set designer Rob Howell won a Tony for his magical set and while his tour design is somewhat pared back from the Broadway production...his tour set still holds many magical effects..While this is an enjoyable show I still have a few quibbles. Even though she is the title character, Matilda is occasionally pushed a little into the background. There are several times when the ensemble is singing together, or in the storytelling segments when Matilda and another character are speaking in unison, and you really can't make out what they are saying. ...Also, as I mentioned above, Trunchbull doesn't really get the grand exit she deserves and, while Miss Honey is lovely, we spend a little too much time with her character than we should, since this is supposed to be Matilda's story...While Matilda may not be the greatest musical ever created it does hit many high notes, including colorful, over the top characters that are easily identifiable, a creative set, a cast that throws themselves into the material, a score and book that have many memorable moments, and direction that manages to hold everything together while delivering many laughs and even a few tears.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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)