Monday, March 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Tim Trumbule

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Heather Butcher/Desert Stages Theatre


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

Photo: Sam Miller

concert review A TRIBUTE TO MARVIN HAMLISCH, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, March 9

Donna McKechnie
To read my complete Talkin' Broadway review of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra's recent Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, just click on this link.

"Composer Marvin Hamlisch had a long and illustrious career. Over a period of just a few years he won a Golden Globe and then three Academy Awards at the age of 29 in 1974 for his work on the films The Way We Were and The Sting, followed by Grammy Awards for those films and then both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for A Chorus Line. While the remainder of his life wasn't filled with as many awards it did include continued film score work, several new musical scores for Broadway, and an ongoing association with numerous symphony orchestras throughout the United States. Hamlisch left a legacy of many wonderful musical themes and songs, and, due to his sudden death in 2012 at the age of 68, it is only natural that his life is being celebrated by orchestras across the country. A recent tribute concert with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra that was presented for three performances was not only a living testament to the musical gifts Hamlisch left behind but also to the way he touched the lives of the featured performers at the concert, all of whom had worked with Hamlisch.

But the highlight of the evening was the inclusion of numerous songs from A Chorus Line, all of which had the added benefit of the artists "acting" the songs and not just singing them. These included McKechnie's fantastic performance of two songs that her character didn't sing, "Nothing" and "At the Ballet." Her solo on "Nothing" was heartfelt and touching, like the character in the show who sings it, and "At the Ballet" featured the lovely addition of Benson and a student performer from ASU's Lyric Opera Theatre. It was stirring. McKechnie also got the chance to sing the original act two solo song for her character Cassie, "Inside the Music," which was replaced with the showstopping "The Music and the Mirror." McKechnie's performance of both songs showed perfectly how a song can evolve and become better, and she even performed a bit of the Michael Bennett choreography. Two A Chorus Line numbers ended the concert, "What I Did For Love" and an encore of "One." In a lovely homage to Hamlisch, the first verse of "One" was changed from "every little step she takes" to "every little step he takes" while a large photo of Hamlisch was projected over the stage.  A Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch with these guest artists will also be presented with the Philadelphia Pops March 14th to March 16th and the Atlanta Symphony March 28th and 29th. Information for those shows, as well as upcoming performances of Hamlisch's music can be found at  A Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch with the Phoenix Symphony played March 7th to March 9th at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at

theatre review WHAT HE KNEW ABOUT WOMEN: THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN, Phoenix Theatre, March 8

Debby Rosenthal, Molly Lajoie and Shana Bousard
Click here to read my full review of the new musical review What He Knew About Women: The Music of Cy Coleman, that had a workshop run at the Phoenix Theatre during their Hormel Festival of New Plays and Musicals.

"Composer Cy Coleman had a prolific career, not just in musical theatre but also in jazz. He wrote the music for eleven Broadway shows, including the smash Tony winning musicals Sweet Charity, Barnum, City of Angels and The Will Rogers Follies, and his pop hits include "Witchcraft" and "The Best Is Yet to Come." All of this happened after he was already a successful jazz musician, performing and recording with his own jazz trio. With a vast catalog of material it is hard to believe there haven't been more revues of Coleman's music. The Best Is Yet to Come was a nicely constructed revue that played Off-Broadway in 2011. That show was directed by David Zippel, who wrote the lyrics for City of Angels. I'm happy to report that a new revue called What He Knew About Women: The Music of Cy Coleman that recently received a production as part of the Phoenix Theatre's Hormel Festival of New Plays and Musicals is a nicely constructed piece that, with a few tweaks, could have a long future life.

At a talkback, the creative team spoke about future ideas for this revue and also asked the audience for feedback. The ideas mentioned included adding bass and drums to lend a jazz trio sound, making it more in line with Coleman's jazz background, as well as to possibly adding more songs to make the show run longer than the current 45 minutes. Both of those ideas are highly recommended, along with creating a clearer theme in order for the songs to land even better, and adding more humor, perhaps using some of Coleman's more comical numbers.  I enjoyed What He Knew About Women: The Music of Cy Coleman, especially the use of some of his lesser known songs and the splendid vocal arrangements that many of the songs received. With just a few tweaks, some additional material, and a slightly more focused theme this could become an even better revue that pays tribute to a very skilled composer.
What He Knew About Women: The Music of Cy Coleman ran March 7th and 8th at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets for other Phoenix Theatre productions can be purchased at or by calling (602) 254-2151


Sunday, March 16, 2014

theatre review PIPPIN, Phoenix Theatre, March 7

Paul Stovall, Anthony Johnson and ensemble
To read my entire review at Talkin' Broadway for the Phoenix Theatre's production of Pippin, just click on this link.

"The original 1972 Broadway production of Pippin was highly identified with Bob Fosse, who directed it and added his sleek and stylized signature choreographic moves to just about every moment of the show. An updated revival of the show opened to great success on Broadway last year and now the Phoenix Theatre is presenting their own re-imagined take on this musical. Setting the show within a circus, this production is somewhat similar to the current Broadway revival, which also adds a circus theme, though the Broadway production is more in line with the highly stylized acrobatics of a Cirque du Soleil show with a considerable heightened sense of sensuality as well. While the Phoenix Theatre production does have a considerable amount of circus elements, they are more in line with a traveling group of carnival performers. And, unlike the Broadway production, they don't overdo the sexual hijinks or rely on many of the original Fosse moves, reimagining the choreography as well. For the most part this colorful, high energy re-do of the show works.

Is Pippin a perfect show? No, but it is one with many magical and memorable moments, including some excellent songs by Schwartz. With the circus theme of the Phoenix Theatre's reimagining and Trisha Hart Ditsworth's excellent portrayal of Catherine, most of the show's shortcomings are overcome, turning this musical into a joyful and dazzling story of self-discovery.
Pippin runs through March 30, 2014, at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (602) 254-2151

Photo: Tamara French/Phoenix Theatre


Friday, March 14, 2014

theatre review OKLAHOMA!, Hale Centre Theatre, March 5

Bryan Stewart and Rebecca Bryce
Click here to read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway of Oklahoma!, receiving an excellent intimate production at the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert.

"It's hard to believe that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's first musical collaboration together, Oklahoma!, just recently celebrated the seventieth anniversary of its Broadway opening. I've seen several large scale productions of this show, including the huge 2002 Broadway revival, so it's nice to see how successful it can be in an intimate setting, which is what it's receiving in a superb production at the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert. Focusing on the rivalry between a farm hand and a cowboy for the hand of a farm girl in the Oklahoma territory of the early 1900s, the musical paints a fairly simple romantic story. However, it is also set across the sweeping landscape of settlers and the various social events that take place in their simple lives. Those events include a barn raising and a social dance that provide plenty of big and elaborate stage moments to counter the more intimate and dramatic romantic ones surrounding the love triangle between cowboy Curly, farm hand Jud, and farm girl Laurey. Rodgers and Hammerstein received a special Pulitzer Prize for the show, and several famous songs came from the score, including the opening number "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," the romantic duet "People Will Say We're in Love" and the show-stopping title song.

Oklahoma! is a classic musical and one with many excellent moments. The intimacy of the Hale Theatre allows the emotions of the characters to come through strongly. With excellent leads, perfect direction, and the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, I urge everyone to see the fantastic production that this ground breaking musical is receiving at The Hale Centre Theatre.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Oklahoma! runs through March 29, 2014, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-1181.

Photo: Sam Miller

theatre review CHARLOTTE'S WEB, Desert Stages Theatre, March 2

Kristin Alba and Erin Tarkington
To read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway of Charlotte's Web, just click here.

"E. B. White's classic 1952 children's novel "Charlotte's Web" tells the story of the new born pig Wilbur and the spider Charlotte who helps him escape from being slaughtered by spinning words into her web that praise Wilbur. Charlotte's words draw considerable attention to the young pig, making him into something of a media sensation that ultimately saves his life. The novel has already been turned into two feature films so it would make sense that someone would adapt the novel into a family friendly musical. Desert Stages Theatre co-founder Gerry Cullity, who passed away in 2005, adapted and wrote the music and lyrics for a musical version of Charlotte's Web and Desert Stages is currently presenting a return engagement of Cullity's creation.

Running almost two hours and spread over two acts, the musical runs a bit long with several ensemble numbers that, while nice to see the hard work of the young cast, slow the second act down. But, even though the show could be trimmed a bit, seeing the dedication and enthusiasm of the young performers is refreshing. And while the score only has a few memorable tunes, most of the songs do their job of either moving the plot forward or giving us additional insight into the characters. Charlotte's Web is a show that deals with some grown-up topics, including the slaughtering of a pig and the death of one of the main characters, so while it is geared toward families, I'd recommend keeping smaller children at home and also expecting to have older children ask some questions about the themes that are brought up.  Charlotte's Web at Desert Stages is a sweet telling of the classic children's novel, with a large cast, nice leads and colorful and creative costumes.
The Desert Stages production of Charlotte's Web runs through March 30, 2014, with performances at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are available at or by phone at (480) 483-1664

Photo: Heather Butcher/Desert Stages Theatre

theatre review EQUIVOCATION, Southwest Shakespeare Company, March 1

Joseph Cannon and Alison Sell
Click here to read my complete review of Equivocation at the Southwest Shakespeare Festival at Talkin'

"There is an abundance of mystery, drama, intrigue and humor in Bill Cain's fascinating play Equivocation. Receiving its Arizona premiere in an impressive production from the Southwest Shakespeare Company, Equivocation poses the question, what if William Shakespeare were approached to write a play for the King of England that would turn a current historical event of an assassination attempt into a piece of propaganda that would paint the monarchy in a very positive light? The play would be seen by thousands of people who would believe the event happened as presented in the play, the King would be perceived to be a true leader who thwarted the enemy, and the true facts of the event would be forgotten forever. What Cain has written is a mesmerizing and intellectually challenging play that portrays the balance and struggle between politics and art as well as an insight into the working mind of Shakespeare. Southwest Shakespeare Company has a superb group of just six actors portraying numerous characters, and the direction and creative elements are simply top notch.

Equivocation is a complex and intricate piece of drama. While there is a lot that happens, it is also very accessible, even if you know nothing about the Gunpowder Plot or Shakespeare's history. With the use of contemporary language and heightened theatricality, such as having the house lights come on several times to shift us out of the past and into the present, even a fire alarm that went off toward the end of the performance I attended made many people think it was part of the play. And even after we were made to leave the auditorium, we all anxiously awaited to be allowed back into the theatre in order to see where the play would take us next.  Cain's exploration of this historical event and the possible conspiracy around it are fascinating. He has crafted an excellent play that is part historical drama, part thriller but always thrilling and with a superb cast, impeccable direction and sublime creative elements, any fan of theatre or Shakespeare needs to experience Southwest Shakespeare Company's Equivocation .
Equivocation runs through March 22nd, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street in Mesa, AZ. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (602) 535 - 1202

Photo: Devon C. Adams/ Southwest Shakespeare Company


Thursday, March 6, 2014

theatre review KISS ME, KATE, Arizona Broadway Theatre, February 28

Bob Downing, Renee Kathleen Koher, Marc de la Concha,
David Simmons and David Sattler
To read my complete Talkin' Broadway review of Kiss Me, Kate running at the Arizona Broadway Theatre through March 23rd, just click on this link.

"Kiss Me, Kate is considered a classic musical. With an infectious Cole Porter score and a fun and witty, though somewhat overblown, book by Sam and Bella Spewack, it humorously weaves together the story of two egotistical and recently divorced actors who are still madly in love but just can't stand to be around each other. The Arizona Broadway Theatre production, which runs through March 23rd, is a well-staged production of this fun backstage story, with impressive leads, sizzling choreography and superb creative elements.

While Kiss Me, Kate is a crowd-pleaser, the ending is a bit abrupt and a few of the Shrew scenes go on a bit too long for my liking. However, Porter's music is sublime and his lyrics, sometimes comically satirical, other times romantically lush, are superb, so there is still much to enjoy. Other than a few very small missteps, the ABT production is dynamic with a high caliber cast, top notch creative elements and some technically savvy direction and choreography.  Kiss Me, Kate runs through March 23, 2014, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (623) 776 - 8400

Photo: Mike Benedetto

Monday, March 3, 2014

MAX RAABE & THE PALAAST ORCHESTER - New cd and 2014 US Tour Dates

I am a HUGE fan of Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester.  Max and his twelve piece band take you back to the 1920's in Germany to what is known as the Weimar era.  The songs Max sings are from the Great American Songbook and include such gems as "Singin' in the Rain" and "Cheek to Cheek."  Some of the songs Max sings are in English, others are sung in German.   But no matter what language they are in, they are simply magical.  It is hard to describe the joy that Max and the Orchester bring, but they mesmerize and entertain you and for a couple of hours you travel back in time to a much simpler time and place when the troubles of the world are far away.  But Max doesn't just stop at singing just the oldies, he also has fun by adding in his take on current pop hits like "Oops...I Did It Again."  It is an evening and an experience you'll never forget.

Max and the Orchester just started their 2014 US tour and his new cd "Golden Age" was just released on Deutsche Grammophon records.  I'll have a review of the new cd very soon, but I wanted to post the details for their tour as well as put up some links to order or listen to his cd.

March 2nd, 2014 
Fairfax, VA @ Center For the Arts, George Mason University

March 3rd, 2014
New York, NY @ Carnegie Hall 

March 5th, 2014 
Princeton, NJ @ McCarter Theatre Center 

March 6th, 2014 
Kennet Square, PA @ Longwood Gardens Ballroom
Tickets: [SOLD OUT]

March 8th, 2014 
Atlanta, GA @ Rialto Center for the Arts, Georgia State University

March 9th, 2014 
Miami, FL @ The Knight Concert Hall, Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

You can order the new cd "Golden Age" at the links below or hear album samples at this Youtube link..