Wednesday, December 17, 2014

theatre review - THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS - Brelby Theatre Company - December 12

Melissa Kamel, Brian Maticic

"The month of December is usually filled with numerous theatrical adaptations of familiar Christmas classics. So it's refreshing that Brelby Theatre Company in Glendale is presenting the new original piece 12 Days of Christmas which focuses on a couple facing a crossroads in their lives and the group of friends that surrounds them set during the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to Christmas. 

Written by Brelby founders Shelby and Brian Maticic, with Brian playing the male lead and Shelby directing, it is another charming production from this duo with a cast comprised of many Brelby regulars. While the Maticic's script does have a few clich├ęs and contrived situations, it also has plenty of originality and realistic characters as well as a lot of laughs." - - Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway. (Click to read complete review)

photo: Shelby Maticic

Thursday, December 11, 2014

theatre review - MOTHER HICKS - Mesa Community College - December 6

for more information on this production, that runs through December 14th, click here.

" "Mother Hicks is a witch" is a statement repeated throughout Suzan Zeder's Mother Hicks. This story of misunderstood outsiders, including Mother Hicks who is suspected of being a witch by the people in the small neighboring town, is set in Illinois in 1935 right when the country is suffering from the Great Depression. Mesa Community College's production features several great performances, excellent direction and rich creative elements. The three leads in the Mesa Community College production are superb. Debra K. Stevens gets rich performances from the cast and brings a sense of folklore and storytelling to the piece." - Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway

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

""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

" 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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

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

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

Jim Coates and CastPhoto: Mike Benedetto / The Palms Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

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

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

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