Tuesday, January 28, 2014

theatre review SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, Arizona Broadway Theatre, January 19

Shelley Jenkins and Brian Krinsky
Click here to read my full review of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers now playing at Arizona Broadway Theatre.

"As far as musicals go, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is just a serviceable one, with only a few memorable songs and a paper thin plot with very little drama. But the Arizona Broadway Theatre production is so joyous and colorful with rousing choreography and cast with singers with phenomenal voices that any shortcomings with the plot and the score are almost completely forgotten by the time the final curtain comes down.

So while Seven Brides for Seven Brothers isn't a musical classic, it is filled with so much fun and rambunctious joy that it doesn't really matter. With a talented cast, superb production elements and wall to wall infectious dancing, ABT has another hit on its hands.  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers runs through February 16th at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at azbroadway.org or by calling (623) 776-8400

Photo: Arizona Broadway Theatre


theatre review FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Desert Stages Theatre, January 18

Tony Blosser
To read my entire review of Fiddler on the Roof at Deserts Stages Theatre, click here.

"The classic musical Fiddler on the Roof is currently receiving a sleek and splendid production at the Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale. Fiddler tells the well-known story of Tevye, the poor Jewish dairy man, his wife and five daughters in early 1900s Russia and the changing world around them as he tries to hold on to his traditions and religious customs. Fiddler on the Roof is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary, having opened on Broadway in September of 1964, and the Desert Stages production is well directed with several great performances.

Fiddler on the Roof is a powerful piece of musical theatre with a wonderful score, a strong sense of humor and realistic drama effectively combining to tell the tale of a simple man, his family and fellow villagers confronted by some serious issues. The Desert Stage Theatre production has a good cast, fine direction, a sleek design and manages very effectively to tell a human story filled with heart." The Desert Stages production of Fiddler on the Roof runs through February 2nd with performances at 4720 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are available at www.DesertStages.org, or by phone at (480) 483-1664.

Photo: Heather Butcher

Friday, January 24, 2014

theatre review TAKE ME OUT, Nearly Naked Theatre, January 16

David Nelson, Eric Boudreau and Jaime Gaeta
Click here to read my entire review of the Nearly Naked Theatre production of Take Me Out which runs through February 1st.

"Richard Greenberg's play Take Me Out created quite a stir when it premiered Off-Broadway in 2002, due to the amount of male nudity in that production. After a London run, the production moved to Broadway in the spring of 2003 and swept all of the major awards, including winning the Tony Award for Best Play. Take Me Out's main theme deals with homosexuality in professional sports, but the drama touches upon many other things too, from race and bigotry to male bonding and how baseball is basically a metaphor for life. I saw the show with both the original Off-Broadway and Broadway companies and I'm happy to report that the Nearly Naked Theatre Company's current production of the play is on par with those productions. It is well directed and designed, with a fairly good cast and effective staging in an intimate space, and the play still resonates today.

Greenberg's play is ambitious but unfortunately leaves some questions unanswered, and a few actions that the main characters make aren't exactly clearly explained. It also isn't quite as moving or inspiring as it originally was. This is possibly due to several professional athletes who have come out in the past 12 years, even though no major ballplayers came out while they were still actively playing the sport like Darren does in the play. There is also the fact of changing views of homosexuals and more acceptance of gay rights during the past twelve years, especially same sex marriage. However, this is still an effective play, as the topic and themes of racism, bigotry and acceptance remain relevant today. The Nearly Naked Theatre Company production has a good cast, clear creative elements and effective direction." Take Me Out runs through February 1st with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre at 100 E. McDowell in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling (602) 254-2151 or at nearlynakedtheatre.org


Friday, January 17, 2014

theatre review PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, National Tour, ASU Gammage, January 14

Joey deBettencourt and Megan Stern
Click her to read my full review at Talkin' Broadway of the National Tour of Peter and the Starcatcher- playing at ASU/Gammage through this Sunday, January 19th.

"Peter and the Starcatcher is a new play by Rick Elice based on the children's novel "Peter and the Starcatchers" by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. After a successful Broadway run, where the show won five Tony Awards, the first national tour has landed in Tempe for a one-week run through Sunday, January 19th. A prequel to Peter Pan, Peter and the Starcatcher shows us how an unnamed orphan became the famous boy who wouldn't grow up. The play is a magical and theatrical show and the tour has a top notch ensemble cast led by John Sanders, Megan Stern and Joey deBettencourt as Peter.

Peter Pan and most fairy tales require the person reading them to imagine, and that sense of imagination is exactly what Peter and the Starcatcher is helping to bring to the theatre. I'm happy to report that the national tour is just as good as the Broadway production. Not only are the creative elements on par with Broadway but Rees and Timbers' direction and the ensemble of actors are top notch as well.  Peter and the Starcatcher runs through January 19th at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. For performance and ticket information, visit www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit peterandthestarcatcher.com."

Photo: Jenny Anderson


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

theatre review 4,000 MILES, Actors Theatre, January 12

Devon Nickel and Patti Davis Suarez
My review at Talkin' Broadway of 4,000 Miles being presented by Actors Theatre through January 26th can be found by clicking this link.

Amy Herzog's play 4000 Miles is a drama that touches upon death and its effects on people. While that might seem like a downer of a show, it is also one of the funniest, freshest and most realistic plays of the past few years. Set in modern day Manhattan and with two excellent performances at its core, 4000 Milesis receiving a lovely production at the Actors Theatre, with moving direction and a knock-out performance by Patti Davis Suarez.

The play begins at 3am as Vera's 21-year-old grandson Leo arrives on her West Village, New York City apartment doorstep. He has just ended a trek across the country on his bike, hence the title of the play, and after being turned away by his girlfriend, needs a place to stay. He doesn't know how long he will stay, maybe just a day or two, but the 91-year-old Vera takes him in and, once Leo sees just how alone his grandmother is and since he has no immediate plans, he decides to stay for a while. Over the course of the next two hours we see how these two people, even though they are seventy years apart in age, need each other to survive and how real love and compassion don't need to be overtly stated out loud.

As Vera, Patti Davis Suarez is giving one of the best performances in Phoenix. She is touching, heartbreaking and says so much with only a look. She perfectly captures the feelings, desperation and mundane day to day existence that your typical 91-year-old grandmother must go through. Whether it is her constant talk about the laundry, the bickering phone calls with her neighbor and daughter, how she has difficulty in getting up from the sofa or a chair, the way she is always taking her hearing aid out and putting it back in, or how when Leo first shows up she rushes off to put her teeth in, Suarez wrings every comic nuance and dramatic moment of reality from the life of this old woman who has been living on her own for ten years.

But where Suarez really excels is in her ability to not over-dramatize Vera's dread of death and the fact that she is becoming forgetful. Sure, she is frustrated when she can't remember the words she wants to say or when her hands shake when taking a teacup to the table, but Vera keeps fighting on. Almost all of her friends are gone—she even comments that she's the last one left in her octogenarian club—but she is still very concerned about life, and not just her life but Leo's life as well. You see, Leo is just as haunted by death as Vera, due to a recent tragedy that is hinted at throughout the play and that we don't fully learn the specifics of until close to the end of the play. That moment, in a scene so cleanly written and directed and beautifully acted, shows how precious life is and that death can come when least expected. Herzog has added a comical ending to the scene so it isn't a downer.

Patti Davis Suarez and Devon Nickel
Devon Nickel does a fine job as Leo, who is just as much an independent soul as his grandmother, and he brings the appropriate amount of tenderness to the part as well. Nickel captures the lost boy who doesn't quite know what to do with his life when tragedy strikes. He has a high energy in his delivery that adds a sense of urgency to everything he says along with an added sense of humor, as if making a joke about things, even death, will make it better and easier to swallow. And, though Leo is independent, he is also lost and lately somewhat unable to connect to anyone. When he finds that his grandmother is almost as lost and alone as he is, it gives him someone to connect with. Nickel's interactions with Suarez, especially the way he hugs her as if he is clinging on to life, are extremely touching and perfectly tie into how lost and alone Leo feels. While this is a type of character we've seen numerous times before, Nickel provides enough nuance to it to make it seem fresh and new.

Also in the cast are Courtney Weir as Bec, Leo's girlfriend, and Keilani Akagi as a student he picks up one night and brings back to the apartment. Both are small roles but serve a purpose in the events of the play. Weir has two key moments in the play and it is nice to see how she, as Bec, reacts to the changes she sees in Leo over the course of her visits to Vera's apartment. Akagi gets to deliver some comic moments and her delivery, while somewhat over the top, is effortless.

Director Matthew Wiener must be credited for the accurate portrayal of silence and quiet moments in conversations that naturally happen between people who are seventy years apart. Weiner's light and simple touch allows Herzog's words and the two central performances to shine through, and he is also extremely effective in ensuring the production walks the fine line between drama and comedy without ever becoming over the top. The set design by Jeff Thomson evokes an overstuffed and cluttered room in a Manhattan apartment with all of the items a 90-year-old person would have accumulated over the years. Mismatched furniture and books cluttered and stacked throughout the apartment perfectly match Vera's personality and somewhat scatterbrained demeanor. Tim Monson's lighting design beautifully evokes various times of day. The scene I mentioned before, where Leo tells Vera the specific details of his recent tragedy, is lit in shadows that provide an intimate, almost dreamlike and surreal moment to really make the scene pop. Costumes by Lois K. Meyers are exactly what you'd expect for a 21-year-old self-proclaimed "hippie," his grandma, and two college-aged girls, including some humorous biking gear that Vera finds a bit shocking when she washes it, and a skin-tight outfit for Akagi that immediately lets us know what kind of girl she wants people to think she is.

A one-act play when it was produced Off Broadway in 2011, there is a lot that goes on in 4000 Miles, so the addition of an intermission for this Actors Theatre production is welcome. There are also some things that aren't fully fleshed out. I'm not sure if that was Herzog's intention, as not everything has to be resolved or serve a purpose to the play's overall plot. However, there is much talk about Vera's being a communist that provides some humor and helps flesh out her back story, but I didn't quite know if we are to somehow make a connection with Vera's political past and Leo's ecologically focused views. While I understand it relates to the changing leftist views from Vera's time to Leo's, it still seems somewhat undeveloped. Also, there is some discussion around Leo's relationship with his sister in a scene between Leo and Vera and then we see him Skyping with his sister, but we never really know exactly what to make of that relationship. The play also has a somewhat mellow ending, focusing more on the simple life of Vera's next door neighbor that, while it might somehow be meant to relate back to Vera and Leo, it didn't quite connect with me.

Herzog has written a lovely play that covers many topics and themes and, with Patti Davis Suarez's performance, clear and precise direction, and perfectly simple creative elements, the few shortcomings in the text are quickly forgiven. I highly recommend 4000 Miles for anyone seeking a play that is both dramatic and comedic and offers portrayals of modern day characters and the trials and tribulations of aging as well as those of being lost when you're young, that reflect all of our lives.

The Actors Theatre production of 4000 Miles runs through January 26th at the Black Theatre Troupe/Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, at 1333 East Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. Tickets can be ordered at actorstheatrephx.org or by calling (602) 888-0368

Photos: John Groseclose/Actors Theatre

theatre review MACBETH, Southwest Shakespeare Company, January 10

Tina Mitchell and Terence MacSweeny
Click here for my complete review at Talkin' Broadway of Macbeth.  The Southwest Shakespeare Company's production is now playing through January 25th.

"William Shakespeare's Macbeth is the story of a power hungry couple who choose murder to fulfill their ambitions. Southwest Shakespeare Company is presenting a bold production of the play with striking creative elements, assured direction, and a pretty top notch cast, including Tina Mitchell as Lady Macbeth, who is giving a stellar performance.

Ultimately, Macbeth is the story of ambition, what people will do to achieve it, and the aftermath of those actions. It is a moody and complex play full of many emotional moments, some of Shakespeare's most famous lines of dialogue as well as some gruesome elements, too. The Southwest Shakespeare Company production is powerful and effective with clear direction, sleek design elements and a fairly well cast group of actors including a wonderful portrayal of Lady Macbeth."

Southwest Shakespeare Official Site

Photo: Mark Gluckman/ Southwest Shakespeare Company


Monday, January 13, 2014

theatre review MY SON, THE WAITER - Herberger Theatre- Jan. 8

Brad Zimmerman
For my complete Talkin' Broadway review of My Son, the Waiter click here.

"Brad Zimmerman is a gifted stand-up comedian in his late fifties. Over the past ten years he has opened for both Joan Rivers and George Carlin so you would think he's been performing stand-up since he was in his twenties in order to land those high profile gigs. However, as we discover in his hilarious, yet somewhat disjointed one man show My Son, the Waiter, he actually didn't start doing stand-up until he was in his forties, shortly after attending a stand-up class in 1996. So the fact that he appeared with these A-list comics after such a short time mastering his craft is a testament to Zimmerman's comic abilities. My Son, the Waiter, with the tag line "A Jewish Tragedy," follows Zimmerman's life from sleep away camp in his youth to his finding his voice in stand-up along with dealings with his overbearing Jewish mother, with plenty of jokes, stories and anecdotes about life delivered along the way."

Official Show Site

theatre review XANADU, Arizona Theatre Company, Jan. 4

Dane Stokinger and Jessica Skerritt
Click here for my complete Talkin' Broadway review of Xanadu at the Arizona Theatre Company, which runs through January 19th.

"Though musicals based on movies have been the trend on Broadway for years now, the idea of turning a huge flop movie into a musical must have been met with producers shaking their heads. I'm happy to report that the 1980 musical film flop Xanadu has been turned into a hilarious, campy and extremely charming stage production. The Broadway show ran for over 500 performances and the Arizona Theatre Company production that just opened in Phoenix is equally good, with a hilarious cast, sure-footed direction and excellent production elements.

Xanadu is a silly show with many show-stopping musical numbers of some of the biggest pop hits of the early '80s. The Arizona Theatre Company co-production with the Village Theatre has a superb cast, inspired direction and perfect design elements that combine into a truly humorous, infectious and magical evening that hardly anyone will be able to resist. So, pull out your leg warmers and roller skates from the closet and skate on down to the Herberger Theater before January 19th."

Arizona Theatre Company Official Site

Photo: Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin/Arizona Theatre Company

theatre review MAMMA, MIA - National Tour - ASU/Gammage - Dec. 31

Gabrielle Mirabella, Georgia Kate Haege and
Carly Sakolove
For my complete Talkin' Broadway review of the current National Tour of Mamma Mia that recently played at ASU/Gammage click this link.

"Mamma Mia! is a feel good musical that has run for over twelve years on Broadway, and the national tour of the show has come to ASU Gammage for a week long run through Sunday, January 5th. Using the hit songs of '70s Swedish pop band ABBA, Mamma Mia! is a musical for fans of ABBA and fans of romance, and for anyone looking for a fun night out.

Is Mamma Mia! a great musical? No, as about half of the ABBA songs don't make complete sense in the context they are used. However, many of them do fit nicely into the plot, so there is enough to make it enjoyable. The sincerity in the script and the ability of the cast to not turn the whole affair into a karaoke or camp affair are what really make it rise above many other jukebox musicals. It might not be a perfect musical, but with a winning cast and a thumping disco beat Mamma Mia! is fun and infectious."

Mamma Mia Tour site

Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia

theatre review DRIVING MISS DAISY - Desert Arts Stages - Dec. 28

Barbara McBain and Al Lowe
Click hear to read my complete Talkin' Broadway review of the  recent Desert Stages production of Driving Miss Daisy.

"Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre is presenting a lovely production of Driving Miss Daisy through January 12th. I would think by now that everyone knows the plot, due to the hugely successful 1989 Oscar winning film, but the play, originally produced Off-Broadway in 1987, is a much more intimate experience. With only a cast of three, and with the most minimal of sets, the play presents the relationship that develops between Daisy, a Jewish woman in her early 70s, and Hoke, her black chauffeur, over a 25 year period in Atlanta from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Since Daisy has recently wrecked her car and is no longer insurable, her son Boolie enlists Hoke to drive her. At first, the very independent and stern Daisy doesn't want anything to do with having someone drive her around, but she slowly she comes to terms with having this person in her life. "

Photo: Heather Butcher