Friday, July 24, 2015

theatre review - BEYOND MUSKETEERS: UTOPIA LOST - Brelby Theatre Company - July 22, 2015

Cody Goulder, David Magadan, Mia Pasarella, and Anabel Olguin
Photo: Brelby Theatre Company

Click here for more information on this production that runs through July 26th.

"...Beyond Musketeers: Utopia Lost is a reimagined and updated adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic tale "The Three Musketeers." This version, the end result of Brelby Theatre Company's 2015 Writers Circle, resets the story in a dystopian future. The kick-ass production is full of witty dialogue and almost nonstop, well executed fight scenes, with a talented cast and smart writing that paints each character as a distinct individual with a vibrant personality....The script keeps intact most of the characters, plot points, and themes of the novel, while changing the setting to a future world that somewhat resembles a cross between the settings of Mad Max and The Hunger Games. That it all works splendidly is due to both director Brian Maticic and the writers, who never let the action turn to camp while allowing each of the characters to be fully fleshed out and interesting. The play bogs down just a bit in act two but still manages to be a fun frolic punctuated with skilled and precise fight choreography. David Magadan has the right combination of youthful exuberance and optimism to make Dartagnon a character you can easily root for. As the continually sparing, bickering, and joking Musketeers, Cody Goulder, Mia Pasarella, and Anabel Olguin as Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, respectively, are splendid, giving the sense that they’ve know each other, and fought beside each other, for years. Pasarella is an absolute bad ass as Porthos, who is not only incredibly strong, but a wisecracking, sensual, butt-kicking lesbian. Pasarella has a firmly rooted take on this highly likable female character. Olguin is just as feisty as Pasarella yet also the level-headed one in group, instilling Aramis with a keen sense of justice. Goulder does a fine job of creating an introspective man with a secret. All four form a team that lives and breathes the famous motto of "one for all and all for one."...the action-packed fight sequences...include many varied combat modes, from sword fighting to gun play and even hand to hand. ...With a high body count, well defined characters, and dialogue that crackles with realism and wit, Brelby's adaptation is a fine, new, and updated addition. Add in a very good cast, sharp direction, and some intense fight sequences and you have a splendid futuristic retelling of this classic tale. "-Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

theatre review - THE CRUCIBLE - Desert Foothills Theater - July 19, 2015

Brad Cashman and Kelly Hajek
Photo: Jeremy Andorfer 
Click here for more information on this production that runs through July 26th.

"The cast of Desert Foothills Theater's Youth Advanced Drama Project is presenting a terrific production of Arthur Miller's classic 1953 play The Crucible, the end result of their summer intensive training. Miller's semi-fictionalized story of the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials of the 1690s was his response to the era of McCarthyism..The profound similarities between the Salem witchcraft trials and the McCarthy witch hunt are very apparent and Miller's drama is a stunning exposé into the aftermath of what can happen when fear outweighs facts. ...When Reverend Samuel Parris's daughter Betty is afflicted by a strange illness, it doesn't take long for a group of young girls to start spreading rumors throughout Salem that it is due to witchcraft. The girls have been caught dancing naked in the woods, with the slave Tituba chanting around a pot, so they need some explanation to cover their actions. Caught up in the accusations and lies is John Proctor, a farmer who once had an affair with the leader of the young accusers, Abigail...With superstition outweighing facts, and the only two routes for those accused being to either confess or be hanged, it shows how the scheming of a group of young girls, or any group of adamant people, can snowball into a frightening outcome that still resonates today....Scott Johnson has assembled a cast who embody their parts with as much conviction as the young girls of Salem did with their accusations. Brad Cashman is passionate, strong, emotional, and heartbreaking as Proctor. Kelly Hajek is equally as good in the smaller part of his wife. As the two main teenage girls whose desperation turns to the downfall of others, Jamie Bornscheuer and Ashley Shirley are full of fire and deceit as Abigail and Proctor's housekeeper, Mary Warren, respectively. When Shirley matter of factly states "It's God's work that we do," in reference to the allegations they are making, with a steadfast gleam in her eyes, it clearly shows not only how scary the situation is but that she also actually believes what she is saying....While Miller's play was originally staged in the period of the Salem witch trials, DFT's production updates the setting to the times of the McCarthy trials, which doesn't really add much to the proceedings, but doesn't detract either, and it does nicely tie the two infamous events together. Johnson's direction is clear with good use of the entire small space. He also incorporates sound and light at appropriate times that combine with the intimate venue to elevate the emotional aspects of the drama to a fever pitch, adding to the impact of the script and this production...Just as powerful today as I have to believe it was when it first premiered during the McCarthy era, The Crucible at Desert Foothills Theater is a worthy production of a stunning piece of literature.' -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, July 17, 2015

theatre review - HAIR - Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre - July 12, 2015

the cast of Hair
photo: Heather Butcher
Click here for more information on this production that runs through August 9th.

"The rock musical Hair exploded into a cultural phenomenon in the late 1960s. The dozens of varied rock tunes set among a story of free love, drugs, and teenagers who are protesting the Vietnam War hit a nerve and the show went on to a healthy run on Broadway, in London, and around the world. While the musical is a moving piece of theatre, the story itself is slight and somewhat confusing. Desert Stages Theatre's production of this musical classic is solid and, with clear direction and an expert cast, fairly successful in offsetting some of the show's shortcomings. DST also fortunately doesn't try to update the time period to make it more relevant, keeping it firmly rooted in the turbulent Vietnam era of the late 1960s....Hair focuses steadily on a tribe of hippies and the journey of a young man named Claude. It is mainly a series of musical vignettes featuring songs that introduce the characters, with only minimal dialogue to give a few plot points to connect the dots between the relationships the leads share. But even with the spare book, the main plot is fairly easy to follow: Claude is caught up between the pull of his uptight parents, who want to send him off to the army, as they think it will make a man out of him, and the three-way relationship he shares with the crazy, radical Berger, the leader of the "Tribe," and the highly political Sheila. Torn between his allegiance and love for the Tribe and doing what his parents want, Claude makes a decision that ultimately sets his unfortunate future in motion.... the virtually non-stop, memorable music washing over you and the enthusiasm of the Desert Stages cast help to offset the show's several shortfalls in terms of plot and character development....Director Samuel E. Wilkes has found an energetic troupe of actors to bring the tribe to vibrant life, full of passion and love but also not afraid to portray the harsh realities of the period. Anthony Chavez brings a heightened, yet almost peaceful, sensitivity to Claude...Colin Ross is full of life as the crazy and wildly charismatic Berger...Alanna Kalbfleisch adeptly portrays Sheila, the radical protestor who struggles with the love she has for both of these men....Her warm vocals make "Easy To Be Hard" both beautiful and heartfelt....There isn't a vocal misstep among the ensemble members of the free spirited Tribe. ..Wilkes' exuberant direction makes excellent use of DST's in the round staging, providing a heightened sense of intimacy in the small space without having the actors get directly in the faces of the audience. Wilkes has not only honed meaningful performances from his cast but creatively stages the songs and scenes in neverending and always changing movement. ...Nicole L. Olson's choreography is period centric yet still feels fresh. Mark 4man's expert musical direction includes an abundance of memorable moments...Tamara Treat's costumes are a non-stop parade of flower power, tie died designs that combine expertly with Jacob Hamilton's period perfect hair and make-up designs. Matt Stetler's beautiful lighting design include many highlights, especially the non-stop light show during "Three Five Zero Zero."...Almost fifty years after it first premiered, Hair could be perceived today as just a nostalgic period piece, yet DST's passionate production proves that the journey of Claude and the members of the Tribe still resonates today. While Hair's book may be slightly confusing, and DST's production can't solve every problem with the show, it still results in a moving and uplifting piece of theatre. Chock full of memorable tunes and vibrant performances, DST's production is also beautifully directed with moving, impressive performances."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

theatre review - TARZAN - Hale Centre Theatre - July 11, 2015

Curtis Lunt and Emily Giauque Evans
photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw
"While Disney had phenomenal success adapting The Lion King to the stage, their hit movie Tarzan didn't fare as well, running just a little over a year in New York. Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous story of a boy who loves and is loved by his ape family but soon becomes aware that he is different and doesn't quite fit in seems perfect fodder for a musical. While Hale Centre Theatre's fun-filled family production is a winner, with a strong cast and gorgeous production elements, the score and story are a bit slow going in places...the musical has a new book by David Henry Hwang and includes the five songs that Phil Collins wrote for the movie plus nine new ones he composed for the stage production. Shipwrecked and with his parents killed, the baby Tarzan ends up being raised by a gorilla couple. While Kerchak feels no bond with the human boy, his wife Kala immediately connects with him and brings him up into adulthood. However, when an expedition arrives in the jungle, Tarzan discovers humans and wrestles with identity issues when he realizes that he isn't a gorilla. He also discovers new strange feelings whenever he's around the English woman named Jane...Hwang's book is a little wooden at times and the added songs are ballad heavy, which combine to slow the show down and make it seem slightly padded...Even with the drawbacks of the script and score, director and choreographer Cambrian James instills plenty of energy in the Hale production, with vibrant choreography and some impressive gorilla-like movements by the ensemble and the actors playing Kala and Kerchak...As Tarzan, Curtis Lunt has the appropriate athletic physique, impressive vocals and inquisitive nature to be both physically imposing and playfully agile....Emily Giauque Evans' Jane has a heightened sense of enthusiasm, with her expressive eyes widening and glowing at the new discoveries she finds in the jungle....Lunt and Evans make a winning couple and their act two love duet "For the First Time" is expertly sung...Carrie Klofach brings a huge amount of heart to Kala, creating many poignant moments that instill the relationships Kala has with Tarzan and Kerchak with a sense of realism. Klofach meaningfully displays the deep bond, care, and connection of a loving mother in a very touching way. Ben Mason brings a fine sternness to the role of Kerchak while also being slightly ferocious, without being too scary for younger audience members, and is commanding as the leader of the tribe. Mason and Klofach make their duet "Sure as Sun Turns to Moon" heartfelt and genuine. ...Hale's production elements are excellent. The scenic design...creates an immersive experience, with the lush green flora and fauna of the jungle surrounding you on all sides. ..Mary Atkinson's new (costume) designs plus her coordination of the existing outfits is impressive. Jeff A. Davis' lighting designs are always superb and his Tarzan creations, which paint the lush and dark tones of the jungle in stunning swatches of color and shadow, are some of his best...While Hale's production can't do much to eliminate the few slow-going scenes and songs, it still manages to evoke plenty of poignancy in the high flying and fun adventure. And while Burroughs' tale and the Disney film are mainly known as a love story between Tarzan and Jane, Hale does an excellent job of capturing the strong and touching mother-son bond at the center of the story." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, July 13, 2015

theatre review - LEGALLY BLONDE - Arizona Broadway Theatre - July 10, 2015

Leanne Smith and the Legally Blonde cast
photo: Arizona Broadway Theatre
Click here for more information on this production that runs through August 9th

"The 2001 film comedy Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, was a sleeper hit at the box office. The story follows the very blonde and very likable Elle Woods who follows her boyfriend to Harvard Law School after he jilts her, in an attempt to win him back. In 2007 the film was turned into a big Broadway musical with an infectious score by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production is a non-stop joy...While Elle may not be "serious" enough for her boyfriend Warner to consider her marriage material, she gets support from her sorority sisters, her Harvard teaching assistant Emmett, and the slightly wacky beautician Paulette whom she befriends in Boston. With their help, Elle works through her setbacks and relishes her triumphs, and along the way realizes she's a lot smarter than she thought she was. She also ends up helping all of those close to her with their own personal issues. Hach's hilarious book and O'Keefe and Benjamin's witty, varied music and lyrics create a fun, upbeat story of empowerment and being true to yourself.
... Leanne Smith effectively brings Elle to vibrant life and allows us to see and understand her foibles while adding some comedy to her more tragic moments and plenty of heart to her triumphs. Smith also has a rich, soaring voice that makes the most of the sharp lyrics in the score. It is a multi-faceted take on the part that succeeds very well....As Emmett, Jesse Michels might be a little too handsome to play the romantic underdog, but he still manages a nice transformation from the frumpy TA to the man who lets Elle see who she truly can be. Michels also has a clear, strong voice. Abigail Raye is a hoot as Paulette. With a decent Boston accent and a kooky way of delivering a line she wrings the humor out of her scenes but also brings plenty of charm to her songs, with her powerful pipes sending her solo "Ireland" soaring to the rafters....In the supporting cast, Glen North makes Warner an egotistical snob who also learns a few lessons, and North adds some dimension to Warner to make him likable, even if at first we don't care for him. As the slimy law professor Callahan, Jesse Berger has plenty of snark and smarm beneath his well-tailored suit and his deep vocals really bring a smoothness to Callahan's songs. Lynzee Jaye Paul 4man brings plenty of spark to the workout video star and accused murderess Brooke Wyndham, and Trisha Ditsworth gets some laughs with her well-timed line delivery as the lesbian-feminist Enid Hoops. Sarah Ambrose as Warner's new girlfriend Vivienne has the right amount of coldness in her initial dealings with Elle, yet lets us warm to her just as she sees that Elle is smarter than she originally thought. Ambrose also gets to wail during the curtain call. Adam Shaff brings plenty of heat as the hunky UPS delivery man who warms Paulette's heart, and Kara Krichman, Carly Grossman, and Gabriella Whiting add plenty of spark and sass as Elle's "Greek chorus" of sorority sisters....Director/choreographer Carl Rajotte has not only found a great cast composed of a mix of both local and regional performers who all work well together to bring out the humor and heart of the story, but his swift direction keeps the show moving at such a fast clip that the musical's somewhat overstuffed plot never gets in the way. Rajotte's choreography is superb, with always changing dance steps that feature plenty of comical moments...While, unlike most ABT shows, the sets, costumes and props for this production are rentals, they are great designs and work well with Tim Monson's vibrant lighting design. ...With fluid direction, a really solid cast and bright, and colorful creative elements, ABT's Legally Blonde is a fun, infectious production full of heart and humor." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)