Monday, August 31, 2015

theatre review - LUCKY STIFF - Arizona Broadway Theatre - August 28, 2015

the cast of Lucky Stiff
photo: Arizona Broadway Theatre

Click here for more information on this production that runs through September 20th.

"Wacky, zany, convoluted and charming are just a few adjectives to describe the quirky musical Lucky Stiff. Originally premiering Off Broadway in 1988, this show was the first collaboration of lyricist and book writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty who would later go on to write many well-known shows, including winning a Tony for their score for Ragtime. While Lucky Stiff isn’t as near as accomplished a work as some of their later shows, it still results in a delightful musical with a few slapstick, farcical moments and some charming and witty songs. Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production has a talented cast and confident direction by Evan Pappas, a man who has firm ties to both Flaherty and Ahrens, as well as this musical....The score is smart, with clever lyrics and tuneful music, and features a nice range of songs...While the convoluted book includes several plot points that are never fully realized or clearly resolved, it does feature a bevy of comical characters and situations.  Director Evan Pappas... is well acquainted with the material as well as has worked directly with the composers in the past. He does a nice job in ensuring that his cast doesn’t oversell the comic moments, guaranteeing the charm underneath the main characters isn’t lost. And he also stages two superb moments in the second act – the farcical gem “Him, Them, It, Her” which is full of well-choreographed, non-stop slamming doors and “Welcome Back, Mr. Witherspoon,” a hilarious nightmare sequence that features the entire cast.  Pappas also manages to get clear comical performances from his cast, including fine work from Seth Tucker and Trisha Hart Ditsworth, as Harry and Annabel, who both embody their parts with a combination of quirkiness and innocence under their assured exterior. They both have lovely, clear and strong singing voices with Ditsworth’s warm voice delivering solidly on the nicely understated comical ballad “Times Like This.”  With humorous body language, a thick New Jersey accent and even thicker glasses, Abigail Raye is comically delicious as the over the top, near-sighted Rita. Her big, powerful voice make Rita’s songs soar with humorous flair. ...Creative elements are bright and fun with Kara Thomson’s set design nicely expanding this originally very small show for the large ABT stage with a multi-functional Monte Carlo hotel set that works nicely to portray the many scenes in the hotel ...Lucky Stiff has its flaws, but it is lively and fun, and ABT’s production has skilled direction and a cast that throws themselves into their roles with gleeful abandonment."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

theatre review - EVITA - Tuscany Theatre Company - August 21, 2015

Javier Stefano De Vita and Allyson Igielski
Photo: Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography
"Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita is a fairly well-known show that follows the story of a real life woman's rise to power and fame. Tuscany Theatre Company in Gilbert recently closed their two week run of this show with an energetic production that featured a capable cast and good direction with very fluid staging and lively choreography. Evita follows the real story of Eva Duarte, a poor girl in Argentina who rose to power and fame in the 1940s by calculating, scheming and even sleeping her way to the top. She would eventually marry Juan Peron, who at the time they met was a Colonel but who would be elected as Argentina's President, making Eva Argentina's first lady. Narrated by Che, a young man who has no respect for Eva and Peron's devious and sometimes illegal ways behind their rise to power, Evita is an interesting history lesson about a young poor woman who gets caught up in the struggle for fame and success. Director Andrea McFeely assembled a more than capable cast for this production. Allyson Igielsk was quite good as Eva. It is a difficult part to play, requiring a transformation from gangly teenage girl to calculating, assured woman along with the skill to pull off some intricate dance steps and the ability to demonstrate Eva's declining health. With just a few wig and costume changes and good acting and vocal skills, Igielsk pulled it off, even managing her way quite well through the parts of the score that are extremely rangy, sometimes requiring Eva to scream or screech her lyrics. Her scrappy take on the part also allowed us to see that there was still some roughness present in Eva even as she ascended to power. Javier Stefano De Vita was just about perfect as Che... McFeely's staging incorporated Che into many scenes as either a participant or an onlooker, and De Vita had the appropriate facial expressions and body language to demonstrate the seething frustration and even humor he saw at the events unfolding around him. The role of Peron doesn't have a lot of layers but Chris Chavez created an effective portrayal, including showing Peron as a romantic, caring person. Also, both De Vita's and Chavez' Latin American accents added a nice touch of authenticity to this extremely large cast of almost all white American actors....McFeely’s blocking on the fairly small stage was quite good. Her exceptional take on “Perone's Latest Flame” was perfectly staged with succinct dance movements from the whole company. She crafted an energetic "And the Money Kept Rolling In" and, with assured music direction from Karli Giles Kemper, delivered some lovely choral work from the large children's choir as well as the ensemble in the finale...Corrinne Mann’s choreography was varied, energetic and upbeat with Latin inspired movement and an emphasis on the tango...Evita is a pretty good musical, albeit one with a few shortcomings...Though the book has several weaknesses, making us connect the dots between scenes one too many times to fill in the gaps due to no major dialogue being present. The show also doesn't have the strongest ending; we are simply told what happened to Evita's body but nothing about Peron’s fate....Tuscany Theatre Company's production featured a talented cast, excellent direction and showed the passion, power and romance not only behind the story of both Eva and Peron's rise to power but the people of Argentina as well."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - WICKED National Tour: ASU/Gammage - August 27

Alyssa Fox and Carrie St. Louis
Photo: Joan Marcus
highlights from my review at - click here to read the complete review

"The Broadway musical Wicked is a phenomenon. About to celebrate its 12th anniversary on Broadway and still running in London, the show has launched two National Tours and there have been successful productions in numerous cities around the world...The national tour of the popular musical just opened at ASU/Gammage for a six week run, the third time the show has come to the Phoenix area, and this tour boasts a superb cast and creative elements that deliver an energetic and emotionally fulfilling experience.  Telling the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she got to be that way and given that name, the musical is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire. While the main theme and characters of the musical are the same as the novel, there are many changes that book writer Winnie Holzman and composer Stephen Schwartz made to make the story and characters more accessible and as a result created a show that so many people fell in love with. The way that Holzman and Schwartz were also able to connect this version of the story to things we all know and love from the movie The Wizard of Oz also adds another layer to the storytelling that includes many fun surprises. Schwartz’ score is full of high energy and tuneful showstoppers. There are many twists and turns in the story, so no spoiler alerts for those who haven’t seen it, but the basic plot overview follows Elphaba and Galinda, from the time they meet at college to their later years when Elphaba has become the Wicked Witch of the West and Galinda has become Glinda the Good Witch of the North. But, to quote a line from the show, was Elphaba "born wicked, or did she have wickedness thrust upon her?" ...The current tour cast includes Alyssa Fox as Elphaba and Carrie St. Louis as Galinda, both of whom completely instill the characters with the drive and power that the original Broadway leads Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth did as well. They both embody their parts with ease, making them original, though St. Louis is a bit wackier than actresses I’ve seen in the part before, though she does have impeccable comic timing. They are also both very good singers, with St. Louis hitting some glorious high notes and Burns a powerhouse who belts out her big solos with a roar, including the showstopper "Defying Gravity" that she delivers with ease. The two form a great, believable partnership and make the characters their own....On opening night at Gammage, understudy and Phoenix native Beka Burnham was on for Liana Hunt as Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister. Burnham is a 2014 graduate from the Boston Conservatory who just celebrated her one year anniversary on the tour and the first time she saw Wicked was here on the Gammage stage. So it was nice to see a local girl in one of the main parts in the show and, even at such a young age, delivering an accomplished, nuanced portrayal. The production boasts... exceptional production aspects almost identical to Broadway with just a few small modifications in the physical aspect of the show to allow it to easily tour. This is the first time I’ve seen a tour of this show, having seen the musical numerous times on Broadway, so it’s nice to see that audiences outside of New York City get a production that is on par with the one on Broadway and that the cast is as good as ones I’ve seen in New York...."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

theatre review - GYPSY - Scottsdale Musical Theatre Company - August 20, 2015

Sarah Cassidy, Terry Gadaire and Debra Qualtire
Photo: Zachary Youmans

Click here for more information on this production that runs through Sunday August 23rd.

"Widely regarded as one of the greatest musicals, Gypsy is receiving a fairly good production from Scottsdale Musical Theater Company. This backstage story of the mother of all stage mothers and the creation of infamous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee has leads who create realistic characters and strong direction. It is a solid production of this beloved musical....the main focus of Gypsy is on Lee's mother, Rose, and her desperate attempt to turn her two daughters (June and Louise) into stars. Set in the tacky worlds of the touring vaudeville circuit of the 1920s and the raunchier burlesque environs of the 30s, we equally admire, love, pity and also cringe at this determined, delusional stage mother who pokes, prods and pushes her daughters and will do anything to make her children famous, but deep down hungers for the limelight herself. It is also a cautionary tale of the desperate desire and drive for fame....Director David Hock has assembled a talented cast, led by Debra Qualtire as Rose and Sarah Cassidy as Gypsy Rose Lee. Qualtire delivers a fairly nuanced performance...While I wish she displayed a few more moments of true terrifying force and showed us more clearly how Rose ultimately turns into a broken down woman, and a few times on opening night she stumbled and paused a few times in her line delivery, it still results in a nuanced performance of this show biz trouper who won’t let anything, or anyone, get in her way. Qualtire also has a warm, strong voice, delivering lively versions of her songs, including a strong “Rose’s Turn” that is only missing a moment of ferocity and insanity to make it truly heartbreaking....Sarah Cassidy does a skillful job in portraying Louise’s transition from the shy, mousy and quiet “tom boy” in the background to the calculating, manipulative and bawdy woman, who learns to use sex, or sexual innuendo, to her advantage....Terry Gadaire is Herbie, Rose’s lover and the girl’s agent, and he is fantastic, instilling the character with a deep amount of warmth, even as he is continually manipulated by the woman he simply loves and just wants to marry...Gadaire...delivers a stirring, affecting performance....Hock keeps the show grounded in reality, only rarely dipping into caricature or camp. He also doesn’t skirt the emotional issues at the core, and ensures the dialogue scenes are as skillfully delivered as the many show stopping musical numbers. His actors have excellent chemistry with each other, and also deliver realistic characters, all of which is a testament to Hock’s directorial skills. However, he does rush the very end of “Rose's Turn,” with Louise coming on too quickly, so a key moment doesn’t quite resonate and the long transitions between scenes will hopefully be faster once the cast and crew get more performances under their belts. Hock also should reel in a couple of the ensemble members who are overacting.... Kevin Hayward’s music direction is assured and he also conducts the large orchestra with skilled playing throughout including an overture that is played with gusto..."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

theatre review - SOUTH PACIFIC - Don Bluth Front Row Theatre - August 15, 2015

Rick Davis and Lauren Koeritzer
photo: Lori Kunzelman
Click here for more information on this production that runs through Sept. 19th.

"With well-known tunes and memorable characters, there is a reason that the musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are not only popular but considered classics. Along with the unforgettable songs, Rodgers and Hammerstein also wisely incorporated social issues into most of their shows, and their South Pacific, which is receiving a lovely, intimate production from Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, tackles such topics as prejudice and the politics of war in a succinct yet forward way....centered on the relationship between Emile de Becque, a sophisticated middle aged planter with a complicated past and the younger Ensign Nellie Forbush, a nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, who describes herself as a “hick.” ...David Rodgers is perfect as Emile. His forceful, clear voice does justice to his songs, including a lush, romantic "Some Enchanted Evening" and a passionate "This Nearly Was Mine." ...Lauren Koeritzer has the most range to play as Nellie..She hits all of the notes appropriately (both musically and dramatically)....The romance between Emile and Nellie isn’t the only one present in the show, with the loud mouth, animated Bloody Mary (a superb Ginger Muth Tanaka) conspiring to find a man for her daughter Liat (the poised and demure Jacqui Notorio) from the many US military men she comes in contact with. Mary thinks she has found him in the handsome Lt. Joseph Cable (Rob Dominguez) but, like the main romance in the musical, finds that all doesn’t go as planned. Tanaka is a charmer in the role, bringing this assured and cunning business woman to life in a very large and vibrant way, and Dominguez delivers a straight forward approach to the part of the smart, rich Lieutenant with his two solos, a romantic “Younger than Springtime” and the biting “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” hitting all the right marks....Gary Caswell directs with simplicity, letting the words and lyrics speak for themselves, something that really comes across well in the intimacy of the small theatre....The small theatre means that the vast expanse of Emile’s plantation and the beach that is supposed to be full of military personnel can’t really be portrayed, since there is no room for an elaborate set design. However, a lovely backdrop painting by Don Bluth helps to evoke the romantic call of the islands. ..With a small but talented cast, solid direction and fine creative aspects, the production of South Pacific at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre is a sturdy, pleasant production of this groundbreaking musical that has plenty of show stopping moments but also doesn’t skirt the social issues at the core."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, August 17, 2015

theatre review - JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT - Valley Youth Theatre - August 14, 2015

Payton Bioletto and Nathan Sheppard
photo: Barry Smith
Click here for more information on this production that runs through August 30th.

One of the first collaborations between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat features a mix of fun musical styles from rock to country and calypso as well as plenty of spirited, clever lyric rhymes. ...Led by a talented group of young adults and with fun direction and energetic choreography, Valley Youth Theatre's production is even better than the national tour production that was recently in town.  The family friendly musical is based on the Old Testament story of Joseph, a dreamer who has a beautiful coat his father Jacob gave him which makes his eleven brothers jealous. Since Joseph is Jacob's favorite son, the brothers decide to sell Jacob to not only get rid of him, but also to prevent Joseph's dream of ruling over them not come true. While the plot is very thin, the musical features a score with a number of infectious musical hooks and motifs by Lloyd Webber that you'll be humming for days after seeing the show...Valley Youth Theatre has assembled an impressive cast, led by Nathan Sheppard and Payton Bioletto as Joseph and the Narrator, respectively. Both not only have clear and strong vocals but also exude charm and joy as well as bring a high level of excitement to their roles. Sheppard's voice soars in his solos while Bioletto gets the chance to add a few personal touches to her many songs. Bioletto also has many moments with the large youth choir, and the ease she has with them as well as her ability to let them shine in their moments in the spotlight are true signs of a professional. In the supporting cast, Jack Rose gyrates his way through the hugely popular role of the Pharaoh, with the combination of swiveling hips and Elvis vocal style a delight. The rest of the cast, playing Joseph's eleven brothers, his father Jacob, and the many ensemble roles, all have fun with their parts.  Director Bobb Cooper has staged a flowing production with constant movement and good use of the entire Herberger stage, including the nice touch of having the children's chorus use the two second level boxes on the sides of the stage. Choreographer Lucas Coatney's exuberant, and always changing, dance routines combine seamlessly with Cooper's direction. ...Karol Cooper's costumes are excellent, featuring a non-stop parade of fun pieces, including a stellar finale "coat" for Joseph. Michael Eddy's vibrant light design is just as outstanding, with what appear to be hundreds of lights above the stage that are always changing, moving, and washing the stage in an abundance of color. ...While the plot of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is as thin as can be, the infectious melodies and youthful charm of the young cast overcome many of the shortcomings of the piece. The family-friendly production also has some lessons that anyone can benefit from hearing, along with several songs that you'll be humming for days. VYT's production has an abundance of humor, exceptional leads, and results in a fun, infectious production. -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

theatre review - MURDER BALLAD - A/C Theatre Company - August 7, 2015

Marshall Glass, Cassie Chilton, Kim Richards and Miguel Jackson
Photos by: CJ Mascarelli
Click here for more information on this production that runs through August 22nd.

"...A/C Theatre Company's first show, the Valley premiere of the 2012/2013 Off-Broadway musical Murder Ballad is a worthy debut production as this rock-centric show is a far cry from the usual commercial, well-known titles that tend to be done year after year by every company in town. While the musical itself isn't perfect, A/C's production is a worthy presentation, with a talented cast, atmospheric creative elements, and a smoking hot band....The 80-minute piece is sung-through with enough plot incorporated into the lyrics to not be confusing. However, the main problem with Murder Ballad is that the story is slight, familiar, and less than exciting. Fortunately, the score, with book and lyrics by Julia Jordan and music and lyrics by Juliana Nash, has a number of repetitive hooks and themes, a few of which you'll probably be remembering afterwards, which help detract somewhat from the slim plot.  A/C's cast is talented, led by Kim Richard as Sara. Richard has a powerful voice and the right look to make Sara at home in both of the worlds she finds herself in. ...Marshall Glass instills Michael with a mixture of nerdy, hipster, and boyish gestures that make it easy to see why Sara falls for him. Glass also has a nice chemistry with Richard, making you believe Michael loves Sara, and you also feel sorry for Michael once Sara finds herself being drawn to her past with Tom. Glass shows Michael's emotions on his face and the several fights he has with Richard's Sara are quite realistic and emotional...Cassie Chilton does a fairly good "rocker chick" impression as the Narrator, with wails and a husky, smoky delivery as she guides us through the ups and downs of the story.... As Tom, Miguel Jackson unfortunately has the least amount of range to play, though his solo "You Belong to Me" shows you exactly the type of forceful and seductive person Tom is ...Director Tim Shawver uses just about every area of the space to stage the action. Greg Hynes' vibrant set design is a seedy, dive bar with a large pool table at the center. While the set is static, Shawver manages to effectively portray the various locales of the story, even using the pool table as a stand in for the bed in Sara and Michael's apartment. While most of Shawver's staging works well, especially a crackerjack moment toward the end of the piece with all four characters moving in unison around the pool table, there is one bit toward the beginning, with Sara and Tom fumbling their way around the various set pieces, that is just clunky. With the four-piece band playing Justin Levine's orchestrations exceptionally well, Mark 4Man's music direction is simply superb. Daniel Davisson's lighting is excellent, always following the constantly moving characters and changing locations with ease, with the added bonus of some great floor mounted lighting that ups the intensity of several scenes....While Murder Ballad may not be the most original musical out there, it does have an interesting idea, with an intriguing plot point of just who will be the one murdered. It also has an intense score with rock hooks and memorable themes. Even though the end may be a bit underwhelming due to the slight and somewhat basic story, A/C Theatre Company's production is full of passion with a good cast, solid direction, theatrically rich creative aspects, and a superb band."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

theatre review - BUDDY, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY - Fountain Hills Theater - August 2, 2015

Jack Lambert (center) with Javone Patton andEnrique D. Lara
Photo: Carol Carroll / Fountain Hills Theater

Click here for more information on this production that runs through August 16th.

 "Buddy - the Buddy Holly Story is a slim musical biography that tells the story of the legendary rocker from his rise to fame at the age of 21 to his untimely death, just two years later, in 1959. While Alan Janes' book is slight, hearing over a dozen of Holly's hits plus other well-known tunes from the era, played by some exceptionally gifted musicians, results in a rocking good time, and Fountain Hills Theater's production is a winner with a stellar performance from Jack Lambert as Holly.  The musical follows Holly from his teen years in Lubbock, Texas, where he preferred to play rock over country, through the recording of his many hit songs with producer Norman Petty. It also briefly touches on the tragic plane crash that took his life after his meteoric rise to the top of the charts. That accident, forever immortalized in the song "American Pie" and dubbed "The Day the Music Died," as it also took the lives of fellow rockers Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), doesn't overshadow the upbeat nature of the story but adds a touching footnote on just how short Holly's life was...While Jack Lambert may not quite have Holly's signature gangly frame and dorky looks, he perfectly exhibits the lovable, infectious intensity and rambunctious traits Holly was known for and that were captured on his appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Lambert also delivers an almost perfect mimicry of Holly's trademark singing style, full of vocal hiccups and a soulful energy. His guitar skills are impressive as well, including a superbly played, and sung, second act solo of "True Love Ways." Lambert also exudes a huge dose of charm and spontaneity that, when combined with everything else he brings to the part, makes you feel like you've gone back in time to witness first-hand the rise of this legendary rocker....Sky Donovan a firecracker as Valens, singing a rousing version of "La Bamba," and Bill Bennett exceptionally joyful as the Big Bopper. Buddy doesn't dig too deep into Holly's past or his musical influences and also doesn't give much stage time to the behind the scenes drama, focusing solely on the creation of the music. This is all fine, but it means the supporting cast mainly portray two-dimensional characters...Under Hill's adept direction, the production rocks and rolls from start to finish but also affords several sweet moments that allow us to grasp Holly's connection with his fellow band members as well as his wife. ...Jay Melberg is to be commended for his skilled musical direction, especially since all of the actors play their own instruments, and play them very well.  Simply not just a biography of Holly, but more a tribute, Buddy - the Buddy Holly Story is a crowd-pleasing jukebox musical that does a good job in recreating the excitement around the early days of rock and roll. While you may not learn everything there is to know about Holly, the musical explodes into a full out concert, with the entire cast providing the musical accompaniment and singing backup, that has both the cast and the audience rocking out. The combination of that concert finale and Lambert's wonderful portrayal of Holly turn Fountain Hills Theater's production of Buddy - the Buddy Holly Story into a bolt of rock 'n' roll lightning."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)