Friday, October 30, 2015

theatre review - SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM - Scottdale Musical Theater Company - October 29, 2015

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 31st.

Stephen Sondheim is considered by many to be the greatest living American musical theatre composer. ...There have also been numerous revues of his musical contributions, the latest being Sondheim on Sondheim which is receiving its Arizona premiere in a smart, solid, and often moving production from Scottsdale Musical Theater Company....While the other revues of his work have featured the many hits that he has written, Sondheim on Sondheim is the first one that includes Sondheim himself. Through the clever use of pre-recorded video pieces’some recorded specifically for the 2010 Broadway production along with archival footage of Sondheim on various TV shows’Sondheim is incorporated throughout the show to provide information on his life, his working habits, his music, and the creation process....the inclusion Sondheim himself as part of the show adds a unique way to get to know the man behind the music along with the experience of hearing dozens of his songs. ...While the show does have a few downsides, including the fact that sometimes the video segments break up the flow of the show and that some of Sondheim's major works, including Sweeney Todd, are barely represented, the video segments are always informative and the songs that are included add to the context of the piece by providing a background in to the creative process. The cast for SMTC's production is just about perfect, with varied singing styles and featuring a nice mix of performers of different ages. ...Nicole Bond... excels in several numbers, including a touching delivery of "Send in the Clowns" as well as two lovely duets. Her performance of "Beautiful" from Sunday in the Park with George that she sings with Michael Schauble is exceptionally moving. A nicely crafted pairing of "Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along and "Losing My Mind" from Follies, which is sung by Marina Blue Jarrette, is remarkable in how the delivery of Sondheim's succinct lyrics about love in its many shapes and forms combine so beautifully and simply....Jarrette shows off her clear, strong voice throughout, including delivering a fun "Ah, but Underneath" from Follies, and Schauble exceeds in bringing out the emotion within the humor of "Franklin Shepard, Inc." from Merrily We Roll Along. Alex Crossland's smooth voice excels on "Being Alive" from Company as well as on "Is This What You Call Love?" from Passion. "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George receives a stirring performance from Matt Newhard, full of passion and understanding of the creative process. Curtis Moeller, Lindsay Newhard, and Chelsea Janzen round out the cast with each getting a moment of two throughout to show their strong vocal skills. Hector Coris' smart direction includes ...just enough choreographed moments to provide variety to the evening. Coris is able to achieve exceptional performances from his cast which is exemplary, considering that, with just a few sequences where a few songs from a single show are used, all of the numbers are taken out of the context of their respective shows. This is both a testament to Coris' directorial skills as well as Sondheim's ability to write lyrics that are clear, clever, specific, and full of meaning....Both informative and entertaining and including solid performances and direction, SMTC's production of Sondheim on Sondheim will give you a better understanding of the creative process behind making musicals as well as an even greater appreciation for Sondheim himself."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

theatre review - THE HAUNTED - Actor's Youth Theatre - October 23, 2015

Laurynn Allen
photo: Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 31st.

"For a creepy and spooky Halloween experience...Actor's Youth Theatre's production of The Haunted is a welcome addition to the traditional Halloween haunts. Based on Robert W. Chamber's classic short story "The King in Yellow: The Repairer of Reputations," author and director Marcus Ellsworth has crafted a mostly original piece with plenty of chills, ghostly characters, and murderous acts. While there are a few negatives, including some confusion in the overstuffed plot, the end result is a fun and often frightening theatrical treat.  Told over three generations, Ellsworth sets the piece mainly in a haunted English summer cottage where the inhabitants become possessed if they read the second act of the bound play "The King in Yellow," a copy of which just happens to always be readily available in the house. ...While Ellsworth uses a couple of Chamber's characters, most of the piece is original, with Ellsworth creating several generations of characters who are relatives to the ones in the original story. The plot is fairly well paced with realistic dialogue and also includes several well written moments that are eerie and disturbing....However, with dozens of characters, a couple of whom are confusing as to exactly what their relationship to the plot is, and with several scenes in the first act that aren't clearly flashbacks or not, a few slight revisions and a small amount of editing and clarification would make the overall effect even better....Ellsworth also directs and achieves believable and haunting performances from most of his cast, though a few of the young cast members should project more in order to be heard better. As Rachel, the daughter of the author of "The King in Yellow" play who serves as a ghostly narrator, Laurynn Allen is superb, not only in her even-measured and spooky line delivery but in the way she floats across the entire theatre, just like a ghost. It is a haunting performance. ...Ellsworth's direction creates plenty of spooky scenes, with superb, evocative, and dim lighting from Tom Fitzwater that adds considerably to the effect. ...Julie Clement's costumes are perfectly gothic in nature and Cheri Lundgreen's extremely creepy makeup is the icing on this cake of demonic horrors.  While there may be a few plot points and characters that could be clarified, Actor's Youth Theatre's production of The Haunted makes for a fun Halloween theatrical outing, full of spooky elements and chilling moments, and illustrates a good first play by director Marcus Ellsworth."   -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

theatre review - THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR - Southwest Shakespeare Company - October 22, 2015

Stephen Hotchner, Emily Mohney, Jesse James Kamps and Clay Sanderson
Photo by Michael Simon / Southwest Shakespeare Company
Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 31st.

"It's been over four hundred years since William Shakespeare's first play premiered, so it's understandable why some theatre companies change the time period or setting in order to add a fresh spin on one of Shakespeare's classic plays. While most of the updated productions of Shakespeare's work that I've seen haven't been completely successful, Southwest Shakespeare Company's The Merry Wives of Windsor, turned into a 1950s sitcom, scores on just about every front.... poor and pompous Sir John Falstaff... attempts to seduce two wealthy married women, Alice Ford and Margaret Page, but ends up being made a fool by both. Meanwhile, Frank Ford, the extremely jealous husband of Alice, who believes she is being unfaithful with Falstaff, disguises himself and hires Falstaff to prove his suspicions...Director Ben Tyler skillfully instructs his cast to play their parts in the exaggerated style of a classic TV sitcom set in 1959, with added, and fun, commercial breaks for "Falstaff Beer" at a few of the scene changes.... Jesse James Kamps is stellar in playing the jealous husband Frank Ford. Kamps appears to be relishing this opportunity and his exaggerated expressions and comical body language add to the fun when Ford's insane jealousy overtakes him. As Falstaff, Peter Good is quite good and...actually makes you sympathize with him as to all that Falstaff is put through.  Emily Mohney and Jordan Letson, as Alice Ford and Margaret Page, are adept in portraying the typical 1950s mom and wife and, though they don't quite become Lucy and Ethel from "I Love Lucy," they make a fun duo who band together in several funny set-ups to deal with both Falstaff and Frank Ford's mischievous plans... Costume designer Maci Hosler's period-specific outfits dress the cast in superb stereotypical outfits of the period that are colorful and bright, while hair and make-up designer Sasha Wordlaw's contributions elevate the end result of each character beautifully. I especially like how the costumes and hair designs for Mohney and Letson make them appear to be stand-ins for Lucille Ball and Donna Reed, how Anne is a typical bobbysoxer, and that two of her suitors, Wanless and Cahoon, are played as if they are a 1950s nerd and jock. Leroy Timblin's set design is a colorful mock-up of a TV sitcom set. The only thing missing is a TV camera and laugh track.  With a fast pace and tightly choreographed stage direction to keep the play moving along at a quick clip, and fun performances from the entire cast, Southwest Shakespeare Company's The Merry Wives of Windsor makes for a fun TV sitcom on stage."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, October 23, 2015

theatre review - THE BOOK OF MORMON - National Tour / ASU Gammage - October 21, 2015

Alexandra Ncube
photo: Joan Marcus
Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 8th.

"After running for over four years on Broadway and three years on tour, the smash hit musical The Book of Mormon finally makes it to the Phoenix area, and it is well worth the wait. The musical by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez swept the 2011 Tonys, winning nine awards, including Best Musical. While the show has been called "filthy" and "offensive" it actually is a charming, sweet, and exceptional musical that doesn't just mock the Mormon religion but celebrates it as well. It is also a show with a huge heart, and the national tour production, playing at ASU Gammage in Tempe through November 8th, is on par with a Broadway production, led by an exceptionally talented cast....The problem in seeing this show after hearing so many good reviews and knowing that it has been called "vulgar" is that the end result may not live up to the initial expectations. ..So, perhaps it's good to know what The Book of Mormon isn't. It isn't as crude as it has been hyped to be. While it does mock religion and the Mormon faith it isn't mean spirited toward them and portrays the members of the Mormon religion as real people, not caricatures. Is it the funniest musical ever? While there are numerous moments that are very funny, it isn't a laugh out loud show from start to finish. Does it have a great score that will have you humming the songs on your way home? There are definitely some toe-tapping numbers, but also a few that aren't that memorable. Is the story creatively well crafted and does it break new ground? While the plot can pretty much be described in one sentence it does have characters who grow and change along with a nice pay off, but it isn't a ground-breaking musical like Les Misérables. But what The Book of Mormon does have is a bringing together of all the elements to make a sweet, charming musical that makes fun of organized religion and celebrates it at the same time. ..The three leads for this national tour are exceptional and the ensemble is given a lot to do. ...Billy Harrigan Tighe and A.J. Holmes are the two missionaries. Holmes is Elder Cunningham, a nerdy, goofy slacker who hasn't even read the actual "Book of Mormon" that he is supposed to be knowledgeable of, and he sometimes makes things up in order to be more likable. Tighe is the Ken-like, handsome and charming yet completely self-centered overachiever Elder Price, who basically thinks everything is about him. ...ASU graduate Alexandra Ncube plays Nabulungi, the daughter of the leader of the Ugandan village. Ncube has a phenomenal, clear voice and great stage presence with both of her co-stars as well as with Stanley Wayne Mathis who plays her father....The national tour of The Book of Mormon has a great cast and the musical has a funny book, a score with several show stopping numbers, is well directed and choreographed with imaginative set pieces, and leaves you with a smile on your face. For a musical that attempts to mock and celebrate religion at the same time The Book of Mormon succeeds, and actually accomplishes the task of mocking something better than most episodes of "South Park," as it does so with a huge dose of sincerity. While there is plenty of vulgarity and a couple of shocking moments, it is also an extremely enjoyable musical with a huge amount of heart. The end result is a funny, touching, and memorable show."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

theatre review - SCAPIN - Grand Canyon University - October 18, 2015

Ryan Usher, Taylor Kortman, and Kayana Hudson
Photo by Darryl Webb / Grand Canyon University

"Grand Canyon University just concluded their two week run of Scapin, Bill Irwin and Mark O'Donnell's adaptation of Molière's classic 17th-century farce. This fast paced and very funny production proved perfect fodder to display the fine comedic abilities of the young GCU cast...Director Michael Kary elicited fine comical performances from his entire cast, led by Ryan Usher as Scapin. Usher had no problem in portraying the scheming, confident, and wily sides of his character with glee... there were a few actors whose characters had more comical moments or who elevated their parts with sheer lunacy. As Sylvester, servant to the other parent, Kayana Hudson was skillfully adept in playing the silly and very funny character...Jeremiah Byrne proved a perfect foil as the father of one of the boys whose increasingly growing rotund figure was used for great comic effect...While Taylor Kortman played the son Octave as a grown-up cry baby, with a pinwheel hat, his over the top delivery made the sniveling, complaining man-child into a hilarious character. Cole Brackney as the non-speaking, on-stage sound effects man Gary, was able to share in the fun, not only with his continual, well-timed, and well executed and very humorous musical effects (even including a cowbell at one point) but also with his expressive facial expressions and reactions to the comic events happening in front of him. ...GCU's energetic production was full of funny sequences with several laugh out loud moments and the end result was a simply delightful Scapin, full of scams, disguises, wisecracks, and characters played with relish by the well-directed GCU student cast."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

theatre review - MARY POPPINS - Hale Centre Theatre - October 17, 2015

Annalise Belnap Webb
Photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw / Lighting: Jeff A. Davis

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 28th.

The 2004 stage musical version of Mary Poppins, which features P. L. Travers' iconic literary character, is being produced all over the Valley this season. Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert's in-the-round production offers an intimacy to the story and their exceptional cast elicits a strong emotional connection to the story of this "practically perfect" nanny who improves the dynamics of one very dysfunctional family.... Annalise Belnap Webb strongly exhibits Mary's strictness and sternness but allows Mary's well-meaning ways to come through as clear as Webb's exceptional voice. Webb excels on her many songs with a rich, powerful delivery combined with crisp and perfect diction and warm, buttery tones. Rob Stuart is superb as George Banks, with a touching portrayal of George's change from a stubborn, selfish man to one who understands the importance of family. Laura Anne Kenney is just as good as George's wife Winnifred, displaying a powerful strength underneath the self-reliant woman. As Mary's friend Bert, Tedd Glazebrook brings a sense of joy and wonder to the production. Josh Mortensen and Isabelle Jensen are not only completely adorable as the Banks' children, but also both exceptional actors able to deliver some of the funniest lines in the show and the dramatic ones as well. ...Director Cambrian James lets the fun parts of the storyline share equal billing with the sentimental ones, which allows the impact of Mary's involvement with the Banks family to not seem too forced, but more natural....while the few set pieces used help establish the main locations of the show—the Banks' house, the park and the bank—Hale's theatre-in-the-round causes a lack of major set pieces or drops, which is a bit of a detriment in that it doesn't allow for the many colorful locations of the show to be fully displayed. Also, the character of Mary Poppins is known to fly in and out of the story, yet with no fly space above the Hale stage it means that Mary's flying ability and Bert's upside down tapping in "Step in Time" cannot be shown. However, none of this detracts from the emotional story at the core of the show. With a strong cast that collectively delivers a powerful and emotional meaning to the important lesson about spending time with your family, Hale's production of Mary Poppins is an exuberant, lively musical with fun songs and memorable characters that all family members can enjoy together."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, October 19, 2015

theatre review - WEST SIDE STORY - Arizona Broadway Theatre - October 16, 2015

Brittany Santos and Jesse Michels
photo courtesy of Arizona Broadway Theatre
Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 15th.

"With the perfect combination of drama, music, and dance, and containing some of the best-known theatre songs, it is easy to see why West Side Story is considered a classic musical and is loved by so many. With a very good cast and fluid direction, Arizona Broadway Theatre is presenting a solid production of this musicalized, updated version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet....The score contains some of the most well-known musical theatre songs, including the ballad "Something's Coming," the comical numbers "I Feel Pretty" and "America," and the lovely duet "Tonight." There isn't one bad song in the score of this show. Bernstein's exceptional music is complemented by Sondheim's witty lyrics and each musical number adds to the character development and plot. Even the dream ballet of "Somewhere" is perfectly placed at the height of the tension and adds some beauty into the ugliness we've just experienced....While it is a heavy dance show, a few in the cast were a bit sluggish or out of sync in the delivery of a few of the more intricate steps at the opening night performance. Hopefully, this will be corrected with a few more performances under their belts. Jesse Michels and Brittany Santos are exceptional as Tony and Maria. They both exhibit the yearning and desire for something new and different to come into their lives. Their clear voices soar on their solos and come together beautifully on their numerous duets. They create a genuine and realistic couple, full of desire and love.... Melissa Rapelje is a firecracker as the feisty character of Anita, Bernardo's girlfriend. With guts and passion, she is engaging in her portrayal of this role, a part that is almost always a major highlight of any production...Director Kiel Klaphake adds plenty of original touches to this production....From the required raw emotions that bubble up to the many comical moments, Klaphake gets genuine performances from all of his cast as well...Choreographer Kurtis W. Overby has created plenty of original steps and weaves in a few of the famous original Jerome Robbins moves. While some of the new steps aren't quite as good as Robbins' original ones, and the dream ballet of "Somewhere" is a little unfocused, Overby's steps work well to bring the story, and the characters, to life. Creative elements are beautiful, with Jim Hunter's set and lighting designs painting the stage with a multitude of moody colors that help bring the somewhat depressed settings to life...West Side Story is a classic musical with a simple message of acceptance and tolerance at its core that is still relevant today. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production has a talented cast, beautiful creative elements, and clear direction, bringing this poignant story to life in a moving way. -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

theatre review - JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH - Valley Youth Theatre - October 17, 2015

Owen Watson
photo: Skye Fallon / Valley Youth Theatre
Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 25th.

"...the musical version of James and the Giant Peach, which is based on (Roadl) Dahl's 1961 book. The fairly simple story follows the adventures of a young orphan boy, some oversized insects, and a very large peach—and it's a charmer. Valley Youth Theatre's production has a cast comprised of some exceptionally talented young actors and results in a heartwarming, toe tapping treat for the entire family....Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score includes charming ballads, character pieces with witty lyrics, and several up-beat ensemble numbers...Director Bobb Cooper has assembled a wonderful cast, all capable of getting laughs from the funny script, led by the charming Owen Watson (as James), who has a sweet disposition, a lovingly displayed sense of wonder, and a fairly good and consistent English accent. ...Addison Bowman and Haley Hanni are a hoot as James' selfish, nasty aunts, Spiker and Sponge. They play off each other well, and their over the top comical delivery achieves hilarious portrayals of these horrible women who you love to hate....Karol Cooper's costumes and make-up designs are excellent. ...James and the Giant Peach is a brisk, comical show with several catchy tunes and memorable characters. While most of Dahl's trademark dark and scary moments have been omitted from this adaptation, making it completely child friendly, what rings clear is the message of family and how a person's actual family doesn't necessarily always make the best home, while his true friends does. With a solid production of this famous tale, Valley Youth Theatre proves once again that their talented casts, color creative elements, and exceptional direction result in some of the best family friendly theatre in the Valley." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE EXORCIST HAS NO LEGS - All Puppet Players - October 15, 2015

photo: All Puppet Players
Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 30th.

"...The Exorcist is a horror classic...Shaun Michael McNamara and his All Puppet Players have turned the movie on its ear to spoof it, and the end result is a silly, fun homage to the classic film entitled The Exorcist Has No Legs....Twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil has been exhibiting erratic behavior...she begins to shout obscenities, speak in Latin, show superior strength, and pee in the middle of a dinner party, it seems that she is possessed by a demon and that an exorcism is the only solution....McNamara...includes plenty of actual dialogue from the film as well as reenactments of many of the film's most memorable moments. Just about every classic scene is dramatized; the only ones missing are a few where film "close-ups" would be necessary...Not everything works, including a few bits or scenes that run just a bit too long. But, surprisingly for a comedy spoof, the serious and spooky moments of the play actually succeed exceptionally well and hold their own alongside the funnier moments.  The cast is composed of six actors who have appeared in past All Puppet Players productions, plus one newcomer to the group. McNamara plays Karras, the largest part in the play, and he shows how good of an actor he is. While he gets plenty of laughs from his jokes, McNamara actually makes you sympathize with Karras as well. Anna Katen and Brianna Funk are Chris and Regan, and while Katen is appropriately concerned as the worried mother, Funk is simply hilarious as the demonic child.... Clare Burnett's lighting is simple yet effective and when her design combines with McNamara's sound effects they elevate the possession and exorcism scenes to major highlights, adding a bit of spookiness to the almost non-stop comic moments.  While a few of the jokes don't land and a few scenes run on a bit too long, there are many things that do work and, with a talented cast, The Exorcist Has No Legs ends up being a funny spoof, and a fairly faithful adaptation, of one of the scariest movies ever made."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, October 16, 2015

theatre review - HERSHEY FELDER AS IRVING BERLIN - Arizona Theatre Company - October 15, 2015

Hershey Felder
photo: 88 Entertainment
Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 25th.

From classic songs like "White Christmas" to "God Bless America," Irving Berlin has written some of the most beloved and well-known songs in the American Songbook. The latest part of Hershey Felder's "Composer Sonata," this one-man show brings Berlin to vibrant life, telling the very personal story of Berlin's rise from poor, immigrant Jew to world famous composer. This Arizona Theatre Company production takes us along on Berlin's life journey and features dozens of his most famous songs, plus a few of his lesser known tunes as well. It is a magical trip touching upon many highlights in the life of this man who wrote for the people and Felder is nothing short of brilliant in his ability to portray not only Berlin but numerous people in Berlin's life....Highlights include a stirring rendition of "What'll I Do?" when talking about his mother's death and an incredibly moving take on "Suppertime," the song Berlin wrote in 1933 about a woman's response to news of her husband's lynching, where Felder channels Ethel Waters who introduced the song. But there are also happier moments, as he talks about how Berlin wrote "Blue Skies" as a gift for his new born daughter, with Felder singing a sweet version of the song. While the hour and forty-five minute one-act play does bog down just a bit toward the end, it doesn't really contain any moments that go on for too long and does have a sweet and poignant ending. ...(Felder) plays dozens of people, from Berlin's family members to Ethel Waters, Florenz Ziegfeld, Ethel Merman, and Berlin at various stages of his life, using a unique ability to realistically morph between the different people he is portraying. He also plays the piano, which he is incredibly skilled at, and sings dozens of Berlin tunes, all with an impeccable flair and style. This is an exceptionally gifted and skilled performance full of moving moments, comical touches, and a refined sense of showmanship. Director Trevor Hay has staged the play quite effectively...Andrew Wilder's unobtrusive projections add another element to the show. From large background pictures of Czarist Russia, where Berlin was born, to photos of the people in his life and video clips from the films he contributed to, the images seamlessly change throughout, and help set the place and time of the various moments as well as show us the people in Berlin's life...Irving Berlin was an incredibly gifted composer with a rich life story. Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin includes dozens of Berlin's best known songs, and with a stirring portrayal of the man by Felder and impressive creative components, it is a moving tribute to one of the world's most talented songwriters." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

theatre review - MAN OF LA MANCHA - Theater Works - October 14, 2015

Rob Allocca, Rusty Ferracane and Janine Colletti
Photo: Moran Imaging

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 25th.

"Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary since opening on Broadway, Man of La Mancha is receiving a superb production at Theater Works. Grounded by a stellar performance from Rusty Ferracane as Don Quixote and with splendid direction and stunning creative elements, all composed of local Phoenix talent, the end result proves how regional theater can truly be excellent. Based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes, Dale Wasserman's touching and moving book includes a few moments of comedy and incorporates Cervantes as the main character who is imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. While he is waiting to be tried, he must defend his prized manuscript in a mock trial by his fellow prisoners in the dungeon where they are being held. Cervantes woos the inmates by telling the story of Don Quixote, the aging "mad" knight who travels with his squire Sancho and believes he has found the woman of his dreams, Dulcinea, in the kitchen wench Aldonza. ...Director D. Scott Withers has found an incredibly talented cast to bring this well-loved story to life. Rusty Ferracane is Cervantes and he brings an elegance and grace to the part...His powerful voice not only sounds excellent on all of his songs but he also brings the same passion and beauty to his dialogue delivery. It is a well thought out performance that is remarkably delivered and deserving of much praise. As Aldonza, Janine Colletti is earthy, gritty, and full of fire. She instills every line reading, facial expression, and body movement with a passion equal to Ferracane's take on Cervantes...When Colletti and Ferracane share a duet of "Impossible Dream" toward the end of the show, it is stirring, touching and full of emotion due to their outstanding well in having the whole cast deliver well thought out characters, whether small parts who mostly stay in the shadows like Bigley, or slightly crazy ones like Johnson's. Withers delivers a fluid, yet tight production, full of plenty of poignancy as well as moments of humor and even a bit of danger...Technical aspects are exceptional...While Man of La Mancha is now fifty years old and Cervantes' novel was written five hundred years ago, the tale of one man's quest and his dreams and the message of hope still resonates today. With a production that hits the mark in every way imaginable, Theater Works' Man of La Mancha is memorable, moving and simply extraordinary." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

theatre review - THE ADDAMS FAMILY - Desert Stages - October 2, 2015

(left to right) Mary Helen Labadie, Rob Dominguez, Jack Yampolsky,
Harmon Swartz, Janna Hanson, Kyle Chavira and Emily McAtee
photo: Wade Moran

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 1st.

 "The eccentric, gothic, macabre and kooky cartoon characters of the Addams family...found themselves on Broadway in a musical with Andrew Lippa supplying the fun, upbeat score and a comical, and even somewhat moving, book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The combination of the appealing charm of the ghoulish characters with the love they have for each other and the funny situations they find themselves in work well for a musical comedy. Scottsdale Desert Stages presents an impressive production, with plenty of laughs and a very talented cast that brings this strange family to life on the stage....While the shows ends up being a fun and fairly quick moving production, it has a very simple plot and minimal conflict, and several of the musical numbers are forgettable. Fortunately, the book includes a never-ending string of jokes, with many hilarious one-liners expertly delivered by the very good DST cast, and several of Lippa's songs do succeed with clever, character specific lyrics. As Gomez and Morticia, Harmon Swartz and Janna Hanson are superb. They've both played these parts together before and have only grown in their ability to breathe plenty of life and nuance into this lovable twosome. ...Hanson and Swartz make not only a believable couple but realistic parents as well. (Emily) McAtee is very good as Wednesday. She is fierce and full of life, with exceptional delivery of her comic line readings. ...Director Jere Van Patten excels in bringing out the touching moments during the comical dialogue scenes, rich character portrayals and moments of lunacy, resulting in overall impressive direction. Angela Kriese's choreography makes good use of the large ensemble...Set designer Paul Filan has created a fairly elaborate design that surrounds the audience with ghoulish paintings of the Addams home and surrounding areas, a cob web covered staircase and sconces, and a large chandelier, plus several second story playing areas that serve effectively as the various rooms in the Addams mansion. ...With a fairly simple plot, a score with only a few memorable tunes, and the need for the audience to already have some familiarity with the characters, The Addams Family is far from a perfect musical. It also is a show with a large ensemble that never really serves a purpose except to exist for the mostly unnecessary and numerous dance numbers. However, the end result is a fun show that includes many memorable moments, thanks to the kooky characters and the witty book. With a very impressive cast and clear direction that ensures the comic moments pop, Desert Stages' production delivers." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)