Friday, May 29, 2015

theatre review - A CHORUS LINE - Mesa Encore Theatre - May 24, 2015

Audrey Sullivan and Jean-Paoul Clemente (right side) 
and Cast
Photo: Ryan Roberts
"A Chorus Line is one of the most well-known and beloved musicals of all time..that requires a large, multi-talented cast who can act, sing, and dance their asses off. Mesa Encore Theatre's production of this classic musical is quite good, with a cast that delivers and the end result is a winning production of a musical that still resonates today, forty years after it first premiered.... portrays an audition set in 1975 for the dancing chorus of a Broadway show. The people auditioning are mainly veteran dancers in their 20s through early 30s. The show ends with Zach, the director/choreographer, picking the eight dancers who will be in his show....But before the eight are picked, Zach asks the dancers to talk about their lives...What the dancers reveal about their lives has a universality to it and that is why I believe the show is still meaningful today—in some way, each of us has something in common with at least one, if not many of the dancers on the stage...The production at Mesa Encore Theatre is a little rough around the edges in terms of the cast, who are relatively young; a few just graduated high school and one talented cast member is only 14....A Chorus Line is a show about people who've lived and have learned life lessons along the way, which is kind of hard to fully get across if you're only 18....But these shortcomings are never enough to be a detriment to the overall enjoyment of the production....Jean-Paoul Clemente is Zach, the director/choreographer. While Clemente pulls off the look and demeanor of a slightly egotistic creative type, some of his line readings lack determination as does his brief dancing with the cast. Fortunately, he is very good in his two dialogue-heavy dramatic scenes, one with Zach's former lover Cassie, and the other with the somewhat introverted and shy Paul. Alan Khoutakoun as Paul has the show's best dramatic moment when he talks about realizing he is gay, finding himself, and about his father finally calling him "my son."...Khoutakoun is excellent, giving the monologue an exceptional delivery and making that moment in the show both beautiful and heartbreaking. Audrey Sullivan has the right amount of determination as Cassie...though her big solo dance number seems to lack a little sizzle. Fortunately, her dramatic confrontation with Zach more than compensates for the less than stellar "Music and the Mirror" number, with both Sullivan and Clemente excellent in this confrontational scene....Jacqui Notorio is superb as Sheila...Her sassy, biting line delivery and knowing glances let us know exactly what she's been through in her life...As Diana Morales, Megan Rose projects a clear sense of determination and understanding in her story and song about the acting teacher who underestimated her skills, "Nothing," as well as very nice vocals in her solo part of "What I Did for Love." Riane Roberts is a hoot as Val, the girl who realized a little plastic surgery was what was needed in order to improve her job prospects....Peter J. Hill's direction is clear, providing fluid transitions throughout as well as expert acting from the majority of the cast. Noel Irick's choreography is only somewhat similar to Bennett's original dance steps, but with some nice added original touches that really work...A Chorus Line is about the passion one has for something, which is a feeling everyone can relate to. MET's production, with just a few very small quibbles, is moving, touching, buoyant, and joyful. Although the cast is on the young side, the end result is a success, as the roughness and young age of some of the actors is offset by the sheer energy, excitement, and talent they all display." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

theatre review - DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID - Arizona Broadway Theatre - May 22, 2015

Cassandra Norville Klaphake
"...The Little Mermaid...bowed on Broadway 2008. Arizona Broadway Theatre is presenting the Arizona professional premiere of the musical in a big, splashy, colorful production with a talented cast and impressive creative elements....includes all of the toe-tapping film songs plus about ten new ones, with lyrics for the new songs by Glenn Slater, some of which are quite good. ...ABT's production is a family focused one, with director Kiel Klaphake joined by his wife Cassandra Norville Klaphake as Ursula and their two sons (along with two other boys) alternating in the role of Flounder. All do well with their respective contributions, especially Cassandra, who seems to relish with glee the part of the evil witch with the evil ways. Her big, brassy, and powerful voice knocks Ursula's songs to the back of the auditorium and beyond. She's having a blast playing this part and the audience on opening night appeared to have just as much fun watching her....As Ariel, Jill-Christine Wiley is very good, giving the part lovely shades of wonder, confusion, and excitement which combine to make Ariel's level of fascination with the human world realistic. She also has a lovely voice, adding plenty of warmth to her songs...Klaphake's direction allows for the fun, bright, and comical moments to be enjoyable, yet also allows for the more serious parts of the musical that deal with parental fears of losing their child to have resonance. He also never lets the more dark moments in the show that deal with Ursula ever approach true evil, making the show very family friendly. Kurtis W. Overby's choreography never stops in providing varied and inventive movement, creating numerous showstoppers, several of which include about a dozen youth ensemble members. Creative elements are full of color...beautiful costume designs, which include some stunning Day-Glo fish designs for "Under the Sea." Paul A. Black's set and lighting designs feature lovely coral reefs and also multiple shades of aquamarine, which combine to portray magical and beautiful underwater imagery. ...While the stage version of The Little Mermaid is a fairly by the numbers re-telling of the animated film, and some of the new songs written for the stage version pale in comparison to the film songs, it is still a fun, engaging show. With a powerhouse comical performance from Norville Klaphake as Ursula and a sweet and engaging one from Wiley as Ariel, and featuring clear direction and colorful, imaginative creative designs, the Arizona Broadway Theatre production is a family friendly gem." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

theatre review - THE WIZARD OF OZ - Hale Centre Theatre - May 21, 2015

Vinny Chavez, Jesse Thomas Foster, Geoffrey Goorin, 
Jessie Jo Pauley and Teddy
Photo: Nick Woodward- Shaw /Hale Centre Theatre

"...With five productions of The Wizard of Oz playing across Phoenix this month, there is no shortage of theatrical Ozs to feast upon and, even with a few shortcomings, Hale Centre Theatre's production, that just opened, is bright, bold and colorful and grounded with a seamless performance from Jessie Jo Pauley as Dorothy....Though there are a couple of missteps along the journey, in typical Hale fashion, they pull out all stops with this production. With imaginative costumes from Corrin Dietlein and Mary Atkinson and vibrant lighting from Jeff A. Davis, the Hale stage comes alive with pops of color and creativity. Director and choreographer Cambrian James has crafted some fun dances and most of his cast deliver winning performances without being carbon copies of the iconic film portrayals....Jessie Jo Pauley is stunning as Dorothy. She exhibits a wide range of emotions with ease, from pensive to headstrong, passionate, fearful and optimistic. At just 16, Pauley not only brings the right combination of sweet sincerity and teenage angst to the role, but also has a warm, bright singing voice that, when combined with her dedicated portrayal, allows Dorothy's songs to have an emotional connection. It is a superb performance....As the trio of friends that Dorothy meets, Jesse Thomas Foster, Vinny Chavez, and Geoffrey Goorin are all quite good as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, respectively...As Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch, Heidi-Liz Johnson is going for a slightly more comical and less evil take on both of the characters, portraying them basically as just two very mean people...Johnson is fine with what she does, I just would have preferred a more seriously evil take that is more at counterpoint to the more comical characters in the show....James' direction is quite good. He also has come up with several varied dances, including a high energy "Jitterbug" number, as well as some fun synchronized movement for the crows who taunt the Scarecrow. ..Also, while James' direction and the creative elements are mostly impressive, the decision to have an abridged ending to the show is a bit of a let-down, especially since—SPOILER ALERT—we never are told that the entire journey was a dream...While I realize this change means that none of the heavily costumed actors have to attempt to change back to their Kansas counterparts in what is a very short amount of time, it also somewhat minimizes the meaning of the story and Dorothy's realization that the people in Kansas are what really makes up her home....However, with the exception of the abridged ending and a couple of performances, Hale's production of The Wizard of Oz is still very charming. With colorful creative elements, it beautifully brings one of the most loved movies ever made to the stage in a vivid production with a superb performance from Pauley as Dorothy and is another success from director/choreographer James." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

For more information on this production, that runs through July 3rd, click here

theatre review - ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS - Phoenix Theatre - May 23, 2015

Ron May and Joseph Kremer
(photo: Erin Evangeline Photography)
"Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors is a very funny mash up of British music hall comedy, a variety show, and a farce. Phoenix Theatre is presenting the Phoenix regional premiere, with Ron May giving a hilarious performance as the "one man." May's entire supporting cast is also having a blast and this production is a laugh riot filled with many side-splitting moments as well as a few fun musical numbers....That play focuses on a harlequin who gets into comical situations while working for two is a criminal in hiding, the other a local gangster who just recently killed a man. ...Francis Henshall, believing he has hit the jackpot by having two jobs at the same time, relishes his new found wealth. But with his constant cravings for food and women always on his mind, he unfortunately can't keep the two jobs straight. He also has to ensure that his two bosses never meet, which adds plenty of farcical situations and slapstick comedy bits. Needless to say, hilarity ensues...with the results including mistaken identity, pratfalls, secret identities, and the character of Henshall constantly breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience members—a few of whom find themselves up on stage. Bean has crafted some great gag moments that provide May plenty of opportunities to show his comic abilities....May is the star here and he is a comic genius. He gives it his all and flings himself about the stage, attempting to avert disaster at every possible turn, while at the same time also having a sweet engagement with the audience. May doesn't oversell the comedy, instead giving many of the comedic lines a soft delivery, which actually works better and makes the humor more organic. He expertly interacts with the other actors playing various oddball characters, provides plenty of funny bits with his many interactions with the audience, and perfectly gets the humor in the many gags he takes part in. He also comes across as a very lovable harlequin, which provides some heart to the whole affair. I saw James Corden play the part on Broadway, and May is just as good as Corden was....May and the entire cast instill their characters with comical traits and throw themselves into the roles with equal abandonment. They also have to elicit an improvisational feel to their parts, even though some of the improv is meticulously scripted, and they all deliver in spades....Director Pasha Yamotahari keeps the lunacy going at a fever pitch and has crafted, along with Bean, some very inspired moments. ...With multiple laugh out loud moments and a fun cast led by a superb performance by Ron May, Phoenix Theatre's One Man, Two Guvnors is definitely the funniest show in town." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

theatre review - PUPPET WARS: A FEW HOPE - All Puppet Players - May 16, 2015

Han Solo and Chewbacca
(photo: All Puppet Players)
"...Puppet Wars: A Few Hope.. a loving homage to the classic film, reenacting many of the movie's classic scenes with added hilarious comments on some of the film's more ludicrous moments. While not everything works...there are many things that do, and the end result is an upbeat comedy that makes for silly fun for fans of the Star Wars films....includes plenty of actual dialogue from the film, which Star Wars geeks will love, but adds in almost an equal amount of wisecracking commentary and jokes derived from other sources. ...(Shaun Michael) McNamara's script makes fun of Luke's continual high-pitched complaints, Vader's somewhat undecipherable voice, and the fact that Chewbacca doesn't speak in the film. He also sets everyone straight on the correct pronunciation of "falcon" in relation to the name of Han's ship, the Millennium Falcon, and includes some jokes about the voice of the computer "Hal" from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as "Siri," the Apple voice-activated assistant. While there are plenty of humorous moments in the show, only about half stick. Hopefully, McNamara is tweaking things as the show continues its three week run in order to remove some of the jokes that don't land and to try out others that hopefully will....The cast is quite good. Jared Horton, Zach Funk, and Adam Bullock provide fairly accurate depictions of Luke, Han, and Obi-Wan, respectively,...Anna Katen has the appropriate amount of feistiness as Princess Leia, and McNamara plays several parts, including Chewbacca, with zest....while Tanner J. Stuff and David Chorley are fine in their portrayals of Vader and C-3PO, respectively, unfortunately, neither one is really given much to do in the show, including many of the lines and bits that aren't that funny. And I can't leave out the phenomenal performance of R2-D2, here played by a garbage can. McNamara's direction is loose, which adds to the fun nature of the show and allows some room for the actors to ad-lib and mingle with the audience. ...while the set design may be lacking, the climactic battle scene does feature several fairly elaborate and large-scale spaceship models, and McNamara's staging of the fight is not only a visual showstopper but also a funny one as well....While Puppet Wars: A Few Hope isn't a completely successful theatrical event, it does feature some inspired ideas and comical commentary. With several laugh out loud moments as well as a spirited take on the final battle, if you're a fan of the Star Wars films, you'll find much to laugh at in this production." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, May 15, 2015

theatre review - THE WIZARD OF OZ - Don Bluth Front Row Theatre - May 11

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

Gary Caswell, Rick Davis, Emily McAtee and Allie Angus
Photo credit: Lori Kunzelman
"As probably the most loved family movie ever made, it's not surprising that five different theatre companies across Phoenix are presenting stage versions of The Wizard of Oz this month. Not only is it an instantly recognizable title, but the songs from the film are extremely well known and the characters are iconic. The production at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre has a more than capable cast to bring these characters to life and is a perfect musical outing for families as well as anyone who loves the film. While the limited scenic abilities of the Don Bluth space require a bit of imagination to make some of the fantasy elements come to life, there are several nifty and inventive creative choices, and the intimacy of the small space provides a unique way to experience the emotional connection of the story of Dorothy and her trip to Oz....Director Don Bluth has assembled a talented cast that are skilled in making these characters their own while at the same time paying homage to the well-known film portrayals. Emily McAtee has a charming, sweet disposition, making for a quite touching Dorothy... Rick Davis' wide expressive eyes and confused looks and statements perfectly play into the fact that the Scarecrow doesn't have a brain. Davis also throws himself around the stage, hurling and flopping all over the place, just how a man made of straw would move...Derek Neumann's portrayal of the Tin Man is quite good, with an excellent singing voice and a soft-spoken disposition that works well. ...Gary Caswell is a hoot as the Lion, adding in a few very funny ad libs, and occasionally breaking the fourth wall to have a personal connection with the audience, who loved every time that happened. ...Virginia Olivieri and Stephanie Vlasich are both seamless in their portrayals. Olivieri is a gem as the Wicked Witch of the West, instilling both that role and her Kansas counterpart Almira Gultch with a deep sense of evil ..Olivieri relishes her characters' evil ways with glee..Vlasich brings the right amount of love and joy to the part of Glinda, the good witch... Joe Bousard gives a solid portrayal of both Professor Marvel...and the title character....Director Bluth adds some nice creative touches throughout...Corinne Hawkins' costumes are excellent...Don Bluth's production of The Wizard of Oz features a very talented cast and some fun creative decisions that work well with a small cast in a small space. While the small space means some aspects of this show can't be fully realized, and requires the audience to use their imagination, the intimacy of the small theatre allows the classic story to come to life literally right in front of your eyes, in a fun and unique way."

theatre review - SPELLBOUND! - Southwest Shakespeare Company - May 9

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

Joe Cannon and Janine Colletti
photo: Mark Gluckman
"Cymbeline has a reputation as being one of Shakespeare's most convoluted plays, thus making it somewhat difficult to stage and pull off with success. Southwest Shakespeare Company is presenting the world premiere of a new musical adaptation of the play entitled SpellBound!...While it isn't a complete success, SpellBound! has many things to recommend it, including a melodic score and a talented and spirited cast. It is a swift moving, easy to follow adaptation that reduces the play to a length of just under two hours....Containing almost twenty songs, the folk/soft pop score by Shishir Kurup and David Markowitz includes an abundance of lush melodies played by a fantastic onstage band. While the tunes are varied and the song lyrics advance the plot with both added exposition and character development, some of the lyrics are left lacking in their simplicity; others are too modern, compared to the time period of the piece ("walk the walk and talk the talk" is a glaringly bad one); and some include false rhymes. But while some of the lyrics could be better, the songs still result in an intelligent musical score...Director Jared Sakren and Michael Flachmann's adaptation is fairly faithful to the original, though a few characters and plot points are removed—none that are sorely missed....Janine Colletti is superb as Imogen, making her three dimensional. She is sweet, endearing, feisty, and full of life, and also gives plenty of emotional lift to her well-delivered songs. Kyle Sorrell brings a perfect sense of urgency to the role of Posthumus and, once the results of the bet are known to him, adds in layers of jealousy, rage, pain, and sorrow. Joe Cannon instills the scheming Iachimo with an abundance of cockiness yet is deeply emotional in his superbly sung confession....Kathleen Berger is deliciously evil as the Queen, with an excellent singing voice, and Matthew Zimmerer is playfully broad as her buffoon of a son Cloten...Jeff Thomson's large set design works well...with Michael J. Eddy's expressive lighting it creates an enveloping atmosphere. Maci Hosler's costumes are superb, with excellent designs for each character that complement their status and actions. Also, the vibrant creative elements and Aaron Blanco's fight choreography create a smashing battle of multiple fighting partners amidst puffs of billowing smoke....While SpellBound! may not be a complete success, it does a fine job in reducing the lengthy plot to one that even someone new to Shakespeare can easily follow. And while the score has its shortcomings, with some additional work on the lyrics I think this version of the Cymbeline story could have a healthy future life."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

theatre review- A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD - YouthWorks / Theater Works - May 8

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

Skyler Washburn and Tyler Lewis
(photo: Wade Moran)
"Theater Works' Youth Works theatre group is closing their 2014/2015 season with a superb production of A Year with Frog and Toad. The musical adaptation of the popular children's books by Arnold Lobel follows one year in the lives of best friends Frog and Toad as they do various things to enjoy the seasons together. They plant flowers in the spring, go swimming at the local pond in the summer, rake leaves, tell scary stories on a stormy fall evening, and go sledding in the winter. Youth Works' excellent young cast, made up mainly of high school aged kids, combine with colorful creative elements to make this a fun-filled production for children of all ages....As Frog and Toad, Tyler Lewis and Skyler Washburn are splendid. Both are charming and energetic performers with clear and strong singing voices...Washburn brings a sense of frenzy to the always worrisome and insecure Toad and has a great deadpan delivery of his humorous lines...Lewis has just as much fun as Frog, instilling the character with a deep sense of kindness. While the rest of the cast is quite good, Karson Cook is very funny and an audience favorite as the very slow-moving snail and Kendra Goodenberger is charming as the young Frog...Director Chris Hamby knows how to get clear, distinct performances from each of his actors, even those with the smallest parts...Choreographer Paul Pedersen provides some fun ballets and scene change dances as well as an upbeat and touching tap dance for the two leads. Ken Goodenberger's musical direction achieves some stunning choral harmonies across the large cast....Creative elements are vibrant and colorful....The benefits of having a good friend are at the heart of both Lobel's original books and this musical adaptation. Youth Works' production of A Year with Frog and Toad is charming fun, perfect for children and adults of all ages. "

theatre review - LITTLE WOMEN, THE MUSICAL - Brelby Theatre Company - May 3

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

Mia Passarella, Alexandra Utpadel, Mary Jane McCloskey, Lydia McCloskey, and April Rideout
(photo: Shelby Maticic)
"At the center of the story of Little Women is a strong, determined family that bands together through thick and thin. The same could be said of the Brelby Theatre Company who just opened a great production of the musical version of this literary classic. Brelby has their own resident company of actors who continually appear in many of their productions. This steadfast group comes together time and time again, along with a few actors new to Brelby, to create some of the most inventive theatre in the Phoenix theatre scene. They may not have elaborate sets and budgets, but the theatre they create is challenging, moving and almost always thrilling....While Allan Knee's book for the musical makes a few small changes to the famous novel, and obviously can't include every detail from it, the musical amounts to a fairly accurate representation of the major events of the novel and the end result is a joyous, uplifting experience. Not every song in the score, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland, is a winner, but there are plenty of varied pieces of music, many rousing ensemble numbers for the March clan and several soaring numbers for Jo....Alexandra Utpadel is splendid as Jo, giving the character an urgency and energy that is infectious...perfectly show how she is full of fire. Her vocals are just as good, instilling each song with a clear meaning as well as perfect tone, control, and power that sends the songs soaring. It's an excellent performance....Mary Jane McCloskey is touching as Marmee... and McCloskey's rich voice brings out the emotions beneath the lyrics, especially her moving act two "Days of Plenty." As the rest of the March's, April Rideout, Lydia McCloskey, and Mia Passarella are all excellent as Meg, Beth, and Amy. While Rideout doesn't get much to do as the oldest sister, she imparts a nice sense of romance in her portrayal. McCloskey brings a sweetness to Beth, as well as a closeness to the relationship she has with her sisters and her mother. Passarella is hilarious as the youngest sister Amy. She is jealous of Jo, and overly dramatic; as the youngest of the group, she also changes the most from young girl to young woman, and Passarella shows the changes in Amy expertly....Shelby Maticic stages the entire production effectively, achieving exceptional portrayals from her cast. With just a few small set pieces, Brian Maticic's set design is extremely minimal, with several pieces of wooden boards of different lengths set toward the back of the stage to depict the rising peak of the attic of the March house, where Jo goes to write. While it may not be the best design to depict the various locations of the story, it never detracts from the action and actually makes the importance of the March house, and the family within, always present throughout. William Gratza's costumes, on the other hand, are anything but minimal, with impressive, beautiful period dresses and appropriate suits for the men.
Little Women is an extremely well-known story and while the musical doesn't add anything new to this popular coming of age tale and might feel a bit episodic or melodramatic, since it mainly only includes the highlights from Alcott's novel, it still is a moving emotional journey of these young women. Brelby's production is simple, but that works to its advantage to get straight to the core of this one family's story of joys and heartbreak."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

theatre review - CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF - Mesa Community College - May 2, 2015

the MCC cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
(photo: Tom McCoy / Mesa Community College)

"Having just celebrated its 60th anniversary, Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof still resonates today as a cautionary tale of how a web of deceit can fracture family relationships. With a crackling cast and superb direction, Mesa Community College's production is, even with a few small shortcomings, a great production of this classic play. It vividly gets to the core of this story of sexual tension, death and, ultimately, survival....follows a wealthy Southern family headed by Big unaware that he is dying of cancer, though most of his family knows and because of that knowledge have all gathered to celebrate his 65th birthday. While his oldest son Gooper maneuvers to gain control of the family estate, youngest son Brick, who is constantly drinking to forget his past, also has plenty of present problems with his sultry and sexually frustrated wife Maggie. The summer heat outside smolders while the family fireworks burn and pop inside....As the brooding, ex-athlete Brick, Jesse Kinser makes it painfully obvious that he is drinking to numb the pain of his past, a past that includes the possibility that he and his former teammate, the recently deceased Skipper, were more than just best friends. Marissa Salazar plays Brick's wife Maggie, and she has the appropriate shades of strength, determination and desire for Brick, even though she is suspicious of what went on between him and Skipper. The combination of a perfect script and two very good performances makes us feel pity for both Brick and especially Maggie and her unsuccessful efforts to seduce her uninterested husband, which leaves her feeling like a "cat on a hot tin roof." Billy Alewyn is perfect as Big Daddy..showing us that the seamlessly uncaring Big Daddy does actually care about a few things, especially when it concerns his son Brick..It is a beautiful performance. Pam Darveaux is just as good as Big Mama...Darveaux's display of Big Mama's wide range of emotions is natural and effective, as are her dealings with her husband and her children which are extremely realistic....Jared Kitch and Dolores E. Mendoza play Gooper and his wife Mae, and both fill their characters with greed and disdain for the attention that Brick and Maggie receive from Big Daddy and Big Mamma. Mendoza is a firecracker, vicious in the insults she flings at those around her, yet displaying her Southern charms when required....Director James Rio achieves excellent performances from all six of his leads...with the pacing perfect throughout, allowing the intensity, emotion, and ultimately the honesty of the characters to shine through. However, there are a few small quibbles, though none of them offset the winning end result or the fever pitch of the drama. Some of the supporting performances are weak, and some of the accents leave a bit to be desired. We never get the sense that Brick is getting any drunker throughout the evening, even though he has consumed a large quantity of alcohol. Also, while Rio has Salazar moving constantly across the stage, like a cat, especially in the act one scene that focuses mainly on Brick and Maggie, the wood floor of the stage and the high heels that Salazar wears cause a continual noise that, combined with Salazar's thick southern accent and the fact that none of the cast are mic'd, occasionally means dialogue gets lost in the large auditorium....Ezekiel E. Barkman's scenic design is sublime, giving the feeling of a large bedroom on an even larger plantation yet having an openness that gives the impression that no secrets can ever be truly concealed within the room. ...Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a classic drama, with themes, situations and conflicts that are universal and still relevant today. Even with a few small shortcomings, with the combination of a gifted cast, skilled direction, and evocative creative elements, Mesa Community College's production sizzles with passion and greed." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

theatre review - A WEEKEND WITH PABLO PICASSO - Arizona Theatre Company - May 2, 2015

Herbert Siguenza
Photo: Darren Scott / Arizona Theatre Company
"... A Weekend with Pablo Picasso...While the play itself is a disjointed affair, the larger than life persona that Siguenza brings to the famous artist is a joy to experience....Over the course of the 90-minute play, Siguenza's Picasso teaches us about art, life and love, we watch him create and we learn a little about the man himself....While the majority of the "lessons" we are given are about art, Siguenza also weaves into the play details about Picasso's life. We get snippets about the influence that politics had on both him and his paintings, how a vow he made with God when his sister was dying could have stopped him from painting all together, and how the many women he loved in his lifetime took a toll on him as well. While Siguenza interweaves these details effectively into the piece, they don't have much of a payoff and seem to exist to just check off a list of facts that he wants us to know about the artist. ...comments only scratch the surface of these serious subjects, with no additional information stated before moving on to the next item on the list. It is because of this lax structure and focus that, while we feel like we have spent a weekend with Picasso, we never clearly understand who the man is beyond seeing his playfulness and his attention to his craft....what helps A Weekend with Pablo Picasso become an interesting theatrical piece is that Siguenza paints several pieces throughout the play. While some are only brief sketches, the speed at which he paints, the joy of seeing the art of creation unfold on stage, and the sheer exuberance Siguenza has in playing Picasso, help to bring the play to life.Victoria Petrovich has created a stream of interesting projections, including pieces of artwork, newsreel footage, photographs, and even a letter that help to make Picasso's larger than life personality explode across the stage....Picasso's belief that you paint what you feel and not what you see is at the center of A Weekend with Pablo Picasso. Unfortunately, we don't quite feel much from the play since Siguenza only scratches the surface of Picasso's life. While the play is considerably disjointed and wanders all over the place, Siguenza's lively take on Picasso, how he demonstrates how the artist lived life to its fullest, and his ability to create art in front of our eyes helps offset some of the play's shortcomings and brings Picasso's statement that "life and possibilities are everywhere" vibrantly to life." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, May 4, 2015

theatre review - GREATER TUNA - The Palms Theatre - April 30, 2015

Alan Craig and Devon Nickel
(photo: Toni Kallen)

"Greater Tuna...allows us in less than two hours to meet twenty of the residents of Tuna, Texas, the third smallest town in the state. Old and young, male and female, they represent a group of mostly charming yet small-minded people, who are firm with their beliefs and set in their ways. The fun of the play is that all twenty are played by two men. The production at the Palms Theatre has two expert actors, Alan Craig and Devon Nickel, both skilled in their abilities to make each character unique, with a distinct voice and mannerisms that bring out the sweet satirical nuances of the play.  The show is set around radio station OKKK, with many of the characters either working for the station, calling in to the show, advertising on it, or listening to it. While there isn't much of a plot, there is a continual stream of new and interesting characters, many of whom you end up caring about. The other beauty of the play is that it intertwines the characters with references in the dialogue to other townspeople you've already met or will meet later. Characters come back and go throughout, so it isn't just a string of monologues with characters you never seen again....The result is a sweet homage to life in a small, rural town that at times is also a biting satire.  Craig has performed this part before and it clearly shows, with his effective portrayals of each character...While this is Nickel's first time acting in this play, he is just as good, throwing himself into each role with a senseless abandonment....While Greater Tuna is more of a "slice of life" play that lacks a more in-depth plot as well as an ending that wraps up the events with a clearer message, it still amounts to a fun-filled parade of crazy small-town characters. The Palms production is full of love and laughs and has two actors who expertly bring the inhabitants of Tuna to vibrant life." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - END OF THE RAINBOW - Phoenix Theatre - May 1, 2015

Jeannie Shubitz and Jeff Kennedy
(Photo: Erin Evangeline Photography)

"Peter Quilter's recent Broadway play End of the Rainbow makes its Arizona debut in a fine production from Phoenix Theatre with a crackerjack performance by Jeannie Shubitz as Judy Garland. The play provides a private view into several weeks toward the end of Garland's life. It also has at its core one of those performances that will stick with you for days, if not years, in Shubitz's stellar portrayal of this legendary lady...While the play isn't perfect, and has a few too many contrived situations that seem to only be present to provide conflict, it is an intriguing expose into what life must have been like for a star of Garland's caliber, who suffered from years of addiction....While not much private footage of Garland from the mid 1960s is available, there are several concert videos and recordings that show Garland's frenetic behavior. As most people know, she was addicted to pills and alcohol, allegedly stemming from her teen years working in Hollywood. In End of the Rainbow, Garland is portrayed as more of a happy addict, someone who yearns to live a simple life but also has the burning desire to be the center of the party....Jeannie Shubitz perfectly portrays the idea of Garland being pulled in these two different directions and is spot-on in the several performance moments throughout the show. With a fairly accurate accent, her voice, speech patterns and mannerisms bring Judy to life on stage. She also gets the power, phrasing, and control in Garland's well documented singing voice perfectly right, which makes it eerily reminiscent of Garland's....all comes together in a stellar, virtual tour de force performance. Shubitz shows us both the rawness and beauty behind this well-known and well-loved woman and also expertly shows the frenzied, nervous, frantic, and frightened woman, the demons that haunt her, and the impact of what years of alcohol and pills have done to her...She perfectly captures the way that Garland owned the stage, the way she would fling the microphone cord around and almost get tripped by it, and how she connected with the audience—an audience who never knew if Judy was going to have an emotional melt down on stage or soar to new heights. Shubitz masterly shows us the trooper who knows the show must go on but also the scared girl who just wants to be left alone. She throws herself into every element of the role with fearless abandonment. I have no idea how she can manage to perform this role several times a week, as she deserves an endurance medal just for getting through a single performance....Director Karla Koskinen expertly stages the action, making the fireworks pop in the many fiery hotel scenes...  it is the quiet scenes that have even more of an impact. The scenes in which Garland softly pleads with Mickey and says "don't give up on me," or, suffering from the side effects of taking too many pills, she finds the determination to throw them away, have just as much resonance as the powerhouse performance numbers...While it isn't a perfect play, the way Quilter effectively weaves in two of Garland’s best known songs, "The Man That Got Away" and "Over the Rainbow," at key moments, helps with the shortcomings. Even though there may be some problems with the play itself, this is a production to see for Shubitz's amazing performance, one you won't forget for a long time after the curtain comes down." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

theatre review - THE THREE JAVELINAS - Childsplay - April 26, 2015

Tommy Strawser, D. Scott Withers, and Molly Lajoie
(photo: Tim Trumbule)
Click here for more information on this production, that runs through May 24th

"Having the desire to go after your dreams while also understanding the importance of staying close to your family is the message at the center of the charming new musical The Three Javelinas, receiving its world premiere at Childsplay... Based on two of Susan Lowell's books, which in turn were based on the classic fairy tale of "The Three Little Pigs,"a colorful, upbeat musical with a tuneful score and, as usual with Childsplay, a very talented cast... Josefina and her brothers José and Juan are a group of traveling troubadours, who perform their musical selections at various saloons. Josefina dreams of becoming a ballerina, so she plans to head to Hoggywood to pursue her dreams. Juan has dreams of his own of doing something with his ability to draw. But the always joking José is happy with his life and wants the three to remain together as a performing trio. This conflict sets up a dilemma for the siblings, should Josefina and Juan pursue their dreams or stick with the family? While that seems like enough plot with a good message for a musical geared to a family, the fact that the three siblings are javelinas, and there just happens to be a coyote on the prowl, allows adaptor Jenny Millinger to expertly combine Lowell's two books, and the famous fable of the "Three Little Pigs," into a fun and engaging musical with a message.  With a combination of country flavored tunes, mariachi themes and rockabilly licks, along with a continuous nod to the southwest in the arrangements and even a bit of Broadway razzle dazzle in the way of a big tap number, the score by Todd Hulet is varied and tuneful. While there may not be any songs you remember later, the numbers are fun and the lyrics by Millinger are cute. ..a few things in the book could be tighter, especially in that it may be just a bit long to completely hold the attention of younger audience members. However, there is a sweetness and charm to the show that elevates the whole affair, even with a few shortcomings, into a winning musical. ...could still use a few tweaks in the story to tighten it up a bit and clarify a few small things and the score could possibly stand to either lose a song or two or have a more toe tapping memorable number. But even with those few shortcoming, The Three Javelinas is still a fun family friendly musical with a joy and clarity to its message that shows children of all ages that you can pursue your dreams while still remaining faithful to your family." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, May 1, 2015

theatre review - SHREK THE MUSICAL - Desert Stages Theatre - April 25, 2015

Brandy Reed and Geoffrey Goorin
photo: Heather Butcher
"The animated movie Shrek was a huge hit when it was released in 2001, Shrek was also turned into a big Broadway musical in 2008. Unfortunately, the musical adaptation didn't fare quite as well, running just over a year. It has a fun score and a witty book by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the zany lyrics. Desert Stages in Scottsdale is presenting a production with a talented cast that results in a fun-filled experience. While Jeanine Tesori's music is fun and varied and Lindsay-Abaire's lyrics are creative, a few of the songs are a bit ho-hum and some of Lindsay-Abaire's jokes could be a better. Director Cambrian James has cast a large group of talented actors to bring the familiar characters to life. Geoffrey Goorin has strong, powerful vocals and the right balance of charm and menace as Shrek. Brandy Reed's Fiona is a combination of sweet, zany and feisty all rolled into one.  Shrek's supporting cast actually get most of the best jokes in the show, and DST is lucky to have James D. Gish as Lord Farquaad and Reginald Graham as Donkey. Graham is perfect as the non-stop talking Donkey, with a wicked comic delivery, expert facial expressions, and a winning singing voice. Gish has an amazing strong and crystal clear voice and perfect comic timing; he turns the part of the extremely short Farquaad into a complete hoot. The fact that he performs almost the entire time on his knees only adds to the hilarity of the performance. In smaller parts, Sky Donovan as Pinocchio and Harley Barton as Gingy bring a nice amount of zing to their roles, and Sonia Rodriguez Wood's voice soars to the rafters as the voice of Dragon. Katie Brown and Madeline Alfano provide clear vocals as young and teen Fiona. James does a good job of staging the action in DST's in the round space. He also provides a good amount of fun, varied, and creative choreography and also manages to keep his extremely large cast moving fluidly in the scenes where they are all on stage together. However, as usual in this theatre, the lack of any real set pieces is a detriment, especially in a fantasy musical like Shrek that has a real need for the audience to see the imaginary settings of the show.  Aurelie Flores' costume designs are a non-stop parade of color and fantasy and Stephanie Wright and Jennifer Brecker have crafted a spectacular puppet design for Dragon.  Shrek may not be a perfect musical, but it has numerous comical moments, many that are utterly hilarious, some upbeat songs, and good lyrics. While the Desert Stages production may lack a bit of the fantasy elements needed for this show, due to their in-the-round stage, the closeness of the actors to the audience and a winning cast, good direction, and excellent costumes make this Shrek entertaining and completely enjoyable." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)