Tuesday, September 29, 2015

theatre review - COMPANY - Arizona State University / Lyric Opera Theatre - September 27, 2015

the cast of Company
photo: ASU/LOT

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 4th.

"Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company took Broadway by storm in 1970, winning seven Tony Awards and changing forever the look and feel of musicals. ...the combination of one of Sondheim's best scores and Furth's comical and even poignant vignettes tells a funny and ultimately moving story of a man reassessing his life. Arizona State University's Lyric Opera Theatre opens their 2015 season with a sensational production of this ground-breaking musical...Company is composed of a series of short scenes, all set around 35-year-old Robert, who is afraid to get married. Surrounded by his best friends, a group of five married couples and three of the women he's dated, Robert takes a hard look at his relationships and lack of emotional commitments.  Yatso's production is smart and sharp, with a multi-level set that is used, for the most part, quite effectively throughout. While the college aged cast might not have the life experience of the characters they are portraying, and they may miss a few of the stingy humorous jabs in their delivery of the comical lines in Furth's book or the nuance of every intricate Sondheim lyric, they effectively form realistic married couples and a tight knit group of friends, wrinkles and all. They also do an exceptional job of delivering Sondheim's songs, with some of the best voices and harmonies you're likely to hear in the Valley.  As Robert, Alex Kunz is very good....His voice is clear and crisp, delivering beautiful versions of Robert's two big soaring ballads, "Marry Me a Little" and "Being Alive"...The female characters have the best scenes and songs and Yatso has found a good group of student actresses to bring these women vibrantly to life. The ones with the best material include Emilie Doering as the aloof, wealthy and sophisticated, yet somewhat isolated and vulnerable, Joanne, with Doering delivering a knock out version of "The Ladies Who Lunch," full of stinging cynicism; and Jennie Rhiner as the motherly and hilarious Sarah. Rhiner doesn't miss a beat in effectively delivering every one of her comic moments with relish and brings a deep sense of warmth and caring to the part. Also, Megan Moylan is a hoot as the fearful bride Amy, and Chelsea Chimilar is hilariously deadpan as the very dumb April...Sondheim's score has several numbers with overlapping lyrics, and the combination of Yatso's direction and Brian DeMaris' musical direction, with the outstanding vocal abilities of the cast, makes the end result appear almost effortless. The orchestra, made up entirely of students, is sensational, delivering a lush, clean and full sound that makes the songs soar. The orchestra alone is reason to see this production; it is exceptional. ...Even though it is set solidly in the 1970s, Company is still as effective today as when it first premiered 45 years ago. With Sondheim's sophisticated, witty, and comical score and Furth's funny and moving dialogue, this analysis of marriage, relationships, and the importance of "company" is a classic of musical theatre, and ASU/LOT's production is exceptional."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, September 28, 2015

theatre review - SEX WITH STRANGERS - Stray Cat Theatre/Arizona Theatre Company - September 26, 2015

Tyler Eglen and Heather Lee Harper
photo by John Groseclose

 Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 11th.

"Laura Eason's play Sex with Strangers tells an interesting story about ambition and the need for praise and recognition set in the modern, somewhat ambiguous, world of technology. It is also an intriguing story of what happens when two strangers, with very different backgrounds, meet and end up basically helping (or is it using?) each other, though in very different ways. This is the first show in Stray Cat Theatre's 2015 season and also an interesting "meeting" of sorts, since it is Stray Cat's first co-production with the Arizona Theatre Company. Like the play, this partnership proves to be a very successful collaboration.  ...But Sex with Strangers isn't just about sex and how opposites attract, it is about two people who want to prove that they are someone other than what they are perceived as, and how they both believe that what they are currently working on will prove that. While the play could be tightened up a bit, with a few scenes running a bit too long, Eason has created realistic characters while also providing plenty of twists and intrigue throughout. The play also makes us change our minds several times on just who is using whom. Director Ron May has assembled a stellar cast and gifted creative partners, all delivering top-notch work. Under May's subtle direction, Heather Lee Harper and Tyler Eglen create realistic individuals, full of nuance. They also generate plenty of heat as a couple. Harper may appear at first to come off the best, since the part of Olivia is more the "victim" of the piece, which makes us immediately take her side and root for her success. But Eglen is just as good, especially in the second act, in showing the wounds he has, and his need to prove himself. Harper is exceptional at playing this wounded woman...Eglen has the right balance in portraying the arrogant but sincere Ethan. He is loud, rude, and forceful, yet full of charisma. Eglen makes us want to believe that Ethan truly wants to help Olivia, ...It's a tough part to play, yet Eglen succeeds...Creative elements are superb, with Eric Beeck's exceptional set design..Paul Black's lighting combines... to create appropriately shadowy nighttime scenes..while Danny Chihuahua's costumes are character appropriate and smart in showing the age difference between the two,...Pete Bish's sound design includes some excellent effects...Full of witty dialogue, Eason's play is a love affair about writing and two people who love to write, while also tackling the topics of public personas verses private identities, intimacy, and ultimately discovering how to prove who you truly are. Stray Cat Theatre's production features honest portrayals of these realistic individuals, clear, precise direction and exceptional creative elements. While it could be tightened up a bit, Sex with Strangers is never predictable, always interesting, and a great first partnership for two of the best theatre companies in Phoenix that tackle and present challenging new works."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

theatre review - SIDWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL - Childsplay - September 20, 2015

Angelica Howland, Tommy Strawser, and Jon Gentry
photo: Tim Trumble
Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 18th.

"Most of us have experienced our share of good teachers and bad ones throughout our educational years. Childsplay opens their 2015/2016 season with a comedy featuring two extremely different educators, one of the absolute worst and one of the best teachers ever. The wild and whacky Sideways Stories from Wayside School, based on the books by Louis Sachar, has many gifted Childsplay regulars in the cast, spirited direction, and colorful, inventive design elements. Childsplay scores again with this high-spirited and fun production.  Wayside School had a bit of an issue during its construction. Supposed to be a one-story school with thirty class rooms, the builder misread the plans, and built the school vertically instead of horizontally, so the school is now 30 stories tall......the kids on the 30th floor are ruled by a witch of a teacher, Mrs. Gorf, who likes to turn unruly students into apples, with plans to bake them into a pie...While the story does get a little dark in the middle of the second act, it is entrenched in a playful sense, so even smaller children shouldn't be too frightened. ...the cast and creative elements are top notch. Jon Gentry is deliciously evil as Mrs. Gorf...Debra K. Stevens is sublime as the always chirpy Mrs. Jewls, having a sweet and sunny disposition, full of sincerity, as well as a clear and strong desire to teach her kids and teach them well....As the kids in the class, Tommy Strawser, Katie McFadzen, Yolanda London, Michael Thompson, and Angelica Howland all shine, and are appropriately childlike with exaggerated expressions and excitement about the events unfolding around them. They all have a lot of fun with the playful, mysterious elements of the script. Strawser is especially comical as the conflicted Myron, the young boy who is obsessed with touching McFadzen's character's long pigtails. Eric Boudreau is hilarious as Louis, the yard teacher, who has the casual, laid back delivery and accent of a California surfer dude.  Director Dwayne Hartford plays up the mysterious moments without ever letting it get too spooky, and instills plenty of fun in the playful moments. ...Brimming with fun characters, and whacky, supernatural plot points, as well as the always important message about the value of working together as a team, Sideways Stories from Wayside School is a great start to Childsplay's 39th season."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, September 21, 2015

theatre review - HEAVEN CAN WAIT - Hale Centre Theatre - September 15, 2015

Josh Hunt, Wayne Peck, Mark Kleinman,
and Jonathan Holdsworth
Photo: Nick Woodward- Shaw

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 17th.

 "Harry Segall's comedy-fantasy play Heaven Can Wait...is a lighthearted comedy about a prizefighter who is accidentally sent to heaven before his time and, even though the play is slow in a few parts, Hale Center Theatre's wonderful cast and clear direction deliver many comedic and even several touching moments. Joe Pendleton is a young New Jersey boxer who finds himself in heaven after he encounters a problem with the engine of the plane he's flying. However, it turns out that he would have survived the plane crash and lived another 60 years but an over-eager and newly employed guardian angel took his soul too soon. Head soul collector Mr. Jordan tries to make things right, but when he realizes that he is unable to return Joe to his body, due to Joe's distraught boxing manager having had the body already cremated, Joe is given the body of a recently murdered millionaire tycoon named Farnsworth to inhabit until a more suitable one can be found. However, things don't go according to plan and Segall throws plenty of interesting plot twists into the mix, along with many laughs and an ending full of heart and even a touch of sadness. Director Alaina Beauloye has cast an exceptional group of actors, led by Josh Hunt as Joe and Mark Kleinman as Mr. Jordan. Hunt is full of life as the spunky, feisty Joe, constantly prancing and moving around the stage just as a young boxer would in a match....Kleinman is appropriately fatherly as the soft spoken, mysterious Mr. Jordan, bringing a clear feeling of sensitivity to the part. ...Wayne Peck is Joe's agent Max, and Peck's expert comic chops, double takes, and expressions are perfect...Alanna Kalbfleisch and Stephen Serna are a hoot as Farnsworth's wife and secretary, respectively, who are still obsessed with killing him off. ...Melissa Powers is sweet and sincere as the young woman Joe falls in love with...Beauloye manages to not let the slow parts in the script bog the production down too much...She doesn't let the emotional moments get too sappy while also ensuring that the several scene changes are well orchestrated to not slow down the pace of the show...With an interesting plot that is full of surprises and a lead character you root for, Heaven Can Wait is a fun play full of fantasy, twists, and comedic situations. While the play itself is slow in parts, especially the beginning, Hale Centre Theatre's great cast, exceptional leads, strong supporting ensemble, and clear, succinct direction result in a charming, quirky, heartfelt production."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, September 14, 2015

theatre review - CHICAGO - Phoenix Theatre - September 11, 2015

Jenny Hintze and Kate E. Cook
Photo: Erin Evangeline /Phoenix Theatre

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 4th.

It isn't often that you can say you were there when "a star was born." Yet that's just what is happening right now at the Phoenix Theatre. After years of playing featured or ensemble roles across the Valley, Kate E. Cook steps up to play the lead as Roxie Hart in Phoenix Theatre's smashing production of Chicago, her first starring role at Phoenix's oldest professional theatre company. Cook is so absolutely perfect in the part, and Michael Barnard's succinct direction so exceptional, that any fan of this show will be overjoyed at the experience of seeing the classic musical presented in this fresh, vibrant production.  Chicago tells the story of two murderesses in 1920s Chicago and is a satirical fantasy on the scandal of that period and the glorified celebrity that was the result of these sensationalized criminals. Roxie Hart...(and)...Velma Kelly.. battle with each other to keep their cases, and names, in the spotlight, and together Velma and Roxie depend on Matron "Mama" Morton and lawyer Billy Flynn to not only help them fool the media into believing they are innocent, but also in, hopefully, getting them off. As Mama says, "In Chicago, murder is a form of entertainment" and songwriting duo John Kander and Fred Ebb brilliantly use a virtual non-stop parade of vaudeville style show-stopping tunes to portray and comment on the inner thoughts of the characters.  Cook gives Roxie the right balance of warmth, vulnerability, and charm set against the shrewd knowledge of what she needs to do to get her way. I've seen previous actresses portray Roxie as a simpleton, yet Cook's decision to portray her as cunning, and even all-knowing, brings the role to life and makes Roxie a vibrant character with multiple layers. She also gives a clear spontaneity to her line readings that makes the comic ones zing and her touching moments sincere, and even downright heartbreaking when she realizes she actually may be found guilty. Cook's delivery of her many songs is vibrant, with perfect, powerful, and soaring vocals combined with non-stop, thrilling dance moves. Cook makes you root for her Roxie, even though you know she is guilty of murder, and that alone says a lot. Cook is a stellar triple threat.  Jenny Hintze...is very good at showing Velma's constant fight to make herself a star. She dances up a storm, while belting her numbers out, including delivering an exceptional, powerful version of the show's best known song, "All That Jazz." ... Director Michael Barnard sets the show firmly in the colorful, razzle-dazzle vaudeville world of the 1920s. His direction of the cast is exceptional and he keeps the show moving at a fast clip...While the original Broadway production and the revival both used Bob Fosse's choreography, choreographer Sam Hay has come up with a number of styles which occasionally hint at but don't appear to actually copy Fosse's steps...His "Me and My Baby" is exceptional and his choreography for "Roxie" includes some splendidly fluid acrobatic lifts. ...Phoenix Theatre's Chicago is a thrilling, sharp and sexy production, brought to life by Kate E. Cook's stunning and exceptional star tune as Roxie, Michael Barnard's superb direction, Hay's vibrant and varied choreography, and some striking creative elements. If you've only seen the revival version of the musical or if you've never seen this show, you owe it to yourself to see Phoenix Theatre's simply sublime Chicago-Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

theatre review - THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) - Desert Foothills Theater - September 10, 2015

Ryan Wentzel, Ari DeVriend and Bradley Beamon
Photo: Tiffany Bollock

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

"William Shakespeare's vast body of work is impressive. He wrote dozens of comedies, histories, tragedies and sonnets, and back in the late 1980s Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company decided to attempt to condense his entire body of 37 plays into an abridged 90-minute comedy. The result, the irreverent and witty The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) has gone on to long runs and worldwide acclaim, eliciting hilarity and hijinks along the way. Desert Foothills Theater presents a lively production of the show with a fine cast and hilarious results.... the play includes varied condensed versions of his plays that parody, poke, and prod at the absurdity of Shakespeare's works. From delivering Othello as a white man's rap song, ..to turning all of Shakespeare's history plays..into a Battle of the Kings football game, the fast and fun show is contemporary and relevant, full of improvisation, bawdy jokes, and references to pop culture (though) not every moment works, with a few that barely get a chuckle...The cast of Desert Foothills Theater's production includes Bradley Beamon, Ari DeVriend, and Ryan Wentzel, and all three are skilled in the improvisation elements that are required, with the fourth wall completely nonexistent. ...DeVriend is a joy, from her propensity to have all of her downtrodden and dying characters end up mock vomiting on the front row of audience members to a stunning, dramatic, delivery of Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man!" monologue, she brings plenty of spunk and sensitivity to the show. Director Eric Schoen keeps the production moving along at a brisk pace, though the beginning falters just a bit, as do some of the quicker line deliveries that get lost, even in the small space....Charming and slightly bawdy, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is a fun romp through the Bard's plays that a Shakespeare scholar or novice will enjoy, though if you know nothing about any of his plays you may be a bit lost at the many laughs coming from the audience. While not everything in the play works, DFT has a young, fun cast that turn their production into an inspired, witty, and delightful time."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, September 11, 2015

theatre review - OF MICE AND MEN - Desert Stages Theatre - September 6, 2015

Wade Moran, Tim Pittman, and J. Kevin Tallent
Photo: Heather Butcher

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

"John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men has gone from novel to stage to screen, proving to be a superb piece of drama no matter what medium it is presented in. Within months of its publication in 1937, Steinbeck adapted his own novel for the stage and his ability to get to the core of the tight bond of his two lead characters while also making us feel a part of the world they live in is extraordinary. Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale is presenting a touching production of the classic, full of heartbreak and sensitivity, grounded by two heartfelt performances from Tim Pittman and Wade Moran.  Steinbeck's story is centered on two ranch workers during the Great Depression... The two often talk of their dream of owning their own piece of land where they can be free and where the mentally disabled Lennie can tend to the rabbits...the large, hulking Lennie doesn't quite know his own strength and, while George constantly tries to protect him and calm his fears, trouble is brewing and their fight for survival tests the true bonds of their deep friendship.  Wade Moran and Tim Pittman deliver deep, nuanced portrayals of these two friends..Moran's portrayal of George comes across perfectly as an over protective big brother who is always looking out for his challenged friend. Moran naturally displays how George must find a way to deal with his frustration and weariness with Lennie's shortcomings...Pittman is revelatory as Lennie....Watching Pittman's portrayal of Lennie's struggle against things he doesn't understand is emotionally moving. It is a heartbreaking performance.  In the supporting cast, J. Kevin Tallent brings a downhearted loneliness to Candy, the older ranch hand who lost his hand in an accident and fears for his ability to get future work. Both his rich portrayal of this lost man and his monologue in the second act are exceptional....Director Gary Zaro manages to not let the loneliness and sadness of these men overpower the strong bond of friendship that's at the core of the story...Steinbeck's tale is full of heartache and is an ultimately sad story, and Desert Stages Theatre delivers a sensitive, somewhat understated production with well-balanced and emotionally moving performances. While this is a very small scale production it helps with the intimacy of the classic story. Grounded by three wonderful performances from Moran, Pittman, and Tallent, it is a story that still resonates today"
 -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

theatre review - HYSTERIA - Southwest Shakespeare Company - September 4, 2015

Clay Sanderson. Beau Heckman, Alison Sell,
and William Wilson
photo: Sara Chambers

Click here for more information on this production that runs through September 19th.

"Terry Johnson's Hysteria is an intelligent play that combines bits of comedy and drama into a funny, thought-provoking, and ultimately moving work. Southwest Shakespeare Company's production of this brainy, but never intimidating, 1993 play features stunning performances and succinct direction that turns the whole affair into an effective piece of theatre. Johnson sets his fictional play in 1938 in the Hampstead study of Sigmund Freud, who has recently fled Nazi-occupied Austria and now lives in London. Late one night, Freud, in his eighties and suffering through the constant pain caused by cancer of the jaw, is visited by the strange and frantic Jessica who comes knocking on his garden door, demanding to be let inside...Through the course of the two hour play Freud is also visited by his faithful doctor Abraham Yahuda and Salvador Dalí...Freud finds himself pulled in different directions by all three people as they all desire his attention. He also finds himself pulled between sanity and madness, wondering if what he is experiencing is simply an effect of his subconscious mind as the cancer takes over his body and his imagination runs wild....The end result is a fascinating play of humor and heart with some emotionally stirring scenes, including a powerful last few minutes. As Freud, Beau Heckman...instills the role with a seriousness that never falters and does a wonderful job in showing us what happens to this man who is used to being in control but finds the tables turned when chaos comes to call. Allison Sell is superb as Jessica. ...Sell brings a fierce, raw determination to the role of this mysterious woman on a mission, yet also doesn't miss a comic beat...William Wilson delivers a tour-de-force performance as the impulsive Salvador Dalí...As Yahuda, Clay Sanderson is the straight man to the lunacy swirling around him and he pulls it off extremely well, especially in his final scene with Freud that is exceptionally moving. I can't imagine four better actors playing these parts with more ease, nuance, and expression.  Director Patrick Walsh walks the fine line between farce and drama, between fantasy and reality, and manages to make you guffaw one moment and gasp another, without it ever seeming like two disparate plays haphazardly stuck together. ...With full performances and rich direction that are as passionate, humorous and imaginative as the play, Southwest Shakespeare's Hysteria is an excellent production that makes you laugh out loud one moment while thinking deeply the next. The program notes mention that this is the first time the play has been produced in Arizona. It was well worth the wait."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

theatre review - BONNIE & CLYDE - Actor's Youth Theatre

Joey Grado and Adyson Nichols
Photo: Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography

Click here for more information on this production that runs through September 12th.

"The 2011 musical Bonnie & Clyde didn't last long on Broadway. That's a shame, as it is a throwback to Broadway musicals of the past in that it isn't based on a movie and wasn't a revival. It is simply a new musical, based on real people, with a good score, a clear book with period perfect dialogue, and well-crafted book scenes that naturally flow into and out of the songs. So it's nice to see that Actors Youth Theatre has decided to present the Arizona premiere of this unsuccessful Broadway musical to give Valley audiences a change to see the relatively new show. AYT's production features two teenagers giving smashing performances in the lead roles with several impressive supporting performances and clear direction....Frank Wildhorn's score, with lyrics by Don Black, features elements of country, bluegrass, gospel, and blues as well as more traditional musical theatre ballads. ...The book by Ivan Menchell doesn't feature any moment or scene that doesn't add to the overall plot and thrust of the show—every scene is important. There also aren't any unnecessary characters to get in the way of the story. A lot happens in the 2 1/2 hours....Adyson Nichols and Joey Grado are Bonnie and Clyde and they both portray their roles naturally and are very believable as these two famous people. Grado often elicits a roaring growl to his expert singing that underscores the ferocity and anxiety he instills in Clyde...Like Grado, Nichols brings the same passion and desire for finding a life that is different and exciting to Bonnie. She is conflicted in her love for bad boy Clyde and, like Grado, excels with the smartly written dialogue...They both also have very good singing voices and manage their way through the tricky score fairly well, only occasionally being slightly not up to the challenge of the score.  The AYT cast also features Tim Eversole as Clyde's brother Buck and Kayleah Wilson as Buck's wife Blanche. Both are very good. Wilson nicely captures the God-loving woman who also loves her man, even when he is doing wrong. Eversole delivers a fully fleshed out character as well, full of conflict between right and wrong. Kale Burr is Ted, the policeman who has a thing for Bonnie, and he has a nice stage presence, creating a realistic man in charge. He also has a great duet with Grado where they both profess their love for her...My only quibble is with some of the cast's quiet line deliveries; a few need to project more so they can he heard in the back of the audience.  Director Tracie Jones keeps the action moving forward swiftly and has staged the show with a clear purpose...Aurelie Flores' costumes are great period editions and Tom Fitzwater's lighting is atmospheric, full of bright reds that echo the Texas heat and the fiery passion of our leads.  The one big obstacle that Bonnie & Clyde has is that its two main characters are ones who you don't naturally want to root for. They are cold-blooded killers after all. But...the musical is wisely focused on how the characters got to be who they are along with their devoted relationships with their families. The musical doesn't excuse them for what they did or try to explain why they did what they did...In the end you may not want to like them but with the charisma of the characters and understanding somewhat of the desperation they feel, you end up feeling for them.  Bonnie & Clyde is a dark story based on real characters with plenty of murders to remind us of how bloody and real the story is, but there are also many moments of humor and humanity too. AYT doesn't shy away from the adult aspects of the plot and, with impressive performances from Grado and Nichols and clear, precise direction, delivers a winning production."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

theatre reviews - SOMETHING'S AFOOT - Hale Centre Theatre - August 29, 2015

Janis Webb, Stephen Serna, Ami Porter, Matthew Ryan Harris,
Jacqueline Brecker and Mark Kleinman
photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw Photographer,
and Jeff A. Davis; Davis Entertainment for Lighting Design

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 10th.

"The musical Something's Afoot...is a spoofy homage to the murder/mystery genre, specifically the mysteries of Agatha Christie, that centers on ten murder suspects stranded in a remote house. Hale Centre Theatre's production has a sublime cast and bright and inventive creative aspects. Even though the score is particularly weak, it still amounts to a fun and enjoyable show....Loosely based on Christie's "Ten Little Indians," the show is a spoof consisting of standard mystery characters... Written over forty years ago, Something's Afoot has found some success in regional theatre. I have to believe that's more to do with how popular the mystery genre is and the fun aspect of trying to figure out just who the killer is, rather than the score, which is fair at best...most of the songs don't add much to the drama and occasionally get in the way of the unfolding mystery; in fact, most of the score could be removed without any loss to the narrative. Fortunately, the plot isn't completely predictable, so it does keep you guessing, and Hale has a cast made up of many Hale veterans who go a long way, with the gifted contributions of director and choreographer Cambrian James, to inject the production with a sense of playfulness within the suspense.  A true ensemble show, the cast is led by Janis Webb as Miss Tweed. Webb brings the right amount of sensibility and smarts to the determined amateur sleuth. Matthew Ryan Harris is a hoot as the penniless conniving nephew up to no good. His delivery of the witty "The Legal Heir" is full of fun and funny gymnastic movements and gestures, nicely staged by James. Jacqueline Brecker and Curtis Lunt are charming as the constantly sunny, young lovers while Heidi Liz Johnson and Geoffrey Goorin are delicious as the flirty maid and the randy groundskeeper. Both Goorin and Johnson have great Cockney accents and hilarious facial expressions, bringing a nice bit of jaunty double meaning to their duet, "Problematical Solution."...James' staging and choreography play up the fun, silly, spoofy nature of the musical, with some superb movement that uses the entire in-the-round stage area...Brian Daily, Alex Fogle, and Monica Christiansen are to be commended for their lovely set designs, which include a spiffy grand entry hall. Daily and Fogle's crafty special effects and Christiansen's fun prop designs combine to contribute an abundance of items situated around the theatre, including family portraits, secret compartments, and booby traps to do in the guests. Mary Atkinson's costumes accentuate the characteristic traits of each role with plenty of pops of color and smashing, elegant dresses for the women and dashing coats and suits for the men. Jeff A. Davis' lighting is impeccable, full of suspenseful shadows and lighting effects...There is definitely a lot of silliness in Something's Afoot and the score leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately Hale's top-notch cast, spirited direction and exceptional creative aspects outweigh the negatives and turn the whole affair into a fun and funny affair of mystery, suspense, and plenty of comical intrigue."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

theatre review - 42ND STREET - Spotlight Youth Theatre - August 30, 2015

Katie Czajkowski and Michael Schulz (center) and the cast
Photo: Alayne Vogel, Memory Layne Photography

Click here for more information on this production that runs through September 13.

"There is a line in the musical 42nd Street where one of the adult characters in the show exuberantly proclaims “she’s young, kids can do anything.” The same statement could be made about the extremely talented cast of young performers in Spotlight Youth Theatre’s production of this classic backstage musical. These kids may all be in their teens but they act, sing and dance with an infectious glee, full of professionalism and charm, which make Spotlight’s production of this classic, dance heavy show a musical comedy treat....While the story is extremely lightweight and predictable, the virtual non-stop dancing throughout and the infectious songs...make the end result a joyful experience. ...Director Kenny Grossman doesn’t make a single misstep, ensuring that the comedy moments are funny, and that the charm of the characters isn’t lost beneath the abundance of vibrant dancing, exceptionally choreographed by Alicia Frazier. ...As Peggy Sawyer, Katie Czajkowski is appropriately naïve, energetic, spunky and bright eyed. Her radiant personality and lovely dancing and singing have the audience rooting for her to succeed. Michael Schulz instills the demanding director Julian Marsh with the right amount of steadfast power that the role requires but he also shows hints of charm, fatherly advice and even a touch of vulnerability, turning what could easily be a wooden role into a three dimensional person. While Schulz doesn’t sing much in the show his solo version of the title song at the finale is excellently delivered. ...Kira Kadel gives Dorothy the right balance of vulnerability, fierceness and maturity and a big dusting of old time star power that combine to bring the role vibrantly alive, full of layers and nuance. Kadel’s flawless line delivery, facial reactions and comic timing are spot on and her earthy, bold and brassy voice works well with Dorothy’s solos, including a perfect take on “I Only Have Eyes for You” and a touching duet of “About a Quarter to Nine” that she and Czajkowski deliver perfectly. ...While Spotlight’s stage isn’t very large, Grossman manages to open it up as far as possible to make the large dance sequences come to life....Frazier’s choreography... is full of lively dance step...Rhea Courtney and Richard “Mickey” Courtney’s costumes are period perfect, including numerous outfits for the whole cast for both the many Pretty Lady dance sequences as well as appropriate street clothes. Trey DeGroodt’s hair and make-up designs are exceptional, firmly rooted in the 1930’s...With an exceptional cast, lively staging and an abundance of virtual non-stop dancing, Spotlight Youth Theatre’s 42nd Street is a knock out."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)