Monday, November 30, 2015

theatre reviews - A CHRISTMAS CAROL - Arizona Broadway Theatre - November 27. 2015

James Rio and Jamie Parnell
Photo Courtesy of Arizona Broadway Theatre /
Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 27th.

From one-person shows to full blown musicals, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" has spawned dozens of different theatrical adaptations...Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of the 1994 musical adaptation of the tale is full of life and emotion that gets to the heart of the timeless tale of redemption.  Dickens' tale of the miserly and selfish businessman Scrooge shows how visits from four ghosts, including his former business partner Marley, help him see the mistakes of his past and better understand the less fortunate people around him, especially his employee Bob Cratchit and Cratchit's young crippled son Tiny Tim. ...Conceived by Madison Square Garden in 1994 as competition for Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular,...this adaptation, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and a book by Ahrens and Mike Ockrent, sticks close to Dickens' original story structure, incorporating many direct lines of dialogue from Dickens' novel.... But there is also plenty of razzle dazzle added in, with elaborate dance sequences, in order to turn it into a full blown Broadway-style musical...while it is mainly through sung, with virtually non-stop music throughout and very few moments between songs for applause, it still manages to effectively incorporate all of the major characters and plot points from the book. ...Menken and Ahren's score is top notch, with interwoven melodies, themes and songs, several of which are reprised later at appropriate moments....Ahren and Ockrent's book includes several comic moments that help balance, but never overpower, the emotional story of Scrooge's journey to redemption. ...ABT's creative aspects and cast are just about perfect, with James Rio giving a fine performance as the heartless Scrooge....Director Joseph Martinez does a very good job of staging the almost always moving scenes with a grace that allows the important moments to land. Kurtis W. Overby provides a decent amount of well thought out choreography throughout and the two work together seamlessly to ensure that the many large group numbers never seem muddy.... The exquisite costume designs by Martha Clarke, with additional designs by Lottie Dixon and Amanda Gran's wig designs, create some stunning effects most especially for Marley, his fellow ghosts, and the stone angels in the cemetery scene. Since the score is virtually non-stop, having a great music director is key and Mark 4Man provides his usual superb direction. ...There have been many adaptations of A Christmas Carol, yet I doubt any achieve the result of this musical version, which wisely adds humor and several showstopping songs to elevate the tale of Scrooge in to a big, brassy Broadway musical. While purists may have a problem with some of the changes, it is definitely an entertaining and memorable musical version of Dickens' story. With impressive creative elements that include some great special effects, a wonderful cast that does justice to Dickens' characters, and clear, well thought out direction and choreography, ABT's A Christmas Carol is a wonderful presentation of this magical adaptation of the beloved story and the perfect kick-off to the holiday season."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

theatre review - A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD - Childsplay - November 21, 2015

Jon Gentry and Dwayne Hartford
photo: Tim Trumble
Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 27th.

"The many benefits of having a very good friend are at the heart of A Year with Frog and Toad. Based on the popular children's books by Arnold Lobel, the musical follows one year in the lives of best friends Frog and Toad as they perform daily chores and do various things together to enjoy the seasons. Childsplay's production of this family friendly show is full of vibrant characters and colorful creative elements that result in a winning fun-filled production with humor and heart. Using several of the stories from Nobel's books, along with a few of their own, brothers Robert and Willie Reale adapted Nobel's books into an upbeat, two act children's musical, but one that adults will enjoy as well. ...Robert Reale's varied score includes several toe-tapping numbers and even a sweet ballad. ...Frog and Toad are written as a typical comic duo, with Frog being the straight man and Toad the comical sidekick. Dwayne Hartford and Jon Gentry play up those aspects of their roles beautifully with Gentry very funny as the worrisome, impatient, and insecure Toad and Hartford downright charming as his sensible, best friend Frog. The two play off each other very well. Since there are only three other actors in the cast, it could be perceived as a relatively small show, but those three portray numerous other creatures that inhabit Frog and Toad's forest world. And they all portray them very well, with Yolanda London especially sassy as several characters, David Jones is a hoot as the slow moving snail, and Christiann Thijm sweet as the baby Frog....Director David Saar provides a good balance for the piece, ensuring that the serious moments land but also playing up some of the comical moments. In doing so he makes sure the children in the audience will never get too restless, as there is almost always something fun or silly happening on stage. Choreographer Molly Lajoie does a lovely job of recreating the steps originally designed by Michael Barnard, and the fun, varied, and syncopated steps are well danced by the cast. Creative elements are top notch and colorful...Everyone knows what it's like to have a best friend, someone who you share things with, occasionally get upset with, but trust through thick and then. The beauty of both Lobel's original books and this musical adaptation is that they clearly show the bond that two friends have along with the fun and little things that make those friendships work...."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

theatre review - A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL - National Tour / ASU:Gammage - November 24, 2015

Christopher Swan
Photo Courtesy of Big League Productions, Inc.

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 29th.

"The 1983 quirky film A Christmas Story is the latest holiday "classic" movie to get a musical adaptation. Based on radio humorist Jean Shepherd's stories of being a boy in Indiana in the 1940s, the film and musical follow young Ralphie's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The movie can be seen in heavy rotation during the holiday season on cable TV and the musical captures just about every humorous, odd ball, and touching moment of Ralphie and his family's Christmas story in a whimsical and heartwarming style. After performances in several cities, the show made its Broadway debut three years ago, where it received several Tony nominations, including ones for Best Musical and Best Score. The current touring production has a winning cast and features creative elements on par with the Broadway production and is a fun way to kick off and celebrate the holiday season. The story centers around a traditional middle-class family who is trying to do what needs to be done not only to survive but also to make it through another Christmas season. The musical sticks fairly close to the film and brings to life many of the iconic, quirky, comical scenes from the movie...These humorous moments and phrases, and the touching story at the core, are what have made the movie a classic. Joseph Robinette wrote the book, and the music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, all of whom made their Broadway debuts with this production....While not all of Pasek and Paul's songs are exceptional, there are varied song styles including some big splashy numbers and a couple of comical tunes, all with fun lyrics, and several songs are also catchy toe tappers....Robinette's book includes a lot of narration for the character playing Jean Shepherd and, while it works to move the plot forward, it is a bit of a downside because, while Shepherd is weaved throughout the show, they really haven't found a way to seamlessly incorporate him into the show. He seems more like an outsider to the events happening in front of him. Chris Carsten is Jean Shepherd, the narrator...(he) has the right amount of balance in his delivery, not only in the fondness he has looking back but also at the memory of all of the things that went wrong in the process of his attempt to get that BB gun. As Ralphie, Myles Moore projects a good sense of fear, determination and desperation that any child has when they want something but see many obstacles in the way of achieving their goal....He also has a wonderful relationship not only with Christopher Swan and Susannah Jones who play his parents but also with Josh Turchin who is hilarious as Ralphie's younger brother Randy. ....Lenz and Carlyle also make excellent use of the children in the ensemble.. the fantasy scenes are well staged with fun choreography. The creative elements are top notch as well, and are based on the Broadway designs....The national tour of A Christmas Story, The Musical is a well done adaptation with a nice theatrical score, winning performances, fun choreography and a well-used ensemble. While it helps to have seen the film to experience the many funny moments played out on stage, even if you haven't you will still find much to like about the show. I don't need to triple dog dare you to go, just go and have a wonderful time with this crazy and touching family."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE WIZARD OF OZ - Phoenix Theatre - November 20, 2015

Ryan Kleinman, Carly Nicole Grossman, Toby Yatso and Robert Kolby Harper surrounded by the Cast
Photo by Erin Evangeline Photography
Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 27th.

"The enduring popularity of The Wizard of Oz is apparent from the fact that there have been a half dozen different stage productions of this family-friendly classic musical in the Phoenix area just in the past six months. However, the best production of the group is the latest, an eye-popping, colorful, and magnificent production from Phoenix Theatre that features a lovely performance by young, local actress Carly Nicole Grossman as Dorothy....Director Michael Barnard has assembled a very good cast composed of many Phoenix Theatre favorites who are all gifted in paying homage to these familiar characters from the film, yet at the same time adding nuances and layers so they aren't just carbon copy reproductions. As Dorothy, 18-year-old Carley Nicole Grossman exhibits a wide range of emotions. Her smart acting choices provide an emotional connection for the slightly self-centered and misunderstood yet endearing young girl. Grossman's powerful, clear voice excels on her many songs, including a sensational version of "Over the Rainbow."...As the three men Dorothy meets on her journey, Robert Kolby Harper is hilarious as the Cowardly Lion, playing up the "dandy" part very well; Toby Yatso is endearing and sweet as Scarecrow, with confused looks and statements that are just right for a man with no brain; and Ryan Kleinman uses a soft spoken nature and strong, clear singing voice to instill the Tin Man with plenty of heart. ...Michael Barnard's direction adds plenty of original touches but allows fans of the film to experience the familiar, well-loved moments from the movie as well...Choreographer Nathaniel Shaw provides some fun staging but it is the non-stop frenzy of "The Jitterbug" that shows off how skilled he is, elevating this number into a huge crowd pleaser. Only the tornado sequence, with the ensemble members dancing and jumping around with long pieces of cloth to signify the raging storm, is a bit of a disappointment. Creative elements are, as usual at Phoenix Theatre, exceptional. ...Whether you've seen the film one time or a hundred times, the story of Dorothy and her journey to Oz is still thrilling, touching and extremely heartwarming. With a very talented cast, impressive creative elements, and exceptional choreography and direction, Phoenix Theatre's production of The Wizard of Oz is just about perfect. Fans of the film should enjoy the creative touches that bring the story to life on stage while also appreciating the added elements that allow it to not just be a carbon copy creation of the film."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

theatre review - THE DROWSY CHAPERONE - Desert Foothills Theater - November 15, 2015

Matthew Harris
Photo by Tiffany Bolock
Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 22nd.

"The only people who break out into song in real life are the truly deranged," states Man in Chair, the narrator of the musical The Drowsy Chaperone. While he makes this comment in explaining how ridiculous musicals are, since people do often break out in song at the drop of a hat in them, he also loves musicals. In fact, you could say he Loves them with a capital "L." His infectious love for them, and for one show in particular, is what makes this musical such a joyful experience. Desert Foothills Theater's production of this Tony winning show features an amazing, heartfelt, and moving performance from Matthew Harris as Man in Chair that more than offsets this production's few drawbacks.  The show is set in the apartment of a single man who decides to play the cast recording of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone to cheer himself up. This fictitious 1928 show is one that he says perfectly achieves the escape from reality that musicals can provide. As he plays the record for himself and for us (as the fourth wall is fairly nonexistent in this show), the musical comes to life in his apartment with many of the characters from the show emerging from his refrigerator. He also frequently stops the record at appropriate moments to give us information and his analysis, most of it comical, about both the plot and characters of the show and some interesting facts about the actors who played these parts in the 1928 production.....The way that Harris portrays how obsessive Man in Chair is about this particular musical is endearing, but when the character speaks about himself, his past, and his feelings, Harris turns him into the heart and soul of this show—a heart and soul that we want to protect. Harris' performance is so good and touching that I was almost moved to tears at the end of the show when he reveals some personal information about Man in Chair. ...Emily Noxon is an absolute riot as the Drowsy Chaperone. With her vapid line delivery that perfectly evokes the Chaperone's cynical view of life and an ever present martini glass,...However, several members of the cast falter a bit on their vocals with their singing not quite up to par with Noxon and the rest of their castmates. Co-directors Jere Van Patten and Marisa Brady ensure that the mood of the piece never falters, which is impressive considering it changes from comedic to serious and back a few times throughout the show. It's just too bad that all of their cast, including the ensemble, aren't up to the caliber of Harris. ....While there may be a few flaws in DFT's production of this Tony winning musical, Matthew Harris' performance and his expertly delivered comedic, insightful, and personable commentary help the entire production rise above the shortcomings and turn it into a comical and memorable show. You will definitely laugh a lot, but with the connection to the material and the character Harris provides, you will most likely be moved as well."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

theatre review - MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET - Desert Stages Theatre - November 13, 2015

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

Josephine Raia and Dan Ashlock
photo by Heather Butcher

 "Valentine Davies won an Academy Award for coming up with the original story for the 1947 classic film Miracle on 34th Street. This heartwarming holiday story, which pits a man who believes he is Santa Claus against a cynical mother and her daughter, has been adapted into a theatrical version which also features the familiar, feel-good themes of the movie. Desert Stages Theatre presents a fine production of Davies' familiar tale that includes a delightful performance by Dan Ashlock as Kris Kringle....Director Virginia Olivieri gets effective, heartfelt performances from her cast who are up to the challenge of bringing this well-known story to life. Dan Ashlock is simply lovely as Kris. He is charismatic and genuine, with the appropriate twinkle in his eye that makes you believe he is the real Santa. Kellie Dunlap and Keaton Honaker are Doris and Fred. They make a cute, realistic couple, with Honaker especially charming and good in the courtroom scenes. ......Since the film is so well known, the play version of Miracle on 34th Street may be an unoriginal way to spend the holidays, especially since the theatrical version doesn't add much to the original film plot. However, the charming story, likable characters, and heartwarming themes are still meaningful. Even if you know the film plot twists by heart, with good performances from the leads, including a touching turn by Dan Ashlock as Kris Kringle, and firm direction, you will most likely have an enjoyable time seeing the this version. Don't be surprised if you find yourself holding back tears as well."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, November 16, 2015

theatre review - DISGRACED - Arizona Theatre Company - November 14, 2015

Elijah Alexander, Allison Jean White, Richard Baird and Nicole Lewis
Photo by Tim Fuller
Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 29th.

"It isn't often that world events explicitly impact the timing of a theatre production, but that happened this weekend with the opening of Arizona Theatre Company's production of Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced. Opening the night after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the topic of Akhtar's 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, in its Arizona premiere at ATC, had even more relevance since the play deals with the preconceived notions that many have of Muslims being tied to terrorism. While ISIS isn't specifically mentioned in the piece, the threat of the next major terrorist attack is, along with how the misunderstanding of the Islamic religion is being used to spread incorrect facts. But Muslims aren't the only ones on the hot seat as Akhtar also interweaves the play with the racial and ethnic prejudices that many believe. Akhtar's play is an exceptionally well crafted and explosive expose of the beliefs that many people harbor, concerning religion and politics, but don't often speak out loud, and this production has a firecracker cast, smart direction, and superb creative aspects, resulting in a not to be missed event.....Akhtar's dialogue is smart, with realistic characters and truthful relationships, and the entire play is engaging. While a couple of the plot points are slightly forced and the ending could be more focused, he does raise many valid questions. Can a person turn against the way he was raised and the beliefs he was taught by his family and his religion? Or do those thoughts never truly go away but continue to linger and gnaw away at the person?...Even the title of the play provokes questions. Are Amir and the other characters the ones who feel disgraced by their thoughts and the events that their beliefs provoke, or are we the ones who should feel disgraced by how the play makes us question the beliefs and feelings about others that we have tried to bury deep inside? ...Director David Ira Goldstein skillfully directs the production to keep the tension ever rising but also allowing Akhtar's many very funny moments to come through in a realistic manner, while ensuring that the serious topics that arise never take a back seat. He also has cast the play with an exceptional group of actors, all able to portray their characters and the relationships they have with each other realistically. ...Disgraced is a humorous and harrowing, smart and brutal drama that is ultimately about how no one and nothing is quite what it seems. But it also shows that when confronted, the truth of what people believe comes out and we clearly see how they really feel. Arizona Theatre Company's production of this Pulitzer Price winning play is exceptionally well cast, designed, and directed and results in great theater with plenty of food for thought."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

cabaret review - ALAN CUMMING: UNCUT - Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts - November 7, 2015

"Alan Cumming is a Tony winner, a New York Times best-selling author, and a multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominee. At his recent sold out concert at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts he also proved to be a gifted storyteller, delivering an evening filled with humorous personal stories and an eclectic mix of exceptionally well sung songs. Performing songs associated with a wide range of artists, from Annie Lennox to Billy Joel, Lady Gaga, Rufus Wainwright and even Miley Cyrus and Elaine Stritch, the concert, entitled Alan Cumming: Uncut, also featured heartfelt stories about his family as well as a few adult tales from his sordid past, including several cheeky stories about Cumming's foreskin. Well, the evening was called Alan Cumming: Uncut after all....There wasn't a bad musical choice in the entire set list. Some of the more personable song highlights were numbers that Cumming dedicated to his father, his grandfather, and his home country of Scotland. These included an expertly sung rendition of Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon," which Cumming sang as a tribute to his late grandfather who served overseas and met a very unfortunate fate, and whom Cumming unfortunately never met. His spotless, punctuated enunciation of the lyrics, combined with the excellent sound system at the SCPA, allowed for Joel's words to have even more clarity ....Cumming gave his take on several pop songs, backed by musical director Lance Horne and Eleanor Norton on cello, both of whom delivered exceptional and skilled accompaniment on the well thought out arrangements. A mash-up of three hugely successful pop hits, which Cumming calls "Someone Like the Edge of Firework," is a combination of Adele's "Someone Like You," Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory," and Katy Perry's "Firework." It is a skillfully arranged piece, with Cumming's voice achieving a rawness and showing that he can hold his own against these three hugely successful women. ...the acoustics at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Virginia G. Piper Hall were exceptional. For such a large venue there is an intimacy that elevates a personable concert like Cumming's into something even more special. The clean site lines in the stadium seating auditorium also ensure that there isn't a bad seat in the house.  Alan Cumming: Uncut featured a charming, intimate, and truly fearless performance from Cumming. It was an exceptional evening full of meaningful songs, stories, humor, and personal tales punctuated by the natural ease that Cumming has in connecting with an audience."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - Mesa Encore Theatre - November 12, 2015

Jeffrey J. Davey and Kelsey Blanco
Photo by Daniel Perlmutter
Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 22nd.

"...Set in 1900s Russia, Fiddler on the Roof is about a large group of townspeople and Mesa Encore Theatre's production has a cast of 40 actors of all ages, which gives a strong sense of the community at the heart of the story. This is just one of the many highlights of Mesa Encore Theatre's well directed and solid production of this beloved and timeless musical....Director/choreographer Noel Irick lets the heart of the story come through strongly...providing an intimacy to the show... incorporates some of the signature Jerome Robbins dance steps into her choreography, including the famous wedding bottle dance, but has come up with some effective movement of her own that work extremely well, especially with such a large cast. Jeffrey J. Davey and Kelsey Blanco are very good as Tevye and his wife Golde. They exhibit appropriate behavior for a couple that is supposed to have been together for twenty five years, yet didn't know each other until the day they wed. They have strong voices and appropriate facial expressions and reactions, resulting in two well thought out performances. Davey is especially good in the several moments when he has conversations with God.
There isn't a weak link in the entire supporting cast...While the set design by Bryan Rosen is fairly minimal, it works fine. The lighting design by Zachary J. Huffman and Mickey Courtney's costume designs are superb. Huffman creates some beautiful imagery with a range of colors that paint the back wall of theatre to set the time of day and season, along with shadowy night time scenes and Courtney's period perfect costumes are an abundance of varied patterns and colors. Debra Jo Davey works wonders with her small orchestra and her large cast, achieving lovely sounds from all, including effective work from McKenna Clausen as the the Fiddler. When done right, Fiddler on the Roof is a powerful piece of musical theatre. The combination of a wonderful score, a strong sense of humor, and realistic drama effectively tells the tale of a simple man in a changing world. With a talented cast, good direction and fine creative aspects, Mesa Encore Theatre's production of this musical theatre classic is very well done."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

theatre review - SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE - Fountain Hills Theatre - November 8, 2015

the cast of Sunday in the Park with George
photo by Patty Torrilhon 

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 22nd.

 "Based on renowned impressionist painter Georges Seurat and his pointillist masterpiece "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," the musical Sunday in the Park with George includes one of Stephen Sondheim's most challenging and rewarding scores. It is therefore a difficult show to produce. Fortunately, Fountain Hills Theater's production of this Pulitzer Prize winning musical features a stellar performance from Kyle Bennett as George and clear, thought out direction that results in a deeply moving tale of the struggle that artists go through to connect with the people around them.....In act one, set in 1880s France, we find Seurat obsessed with the creation of "La Grande Jatte" and meet many of the characters who are found in that painting. Foremost is Dot, George's mistress ...Act two is set one hundred years later in 1980s Chicago where George and Dot's great grandson, also named George, finds himself in the same dilemma as Seurat...Kyle Bennett is impressive as both Georges, with a strong, clear voice and a deep connection to the character. ...It is a well thought out, cleanly acted and exceptionally sung portrayal of these two men who are very different on the surface, yet share many similar traits underneath.  Debra Qualtire is quite good as both Dot and Marie, two very different roles. Dot wants to force George out of the studio and to care less about his work to be a part of the world, while Marie wants her grandson to leave the nagging business side of the art world behind and get back to his work, which she knows is his passion. ...Director Damon J. Bolling does much with the very small space. He uses several large white panels and a scrim to project both Seurat's painting of the park and the 1980s contemporary computerized homage to it...While it may be a modest solution it still achieves the end result of blending the actor with the painting and the past with the present....However, the small Fountain Hills space provides both negative and positive aspects. While it doesn't clearly give Bolling the ability to portray the way the painting comes together, since there is so little space for George to navigate the individuals, the intimacy of the space does allow the audience to connect with the characters in a way you can't get from a larger venue...Music director Jennifer Whiting achieves a rich sound from both the seven-piece orchestra and the cast, including a deeply moving version of "Sunday" that will most likely find you holding back tears. Sunday in the Park with George is a musical that some people find difficult to like while others believe it to be Sondheim's masterpiece....One thing is clear; while it is a show basically about the art of making art it is also a musical about the painful and joyful truths about life and how love and relationships help in the creation process. While Fountain Hills' staging may be fairly minimal, the result is an ultimately moving production that allows these themes and messages to come through clearly...."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE SECRET GARDEN - Theater Works - November 6, 2015

Macie Thompson, Noah McNeil and Nathan Sheppard
photo; Moran Imaging

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 22nd.

 " Theater Works' Youth Works is currently presenting a fantastic production of the musical The Secret Garden with a cast made up entirely of talented teenagers. Based on the classic 1911 children's novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden tells the story of a young girl and the impact she has on a houseful of adults in early 1900s England. With clear direction, a cast that does justice to the emotional breadth of the story, and just a few very small shortcomings, the end result is a touching, moving and rewarding production....The Youth Works cast includes a trio of actors delivering lead performances on par with more experienced adult actors: Macie Thompson as Mary Lennox, Skyler Washburn as Archibald Craven, and Emily Benoit as Lily. Thompson is exceptional in portraying the sour, selfish girl who finds her purpose in life. She brings a vivid sense of realism to the role and has a lovely singing voice as well. Washburn is simply stunning as Archie, instilling the role with a deep sense of pain, sorrow and longing. His strong, earthy voice works well in making Archie's many songs have a deep connection to his emotional journey. Benoit's superb soprano voice makes Lily's songs soar and the duet she has with Washburn, "How Could I Ever Know?," is heartbreaking in its purity. The connection the two have is realistic and exceptionally moving....Chris Hamby's direction brings a perfect balance between the dramatic and the few comical moments, ensuring they all land effectively. ...Hamby's direction keeps the show moving forward at an effective pace and he creates some lovely scene pictures with his staging, using all areas of the expansive stage...while most of the leads have fairly good English accents, some of the ensemble don't even attempt one, which is a bit of a negative to the effectiveness of the show. Ken Goodenberger's musical direction achieves some glorious harmonies and expertly delivered solo moments...The scenery design by Michael Armstrong and lighting design from Tim Monson are both fine, though fairly simple, and work to effectively display the various locations, though some of the evening scenes are too brightly lit and the painting of Lily that is referred to several times in the show, but only seen at the very beginning of this production, is sorely missed. Matthew Sanders' sound design delivers crisp and clear vocals throughout. The Secret Garden is a musical with a superb book and an excellent score that combine to tell an emotional story with realistic characters. The fact that a cast composed entirely of youth under the age of twenty are able to achieve such a moving production is a testament to Chris Hamby and Theater Works' superb company of talented Youth Works actors."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

theatre review - ALMOST, MAINE - Theater Works - October 31, 2015

BJ Garrett and Amanda Melby
Photo by Moran Imaging / Theater Works

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 15th.

"Featuring smart dialogue and interesting characters, John Cariani's Almost, Maine is a sweet, charming, and realistic collection of short vignettes that show the ups and downs of relationships. With an exceptional cast of four, who are more than capable of portraying the various characters, and solid direction, Theater Works' production is magical and full of heart and humor. One very chilly Friday night, the offbeat, slightly neurotic residents of Almost, Maine, find themselves tackling the many facets of love. Over a dozen scenes we meet the citizens of, and a couple of visitors to, this northern most town in Maine....Each scene focuses on a different couple attempting to navigate their way through the always confusing maze of love...Cariani has created fully fleshed out characters who deal with realistic situations....Director Richard Powers Hardt has done an exceptional job of steering his cast to achieve effective portrayals. While most of the pieces end with an ironic twist or a sweet surprise, he doesn't let his cast allow those moments to become cloying or unrealistic, and even instills many of the scenes with a profound sense of hope. Amanda Melby, Amy Garland, BJ Garrett, and Scott Hyder are the talented cast of four who portray their multiple parts with apparent ease....John Cariani's Almost, Maine is both funny and touching and Theater Works is presenting a well-crafted production of this popular play that ends up being surprising and engaging, achieved by an exceptional cast with clear and succinct direction. It may be starting to turn cold outside in the suburbs of Phoenix, but this collection of romantic stories is enough to warm the heart of any relationship skeptic."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE SMARTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD - Childsplay - November 1, 2015

Osiris Cuen and Rudy Ramirez
photo: Tim Trumble

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 22nd.

"The strong bond between a brother and a sister is at the core of The Smartest Girl in the World, a smartly written one-act play receiving an expertly acted and clearly directed world premiere production from Childsplay.... features realistic characters and dialogue. The fact that Leo and Lizzy are both aspirational but also exhibit typical childlike traits adds layers of authenticity. Osiris Cuen and Rudy Ramirez lead an exceptional foursome as Lizzy and Leo. Under Debra K. Stevens' incisive direction, they are impressive playing these youngsters, with childlike expressions and voices, even though they are both in their twenties. Jamie Sandomire and Vinny Chavez complete the cast, with both playing several characters, from child to adult, with ease. These four actors have appeared at various theatres across the Valley and are some of the finest actors of their generation in town....Heartfelt and funny yet full of warmth, Miriam Gonzales' play includes witty dialogue and realistic characters who are full of determination and the desire to succeed. In a smart production with an exceptional cast and solid direction, The Smartest Girl in the World is another major success for Childsplay as they continue to present premiere productions of plays that resonate with children and adults alike."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, November 2, 2015

theatre review - THE TOXIC AVENGER - Phoenix Theatre - October 31, 2015

Caleb Reese
Photo by Erin Evangeline / Phoenix Theatre
Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 22nd.

"Before they won Tony Awards for the hit Broadway musical Memphis, David Bryan and Joe DiPietro were spending time in the toxic dumps of New Jersey bringing the cult sci-fi/horror classic comedy film The Toxic Avenger to musical life. The silly, offbeat musical is having its Arizona premiere in a hilarious, exceptionally cast, and all around superb production from Phoenix Theatre.
... Bryan's rock score features upbeat, varied musical numbers with clever and very witty lyrics by Bryan and DiPietro, and DiPietro's smart book is fast paced and funny. The end result of their adaptation is a comical cross between a sweet love story and the absurd tale of a mutant freak who is just trying to save his home state...Caleb Reese exudes sweetness and charm, with an earthy voice that's full of fire as Melvin/Toxie. As the librarian Sarah, Trisha Ditsworth is ditzy, caring, smart and sexy, sometimes all at the same time, with a voice that soars to the rafters of the Hormel Theatre....As both the Mayor and Melvin's mom, Johanna Carlisle is a firecracker, full of menace and power. The duet the two characters have together is a tour de force, with Carlisle having a blast and not missing a beat throughout the challenging song. Rounding out the cast are probably the two hardest working actors in town right now, Nathaniel Tenenbaum and Lucas Coatney, who play around a dozen characters each, and play them all to the hilarious hilt....Director Michael Barnard doesn't miss a beat in achieving performances from his cast that are funny but never too broad, while always letting the sweet heart of the story beat strongly. The creative elements are superb and feature the contributions of several of the original 2009 Off-Broadway creative team from their designs for the 2012 Alley Theatre production in Houston, including Beowulf Boritt's smart and inventive set design, David C. Woolard's fun and colorful costumes, and the Toxie mask design and prosthetics by Louis Zakarian. Complementing the Off-Broadway creative team are Robert Kolby Harper's comical choreography, exceptional lighting from Michael Eddy, Terre Stead's amusing wig and makeup designs, and a rocking band expertly led by Jeff Kennedy....With exceptional creative elements, confident direction, and a cast that is having such a blast that their fun washes over into the audience, you can't help but leave Phoenix Theatre's production of The Toxic Avenger with a big smile on your face."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

theatre review - TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - Zao Theatre - October 30, 2015

Tom Koelbel
Photo by Sharyn Sheffer

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 14th.

 "Harper Lee's classic 1960 novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" depicts a quintessential slice of small-town America. Set during the Great Depression and dealing with racial prejudice, the novel was turned into an Academy Award winning film in 1962, and Zao Theatre is presenting a moving, well-acted production of Christopher Sergel's 1990 theatrical adaptation of Lee's beloved book....This adaptation features many of the memorable moments from the book and the film, though some of the things easy to portray on screen aren't quite able to be captured on stage....While the end result is equivalent to the novel, or film, brought to life on stage, with very little added dramatic elements, it still works and the life lessons that Scout and her brother Jem learn from the aftermath of the trial resonate today.  Director Mickey Bryce has assembled a strong cast, which includes Tom Koelbel as Atticus and a talented trio of young performers...Trustworthy, likeable, truthful, and level headed are just a few of the many positive traits of Atticus and Koelbel does a fine job of displaying them and instilling the role with a sense of assuredness and simple honesty. While it isn't an overly showy part it does include several well-written lines, including Atticus' stirring and powerful closing remarks in the trial, which Koelbel delivers perfectly. As the grown-up Scout, Carol Bennett does a nice job of instilling her narrative segments with emotion and a fine sense of recollection. And, while Bryce has cast teenagers in what were originally slightly younger characters in the book and film, it doesn't detract from the outcome, with Jacqueline Hall as the younger Scout simply lovely in her ability to give Scout a youthful sense of questioning with wide, expressive eyes and Nick Williams and LJ Deacon realistic as the rambunctious Jem and Dill. Abraham Ntonya is superb as the soft-spoken and always polite Tom Robinson, the man on trial. His testimony is simply heartbreaking. ...Like Lee's novel, the theatrical adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird is moving and full of hope. While the play may not add anything new to the novel or film, that's understandable, as Lee's book is so powerful that nothing additional is required to make it resonate and be relevant. Zao's production features nice creative designs, clear direction and a wealth of strong performances. The end result is a powerful testament to the timeliness of Harper Lee and the iconic characters she created."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)