Sunday, December 20, 2015

theatre review - THE SANTALAND DIARIES - Arizona Theatre Company - December 17, 2015

Ron May
photo: John Groseclose
Click here for more information on this productions which runs through December 23rd.

Well-known humorist and author David Sedaris got his first big break back in the early 1990s when he spoke on NPR about his miserable, real-life experience working as an elf at Macy's Santaland. ...Arizona Theatre Company is presenting a well-directed production of Sedaris' humorous tale starring Ron May who does well in delivering Sedaris' snarky persona. It results in a biting holiday remedy that is a perfect counterpoint to the dozens of saccharine sweet Christmas theatrical offerings around town. ...  From overeager children to demanding parents and even some innocent foreigners who have just wandered into the wrong line by accident, these moments make up the bulk of the play and are where Sedaris and May excel in showing us the true nature of individuals who are just trying to get through the holidays. The Santaland Diaries is more of a character study than a full-fledged play, with an ending that hints at happiness but pulls back in delivering anything remotely cheery. May's natural sly appeal works well in delivering Sedaris' tart and comical observations, though there are hints of sweetness and vulnerability beneath his well-mannered delivery—but just a few...He also works well to ensure the part becomes that of an "every man" who is familiar to anyone who took a job because they were desperate or who has had to deal with irate customers. Director David Ira Goldstein's clear direction keeps May's performance truthful and never over the top and manic, thereby retaining the realism of the piece. ...The Santaland Diaries is perfect counter programming for anyone who is looking for a theatrical holiday alternative. Depicting crude yet honest experiences, it may highlight more of the cynicism of the holidays, especially in how it brings out the best and the worst in people, but there is an ember of seasonal warmth burning inside Crumpet's heart—underneath that ugly, green felt costume."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

theatre review - A CHRISTMAS CAROL - December 13, 2015

Katie McFazen
photo: John Groseclose
"When you combine the power of Charles Dickens' words and the spectacular acting abilities of Valley favorite Katie McFadzen you get the dynamic one woman solo version of A Christmas Carol. ....ATC is presenting a straightforward production in which McFadzen recites Dickens' original story to us. But she doesn't just stand and read the story, she hurls herself across the stage using her adept body language and strong voice inflection to not only become the numerous characters but to add dramatic and moving moments to the has the essence of the novel come to life....Under Matthew Wiener's expert direction, McFadzen does an excellent job of portraying not only all of the shadings and layers of Scrooge—from gruff, conflicted, sad, and miserable to reflective, joyful, and introspective once the ghosts work their magic on him—but also every other character in the story as well...Paul Black's lighting designs are impressive and always changing...The sound design from Brian Jerome Peterson is lush and evocative...A Christmas Carol is a wonderful story of how it is never too late to change for the better and, consequently, how, by doing so, we can also change the lives of those around us. With Dickens' original words, McFadzen's glorious acting abilities, and Wiener's assured direction, ATC's production is a beautiful throwback to the traditional form of storytelling...a magical experience."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

theatre review - IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY - Arizona Broadway Theatre - December 11, 2015

Tim Shawver, Timothy Pittman, Katie Larson, Traci McCormick,
Marshall Glass, and Devon Nickel
photo: Kat Barnes
 "The idea of turning the classic film It's a Wonderful Life into a successful theatrical production seems like a destiny for failure. How can you take the heartfelt performance of Jimmy Stewart and the stellar direction of Frank Capra, both of whom were nominated for Academy Awards, and make this story succeed on stage? Turns out you can make it work if you think outside the box, and that is exactly what playwright Joe Landry did when he turned this classic story of love and redemption into a "live" 1940s radio drama. With a talented cast and sure-footed direction, Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of this well-known story soars. In Lawry's 1996 stage adaptation of the 1946 Capra movie the film becomes a radio drama...The cast of six take turns speaking into the microphones, with scripts in their hands, as they portray the dozens of characters in this beloved story of George Bailey, the idealistic and self-sacrificing man, and Clarence the angel who comes to George's rescue one Christmas Eve when he considers ending his life....With just one very small exception, Tim Shawver's direction is flawless in how he achieves an abundance of superb performances from his small cast that are an homage to the film actors' portrayals of these characters while also conveying original touches to each part. Marshall Glass brings a lovely sincerity to George. ...As Mary, the woman George is in love with, Katie Larson is warm and engaging..Timothy Pittman brings an abundance of joy and a sense of playfulness to Clarence while Traci McCormick is appropriately flirty as Violet, the small town girl with big town dreams. ...Shawver portrays numerous parts including Potter, the antagonist of the plot, and George's simpleton Uncle Billy, both of which he plays skillfully. ...Devon Nickel is the young, newbie sound effects guy who also plays a few small parts in the radio drama. ...The character is also somewhat over eager with occasional sound effects mix-ups bringing an added comical touch to the evening. My only complaint is that one of these moments happens in a very dramatic point in the story, and goes on for too long, thus downplaying the effect of that scene. Landry's idea of turning this classic tale into a radio play makes for a fresh and inventive way of reconnecting with the classic story of love and redemption. ABT's cast does an excellent job of bringing these memorable characters to life. The end result is a holiday treat for fans of the film, those who have yet to discover the movie's joys, and also anyone who likes to experience different types of theatrical endeavors."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

theatre review - THE QUILTMAKER'S GIFT - Theater Works - December 6, 2015

Joshua Vern and Barbara McBain
photo: Wade Moran
"The joy of giving and helping others is at the heart of the holiday season and the musical The Quiltmaker's Gift focuses on the benefits one receives when doing these types of philanthropic work. Theater Works presented the musical comedy last year and it returns this season with an even better cast who turn the production into a joyous, moving endeavor. ...Based on the children's book by Jeff Brumbeau... has a fun and varied musical score, with music by ... Craig Bohmler and witty, charming lyrics by Steven Mark Kohn, and a humorous yet moving book by Alan J. Prewitt...Cydney Trent, who choreographed last year's production, returns but now also takes over the director role. She does a fine job with the fun movement for the cast, elicits plenty of laughs from the life lessons of the story, and achieves fun and also touching performances from her cast. Theater Works' production features the same colorful and inventive set by Thom Gilseth, lavish and lovely costume designs by Tamara Treat from last year as well, and Joshua Vern who returns as the King. Vern is even better than last year as the greedy, brat of a king.... Barbara McBain is just as good as the Quiltmaker. ...Vern and McBain have fun together and play off each other very well. McGrath's lilting voice brings a tenderness to her songs. Theater Works Executive Director Daniel Schay portrays the old man who tells the story of the Quiltmaker and the King and he brings a playfulness to the part. ...Almost everyone was taught that "it's better to give than to receive," and that simple life lesson resonates throughout The Quiltmaker's Gift. That statement is something every one of us, no matter what age, should be reminded of at this time of year. With a fun musical score and a story filled with colorful characters, the Theater Works production has the right combination of great casting and colorful creative elements to make this simple story a joyful holiday treat for theatergoers young and old."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

theatre review - SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS - All Puppet Players - December 5, 2015

Kyle Coughlin
photo: All Puppet Players
 "Shaun Michael McNamara and his All Puppet Players usually take well-known films and books and turn them into humorous puppet theatrical spoofs that are also full of plenty of R-rated adult material. ...So it's a bit of a departure that their latest offer is a family friendly send-up of one of the worst films ever made, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and one that hasn't had anywhere near the cultural impact of those other titles. While the lack of familiarity of the movie does mean audiences won't anticipate what's coming ...Santa Claus Conquers the Martians still results in a silly, fun time.... The basic premise follows a group of Martians who decide to go to Earth and kidnap Santa Claus to make their Martian children have more fun. ...The team of Martians who go to Earth are played by Zack Funk, McNamara, and Nathan Spector, with each of them delivering a unique, comical and even heartfelt performance....Kyle Coughlin is the perfect embodiment of Santa Claus, full of care, love and sweetness, even to the Martians who abduct him, while Michael Margetis and Emily Lynne Aiken are hilarious as the children who get swept up in to the Martian plot. David Chorley's swift direction keeps the show moving at a quick clip with scene changes that are faster than some past All Puppet Players production..the puppet designs are superb with the green-hued Martian puppets, which are in various shades and sizes, spectacular and Chorley, and Newell's sound design provides plenty of fun music moments....the evening still runs a bit long. However, with a game cast who play up the comical and somewhat idiotic moments of the original film it amounts to a humorous and fun departure from the usual holiday theatrical productions in town."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, December 11, 2015

theatre review - NON-FAT SOY PEPPERMINT LATTE...WITH SPRINKLES - Brelby Theatre Company

Courtney Kenyon and Clayton Caufman
Photo by Fernando Perez
 "...there have been dozens of theatrical adaptations of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"—several of which are produced every December in Phoenix. So it's refreshing to see a relatively new, modern holiday play that pays homage to, but isn't a rehash of, Dickens' classic tale of redemption and also includes elements of another Christmas classic, It's a Wonderful Life. Brelby Theatre Company's original drama, Nonfat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte ... with Sprinkles, is a smartly written play that includes touches of comedy, good leads, and tight direction, resulting in a moving modern update to these familiar Christmas stories. Hardworking Daren doesn't enjoy the holidays due to some bad family events from his past. When his co-worker Trish has problems coaxing Daren into the holiday spirit, it is up to their local barista, who just happens to also be a "spirit-in-training," to take matters in to his own hands. Playwright Brian Maticic's story is fairly simple yet includes enough plot twists, tender moments, and character specific dialogue to achieve a rich dramatic story...Director Melody Chrispen does a good job of eliciting realistic performances from most of her cast....As Daren, Clayton Caufman is appropriately rude and self-centered to the people around him, though we occasionally see a glimmer of hope when he speaks to Trish.... Courtney Kenyon is especially convincing as Trish, making her not only genuine and lifelike but creating an honest, normal person in the process. Caufman and Kenyon are so good at portraying these people that you root for them and want to see them end up together. Zachary Arnold brings a pleasant sense of playfulness to the part of the Spirit, a nice counterpoint to the seriousness of Caufman's portrayal of Daren. Arnold also has good comic delivery. ...In Nonfat Soy Peppermint Mocha Latte ... with Sprinkles, the Spirit tells Daren that "love, cheer and friendship" is all he needs to truly enjoy the holidays. Brelby's production of this modern tale is a fine updated homage to classic Christmas stories, with very good leads, that gets to the heart of what those three simple words so effectively convey and how they are what we all need to not just enjoy the holidays but life as well."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

theatre review - HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL - Stray Cat Theatre - December 4, 2015

Cole Brackney, Brittany Howk and Sara Sanderson
photo: John Groseclose
Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 20th.

"The satirical 1988 black comedy film Heathers has been turned into a nifty musical...Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy's adaptation also includes plenty of added comical moments and even a huge jolt of tenderness. Stray Cat Theatre presents the Arizona premiere of the pop rock musical in a smartly directed and well-cast production that perfectly portrays the struggles of high school and the neverending desire to fit in—no matter what the cost.... focuses on a high school in a fictional Ohio town where the popular kids, especially a trio of girls who are all named Heather, running the school. When Veronica, a former high school nobody, manages to join the trio it makes her popular but also forces her to serve as the protégé and lackey for the group. A budding romance after a run-in with new kid J.D. finds Veronica's life changed even more. When she realizes that the mean-spirited girls and other popular kids in the school are dangerous to the kids they don't like—she is forced to partake in some of the bullying herself—the mysterious, rebellious loner J.D. makes plans with her to get back at their fellow students.  Though the score isn't completely perfect... has several well-constructed numbers with witty, smart lyrics and recurring musical motifs that blend dialogue and character development, and drive the plot...Stray Cat's cast is just about flawless, with an exceptional turn from Brittany Howk as Veronica that gets to the heart and soul of this conflicted girl..J.D. is damaged, and (Cole) Brackney expertly, and slowly, lets us and Veronica realize that his character may be beyond repair. He and Howk also portray a realistic couple—murderous warts and all. As the three Heathers, Sara Sanderson, Taylor Moskowitz and Elyssa Blonder are all excellent at presenting three women who are very different from each other and believe that everything and everyone exists for their personal amusement. ...Director Louis Farber ...doesn't let the darkness of the story get downplayed as he allows the tenderness of the story to occasionally peek through, especially in the moving ending that culminates in showing the emotional impact of the struggle of getting through high school.... While Peter Bish's sound design is fine, on opening night there were numerous sound glitches and several times when the band overpowered the cast or lines of dialogue were completely lost. I'm not sure if these issues can easily be overcome or if this is just too big, and too loud, of a show for the Tempe Performing Arts Center.......Heathers: The Musical, while at times hilarious, is unflinchingly honest and smart and even strangely uplifting." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, December 4, 2015

theatre review - CINDERELLA - Theatre Artists Studio - November 28, 2015

Devaune Bohall and Eric Bond
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Click here for more information on this production that runs through December 13th.

 "The classic fairy tale of "Cinderella" has spawned numerous film and theatrical adaptations. While the Disney animated film and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical are probably the two most well-known versions, Portland musician Ezra Weiss has crafted his own musical take on the tale. This version is what Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale is currently presenting and, while it won't erase the magic or memorable tunes from those two more popular adaptations, it does have a few fun modern updates and results in a charming take on the classic tale....Weiss still puts the main focus of the story on the relationship between Cinderella and the Prince and the Prince's efforts to find her once she is forced to leave the ball when midnight comes. But Weiss has the story told by the Prince's page Armando, who serves as a comical narrator, and makes the main aspiration for both Cinderella and the Prince their need to dance and find an appropriate dance partner—the possibility of marriage is just a happy added benefit that comes with finding that person....Weiss does a good job of combining the "let's put on a show" mentality of the Prince and Cinderella's love of performing and dancing with the classic fairy-tale story and in doing so finds a nifty way to combine the shared similarities of the two genres. However, most of Weiss' songs aren't that memorable. However, the repetitive "I Just Wanna Dance" has a catchy tune and the jazz influence in many of the songs is a benefit, as are the fun lyrics. The style of music also allows for plenty of tap dancing in the show. The cast are all having a fun time portraying their updated, modern characters. Devaune Bohall and Eric Bond are charming as Cinderella and Prince Bobby, both bringing a natural ease and determination to their parts. Stefan Linder is a joy as the suave Armando, and Kathleen Berger is appropriately sassy and direct as Cinderella's fairy godmother....Director and choreographer Hilary Hirsch keeps the energy high and the sappiness low and also instills a playfulness into the whole production. ...With a modern update, Ezra Weiss' Cinderella is a fresh take on the classic tale. While his score is only serviceable, he has crafted a quick-moving script with fun updated characters who show that simply fulfilling the desire to dance, and finding the right dance partner, is how one can live happily ever after. Theatre Artists Studio's production is a charming way to spend 90 minutes and will most likely be a welcome change to the familiar adaptations of the famous story, especially for younger fans of the fairy tale who know the Disney film by heart."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)