Monday, March 28, 2016

theatre review - GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS - Desert Stages Theatre - March 25, 2016

J. Kevin Tallent, Walt Pedano, and Jeff Carpenter
Photo by Heather and Dana Butcher / Desert Stages Theatre
Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 15th.

"David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize winning play Glengarry Glen Ross focuses on a series of unpleasant yet complex and intriguing details the highs and (mostly) lows of the ruthless world of high-pressure sales and cold calls...With a crackerjack cast who create realistic characters, and clearly polished direction, Desert Stages Theatre's stark production is a winner as it focused solidly on Mamet's characters and explosive dialogue. ...Smooth-talking Ricky Roma is at the top of the sales leader board while Shelley Levene, who has been experiencing a sales slump and is extremely agitated, isn't even on the chart. Hot-headed Moss and meek and nervous Aaronow don't like the way the office is run and Moss comes up with a plan to get back at the owners of the firm. All four are after the hot leads in order to sell real estate in Glengarry Highlands, Florida, ensuring their clients that this is a lucrative land deal....Director Virginia Olivieri has found a cast of actors who are more than capable of rising to the occasion required to bring Mamet's characters vibrantly to life. J. Kevin Tallent is superb as Shelly Levene, the older member of the sales force.... Walt Pedano is just as good as the slick, persuasive and persistent Richard Roma ...Olivieri's direction draws rich performances from her cast while also making sure the style of Mamet's writing rings true. The staccato delivery that Mamet's dialogue requires and the repetitive nature of many of the lines may come across as unnatural or farfetched to some. But this highly skilled ensemble, under Olivieri's astute direction, create fireworks from Mamet's succinct words which they deliver in a sure-footed natural cadence that makes this production crackle....While the play might be a hard sell to those looking for a show in which the characters actually grow by learning from their mistakes, are somewhat sympathetic, or at least have some humanity, it is Mamet's sharp dialogue and intriguing characters that have made this play one that will never go out of style. Desert Stages Theatre's production has a fantastic cast and smart direction, and the end result is a loving tribute to the style and substance of Mamet's masterful words."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

concert review - JOHN PIZZARELLI & JESSICA MOLASKEY - Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts - March 19, 2016

John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey
 "The musical intersection where jazz, Broadway, and the Great American Songbook meet is a most happy one under the assured musicianship of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey. The married duo performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts last weekend in a simply sublime evening of Pizzarelli's exceptionally skilled guitar playing and Molaskey's solid vocals. Backed by an outstanding jazz trio...Pizzarelli and Molaskey delivered a two-hour concert of varied songs, including several standards, some pop hits by Paul Simon and Paul McCartney, and several showtunes by Stephen Sondheim. While Pizzarelli's intricate guitar playing takes the focus on many of the songs it is Molaskey's reflective vocals that add depth and layers, and even play off of and echo John's exceptional guitar skills. Pizzarelli and Molaskey are about to celebrate their 20th anniversary together...Many of the songs in their concert commented on relationships, and the playfulness and self-deprecating humor of the couple was a natural fit for many of these songs. ..The biting yet humorous cynicism of Sondheim's "The Little Things You Do Together" from Company served as a playful commentary between the couple. His "Children and Art" from Sunday in the Park with George and "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods served as a reminder of the importance of instilling both art and children with the right level of responsibility, since they are what artists and parents leave behind when they are gone....Some standards were also featured in the evening, including a lovely pairing of "You Made Me Love You" and "It Had to Be You." ...Three songs from decades ago that focus on death, dread, and doom (Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" from his Graceland album along with his "Late Great Johnny Ace" and Billy Joel's "Summer, Highland Falls") were combined and turned into a contemporary view of the world...But it was a song from over seventy years ago that served as the highlight of the evening. John sang Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" from South Pacific with only his own guitar accompanying him in a folksy version of the song. It was a stirring delivery that served as a reminder of how we all need to make our own decisions about our fellow human beings and not listen to our parents or our politicians and their potentially racist views. Jessica commented that she asked John to sing it that night. The fact that the concert happened just hours after Donald Trump's speech less than 20 miles away did not go unnoticed."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

theatre review - LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL - Phoenix Theatre - March 18, 2016

Yolanda London
photo: Matt Chesin
Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 3th.

"...Lanie Robertson's drama whisks us back to 1959 to a bar in South Philadelphia where Billie Holiday is giving what will ultimately be her last performance. Phoenix Theatre's production features a mesmerizing performance by Yolanda London, who pours her heart and soul into her nuanced portrayal...Robertson's play is a bit of an odd duck—part life remembrance, part cabaret act—that also shoehorns in just about every important detail from Holiday's life in order for anyone who doesn't already know about this famous woman to have a better understanding of her and what she endured through her life. While it does tend to be overstuffed, meanders a bit, and seems a tad overlong even though it only runs 90 minutes, it is also filled with warmth and humor and some heartbreaking stories...Yolanda London gives an exquisite performance as Holiday. While I'm no Holiday expert, I am familiar with her music, and London's delivery of these songs is stellar, with impeccable phrasing and a vocal inflection that is uncanny in its resemblance. London performs each of these songs exquisitely, with both passion and pain. While her singing is impressive, it is in her storytelling that London comes even more alive with a rawness and edge to her remembrances. She is giving one of the most breathtaking performances I've seen in quite some time...Director Pasha Yamotahari doesn't make one false move. ...Joel Birch's scenic well to evoke a jazz club of the 1950s...Daniel Davisson's lighting design is exquisite...Josh Lutton's stunning costumes, including a ravishing white dress for London, and Terre Steed's hair and make-up designs magically transport us back to the period. Dark, seductive, astonishing, and heartbreaking are just a few adjectives to describe London's stellar performance. While the play has a few shortcomings, London's superb take on this legendary woman is a portrayal you will not want to miss."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, March 21, 2016

theatre review - QUILTERS - Fountain Hills Theater - March 17, 2016

Jenny Harrington, Angela Kabasan, Danielle Hale, Cynthia Elek, Larah Pawlowski, Jennifer Whiting, and Colleen Corliss
Photo by Patty Torrilhon
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 27th.

 "If you ever find yourself complaining about the hardships of life today—the short battery life of your cell phone, not having free wi-fi access, an extra-long line at Starbucks—you only need to think about the problems the American pioneer women endured to realize how easy your life actually is. With courage, dedication and an almost unfailing determination, they dealt with numerous natural disasters and the threat of fire, while almost all also having a dozen children, a farm, and livestock to tend to. Quilters is a valentine to these women and, while the musical itself has a few shortfalls, the production on stage at Fountain Hills Theater has a stellar ensemble of gifted ladies who bring these women vibrantly to life. The plot of the show is fairly basic. Sarah is reaching the end of her life so she has decided to create a "legacy" quilt that she will then pass down to her daughters. Each block of the quilt will represent a significant moment in either her or her daughters' lives, or the life of a friend or family member....Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek have crafted a book with a series of vignettes that move us along the journey of these hardy women. Damashek also wrote the score, which has an emphasis on folk music. However, while the book is interesting, there is no linear tale and no character arcs to keep you engaged, since as soon as the story and woman behind one block of the quilt is finished the cast moves on to the next. ...Damashek's score is slight and not very memorable. ...director/choreographer Noel Irick has not only found a superb cast to pull this material off but she has staged and choreographed the piece exceptionally. Her varied movement adds dimension to the songs and she achieves unique and diverse performances from each of the seven women in the cast. Robin Peterson's music direction and the vocal talents of the cast create some of the most luscious harmonies I've heard in years...As the headstrong Sarah, Cynthia Elek has a huge dose of spunk and a sure-footed portrayal of this commanding woman. Colleen Corliss, Danielle Hale, Jennifer Harrington, Angela Kabasan, Larah Pawlowski, and Jennifer Whiting play the six daughters and each one is given the chance to shine and show off both her vocal and acting chops. ...While there are some shortcomings in the score and book there are many rewarding moments in Quilters, such as showing how life on the frontier was for these women and also sharing an appreciation of the quilting process. Highlighting the women's stories by the blocks in the quilt is a smart way to show us just how difficult, but also rewarding, these women's lives were. While you may not come away humming any of the songs, the stories, Irick's direction, and the characters and harmonies the talented Fountain Hills cast achieve are all stirring in their beauty."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

theatre review - STUPID FUCKING BIRD - Stray Cat Theatre - March 13, 2016

(foreground) Phillip Herrington, (left to right) Louis Farber, Melody Knudson,
Charles Sohn, Shari Watts, and Wyatt Kent
photo: John Groseclose
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 26th.

"Stray Cat Theatre presents the Valley premiere of Stupid Fucking Bird, a modern twist on Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, with a superb cast that gets to the heart of the serious and comical moments present in the adaptation. While not everything works in this take-off of Chekhov's play, the dramatic scenes, and monologues in particular, are smartly acted and directed. However, the problem is that the comedy is sometimes at odds with the more dramatic moments and you don't really care for most of the characters and aren't that concerned for what happens to them.. focuses on creative angst and love, both fulfilled and unrequited, and the mostly failed relationships and unsuccessful artistic endeavors that result from them. Posner also adds a huge dollop of self-reference into the piece, including having Conrad announce that he has written a play called Stupid Fucking Bird and having the actors break the fourth wall to talk to the audience at numerous times, and commenting that they know they are in a play. But this play within a play element never plays out to fruition and some of Posner's ideas...fall flat and don't really add much to the thrust of the play. While the self-referential component of the piece runs the risk of becoming precious or pretentious, it fortunately never does. However, it also doesn't add anything to the overall play. If Posner is trying to be funny, he is, but having the characters tell us that they know they are in a play and then proceeding onward with their individual character arcs and never having this element return to have any relevance is just lazy, awkward, and ultimately meaningless...Stray Cat's cast is exceptional and they create realistic, identifiable characters, even though they are almost all so miserable that you never truly care for them. ...Director Ron May infuses the proceedings with a deep sense of empathy and elicits rich performances from his cast. He knows how to mine laughs from the pathos of the characters and situations yet also makes the dramatic scenes sizzle. ...Full of angst and irony and characters who are "lost in love and dismally disappointed," as Mash states at one point, Stupid Fucking Bird will probably best be enjoyed by those who are familiar with Chekhov's play or those who appreciate Posner's irreverent take on the material and self-referential view of itself. Chekov himself spoke of new forms of theatre, and Posner also has Conrad lament this need to "open new possibilities." I just wish Posner had been able to find a way to truly pull all of his ideas together to truly create this new form of theatre that Chekov spoke of so many years ago."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER - National Tour: ASU Gammage - March 15, 2016

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, and Adrienne Eller
Photo by Joan Marcus
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 20th.

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder... is one of the cleverest musicals of the last decade....a sheer delight. The national tour... is definitely not to be missed. What if you were born poor...only to find out that your mother was actually a disinherited member of an influential and extremely wealthy family who rebuffed her when she married for love and not money? And what if you also discovered that only eight members of the family stand between you and the head of the dynasty? That's what happens to Monty Navarro in 1909 London and, once Monty finds himself snubbed by the family as well, he makes it his mission to bump off those eight members so he can get back at the family for what they did to his mother and become Lord of the D'Ysquith family....Robert L. Freedman's book is sharp, smart, and fast paced. The well-crafted tunes with music by Steven Lutvak and lyrics by Freedman and Lutvak are full of witty wordplay, delicious double-entendres, a range of musical styles, and exceptional phrasing....The fun theatrical conceit that the show uses is to have one actor play all members, both male and female, of the D'Ysquith family who stand between Monty and his goal. ...the requirements to make this all work in a fast-paced musical require a skilled comic actor and some speedy costume changes. John Rapson excels in the tour de force nature of this request, distinguishing each role with nuance and a huge dose of comedy...if you didn't check your program you may not realize until the curtain call that the entire family is being played by one man. Kevin Massey is also tasked with a herculean effort—to portray a man we all root for as he goes about killing a series of people who didn't really do anything wrong. The fact that he shines as Monty is due to the combination of his assured portrayal and his lovable demeanor. ...Director Darko Tresnjak's inventively skilled contributions show why he deservedly won the Tony for his direction of this show. He cleverly uses Alexander Dodge's beautiful, eye-popping set design...his deft touch ensures the elaborate story, with its succession of characters, remains clear. The colorful, exquisite and detailed costumes justifiably won the Tony Award for Linda Cho, and Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting design adds plenty of allure as well as a few comical touches to the show. Dan Moses Schreier's crisp sound design and Gammage's new sound system make sure that every lyric can be heard with extreme clarity. With equal parts silliness and wit, a charming book and exceptional score, and sharp creative elements, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is a musical treat to be savored. With a gifted cast and creative elements on par with the Tony winning New York production, the national tour is exceptional."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

theatre review - NOW. HERE. THIS. - A/C Theatre Company - March 12, 2016

Micah Jondel DeShazer, Brenda Jean Foley, Kevin Fenderson, and Tracy Payne Black
photo: Laura Durant
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 26th.

 "...A/C Theatre Company, is presenting their second show of their premiere season, Now. Here. This. in its Valley debut. Written by the talented team behind [title of show]Now. Here. This. unfortunately is a musical that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. While there are a few exceptional songs and moving stories, the musical overall is unfocused and plays more like an extended cabaret act of stories and songs that don't always tie together. A/C's production features a talented cast, smart direction, and a great sounding small band who try their best to make sense of the whole thing. The conceit of the show is that four close friends are visiting their local Natural History Museum and the exhibits at the museum and events that happen to them that day become the launch pad for the personal songs and stories they sing and tell. But, for the most part, these connections with the museum exhibits are extreme stretches...The title of the show comes from Thomas Merton's theory of living in the moment, at the intersection of the Now, the Here, and the This. However, almost all of the stories and songs in the show are about past experiences so, while they may form the makeup of who these four people are today, they don't exactly quite relate to living in the moment...
The A/C cast is quite skilled in making the stories and songs not only seem relatable but also inherent to themselves and personal as well...Tracy Payne Black gets the best material in the show, including moving stories about her character's father and growing up with a hoarder for a parent. Her vocals, like those of the rest of the cast, are impressive, delivering an emotional, almost introspective connection to the lyrics. While Brenda Jean Foley's character is mostly used as counterpoint to the others, her rendition of "This Time" is quite beautiful. Kevin Fenderson and Micah Jondel DeShazer deliver most of the comic moments and are good in their portrayals...director Thomas Strawser does an impressive job ...There are plenty of lush harmonies in Bowen's varied score, and Curtis Moeller's music direction ensures they sound lovely. Now. Here. This. is far from a perfect musical, but there are several moments where the material and characters come together to deliver emotionally relevant material. It is unfortunately only at those times that this A/C Theatre Company production truly soars."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

concert review - THE GERSHWIN EXPERIENCE: HERE TO STAY - March 11, 2016

 "The Gershwin Experience: Here to Stay is a concert that has been making the rounds of symphony orchestras across the country over the past few years. Featuring some of George Gershwin's greatest works, the evening also includes archival photos, images, and home video from the Gershwin estate projected over the stage that add further dimension to the music in this celebration of the legacy and genius of George and his brother Ira. The recent Phoenix Symphony Orchestra presentation was full of rich, distinctive playing. Under the guidance of conductor Dirk Meyer, who was making his premiere appearance with the Symphony—and what a distinctive and impressive premiere it was—the PSO sounded exceptional. The highlight of the evening was their superb performance of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris." ...Guest vocalists included Lisa Vroman and Rick Faugno...While Vroman's legit, operatic voice was a bit at odds with Ira Gershwin's playful lyrics in a couple of selections, her rendition of "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess was one of the best versions I've ever heard....Faugno...displayed surefooted vocals as well as some fancy, skilled footwork in the style of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, both of whom worked with Gershwin. His dancing and singing during "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Slap that Bass" were exuberant....An encore of "Love Is Here to Stay," the last song George Gershwin wrote, was a poignant and fitting end to the concert. Having died so young, at just age 38, George Gershwin's music is full of life, wit, and sophistication and, like the encore song and the title of the concert, the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and guests proved that his music is most definitely here to stay."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, March 11, 2016

theatre review - MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT - Mesa Encore Theatre - March 6, 2016

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

photos and artwork: Wade Moran
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 20th.

"The hit 1975 movie Monty Python and The Holy Grail humorously told of King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. ...Eric Idle created a musical version of the movie with John Du Prez called Spamalot. The title is a riff on the musical Camelot which was set in the same period as the film and also focused on King Arthur. Mesa Encore Theatre's production of this musical comedy provides an endless amount of silly fun with a cast and direction that expertly play up the show's comical moments. The plot of the show is fairly basic. King Arthur forms the Knights of the Round Table and with Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, and his trusty knave Patsy along for the ride, plus some assistance from the mysterious Lady of the Lake, they go on a search for the Holy Grail. ...Director Peter J. Hill has wisely kept the MET cast small, just like the Broadway production, with six of the main cast members playing multiple parts. ...As the hapless leader King Arthur, Bill Bennett is the virtual straight man for the zaniness that unfolds around him...Lizz Reeves Fiddler holds her own with the male-dominated cast as the Lady in the Lake, the only main female character. ...Andy Newman's exceptionally clear voice excels on Patsy's songs and his frustrated and agitated facial expressions work well to display Patsy's irritation with the way Arthur treats him. Chris Fidler is superb as the sexually confused Lancelot and several other roles. He is exceptional in making them all unique and hilarious. Sky Donovan is funny as the self-absorbed Galahad; as the not exactly brave Robin, Michael Stewart is charming and sweet; and James Melita instills several roles, including Galahad's mother, with plenty of humor. Also, David Chorley is a hoot in a few small parts, including Prince Herbert, the damsel in distress who just happens to be a man. All six of these men display exceptional comedic timing while instilling the many characters they play with charm. Director Hill moves the series of vignettes along at a fast pace, and ensures that Bryan Rosen's smart, cartoon-like set designs are incorporated into the hilarity. ..With a gifted cast, fine creative elements, and direction that is proficient in making the comedy always hit its mark, MET's Spamalot is a charming, silly, and very funny production.  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

theatre review - THE WEIR - Theatre Artists Studio - March 3, 2016

Michael Fleck, Steven Fajardo, Amanda Melby, and Tom Koelbel
Photo by Mark Gluckman

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

 " Conor McPherson's 1997 play The Weir documents the conversations and reminiscences that the patrons of a pub in Northwest Ireland have one evening. Five people, including four men who have known each other almost their entire lives, plus a woman who has just moved to town, tell stories of their past, many of which have a ghost story element to them....While the creative elements detract somewhat from the play, Theatre Artists Studio's production features a talented cast and steady direction. McPherson's smart script and interesting characters result in an effective journey through the terror of the unknown while also demonstrating how the comfort of friends can help one get through life. Set in Brendan's pub, the patrons include Jack and Jim, two local single men, and Finbar, a married estate agent who has brought Valerie, a new woman who has just recently moved to town, to the bar...Over ninety minutes the patrons tell their tales as Valerie pays attention, yet it is a very personal story that she tells that is the most heartbreaking....Director Carol MacLeod gets fine performances from her cast, all of whom are skilled in the requisite storytelling aspects of their parts. Michael Fleck relishes the details of the stories he tells and there is a vibrant and buoyant sense of life that he brings to the part of Jack. While all of the characters in the play exhibit a sense of loneliness, it is Jack's final story, which isn't a ghost story at all, that is especially poignant and Fleck delivers a well-rounded portrayal. As Valerie, Amanda Melby is appropriately quiet at first, yet respectful with these strangers she has just met. When Valerie tells her story, Melby's focused delivery is expert in keeping her fellow pub patrons, and the audience, on the edge of their seats as they wait to hear the story that brought Valerie to this remote part of Ireland. Melby delivers a poignant and moving portrayal....While there is nothing amateurish about Deborah Mather Boehm's set design and Stacey Walston's lighting, they both are a bit at odds with the play. Boehm's beautiful, modern and sterile bar looks lovely, but it resembles a recently updated bar that one would find in the high priced area of Dublin or London, not in a remote part of Ireland. Walston's bright lighting is professional but, like the set design, doesn't always gel with the stories, since it never evokes or even complements that spooky nature of the ghostly tales. ...The Weir is a play in which very little happens, so those who prefer a decent amount of plot may be a bit put off by its slow going, storytelling nature. Theatre Artists Studio's production has a gifted cast and clear direction that expertly portray the dramatic nature of the tales and the many emotional levels the characters exhibit...."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, March 7, 2016

theatre review - ANYTHING GOES - Hale Centre Theatre - March 2, 2016

the cast of Anything Goes
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw / Hale Centre Theatre

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 2nd.

 "It's easy to see why a musical like Anything Goes is frequently produced across the Valley each season. With a score by Cole Porter that features many well-known gems and a well written comical book, Anything Goes is just about the most fun one can have at a musical. Hale Centre Theatre's production features an exceptional cast who are more than capable of ensuring the hilarity never ends, and Cambrian James' sure-footed direction and choreography include some lively dance numbers....While Anything Goes is basically an ensemble production, the "headliner" on the boat is Reno Sweeney and her character features into many of the other characters' plots. ...Emily Giauque Evans has the right look and style for the role of this sexy, sassy, and intelligent woman. ...a beautiful and rich voice and exceptional dance skills that she shows off throughout the show...James D. Gish plays Billy Crocker, the romantic lead, and he is playful in the part, with a huge dose of boyish charm and exceptional vocals. As Moonface Martin, ...Geoffrey Goorin is ...gifted in ensuring his comic bits land. He also does well with the singing and dancing the role requires. Goorin is simply lovable in the part....Director and choreographer Cambrian James keeps the show moving along at a fun and fast clip, with the comedy bits fresh and the song and dance numbers lively. His choreography features varied steps, including an abundance of tap which the large cast excels at delivering. Design elements are excellent, with Mary Atkinson's stunning costumes and Jeff A. Davis' vibrant and evocative...A humorous and romantic romp featuring some of Cole Porter's best known songs, Anything Goes is one of the most well known and beloved classic musical comedies. Hale Centre Theatre's production features a stellar cast and solid and fun direction and choreography."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

theatre review - WITTENBERG - Southwest Shakespeare Company - February 28, 2016

Marshall Glass and David Dickinson
photo: Patrick Walsh
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 12th.

 "David Davalos' Wittenberg is a humorous prequel, of sorts, to Shakespeare's Hamlet, the story of Martin Luther, and Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus. Full of witty word play, Davalos has taken the nugget of information that Shakespeare dispersed in his play concerning Wittenberg being Hamlet's alma mater, and where he was present when he received the news of his father's death, as his launching pad for this inspired play. When Davalos remembered that Dr. John Faustus taught at Wittenberg before his deal with the devil and that Martin Luther was a professor of theology at the school before he started the Protestant Reformation, he was able to create an intriguing historical comedy that places all three men at the German college at the same time. Southwest Shakespeare presents the local premiere of the 2008 play in an exceptionally cast and well-directed production featuring fiery barbs and pitting philosophy against theology....Having some knowledge of these three men helps to get the jokes, names, and references, but even if you only know a little about them, the easy to understand language enables those of us who aren't highly intellectual scholars to fully comprehend the themes and ideas Davalos brings up....Kent Burnham's savvy direction is matched by a cast that smartly, and humorously, portrays these famous characters, warts and all. As Faustus, David Dickinson is charming, feisty, argumentative and full of life....Marshall Glass is introspective as Luther.....Luther is saddened and torn and Glass exhibits those conflicted feelings exceptionally. William Wilson is equally adept at portraying the conflict that Hamlet faces, both in his nightmares and in his waking life. While Wilson is a gifted comic and delivers his many humorous lines with a natural ease, his final scene, as Hamlet has received news of his father's death, is serious, and delivered so well that it makes me hope to see Wilson play Hamlet in Shakespeare's tragedy one day. Allison Sell portrays four very different women with aplomb. ...Burnham's sharp direction never falters in ensuring the humorous moments land yet adds a stirring relevance to the dramatic ones as well. ..Zany and thought-provoking aren't two descriptions that usually go together, yet the smartly written Wittenberg manages to be both and it also doesn't require you to have a philosophy or theology degree to easily comprehend the ideas, themes, and debates the play raises. Southwest Shakespeare Company's production has a gifted cast, clear direction, and excellent creative aspects and the end result is charming, intellectual, confident and inspiring, yet also extremely hilarious."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

theatre review - FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - Arizona Broadway Theatre - February 27, 2016

the cast of ABT's Fiddler on the Roof
Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 3rd.

"The classic musical Fiddler on the Roof is currently receiving a splendid production at Arizona Broadway Theatre...well directed with simple yet beautiful creative elements and a superb performance by Jason E. Simon as the beloved milkman Tevye. This is an exceptionally solid production of the popular and timeless musical....Fiddler tells the well-known tale of Tevye, the poor Jewish dairyman, his wife, and five daughters in early 1900s Russia. Set in the changing world that surrounds him, Tevye tries to hold onto his traditions and religious customs even as he deals with anti-Semitism and the Russian expulsion of Jews from their homes in his village of Anatevka....
Director M. Seth Reines sticks close to the blueprint that many directors of this show have used in the past, yet adds several effective original touches to keep the story fresh and vibrant...Jason E. Simon is the best sung Tevye I've ever seen. His rich, deep, beautiful voice achieves warm, stirring notes and his comic timing and personable connection with his fellow cast members form a simply beautiful performance. As Tevye's wife Golde, Kat Bailes is better in the emotional scenes in the second act, while her short, stern and biting comic take on the controlling wife is a little off putting in act one, lacking a sense of warmth to keep it from seeming to be the portrayal of just a constantly complaining woman. The supporting cast achieves beautiful portrayals....Douglas Clarke's set design is warm and creative, using birch trees in his designs, including three proscenium arches with richly detailed borders, which add texture to the Anatevka setting. ...Joshua D. Smith's music direction is stellar, achieving lush tunes from the cast and orchestra including some simply lovely violin solos from Allen Ames. Fiddler on the Roof is a powerful piece of musical theatre with a wonderful score, a strong sense of humor, and realistic drama all effectively combining to tell a tale of a simple man, his family and fellow villagers who are all confronted by some serious issues in a time of change. With a superb turn by Jason E. Simon as Tevye, rich creative elements, and solid direction, ABT's production of this beloved musical is one of their best."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - EVITA - Phoenix Theatre - February 26, 2016

Michael Sample and Alyssa Chiarello
photo: Erin Evangeline Photography
Click here for more information on this production that runs through March 20th.

"Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's pop-rock musical Evita... is the story of a real life woman's rise to power and fame ... Phoenix Theatre's production of this crowd pleasing show features an energetic performance by Alyssa Chiarello in the lead role, good direction and choreography, exciting creative elements, and a superb orchestra conducted by Alan Ruch...Evita is an interesting history lesson about a young poor woman who gets caught up in the struggle for fame and success. While Evita is a pretty good musical, it is also one with a few shortcomings. It is almost completely sung, with only a couple of lines of dialogue. This requires the audience to connect the dots between some scenes in order to fill in the gaps in the plot...the characters never really make you care for them. Sure, Eva is from a poor family and yearns for success, but the manipulative way she goes about achieving it doesn't exactly make us sympathetic toward also requires most of the cast, especially those playing Eva and Che, to scream or screech many lyrics. Fortunately, Rice's biting lyrics, Lloyd Webber's sweeping music and a second act that more clearly portrays the final years in Eva's life offset many of these shortcomings. Director Robert Kolby Harper has assembled a first rate cast as well as impressive creative elements. The energy of the cast, Nicole Olsen's striking, tango-fueled choreography, and the pulsating and driven orchestrations effectively mirror the Perón's energy and drive to power. ...Chiarello is more than up to the challenge, with remarkable singing and acting abilities on display throughout. Her powerhouse vocals never falter, with clear enunciation of every lyric and phrase and an ease in the way she navigates throughout the very rangy score. ...calculating yet passionate and a firecracker throughout, never faltering for a moment until her health begins to decline. Chiarello is sexy and seductive, tough as nails, while allowing Eva's vulnerability to make an occasional appearance. ...Michael Sample is just as good as Che and, considering he was a last minute replacement when the original actor was injured in rehearsals, that is even more impressive an achievement. His voice is extremely powerful and clear and his enunciation of every lyric is just about perfect. He is intense yet playful as the on-looker and narrator of Eva's story and shows the frustration and cynicism at what he sees going on around him. ...Yoon Bae's scenic design is simple yet striking, and Michael J. Eddy's lighting is excellent. ...Alan Ruch's music direction is just as impressive, with a combination of rich vocals from the entire cast and sharp, distinct playing by the orchestra. While Evita has some shortcomings, they are outweighed by the driving score and the performances. Phoenix Theatre's exceptional cast and first rate creative elements make this a production for any theatre-lover looking for a big, bold musical or anyone interested in experiencing the passion, power, and romance behind the story of Eva Perón's rise to power."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)