Tuesday, January 26, 2016

theatre review - GRAND CONCOURSE - Theatre Artists Studio - January 22, 2016

Tom Noga, Shelby Daeffler, and Debra Rich
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 31st.

 "Compassion and forgiveness are at the center of Heidi Schreck's Grand Concourse, receiving its Arizona premiere in a smart and subtle production with a gifted cast from Theatre Artists Studio. Set in a soup kitchen in the Bronx, the drama shows that all of us, whether rich or poor, religious or atheist, have flaws; and her dialogue and characters are both honest and succinct, with no extraneous moment in the swift-moving two-hour piece. Nun Shelley oversees the soup kitchen that resides in a former church on the Grand Concourse, a major roadway in the Bronx..New 19-year-old volunteer Emma arrives to help in the kitchen and, through a series of short scenes that take place over the next several months, we see how Emma proves to have both positive and negative influences on all of those around her....The cast is pretty terrific. Debra Rich's portrayal of Shelley perfectly displays the many sides of the character. ...As Emma, Shelby Daeffler is very convincing as an impulsive, out of control and just a little bit crazy college drop-out. ...Luke Gomez brings the right level of care and understanding to Oscar...As Frog, the homeless man who has made the soup kitchen his home, even sometimes camping outside in the rectory, Tom Noga is brilliant. ...Director Richard Powers-Hardt is adept in achieving authentic, moving performances from his cast and also having the scenes flow naturally and realistically. ...Grand Concourse is a play about second chances and, while it may not have all of the answers to the questions it brings up, and the ending doesn't resolve everything, it is a subtly moving and ultimately engrossing tale of faith, failure, and forgiveness. Theatre Artists Studio's production has a great cast and clear direction and the end result is especially rewarding."
 -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - THE COMEDY OF ERRORS - Southwest Shakespeare Company - January 21, 2016


Tony Latham, Jeremiah James, Gary Keast, Beau Heckman,
Wyatt Kent, and William Wilson
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 31st.

 "...Southwest Shakespeare Company scored a hit earlier in the season with their idea to move The Merry Wives of Windsor into the sitcom era of the 1950s, their current production of The Comedy of Errors that moves the location to 1980s Miami is less successful.  Shakespeare's comedy follows Egeon, a man searching for his lost wife and twin sons...Mistaken identity and confusion abounds in what is one of Shakespeare's lightest and shortest plays. Director Pasha Yamotahari has updated the setting to the sun-drenched Miami beaches and city streets and while the colorful and exotic locale and zany characters would seem to fit well with one of Shakespeare's most farcical shows, the execution doesn't quite succeed. This is partly due to the Bard's language, which includes puns, jokes, and wordplay that don't really hold up well today, and also because of Yamotahari's decision to include slapstick that is too forced and a stream of updated supporting characters who aren't funny or remotely related to the Miami setting. For example, what do a Doctor who uses sock puppets on his hands when he speaks, a tap-dancing nun, a drag queen, a gangster, and a Harley Davidson guy with a chainsaw have to do with Miami? Perhaps the drag queen stumbled in from The Birdcage but the rest just don't make any sense. After a short time the entire idea and execution turn into a joke that wears too thin, too fast. The cast throw themselves into the parts, but with only partial success. Tony Latham and William Wilson are energetic and even outrageous at points as the servant twins Dromio, ...Emily Mohney is shrewish and expressive as the agitated and fiery wife of one of the twins and, as her sister, Melody Knudson is very comical and effective as a love-struck woman who is also very confused when she finds herself being wooed by a man she believes is her brother-in-law ....Yamotahari is a gifted comedic director, as his spotless execution of last season's One Man, Two Guvnors at Phoenix Theatre proved, so it's a bit of a disappointment that he isn't able to transfer his proficient comedic skills into one of Shakespeare's most accessible comedies. In the end, the colorful characters work but the forced comedy doesn't, though the play still comes across as a bright and breezy romp."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, January 25, 2016

theatre review - THE ANDREWS BROTHERS - Hale Centre - January 18, 2016

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

Chad Campbell, Tedd Glazebrook, Jessica Graham, and Brent Graham
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw 

 "The Andrews Brothers is a crowd-pleasing musical that takes audiences on a musical journey back to the 1940s. Featuring hit songs from that period, with many that were made famous by The Andrews Sisters, it is a nostalgic and charming show. Hale Centre Theatre's production features a cast of four who make the trip a fun and infectious romp. ...set on an island in the South Pacific in 1945. It follows three brothers who are the stage crew for the upcoming USO show headlined by The Andrews Sisters. Pin-up girl Peggy Jones arrives, excited for her first appearance in a big USO show ...When the Andrews Sisters are quarantined and the show appears set to be cancelled, it could be the end for Peggy's big break. But the brothers have an idea to save the show. The 25 songs in the show include many hits such as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," ... and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree,"...Director/choreographer Cambrian James keeps the sentimentality of the show in check, focusing instead on the hijinks, humor, and warmth of the characters and story. ... the Hale cast features...Brent Graham and Tedd Glazebrook, along with Chad Campbell and Jessica Graham (Brent's wife). All four create unique characters and provide tight harmonies and vibrant solos. ...The cast forms a winning foursome, especially in their working together seamlessly in the surprise-filled second act....While The Andrews Brothers may be a little sentimental or old fashioned for those who've aren't familiar with The Andrews Sisters, the sense of nostalgia and the charming, familiar songs evoke the timeless period of the piece. With a winning cast, clear direction, and period inspired choreography, Hale's production is a hilarious, lively, and ultimately very enjoyable show."

 -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - SPRING AWAKENING - Spotlight Youth Theatre - January 17, 2016

Michael Schulz, Payton Bioletto, Vincent Pugliese, Brandon Reyes, and Jeremy Yampolsky
Photo by Alayne Vogel, Memory Layne Photography
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 31st.

"The Tony winning rock musical Spring Awakening focuses on a group of high school students in 1890s Germany and deals with issues that young adults still encounter today, such as sexual awakening and teen suicide. This very adult show is receiving a terrific production from Spotlight Youth Theatre with an age appropriate cast of teenagers who excel as the young students who struggle to find the truth about life....While director Kenny Grossman, choreographer Lynzee 4man, and the SYT creative team model their efforts on the original Broadway production team's contributions, all of whom were nominated for Tony Awards (winning three), Grossman's team also adds plenty of original touches....4man's energetic, athletic, and stylistic moves are natural expressions of the emotions the teens are dealing with. ...Mark 4Man is one of the best music directors in town and his contributions here are stellar, achieving both a lush sound with rich harmonies from the cast and a full, superb sound from the five-piece band. Also, the intimacy of the SYT space pulls the audience into the emotional content of the show in a way that you just can't get from a big Broadway theater or some of the other larger venues in town. The SYT cast is exceptional, featuring some of the best teen talent in the Valley. Payton Bioletto is Wendla and she plays her in such a na├»ve, heartbreaking way that you can't help but feel for her and the struggles she encounters. ...Vincent Pugliese instills Melchior with plenty of charm and his handsome, boyish looks and pure voice make it easy to see why so many people are drawn to the character. ...Sam Primack as Moritz perfectly captures the anxiety-ridden nature of the part with a wild hairstyle that is completely in sync with the inner feelings of the character. ...The supporting cast is just as good, including some who have amazing voices. ......Husband and wife Brenda and Ken Goodenberger play the Adult Women and Adult Men. They effectively give each character they play new manners and a different diction or speech pattern to set them apart from the other characters they play....Spring Awakening is a powerful and meaningful show...Presenting this award winning show uncut and complete, with appropriate high school aged actors playing the main roles, adds an entirely new layer to a great story that presents many issues that still resonate today. Spotlight Youth Theatre's production of Spring Awakening is simply stunning."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - CAROUSEL - Arizona Broadway Theatre - January 16, 2016

the cast of Carousel
Photo Courtesy of Arizona Broad
way Theatre / MikeBPhoto.net
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 14th.

"The classic musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are beloved by many due to the memorable characters and songs they feature. But they also touch upon many social issues. The duo's Carousel is their darkest show, with an underlying focus on the effects of domestic violence. It also features their most sophisticated score... Arizona Broadway Theatre is presenting a fine production of this classic musical, with a thoughtful, understated performance from Jeannie Shubitz as the female lead, Julie Jordan....Stephen Casey does an expert job in directing the show... However, while ABT's production doesn't shy away from the spousal abuse at the center of the story, it also doesn't dwell on it, and even seems to skirt away from it at points... playing it too safe. Fortunately, Jeannie Shubitz and Michael O'Brien form a realistic duo as Julie and Billy. ...Shubitz is perfect in presenting Julie as the headstrong yet discontented woman who is fascinated by Billy...Casey's choreography is a perfect combination of period steps, athleticism, and sensuality. ...The combination of four carousel set elements with Alyx-Marie Kleinsteiber's beautiful period costumes and Colin Riebel's rich lighting create an explosion of color in the magical opening, "Carousel Waltz,"...With some beautiful ballads, intriguing characters, and situations that few musicals examine, Carousel is a stirring musical. However, with a main male character who is more of an anti-hero, the serious underlying topic of spousal abuse, and several songs that flow in and out of the dialogue, Carousel has always been the one Rodgers and Hammerstein show that I've found a bit hard for audiences to truly love and fully understand. Even with my reservations about the downplaying of the abuse, the combination of Stephen Casey's clear direction and strong choreography and Jeannie Shubitz's moving and understated yet clear performance of the imperfect woman at the center of the story make ABT's production of this American classic very solid."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - OTHELLO - Southwest Shakespeare Company - January 15, 2016

Hope Brown and Amanda Renee Baker
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 30th.

 "Hatred, jealousy, and deception are at the core of William Shakespeare's Othello. ...Southwest Shakespeare Company's production draws upon the humor within Shakespeare's words to balance the dramatic intrigue and betrayal of the plot. ...exceptional, layered performances from Jesse James Kamps as Iago and Hope Brown as Othello, the end result is a solid production of this tale of murder and mayhem....director Harold Dixon focuses on Shakespeare's words, letting them ring clear from his exceptional cast. ...Hope Brown embodies the range of Othello's emotions quite well. ...Jesse James Kamps is just as good as Iago. He is adept at portraying the constantly plotting and determined deceiver with cunning looks, a wry smile, and a mischievous wink. His deceit shows no limits, ...As their wives, Amanda Renee Baker and Jordan Letson are quite good...While Patrick Walsh's sparse set isn't that scenically exciting, Maci Hosler's costumes and Sasha Wordlaw's hair and make-up designs are vibrant, full of color and a richness that swiftly transports us back to the 17th century setting. Daniel Davisson's lighting and Peter Bish's sound successfully evoke the moods of the play. Othello is a sobering and commanding work...the moving performances and firm direction make Southwest Shakespeare's production as strong, calculated, and forceful as Iago's deceptive plot."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

theatre review - IF/THEN - National Tour / ASU Gammage - January 12, 2016

Idina Menzel
photo: Joan Marcus
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 17th.

"...Almost everyone has wondered what might have happened if they'd made a different decision in their past. Would their life end up better or worse based on that choice? If/Then shows the results of different decisions in one woman's life. ...In one story, based on missing a phone call about a dream job, she ends up finding love, while in the other, having taken the phone call, she ends up following her professional calling but sacrificing romance. Using mainly just a pair of glasses to signify when she is Liz (wearing the glasses), who meets the Army doctor Josh who has just returned from overseas, and when she is Beth (not wearing the glasses), who takes a high level job working for New York's urban development projects, the plot moves back and forth from one storyline to the next. Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt..have crafted an interesting and original story, though it does get somewhat confusing and convoluted. ..the power ballads wear thin after awhile and a few of the songs are completely forgettable. Also, the fact that in one story the character of Lucas, played by Anthony Rapp, is gay, while in the other he is straight, seems to be a plot device that is completely unrealistic (why would a decision that Elizabeth makes change the sexuality of another character in her life?). ...Menzel's earthy voice and intense focus on her character(s) work well to elevate the story into one where you care for her and the other people in the lives of Liz and Beth. LaChanze is a firecracker of sass and spunk, with a voice like Menzel's that soars to the rafters and beyond...Director Michael Greif ingeniously stages the action on Mark Wendland's almost constantly moving set design...Only Larry Keigwin's choreography is a bit unfocused ...While the end result of If/Then may be somewhat confusing, the powerhouse vocals of Menzel and the addition of her Broadway co-stars on the tour make this an intriguing journey to take. It will also most likely give you plenty to talk about afterwards—even if it is just trying to clarify the various plot points with your fellow, and most likely slightly confused, theatregoers."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - COCK - Nearly Naked Theatre - January 10, 2016

Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 30th.


Ryan L. Jenkins, Jericho Thomas and Dylan Kim
photo: Laura Durant

 " The somewhat controversial new play Cock...will most likely still be playing in your mind days after seeing it. Not only is it well written, but Nearly Naked Theatre's production, the play's Arizona premiere, is on par with the well-received original Off-Broadway production, with a very good cast and smart, clear and sharp direction. The premise is fairly simple. John decides it is time to take a break in his relationship with his boyfriend and when he does, he unexpectedly falls for a woman, even though he had never had those types of sexual feelings before. He must then choose which one he wants to be with. While the plot may seem a bit farfetched, playwright Mike Bartlett has crafted a 100-minute play with such depth that it is unlike anything I've seen in a long time. Simple it clearly isn't...Besides the smart dialogue, what elevates the play to something out of the ordinary has to do with the way it is staged. Specifically stated by the author to be performed without a set or props, the entire action of the play takes place on a flat, circular stage with the actors constantly moving, circling each other if they are roosters in a cockfighting ring. We are watching the "fight" unfold in front of us, and what a fight it is. We are witnesses to every plea, outburst, and demand that each character undertakes, and there are many loud arguments and emotional outbreaks.  Director Damon Dering has not only staged the piece beautifully, with good use of Clare Burnet's evocative and precise lighting, but he also draws out perfect, succinct performances from his four actors. Jericho Thomas is John, the quieter member of the gay couple at the center of the play, and Dylan Kim is "M," the more vocal and controlling half. M exudes control but also a strong need to have John in his life. Kim is stellar as the condescending, needy, persuasive, unlikable and demanding man. Thomas is also doing great work here in a part that requires many quiet moments. ...Ryan L. Jenkins is "W," the woman John meets and falls in love with. Jenkins is perfect in the part, with the right balance, like Kim, of control and need, while adding a dose of charm to W that makes us understand why John is drawn to her. ...The fourth character in the play is "F," M's father. Douglas Loynd plays the part with a huge amount of charm and an outpouring of love toward his son. F is fighting for his son's relationship, something any gay kid would love to have his father do for him....Cock is one of the most original, intelligent, and thought-provoking plays of the past ten years. The dialogue and the direction are emotional and raw without the trappings of sets and costumes. Nearly Naked Theatre's Arizona premiere production is a well acted and directed emotional knockout."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

theatre review - DEATHTRAP - Mesa Encore Theatre - January 9, 2016

Scott Hyder, Petey Swartz, and Debra Lyman
Photo by Sarah Rodgers
Click here for more information on this production that runs through January 24th.

 "..Ira Levin's suspenseful Deathtrap, even almost forty years after being first presented on Broadway, still holds up today and Mesa Encore Theatre is presenting a well-cast and sharply directed small-scale production of this audience favorite that delivers plenty of chills as well as a few laughs. ...This play within a play focuses on Sydney Bruhl, a middle aged playwright, who has only written a series of flop plays since his one-hit thriller The Murder Game, 18 years previous...he has recently received the manuscript of a thriller play from a young writer, Clifford Anderson...Telling Myra that it is a certain hit that needs little tweaking, Sydney invites Clifford over with the plan to tell Clifford that his play is a good idea but needs a lot of work and that he will partner with him on it, thus ensuring he will see some profits from the play. Sydney discovers that no one else knows about the play and there is only one other copy of it, which Clifford is bringing with him. This leads Sydney to mention to Myra that, with the dry period he's experiencing, it might make sense to kill Clifford, steal his sure-fire hit, and claim it as his own. But is Sydney serious? If so, can he go through with his plan? ..almost nothing is exactly as it seems, with twists and turns aplenty along with several moments of humor perfectly set within the suspense. Susan St. John knows how to make this high-tension drama, full of darkness and deceit, succeed with a smart cast, tight pacing, and a small but clever set design. Scott Hyder has a firm grasp on the role of Sydney, delivering the nuance-filled dialogue with a wickedly twisted sense of humor. As Clifford, Danniel Giraldo... instills a big jolt of terror in several scenes that comes across as both shocking and, under St. John's clear direction, also extremely realistic....Bryan Rosen's set and Justin McBride's prop designs create a fantastic backdrop for the play to unfold in front of...The intimacy of the Farnsworth Studio at the Mesa Arts Center also means that the shocking moments of deception play out just a few feet in front of the audience, which adds an extra layer of intensity to the mayhem. ...With a constantly changing plot, Deathtrap is a dark, sinister and terrifying play that leaves the audience wondering just what will happen next. The abundance of laughs and screams, realistic and chilling twists, and a very fitting conclusion makes for a fun evening of murder and mayhem. St. John and her cast know how build the suspense to create a believably frightening production."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

theatre review - THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE - Desert Stages Theatre

Jesse Thomas Foster and Brandy Reed
photo: Heather Butcher
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 7th.

 "The 2002 Tony winning Best Musical Thoroughly Modern Millie is a fun-filled and infectious theatrical treat. Desert Stages Theatre's production of this musical comedy features smart direction and non-stop period perfect choreography from Cambrian James and a smashing performance from Brandy Reed as Millie. Based on the 1967 film...set in 1922 and tells the story of Millie Dillmount, the small-town girl from Kansas...She trades in her simple dress and long hair for a chic above-the-knee flapper ensemble and a bob hairdo and sets off on her "thoroughly modern" plan: to marry a man, hopefully her boss, for his wealth and not his love. However, Millie finds several obstacles on her path to nabbing a wealthy man. Her boss doesn't seem to be interested in proposing; she keeps bumping into, and might be falling for, a charming but penniless guy named Jimmy; and the owner of the hotel where she rents a room might just be running a white slavery ring...While there is a lot of plot, the story is fun and the new, upbeat musical numbers add plenty of pizzazz. Director/choreographer Cambrian James...has assembled a top-notch cast led by Brandy Reed as Millie. Reed is simply a knock-out with a firm stage presence that includes a smart and snappy delivery of her lines and a powerful voice that sends her songs soaring...Jesse Thomas Foster is adorable and confident with an agile dancer's sleek moves as Jimmy, the male romantic lead, while Heidi-Liz Johnson is full of charm and spunk as the perky, wide-eyed Miss Dorothy, the woman Millie befriends at the hotel. Stephen Serna gives another solid comical performance as Millie's boss Trevor, and Savannah Alfred is smart and sassy with a warm, strong voice as the wealthy and famous singer Muzzy Van Hossmere who factors into the plot in a fun way. As the evil Mrs. Meers who is running that white slavery ring, Sydney Davis chews every bit of scenery imaginable, with hilarious results. Drew Brantley and Jeremy Cruz are the two Chinese brothers who help Meers and they both add some charm to the silliness of their parts.  James' choreography is energetic and enthusiastic while his direction is bright and bubbly. The combination of the two results in a comically delicious journey to the prohibition era of flappers and speakeasies. ...With an enthusiast cast led by a winning turn from Brandy Reed and some splendid dancing, Desert Stages Theatre's Thoroughly Modern Millie is another hit for Cambrian James and company"  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

concert review - THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS - Phoenix Symphony Orchestra- January 3, 2016

Some of the most iconic and instantly recognizable movie themes from the past forty years have all been written by one man, John Williams. The soundtracks for JawsStar Wars, SupermanRaiders of the Lost Ark and ET have music that instantly brings the images of those films to life. Williams’ ability to compose musical themes that resonate with audiences while inherently serving the characters, settings and stories of each film sets him apart from his peers. This past weekend the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra presented two concerts of his film music and it was an exciting, thrilling and even magical experience. Many of my fellow concert goers were as equally impressed, with two standing ovations at the end of the concert.

The guest conductor for the two concerts was Stuart Chafetz. Having experience in conducting dozens of orchestras around the country, he proved to have complete command over the PSO. He also had an exciting connection not only with the material but also with his love for John Williams' music, something that was obvious when he spoke to the audience several times. His conducting of the orchestra was controlled but also playful at various times throughout the two hour show. He also made clear how impressed he is by the PSO with the times he commented on their skilled playing and also the numerous times when he made them stand and take a bow.

Williams has received 49 Oscar nominations, having won 5 times, and has composed the scores for over 100 films and tv shows. Williams has also written special compositions including the theme for the 1984 Olympics and the theme music for NBC News. So picking out material for a two hour concert would ultimately mean that some audience favorites might not be included as Williams' body of work is so extensive. But, with only one exception, Chafetz and the PSO managed to find an excellent balance with familiar Williams' movie themes as well as a couple of selections that an audience might not be that familiar with, but should be.

The concert included the following crowd favorites - the "Main Title" from Star Wars, the “March” from Superman, the "Theme" from Jaws, “Adventures on Earth” from ET, selections from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the theme from Jurassic Park. Every one of these pieces sounded to me like it could have come from the original recording that Williams made for the films, most of which he did with the London Symphony Orchestra. The highlight for me, and many others in the audience was a trio of three Star Wars selections that ended the concert. This trio included a stunningly played “Leia’s Theme,” the "Imperial March" from The Empire Strikes Back and a rousing Star Wars Main Title.

Selections from his other film soundtracks were featured, including “Harry’s Wondrous World” from the first Harry Potter film and the “Flight to Neverland” from Hook. But other lesser known selections were included as well - the rousing "Overture" to The Cowboys, the “March” from 1941, a Suite from Far and Away and an impressively played “Viktor’s Tale” from The Terminal, that featured an impeccable clarinet solo from Alex Laing. However, Williams' Oscar winning score for Schindler's List was the only piece I thought should have been included, since it not only won him an Oscar but also is one of his most personal and moving scores.  But even with this one misstep, it didn't detract from the overall enjoyment that I and about 1,000 other concert goers experienced.  The "Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark was served up as an encore to the very hungry audience.

The playing by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra throughout was superb. Williams' arrangements seem to draw equally upon the various parts of the orchestra; using the brass section for regal, triumphant notes; the strings for soaring elements; and specific instruments like the oboe, flute and French horn to portray a sense of longing. These last few instruments, plus a few others, were used most effectively to deliver a stunning "Leia's Theme" from Star Wars. But it is when all of the instruments come together, weaving in and out of each other where they truly resonate. This was evident in the playfulness of the March from 1941 and the terror that is instilled from just a few notes in the theme from Jaws.

The one clear message that came through in hearing selections from so many of his film scores was that Williams can pretty much write a theme or score for any genre or time period.  Whether it is the rousing old West aura that he easily establishes in the opening notes of The Cowboys, the Mideastern influenced sounds the clarinet and other instruments are able to convey in The Terminal, the sense of wonder and magic Williams is able to instill in E.T.Jurassic Park and Harry Potter, or the regal, triumphant sound of Superman, he can pretty much invoke any type of music necessary to have you connect with the films he scores or the event at hand.  Also, the themes Williams' writes are almost instantly recognizable within hearing just the first few notes.

I've actually seen Williams conduct his own music twice, both times were in the late 1980's and with the Boston Pops when he was their principal conductor, a position he held for 13 years. I saw him once in Boston and the other time at Carnegie Hall. At both concerts he conducted several of his own music pieces which was a pretty special thing to see and hear.

And for those who are interested, Williams' Five Oscar wins were for JawsStar WarsE.T. and Schindler's List and his first win was for adapting the stage music for the film of Fiddler on the Roof.

”The Music of John Williams” with the Phoenix Symphony played two performances on January 2nd and 3rd, 2016 at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at http://www.phoenixsymphony.org.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

theatre review - SNAPSHOTS - Arizona Theatre Company - January 2, 2016

Hugh Hastings, Jim DeSelm, Tracy McDowell, Beth DeVries, Ben Wynant, and Mallory King
Photo by Mark Kitaoka
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

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

"As one of the most prolific and successful Broadway composers still working today, it's amazing that Stephen Schwartz hasn't had a revue show of his material..this multiple Grammy, Oscar, and Drama Desk Award winner has a plethora of strong material to choose from. Over twenty years ago Michael Scheman and David Stern came up with the idea for a revue of Schwartz's work and the end result is Snapshots, which isn't just a revue, but actually a brand new musical, since it has a completely original story and many new lyrics that help make the songs relevant to the tale of a married couple, in their early fifties, at an impasse in their marriage, who look back on their lives together...Arizona Theatre Company's co-production with Seattle's Village Theatre.. is poignant and well directed with a very good cast, many of whom have appeared in previous productions of this show.  Stern's book is slight but features touches of warmth, humor, and romance....While the ending may be predictable there are still enough plot elements that make you question if this journey through the past will be enough to rekindle Sue and Dan's relationship. The only flaw with the show is that Stern's book focuses almost the entire time on the younger characters' lives so we don't really see what happened to Dan and Sue in the past ten years that made them drift as far apart as they are when the show begins. Schwartz's score features about 50% newly rewritten lyrics so, unlike a jukebox musical like Mamma Mia! where songs are simply shoe-horned in...the lyrics for Snapshot are specific to the characters and plot. While there are a couple of songs from Schwartz's hit shows, many of the musical highlights of Snapshots are from his flops. "Meadowlark," from The Baker's Wife, is sung by the three versions of Sue and is exceptional, especially in the stellar arrangement by Steve Orich, in showing us the reasoning behind Sue's decision to leave...."All Good Gifts" from Godspell and "The Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden form a tight twosome about the joys of parenthood while "In Whatever Time We Have," also from Children of Eden, forms a nice ending, even if it was originally sung by a couple facing the end of their lives and here is sung by a duo facing their future. Musical director R. J. Tancioco achieves lush vocals from his cast and also leads the strong four-piece band. The ATC cast is very good. Beth DeVries and Hugh Hastings are the adult Sue and Dan. Both have played these parts in previous versions of the show so they have a clear understanding of the characters....Daniel Goldstein's direction is smartly paced with smooth transitions and a good balance between drama and humor....This reimagining may not appeal to those who like Schwartz's songs the way they were originally written and the book does leave a few holes. However... Snapshots has a story that anyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to. With over two dozen of Schwartz's songs, a gifted cast, and impressive direction and creative elements, ATC's production is an extremely entertaining examination of one couple's thirty-year struggle through life's ups and downs."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, January 4, 2016

theatre review - BEAU JEST - Hale Centre Theatre - December 31, 2015

Wade Peck, Laura Anne Kenney and Allyson Van Patten
photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw

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



 "Overreaching, meddling parents and frustrated children who just want to be treated as adults are characters anyone can identify with; James Sherman's fitting comedy, Beau Jest, features these familiar characters in comical family situations and is a very funny crowd-pleaser of a play. Hale Centre Theatre's production of this romantic comedy is a delight, with perfect direction and a cast that delivers on the comedy...the play focuses on Sarah Goldman...Sarah's parents want her to marry a nice Jewish boy but she is in love with the appropriately named gentile Chris Cringle. Tired of her parent's relentless attempts to fix her up with someone they believe is appropriate, Sarah hires a Jewish man from an escort service, Bob Schroeder, to fool and impress her parents as her boyfriend... Unfortunately, it turns out that Bob isn't actually Jewish... Hilarity ensues as Sarah, unable to get her parents off her back and still not ready to tell them about Chris, hires Bob for more family dinners, which only makes them continue to keep up their deceptive ways. When Bob finds himself falling for Sarah, things really get complicated.  Sherman's script does include a few corny one-liners but there are some very funny parts and a great heart at the center of the story...Director Jere Van Patten keeps the pacing fast and doesn't allow his cast's portrayals of the somewhat stereotypical characters to cross the line into caricature....As Sara, Laura Anne Kenney achieves the right balance between wanting to please her parents and being desperate to get them off her back so she can live her life the way she wants to live it...Aaron Blanco is perfect as Bob, with his expressive wide eyes instantly providing comic relief to the "role" he finds himself playing. Blanco seems to relish portraying an actor who is playing a surgeon....Blanco lets us see how Bob stumbles through the part he is playing while finding a family and a woman that he falls in love with. Blanco creates an honest and realistic portrayal of this very lovable man. Allyson Van Patten and Wayne Peck are hilarious as the loving, yet very opinionated, parents. They seem like a natural couple with their constant, hilarious bickering. Van Patten is simply superb....Peck is equally as good with his well-measured comical delivery of his lines, providing a few zingers...While Beau Jest may not be the greatest comedy ever written, it is still fresh and funny today even though it's been almost 25 years since its New York run. With a great cast, including expert turns by Blanco and Van Patten, solid direction and perfect creative touches, Hale Centre Theatre's production is instantly relatable to everyone who has ever had an overreaching parent or relative; the end result is a comic delight."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)