Monday, May 29, 2017

theatre review - AIDA - Hale Centre Theatre - May 25, 2017

Ashley Jackson
photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
Click here for more information on this production that runs through July 1st.

"...With a Tony winning score by Elton John and Tim Rice, and a hip updated book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Harry Hwang, Aida focuses on a love triangle full of intrigue and romance. Hale Centre Theatre's production features three exceptional leads, sharp direction, and exquisite creative elements....While the musical is quite good, there are a few shortcomings in the score and book. Elton John's music is varied but it is also pop-rock ballad heavy and features two songs for Radames' father Zoser that are incredibly weak in their music style and the hip hop orchestrations that are vastly at odds with the rest of the score. ...the score sometimes interjects yet another ballad where dialogue could suffice. Fortunately, those ballads are all quite good. Also, the modern-day museum scenes that begin and end the show give the story an uplifting message that proves that love truly is eternal. While Hale can't do much to fix the few small drawbacks in the score and book, their three leads are superb, with Ashley Jackson making a sensational debut in her first performance at Hale. ..Jackson is simply exquisite as this fierce and forceful yet entirely passionate woman. As Radames, Ben Mason's ability to portray the character's infatuation and intrigue of Aida through his keen facial expressions and subtle gestures is exceptional. ...Victoria Fairclough's singing voice, with earthy, gutsy tones and a strong clarity, is equally adept in ensuring that Amneris' songs soar. ...Director M. Seth Reines, choreographer Cambrian James, and music director JR McAlexander form a dynamic trio who deliver nonstop and striking vocals and visuals throughout. ...The combination of a gifted cast who deliver stunning vocals, crisp staging, and Hale's always impressive creative elements manage to offset most of the small issues I have with the score and book, which makes Hale's Aida a powerful and emotionally rich musical journey. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Monday, May 22, 2017

concert review - THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS - Phoenix Symphony Orchestra - May 14, 2017

by Gil Benbrook

I don't believe there is another film composer that has written as many instantly recognizable themes as John Williams. The recipient of a vast number of awards, including five Oscars and four Golden Globes, with 50 Academy Award nominations Williams is the second most nominated person in Oscar history with only Walt Disney with 59 nominations ahead of him. Williams won Oscars for his soundtracks to JawsStar WarsSchindler's List and ET and he also composed the scores for SupermanRaiders of the Lost Ark and the first three Harry Potter films. With the four recent concert performances of John Williams' music by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and another series of concerts already scheduled for next season, the popularity of John Williams is clearly not diminishing in the Phoenix area.

Under Robert Franz's fun, personable and passionate conduction, the Phoenix Symphony performed both many beloved and recognizable themes as well as some slightly lesser known selections from Williams' oeuvre. The playing by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra throughout the entire concert was superb.

The audience was thoroughly entertained by a trio of Star Wars selections, including one of Williams' most recent compositions, "Scherzo for X-Wing" from The Force Awakens along with "Across the Stars" from Attack of the Clones and The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back, which ended the first half of the concert and featured Franz dueling with Darth Vader on stage. But the full crowd was equally as moved by some of Williams' non-film compositions. These included the rousing "Summon the Heroes," which was written for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the sweeping and beautiful "Liberty Fanfare" which Williams wrote for the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

Steven Moeckel's expert violin solos brought a brightness and clarity to the romance filled Tango ("Por una Cabeza")  by Carlos Gardel as well as delivered a seriousness in the simplicity of "The Theme from Schindler's List." Moeckel's dedication and expert playing was matched by every other musician on stage at the Orpheum Theatre.

Other selections included a quartet of film flying numbers that soared to the ceiling of the Orpheum and which featured a beautiful woodwinds only arrangement of "Nimbus 2000" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, along with that film's "Hedwig's Theme," Hook's "Flight to Neverland" and "Adventures on Earth" from ET: the Extraterrestrial. While "The Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark is instantly recognizable, Franz and the PSO proved that some of Williams' other film selections are just as iconic. These included the stunning "The Devil's Dance from The Witches of Eastwick and the moving, brave and courageous "Hymn to the Fallen" from Saving Private Ryan. The Cowboys Overture, with its old West style is a prime example in how Williams is able to adapt his compositions to any type of film to help an audience instantly connect with the movie's time and place.

Williams is also a master in ensuring his arrangements draw upon the vast capabilities of the orchestra. He elicits heroic notes from the brass section while continually drawing upon the strings to evoke a sense of flight that send us soaring into space. He also instills a sense of longing or desire from his succinct ability to draw stunning notes from instruments such as the French horn, flute and oboe. It is his ability to know exactly which instrument will deliver the feeling that each moment needs to deliver the feeling of the screen character or action moment that has truly made Williams into the

The popularity of Williams will continue as next season includes another set of concerts solely dedicated to his compositions in May, another concert with music from both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes that will feature some Williams selections, as well as weekends in October and January where the first two Harry Potter films that Williams scored will be shown with full orchestra accompaniment.

”The Music of John Williams” with the Phoenix Symphony played four performances on May 12th, 13th and 14th, 2017 at the Opeheum Theatre in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at

Thursday, May 18, 2017

theatre review - HOLMES & WATSON - Arizona Theatre Company - May 13, 2017

the cast
photo by Tim Fuller
Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 28th.

"Jeffrey Hatcher's 2011 play Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club which premiered at Arizona Theatre Company. His latest thriller, Holmes and Watson, also focuses on the famous detective and his friend Dr. Watson, and is receiving its world premiere at ATC. This is a truly smashing play full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Arizona Theatre's production features an outstanding cast and some stunning creative elements....It's been almost three years since Holmes' duel with Professor Moriarty that left both men presumed dead after falling into the forceful waters at Reichenbach Falls. But is Holmes dead or did he just disappear? ...Now, three.. men all claim to be Holmes, and Watson is summoned to an asylum on a remote island to determine which, if any, is actually the famous detective. Hatcher has crafted an intelligent mystery thriller...a drama filled with both intrigue and humor. ...very smartly written with no forced or false plot reveals and a play that I believe would be just as enjoyable on a second viewing to see how intelligently Hatcher builds and foreshadows the twists. While Hatcher's Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club was a good play, his Holmes and Watson is a great one. The ATC cast, under David Ira Goldstein's smart and swift direction, deliver superb portrayals....The combination of John Ezell's excellent two tiered set design...with the stunning animated projections by Jeffrey Teeter...with Don Darnutzer's lush lighting and Brian Jerome Peterson's chilling sound design results in some stunning stage images. Matthew LeFebvre's costume designs are equally as good, providing both period touches and mysterious elements. Full of intrigue as well as a few big laughs, Holmes and Watson is a very worthy addition to the many Sherlock Holmes stage and film adaptations. With an excellent cast and spot on production elements, Arizona Theatre Company's production is exceptional and a fitting end to the company's 50th anniversary season. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

theatre review - BEEHIVE - Phoenix Theatre - May 13, 2017

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

"."Turn back the clock to the '60s," beckons the lyrics in the opening song of Beehive. Based on the crowd-pleasing roar and immediate standing ovation at the performance I attended at Phoenix Theatre, this travel back in time to the songs made famous by the girl groups and female singers of the 1960s is a most recommended journey. Created by Larry Gallagher...With over forty songs, is a toe-tapping celebration of the importance of the music of the female singers of the '60s. Gallagher's narrative focuses on the changing styles of music along with key moments of the decade...and their relation to the rise of relevant social issues of that period. At first glance, Beehive might seem like a lightweight bit of fluff, with a lot of the first act spent on songs about silly school girl crushes ("Where the Boys Are"), silly jargon tunes ("The Name Game"), and the rise of the British Invasion on the music scene. But the inclusion of "The Beat Goes On" shows the shifting societal transition from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the deadly impact of the Vietnam War and how the music of the decade both commented on these historical moments and gave a voice to the youth of the generation. The second act is firmly focused on a few powerhouse female vocalists, including Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin, who gave rise to songs about female strength and empowerment, numbers that comment on social issues or tortured passion. Director and choreographer Michael Jenkinson has done great work with this production. His staging and dances serve both the style of song and the singer, with plenty of high energetic dance steps that add to the enjoyment of these familiar tunes. The Phoenix Theatre production is colorful and vibrant with six excellent singers and a smoking band led by the always excellent music director Alan Ruch. ...Brittney Mack, Chanel Bragg and Katie Hart deliver superb portrayals of Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin, respectively, with their performances smartly more of an homage to these famous women instead of a straightforward impersonation.....Beehive smartly shows how the music of the 1960s was a reflection of the women of that period and how the songs and the female singers proved inspirational regarding how women viewed themselves and the world around them. ...Beehive at Phoenix theatre is a true celebration of the powerful songs and women of the 1960s. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, May 12, 2017


Lea Salonga

"...Lea Salonga's recent concerts with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra featured exceptional singing from Salonga and skilled playing from the PSO on excellent renditions of many songs associated with Salonga as well as numerous other hits from the Broadway and pop songbooks.
Lea Salonga won the Tony and Olivier Awards for her role of Kim in Miss Saigon and also sang for two Disney princesses, in the films Aladdin and Mulan. The passion she brings to songs from the musicals and films she has appeared in is just as strong when she sings songs for roles she didn't originate. She also makes sure that the meaning of every word she is singing is delivered with clarity. ...she still instills each word of the song with "I'd Give My Life for You" from Miss Saigon, which is the passionate plea of a young mother that is also filled with pain and anger. "Reflection" from Mulan and "Burn" from Hamilton, while two very different songs, both focus on how a woman can become strong when faced with adversity and forced to stand alone without a man by her side. Three Stephen Sondheim songs, "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, "Another Hundred People" from Company, and "Something's Coming" from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein), also were a testament to Salonga's ability to inflict nuance and complete understanding on lyrics that are filled with soul searching, desire, and personal inflection. On all of these songs, as well as the other songs she sang, her enunciation was flawless and her punctuated delivery of each lyric was filled with meaning....two numbers from Les Misérables...were simply exceptional. ...In addition to musical and film songs, Salonga also included a medley of numbers written by Michael Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman featuring a lovely version of the Oscar-winning "The Windmills of Your Mind" and a soaring "A Piece of Sky" from the film Yentl...Salonga's stellar vocal control is full of power, precision and clarity. Her warm stage presence, clear connection with both the audience and the orchestra, personal stories, and spontaneous interjections made the whole affair genuine and refreshing..." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)