"Speech & Debate" - Stray Cat Theatre
Jannesse Davidson is a wonderful comedic actor with amazingly subtle glances and glares, plus the impeccable timing necessary to milk the most out of any laugh line. Watching her in “Speech & Debate,” the latest Stray Cat Theatre production, will leave you rolling in the aisles with delighted glee as she makes this wryly comic look at three politically astute but unpopular high school students a laugh riot.
She plays Diwata, an opinionated student but, as good as Davidson is, she’s not the only cast member to deliver rich comic portrayals. The other two actors who play fellow students, nerdy Nathaniel Dobson as an officious school newspaper reporter Solomon, and Eric Boudreau as an effeminate and very out-of-the-closest gay Howie keeps pace with Davidson’s high level of comic delivery.
"Meet Me in St. Louis" - Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
It’s the carefree days of 1903 in St. Louis as the Smith Family awaits the coming World’s Fair. This is the setting of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre’s charming stage version of the popular 1944 Judy Garland film.
Three Broadway Shows
That’s a “Rock of Ages” musical excerpt, one of three disappointing Broadway musicals I saw in October along with the lackluster “Hair” and “West Side Story” revivals.
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" - Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix Theatre is on a roll. Not only was PT’s season opener a smashing staging of “Curtains,” but the troupe’s second show outshines Broadway’s to turn “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” into a laugh-filled delight. Broadway’s version seemed conceived and the cast wasn’t as effective as the local performers in playing nerdy young students.
"The Little Dog Laughed" - Nearly Naked Theatre
In New York, “The Little Dog Laughed,” Douglas Carter Beane’s funny coming out comedy, was hysterical. In the show’s local premiere, Nearly Naked Theatre’s sharp staging and a strong cast let the comedy explode hilariously. Damon Dering’s staging captures the play’s biting wit and the excellent actors play their interesting roles with rich style, subtle finesse, and amazing depth.
"George Is Dead" - Arizona Theatre Company
Elaine May had a successful comedy career but based on “George Is Dead” she’s lost it. The contrived play has a ridiculous plot, one dimensional characters, and violates every theater rule that create successful comedies. Her sophomoric direction further drags the play down, and May litters it with asinine and predictable one liners. The deadly play fell with a deafening thud opening night.
There’s more blame than May’s miserable play and a mediocre cast. How could Arizona Theatre Company’s artistic staff place this sad excuse for a play on its season? An esteemed regional theater, it appears ATC sold out to May’s name and star Marlo Thomas hoping for a cash cow.
"Fools" - Arizona Jewish Theatre Company
There’s nothing wrong with laughing at on stage comic antics and Neil Simon’s silly “Fools” accomplishes just that. Arizona Jewish Theatre Company mounts a funny production ably staged by Ben Tyler with just the right comic emphasis and with a wacky cast that delivers the show’s double-entendre humor with the necessary hilarious slant.
"The Phantom of the Opera" - ASU Gammage
Many listeners will be surprised by this “Phantom of the Opera” review. Past reviews raved about it but times change, new shows evolve, and older shows and their original productions don’t always survive the test of time.
The current “Phantom” is in decent shape duplicating a now 23 year-old musical. The spectacular effects, lush costumes, elaborate scenery, and that dangling chandelier remain. But Harold Prince’s staging suffers compared to newer musicals. Originally, “Phantom” was a crisp, snappy production that moved like a well-oiled machine. It marched quickly between the lushly melodic songs and the elementary plot. Now, the show plods while the special effects and lengthy songs have become unnecessary padding.
Four Broadway Shows
Broadway is surviving the current economic crisis and the seven shows I attended recently were all packed. In this first part of a two part series, I will talk about Broadway’s best including the musical “Next to Normal,” the comedy “God of Carnage,” Tracy Letts' new comedy/drama “Superior Donuts,” and the off-Broadway musical spoof “The Toxic Avenger.”
"Boom" - Actors Theatre
You are not apt to see such a bizarre and whacked out play as “Boom,” the new Actors Theatre production. But the play is thoroughly entertaining and, under the hilarity, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s play has some startling truths about evolution and addresses what life is all about. Nachtrieb, a San Francisco playwright, completed an odd double college major of theater and biology that he pairs brilliantly in “Boom.”
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