"Beauty and the Beast" - Hale Centre Theatre
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” is a huge stage extravaganza. It is especially challenging for a community theater but Gilbert’s tiny but spunky Hale Centre Theatre presents a remarkable production.
Before the opening night performance began, producer Dave Dietlein admitted to the sold-out opening night audience that he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. What transpired is a spirited, creative production mounted in a small theater-in-the-square space that effectively conveyed the show’s magic spell.
"Wicked" - Broadway Across America - Arizona, ASU Gammage
It’s exciting to see a big splashy musical that arrives here looking and sounding like it did on Broadway. That’s what happens at ASU Gammage in the enormously entertaining and stunningly crafted “Wicked.” The gigantic show engulfs the huge stage with spirited flourish and magical Broadway showmanship.
There’s not a flaw in “Wicked.” From a glittering cast, to massive eye-filling scenery that shifts with the same meticulous movement choreographer Wayne Cilento brings to the show’s pulsating and ebullient dances. There are fabulously exaggerated costumes that give Oz’s green landscape a unique fashion palette along with colorful but pointedly telling lighting. Finally, Joe Mantello’s masterful staging brings ecstatic vibrancy to the fascinating tale.
"Disney's High School Musical" - Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
It’s impossible not to fall in love with “High School Musical,” the summer attraction at Mesa’s Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. The Disney musical is pretty standard fare about young love and the score is pleasant but not distinguished but when you put it all together it’s ingratiating. The pleasing staging is perfect.
"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" - ASU Gammage
I never saw the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” movie. My companion for the stage version, now at ASU Gammage through June 21, did. She remembers it as bloated and boring. She hoped the stage musical would be brighter and more creative. Her aspirations weren’t realized. This version doesn’t improve the movie. Every musical number drags on far too long and the fanciful but simplistic plot wears thin quickly.
It’s hard to believe that James Bond spy author Ian Fleming crafted the original story. There are only a few moments in the lengthy show with genuine appeal. A chorus of adorable dogs appears winningly several times. The other magic comes when the old car that Caractacus Potts restores actually flies. The car, a restored relic from an earlier Grand Prix race, has limited flying potential initially but, at the finale, it does some phenomenal antics.
"3 Redneck Tenors" - Phoenix Theatre
I don’t know what Phoenix Theatre was thinking when they booked “3 Redneck Tenors” as a “bonus” summer attraction. It’s awful and is the worst show to play the venue in sometime.
After a memorable season of stellar musicals, Phoenix Theatre audiences have been carefully cultivated to respect, understand, and appreciate musicals that tell interesting stories, have complex characters, or are truly funny. All were presented in creative productions. “3 Redneck Tenors” is full of badly outdated and sadly clichιd humor that was never funny. The show bores even for its scant hour and a half running time.
"Blood Brothers" - Nearly Naked Theatre
Unlike many British musicals that duplicate their success here, the dark “Blood Brothers” has struggled. It has never appeared in Phoenix but that doesn’t deter the spunky Nearly Naked Theatre from presenting a smashing production.
I saw the show years ago in London where the revival has run for 22 years. While the local staging lacks some of London’s scenic dazzle, this production is far more engrossing emotionally. Director Damon Dering’s remarkable staging and impressive cast instill stirring life into the show. It traces twins separated at birth who accidentally reunite after two superstitious mothers agree to keep them apart. Initially, the pairing is touching but as life engulfs them, fate takes a tragic turn. Their death is an emotional moment that could easily turn maudlin but Dering’s moving staging and the fantastic cast leave you with heartfelt tears.
Sarasota, Florida Theater
Attending the American Theatre Critics Association Annual Conference took me to Sarasota, Florida, that state’s self-proclaimed “Cultural Capital.” In five days, 50 national critics saw seven theater productions. Disappointment best summarizes many of the theater outings. Based on what the critics saw, theatrical standards are much lower than those Valley theatergoers and critics expect and get. Only a small professional theater, Florida Studio Theatre, provided interesting theater.
"Beethoven, As I Knew Him" - Arizona Theatre Company
Hershey Felder crafts an interesting show to explain Ludwig van Beethoven. Felder stocks his “Beethoven, As I Knew Him” with insights into the composer and then he uses the facts to explain the motivations and inspirations that led to the composer’s brilliant musical compositions.
This Felder show is the final segment of a three part series that attempted similar insights into George Gershwin and Chopin. The new show is far better than the earlier pair as Felder uses his acting skill to become Gerhard von Breuning, who, when 12, met the great composer who was his father’s friend. In 1870, at the 100th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, the show becomes von Breuning’s birthday chat of remembrances about the composer.
"Stomp" - ASU Gammage
“Stomp” has been a phenomenal success since its 1991 birth in England after 10 years of imaginative manipulation by creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. But based on the show’s current Valley stop at ASU Gammage after a multitude of previous local visits, “Stomp” may be coming to the end of its success.
The formalized show now lacks the spontaneity it had originally. After years of performances, “Stomp” now seems dated and past its prime. Popular entertainment has evolved dramatically since the original “Stomp” dazzled. The current 11-person troupe revolves so that any 8 appear for each performance.
"Company" - Phoenix Theatre
Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” annihilates marriage with brittle cynicism. Phoenix Theatre’s artful production is brilliantly sung with the abundant comedy played hilariously. Robert Kolby Harper’s exuberant staging moves briskly, his clever dances are inventive, and the show is played on a multi-level unit set that allows visually diverse stage pictures.
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