"A View of the Harbor" - Actors Theatre
Playwright Richard Dresser dissects American happiness in his three play trilogy that explores the issue from different cultural perspectives. Phoenix is lucky because we’ve seen all of the plays in Actors Theatre’s well produced series that culminates now with the last installment, “A View of the Harbor.”
The latest looks at the wealthy class struggle to achieve happiness concluding that money can’t buy contentment. “Augusta,” the first play, viewed the issue from the blue collar perspective, while “The Pursuit of Happiness” took a middle-class, suburban viewpoint. The first two plays blended raucous comedy with rich insight into the struggle for those groups.
“A View of the Harbor” also mixes humor with the struggle but this one takes a really whacked out look at the rich. Set in a dilapidated old mansion in Maine, Nick, Daniel’s son, visits his father and caretaker sister, Kathryn, because of his father’s stroke. The non-existent stroke was a plea to get Nick to deal with his father.
"Gem of the Ocean" - Black Theatre Troupe
Before playwright August Wilson’s 2005 death, he completed a remarkable ten-play series chronicling the black experience in 20th century America. Many of the plays are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, an enclave of African-American families. The series’ ninth play, “Gem of the Ocean,” starts the history. Black Theatre Troupe has tried for several seasons to get rights to this masterwork.
While their production isn’t perfect, it’s wonderful to have this work here. The actors, in Chicago’s Goodman Theatre resident director Chuck Smith’s competent staging, bring the work to life and the production’s weaknesses can’t tarnish it.
"The Rat Pack - Live at the Sands" - ASU Gammage
Many saw Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. during their heydays on television, in films, and, occasionally, in person. Each was unique, each had a dynamic personality, and all knew how to entertain. But put them together in a lethargically produced re-creation of their now infamous early ‘60s Las Vegas appearance during the filming of the original “Oceans 11” and the result, “The Rat Pack – Live at the Sands,” is dreadful. It plays at ASU Gammage through Sunday, October 19.
"Enchanted April" - Arizona Theatre Company
Amidst the bleak economic news comes Arizona Theatre Company’s captivating and charming “Enchanted April” season opener. The delicate coming-to-terms-with-reality tale enthralls in this amusing but insightful comedy with an encouraging message.
"All Shook Up" - Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
Mesa’s Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre has changed programming dramatically for its new season. Gone are the golden classic musicals of the past in favor of new shows the Valley hasn’t seen along with several modern shows that have had limited exposure here. The new attractions represent changing audiences and Broadway Palm producers hope that they can draw a different audience of younger theatergoers.
The first attraction of their new season is a pleasant, if undistinguished, “All Shook Up,” a frail show with a slim and silly plot but it’s filled with Elvis Presley song hits. There isn’t a Presley hit that isn’t used including “Jailhouse Rock,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “Fools Fall in Love,” and the title tune, among the two dozen songs.
"The Producers" - Phoenix Theatre and "Everything Will Be Different" - Stray Cat Theatre
Two diverse but well staged theater events premiered over the weekend. For its 1,000 show, Phoenix Theatre mounts a thoroughly entertaining staging of “The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ hilarious musical based on his film that slams crackpot Broadway producers. The other show is Stray Cat Theatre’s fascinatingly dark character study of a troubled teenage girl devastated by her mother’s death, “Everything Will Be Different,” subtitled “A Brief History of Helen of Troy.” This production marks the alternative theater company’s move to the downtown Tempe Performing Arts Center.
"Blackbeard" - Herberger Theater Center
Rob Gardner, the creative person behind “Blackbeard,” the world premiere musical at the Herberger Theater Center, has some nerve. In August, the show’s author, composer, and conductor, wrote a misleading press release saying that new musicals never happen here. He stated this while Phoenix Theatre was presenting the stunning premiere musical, “Unbeatable.”
Gardner’s pretensions are astounding. Not only is “Blackbeard” one of several new shows to grace local stages recently, but every other premiere show has been superior to Gardner’s awkwardly constructed fiasco.
"Doubt, A Parable" - Actors Theatre
“Doubt, A Parable” is a fantastic play. It won many awards during its original production. It even stopped at ASU Gammage with its original star, Cherry Jones, but the intimate play lost its immediacy and audience connection in the vast auditorium. Would the brilliant play about a nun’s doubt regarding an approachable priest make it in a local production?
The artful Actors Theatre staging at the wonderfully intimate Herberger Theater Center betters the original in some important aspects while equaling it otherwise. Under director Matthew Wiener’s expert guidance, an outstanding quartet of local actors bring this marvelous play to vibrant life. They keep you on the edge on your seat throughout this penetrating drama.
"The All Night Strut" - Black Theatre Troupe
The Black Theatre Troupe has been moving around a lot during the last few seasons splitting its shows between the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College and the Herberger Theater Center. It was confusing to know where their current show was playing. For this current season, Black Theatre Troupe has decided to settle down and present all its shows at the Playhouse on the Park at the Viad Tower in Phoenix.
For their season opener, the Troupe is staging an energetic and dynamic production of “The All Night Strut,” a musical revue filled with well known and popular tunes from the ‘30s and the ‘40s. The songs aren’t linked in any special way except for a common setting, the era’s popular nightclub, El Morocco. A talented quartet of performers presents the songs, including some period dances, with style and a nice rhythmic beat. The show is well staged by Thomas W. Jones II with great musical accompaniment from John Massaro’s fine six piece band. The resulting show is diverting and pleasant.
"A Chorus Line" - Broadway Across America - Arizona
I’ll always remember the most electrifying theater performance I ever attended. It was in 1975 when I saw the original “A Chorus Line.” From the moment the show began until the end two exhausting hours later, “A Chorus Line” was created by and told the lives and stories of how 17 performers became actors. The actors were these people. I’ll never forget it.
To open the new ASU Gammage series this week, comes the show’s recent Broadway revival. It re-creates this masterpiece perfectly. Every step and nuance is identical to the late Michael Bennett’s original staging.
But this new production lacks the original’s fire. These actors never become these characters. They re-tell the stories flawlessly, they dance the steps artfully, and they sing the Marvin Hamlisch score impeccably but the tales are never heartfelt or real, because they are about someone else’s life.
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