Here's Hoping Desert Stages Continues to Reinvent, Katie McFadzen Appears on Stage, and Our Other Theatrical Dreams Come True

If, as the saying goes, no news is good news, then this year's theater season is nothing but good news. Great news, in fact, for those of us who don't like our plays and musicals to do much of anything new or different. Magnificent news for anyone worried that local theater companies were going to drastically alter their rules about never taking risks with innovative and unusual material. Because they, with no single exception, are not.

Which, in some corners, is okay by me. There are theater companies here whose worst work I still look forward to (and I've resolved to get through one whole theater column without once mentioning those companies by name, for a change). I've also resolved this year to pay closer attention to the up-and-comers — those new or new-ish companies that have recently swung out with unusual or dramatically different material. Like Chyro Arts' Voice Theatre, a tiny, offbeat company that operates out of a strip mall in Scottsdale, which hasn't announced its new season and just folded a production of Talk Radio that got solid reviews. And Theatre Artists Studio, which has presented consistently worthy material with unfortunately short runs and is about to unveil something called Philosophical Musings of a Suburban Dwelling, Free Spirit Ex-Hippie Wannabe with Longings for Connection and Security as its season opener.

In the meantime, I have a wish list of theater events I'd like to see happen this season. Some are possible; even likely — like that Desert Stages will continue to take standard stuff like South Pacific and Jekyll and Hyde and find ways to make them seem fresh and new. Some of my other wishes, though, are impossible and could happen only in a world that wasn't home to theater companies that produce the same tried-and-true warhorses each year. Like that someone would once and for all turn the AriZoni Awards into a real theater awards program, instead of the stick-up-the-ass "Everyone's a winner!" mockery that it's been for a decade or more.

On the other hand, is it too much to ask that David Barker will remount his excellent Dodging Bullets this season? Theater professor Barker's one-man memoir played only briefly at ASU late last season and deserves to be seen by larger audiences than those few who were wowed by his retelling of a particular summer tragedy in his always-interesting life. And speaking of remounts, is it possible that Phoenix Theatre will again stage its much-lauded recent production of Les Miserables this season? Probably not. I missed it because, well, I hate Les Mis and because Phoenix Theatre tends to bore me. But people are still plotzing about what was reportedly an amazing production, which PT might do well to fold into its (once again, rather dreary) upcoming season, perhaps as a late-year fundraiser or replacement for their season-closing Always, Patsy Cline. (Seriously!)

I'd like to see Katie McFadzen in something this year. Usually McFadzen's dance card is filled up with her work at Childsplay, for whom she performs in unparalleled kiddy fare (and which this season is planning Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, which I admit I am really looking forward to), but last season, this lily-white lady actor did a marvelous turn as a hot Hispanic gal in Teatro Bravo's Little Queen. And speaking of Teatro Bravo, here's to hoping that that company does something — anything! — as fun as Little Queen again this season, in addition to their usually more earnestly political Spanish-language stuff (which this season includes founder Guillermo Reyes' Mother Lolita, originally an off-Broadway hit).

Will iTheatre Collaborative add more performances to its annual Christmas pageant? I hope so. Jeff Kennedy's cabaret-style holiday show is so old-fashioned and schmaltzy, it's practically transgressive. Kennedy each year assembles a couple dozen largely unknown holiday tunes, then gathers together an odd mix of musical theater pals to sing them to an audience seated at round tables and tossing back spiked eggnogs. It's not the hooch that makes this yuletide tradition so much fun to attend, I promise.

While I'm at it, I'll hope that the kids who appeared in Aperio Productions' recent production of bare: The Musical will turn up in one or more of this season's offerings. Speaking of kids, I'm also hoping that Valley Youth Theatre will stage another of its reunion concerts like the one Bobb Cooper put together a couple months back. And that Neil Cohen and Greg Lutz will take some time out from their busy thespian schedule to craft a musicalization of The Time of the Cuckoo, perhaps with Lucy LaMode as Jane Hudson.

Hey. A guy can dream, can't he?

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Kelly Crews
Kelly Crews

Hi Robrt,

My name is Kelly Crews and I am the President of the ariZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence. I just wanted to drop a quick reply to your recent remarks about the ariZonis and our Ceremony, which was held on Monday, September 21.

I know that you have a long history with the organization, but we�re changing and growing, and I'd like to tell you about some of our changes, if you don�t mind:

Over the past few years we have been surveying our participating theaters, as well as local actors, directors and technicians in the valley. Most of these changes are the direct result of information we received in those surveys:

1.We have split the Ceremony so that the Youth Ceremony happens earlier in the day. This way they can celebrate with their peers and still get home at a more reasonable hour. We have worked very hard to make sure our kids don�t feel like they got �relegated to the kids� table. (This was requested by an overwhelming majority of our theaters.) As a matter of fact, this year�s Youth Ceremony (touted by many as the best yet!) had the same emcees (the always fabulous Joseph Kremer and D. Scott Withers), the same opening number performance (performed by youth representing the youth theaters) and all the same trimmings as the Adult Ceremony. And it was REALLY fun!

2.The creation of Rubrics for all of our adjudicators to use when seeing a show. These Rubrics, available on our website:, were created by consulting MANY theater professionals and those in theater education. We've increased our Adjudicator training to make better use of these rubrics, and we are able to be more selective in those we choose as adjudicators, because we now request a theater resume with every application.

3.We've completely revamped the Contracted Adjudication process for our professional theaters (again, it was requested by the Professional theaters). We did a lot of research on other regional adjudication processes in large markets such as the Jeffersons and the Barrymores, and put together a plan that we are now proudly following for our second year.

We have a panel of 7 Contracted Musical Judges and 7 Contracted Play judges. The same 7 people see all of the shows in that category during the year. Then, at the end of the season, they all come together to rank their top 10 � keeping in mind EVERY show that they saw during the year. We're literally comparing apples to apples now!

Also, the Contracted Category has 5 nominees and 1 winner, now, rather than 10 nominees and 2 winners as in the past. This is a direct result of those surveys I mentioned earlier. The theaters asked for it and we answered! (Note: Youth Theaters and Non-Contracted (community) theaters still have 10 nominees and 2 winners in each category, but that�s because they requested we keep that configuration for them.)

So there are a few things I thought you might want to know about�we�re trying really hard to improve the adjudication process, as well as the Ceremony. We have a terrific Board of Directors who have been working really hard to think outside our �because it�s always been done that way� box, and I am very proud of the changes we�ve made.

I�d like to invite you to come and talk to some of our members now. I truly believe that you will find not only a happier Board, but more importantly, some pretty happy theaters as well! As a matter of fact, I�m not sure if you know this or not, but Black Theatre Troupe came back to the fold last year and joined again, and they seem to be very pleased with our changes. (Pretty proud of that fact, too!) ;-)

Thanks for taking the time to listen. And I hope you�ll contact me if there are any questions I could answer for you!


Kelly Crews, PresidentAriZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence