10 Must-See Plays in Metro Phoenix This Spring
Emily Giauque Evans goes out there as a youngster but comes back a star, in Dames at Sea.
In our groundhog-free city, the astronomically defined season of spring can still be rather delightful, even if the weather doesn't feel that much different from autumn or even winter. Skies are blue, everything smells good (well, better than usual, anyway), and our typically understated vegetation is at its greenest, fluffiest pre-brushfire peak.
When all is fresh and new, and cats and dogs are having lots of sex, it's a great time to look at the rest of the theater season and scope out what you want to nail (other than the shows you already picked out months ago). So here we go, from equinox to solstice, in order of opening dates. Click on the theater links in the headings for tickets and more info:
Dames at Sea Hale Centre Theatre Through April 29
This is the brilliantly written spoof of '30s-style show-biz-set musicals that launched Bernadette Peters' career in a little dump in the Village in 1966. Hale has started a series of minimally staged Monday and Tuesday night performances that run concurrently with its bigger, fancier weekend shows, and Dames, presented here as it originally was -- with an ironically tiny cast enacting Busby Berkeley-style numbers -- is perfect for this time slot, which is in turn perfect for an audience that includes artistic and hospitality professionals who don't have the same nights off as regular people.
Director-choreographer Cambrian James (Damn Yankees, Little Shop of Horrors) has wisely reacquired the adorable, talented Emily Giauque Evans (also Yankees) to play Peters' role, Ruby, an aspiring hoofer fresh off the bus from Utah (you, too?). Throw in a scheming cougar, some sailors, the stock market crash, FDR, and witty, eerily astute re-imaginings of tunes both torchy and danceable (it's possible you've heard "Raining in My Heart," if nothing else from this score) and you have what's called a frothy bagatelle.
Don't Dress for Dinner Desert Foothills Theater March 27 - April 13
From left, Diane Senffner, Roger Prenger, and Melissa Powers in Don't Dress for Dinner
courtesy of Desert Foothills Theatre
Last weekend I found myself defining farce for someone who probably has seen one before but had never thought about what makes it a special subgenre of comedy (lots of doors, mistaken identity, frustrated attempts to have inappropriate sex). "That sounds fun," she said. Yes, it does.
This continental-style story by Marc Camoletti (Boeing-Boeing), known as Pyjamas pour Six in its original French, translated and adapted by Robin Hawdon, and popping up at community theaters everywhere especially since its 2012 Broadway revival, involves Bernard trying to surprise his mistress, Suzanne, with a romantic meal catered by chef Suzette at his home while his wife, Jacqueline, is away. No potential confusion there! Known funny people Roger Prenger, Diane Senffner, and Deborah Ostreicher are part of the cast of this entry in the intimate and typically goofy Black Box series at DFT.
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little Theatre Artists Studio April 11 - 27
In the underpopulated and rarely seen category "revived American dramas from the 1960s and '70s" falls the first play ever produced by Chicago's venerable, star-making Steppenwolf, written by Pulitzer-winner Paul Zindel (The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds). Maple and Vine castmates Maureen Dias and Debra Rich (Accomplice), Judy Lebeau, Walt Pedano (Sons of the Prophet), Dolores D'Amore Goldsmith, Dee Rich, and Taylor Updegraff are directed by the keen-eyed Judy Rollings (Doubt, Collected Stories, etc., etc.) in this nasty family-centered story. And yeah, I know a few of those people, but honestly, if you've ever done any theater in the Valley, it's almost impossible not to. Red Planet Respite ASU Tempe Mainstage April 18 - 27
You should check out a show from ASU's School of Theatre and Film at least once per season. It's hard to pick the winners in advance, but this new work, co-developed by San Diego troupe Circle Circle dot dot and the university's School of Earth and Space Exploration and Mars Rover team, sounds like it will have a little something for everyone. In 2044, the play posits, we'll have a luxury resort on Mars. And if that's possible, we should be able to class up Earth a little, too.
Dark of the Moon Theater Works April 18 - May 11
Everybody's pretty excited about National Pastime, a new musical that's in the middle of its run at TW right now, and they should be -- it's about convincing radio audiences that a fake baseball team exists, like the backstory of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds using its powers for good. (Though anecdotes of Martian panic are greatly exaggerated.) But Dark of the Moon sounds so quintessentially Theater Works that it's my fingers-crossed pick.
The production, directed by Richard Powers-Hardt (Cheaters, Maple and Vine), will combine music, puppetry, live action, and plenty of atmosphere to share a 1942 stage version, rarely produced nowadays outside high schools and colleges, of the old story of doomed but eternal love told in the ballad "Barbara Allen," with a witchcraft component thrown in. It shows promise to be as quirkily gorgeous and haunting as Burning in the Night, and/but without the sometimes dickish narrative voice of Dale Wasserman.
Good People Actors Theatre April 25 - May 11
Note: This third production in Actors Theatre's current season will be presented at the new Arizona Opera Center, just across Central from Phoenix Art Museum. This is a great opportunity to check it out if you don't foresee yourself attending whatever else it is that people do there any time soon. But even better reasons to attend Good People are that it marks the local première of a script by the always interesting David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, A Devil Inside, Fuddy Meers, Wonder of the World) and provides a powerhouse seriocomic role for Katie McFadzen (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Borrowers, Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!), leading an all-star cast in a vignette from the life of a working-class South Boston single mom who's just about at the end of her rope.
Purlie Black Theatre Troupe May 2 - 18
I'm here to learn, too -- I'd vaguely thought Purlie Victorious was a sequel to Purlie, and because Melba Moore got so much buzz for her turn as the lead female role (winning a Tony in 1970 and re-igniting audiences in the 1981 TV version), I also thought Purlie was her character's name. So none of that is true, it turns out, and although the road company of the acclaimed Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess, a fascinating Gershwin opera based on a semi-historical novel that was also written by a white guy, but at least by a white guy who lived and worked alongside the people he wrote about, will be in town in June as well, Purlie's based on a play and film (a.k.a. Gone Are the Days!) by Ossie Davis, most musical theater fans would give their right nut for an opportunity to see it, Black Theatre Troupe has a pretty good track record with musicals, and we like to support local endeavors, right? Lost Boys Found New Carpa Theater at Herberger Lunch Time Theater May 6 -15
This new one-act by ASU West playwriting instructor Julie Amparano Garcia (A Mother's Will, A Boy Named César), who I must disclose is a friend of mine, is inspired by the real refugees from Sudan, many of whom relocated to Arizona, who found new challenges in their new life. A new play familiarizing me with real people in my community? Yes, please.
The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
A snap from the original Broadway production
Arizona Broadway Theatre May 23 - June 22
Did you know that Mel Brooks actually wrote the songs for the musical version of The Producers? Sheesh. He did for this one, too, a show that's rumored to be even more fun because more people in the audience have seen the movie and can neigh at Frau Blücher, etc.
Nothing will ever be better than two of the world's finest actors ever, Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle, tapping and singing "Puttin' on the Ritz" in white tie and tails. Still, you'll get to enjoy a version of that, along with lot of new scenes and songs, in a big live show from this reliable local professional company before everybody else starts mounting it with mixed results.
Falsettos Nearly Naked Theatre June 15 - 28
Before composer/lyricist William Finn created scores for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the recent off-Broadway musical version of Little Miss Sunshine, he won a Tony for Falsettos, but it's possible that if you're not a dyed-in-the-wool musical theater fanatic, you've never heard of it, because it's about gay men and this is Arizona. It's a challenging but thrilling show for singers and probably one of the only things Nearly Naked could be doing that would take my mind off its other upcoming show, The Pornozombies, which has the cool premise of a more-or-less mad scientist inventing a formula that not only reanimates corpses but gives them increased sex drive and makes them willing to be filmed -- not to mention featuring '80s nostalgia like video stores and TV sets.
Bill Finn is one of my geek crushes and you just have to get tickets to this.
As usual lately, and fortunately for you, there are way more than 10 shows that you might like opening over the next three months. Children's theater suitable for the whole family, exotic performances visiting from out of town, and offerings of short new works all sound really cool.
If you have more suggestions, please leave a comment! Or if you identify the two roles among the shows listed above that resulted in Tony nominations for Estelle Parsons, 40 effin' years apart (which will win you nothing but a sense of superiority).
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