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.
2009 Phoenix theater schedule
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!)
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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?