Curtains: The Taffetas at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria
I'll take all four: From left, Jeannie Shubitz, Katrina Hogofsky, Shayla Benoit, and Laura Berger are a singing, dancing box of fluffy kittens in The Taffetas.
I like music. I like theater. I've found that I even like musical theater at least some of the time. But the "revue" genre of theater is a kind of torture, as far as I'm concerned. I'd love to spend an evening listening to an excellent vocalist working through just about any repertoire. Or, if necessary, two or more singers -- like Carol Burnett's medleys with her guest stars, say. And a lot of musicians have some great moves: Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, Madonna, and of course the late Michael Jackson. But watching actors trying to get through a set of scripted, choreographed approximations of what singers do is almost always a little sad.
Some revues are so heavy-handed with the patter and props that the finished product is like something that was so painful to push out, no one wants to actually look at it. And supply and demand creates another problem -- how many good musicians do you know who'll work for what actors get around here? So we audience members cross our fingers and take our chances.
Considering what they have to work with in Rick Lewis' perennial The Taffetas, Arizona Broadway Theatre can continue to hold its head up. This two-act compilation of '50s girl-group pop songs is almost nothing but tuneful cheese. As cheese goes, ABT's production is quite fresh and savory. Like many of my favorite musicals, this script pokes fun at the very conventions to which it's paying homage. (Homage de fromage, if you will.)
It's sensible, too, to produce smaller shows in the Valley this time of year, when it's harder to find both theater artists and spectators in the numbers necessary to keep things rolling. So a play like this, with its small cast, simple set, and lower overhead, is a good summer choice all around.
The Taffetas of the title are four sisters (or so they claim) from Muncie, Indiana, poised on the brink of their big break in show biz. Individual differences in personality make for most of the mild humor -- Kaye is the secretly slutty one, Cheryl really is as innocent as she seems, Peggy's eyeglasses and flat chest conceal a diva-tigress inside, and Donna's unbridled enthusiasm for Davy Crockett and Chevy convertibles renders her sisters speechless.
Director Kurtis W. Overby's precision choreography never tries to be anything but a little awkward and desperate (and it takes talent to make that work). And James Dewitt's two sets of big-crinolined dresses in the girls' four signature colors are beautifully fitted and sweetly nostalgic. (Each character also has a large coordinated hatbox, and I left the venue disappointed that the luggage was only carried around and danced upon, because I was dying to see what else they had in there.)
All four of the actresses sing the tight harmonies of the bland score nicely, although I'd like to hear the melody lines mixed a bit louder. (I found myself at the opening performance, so I expect the show will just keep getting even tighter than it already is.) I especially liked Katrina Hagofksy's pure soprano, Jeannie Shubitz's crisp, emotionally informed diction, and the three-piece live band.
There's a bit of dialogue (in response to a fan letter) about the Taffeta sisters doing their own hair, but two of the four wigs look so much tattier than the others that I still don't think it's on purpose. I have black and platinum at home, if anyone wants to give me a call . . . Otherwise, my guy recommends fabric softener.
The Taffetas continues through Sunday, September 20, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. It's playing in rep with Forever Plaid (sort of the boy version of the same kind of show), so make sure you're arranging to see the one you want to see. Tickets are $55.50 to $75.50 and include a yummy, high-class two-course dinner and drinking water (gratuity not included). Appetizers, other drinks, and desserts are available at additional cost. Order tickets here or call 623-776-8400.
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