Best Place to See a Broadway Musical 2022 | ASU Gammage | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

The bright lights of Broadway are about 2,500 miles northeast of here. But we don't miss the Great White Way so much when we're sitting in the audience at ASU Gammage. The 3,000-seat auditorium is the last building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — he based it on a design he made for a Baghdad, Iraq, opera house that was never built. After decades of attending shows there, we're convinced there's not a bad seat in the house. ASU Gammage is the only place in town that's shown the blockbuster musical Hamilton, and it's usually the first one of the local theaters to get Broadway hits such as Come From Away and Frozen when they begin their national tours. Add in tasty themed cocktails for every show, plenty of parking, and great dining options near its Tempe location, and you've got a script for a perfect night out at the theater.

It's a scenario most of us can't even fathom (unless we're Alexander Hamilton or Carole King): seeing our life story turned into a successful musical. But the life of Tony Valdovinos, an Arizona man who tried to join the Marines and discovered that he was an undocumented immigrant, brought to the U.S. at the age of 2, captivated local audiences when it came to the stage at The Phoenix Theatre Company as ¡Americano! in 2020, directed by Phoenix Theatre's producing artistic director Michael Barnard. Then came the big news: ¡Americano! was headed east to Off-Broadway, where it opened at New World Stages in May. It ran until mid-June and attracted attention from everyone from former President Barack Obama to Broadway darling Lin-Manuel Miranda while highlighting the struggles of DREAMers such as Valdovinos, those individuals who seek citizenship and acceptance in the only home most of them can remember. Bravo.

It's hard to shake the stereotype that ballet is boring, but there was no doubt that ballet can be bold and beautiful as dancers with Ballet Arizona took to the stage to perform Juan Gabriel, a work choreographed by the company's artistic director, Ib Andersen. The full-length ballet perfectly embodied the flamboyant spirit of this iconic Mexican performer through movement, music, and costume design. Latinos have deep roots in Phoenix, and soon they'll comprise the majority of people living in the greater Phoenix community, so we love the way that Andersen is leaning into Latino culture, creating work that embraces and celebrates its vibrancy and impact.

It's easy to take the beauty of the Sonoran Desert for granted, surrounded as we are by its alluring textures, colors, and sounds. When Ballet Arizona performed Ib Andersen's Round at Desert Botanical Garden, we were thrilled to be reminded of all its bounties. Andersen exquisitely choreographed this site-specific work to make the desert itself the set, and the sky a dazzling lighting element that shifted over time as the sunset delivered a vast array of pastel and fiery hues. Everything about the piece, including its compelling movement, embodied the complex ecology of the desert. We loved having an excuse to sit under the stars and do a bit of wining and dining while witnessing this collaboration between nature, artistry, and community.

The best storytelling has a visceral, authentic quality that grips all those who experience it. That's exactly what happened at Tempe Center for the Arts, when Teatro Bravo presented a short play called Memorial created by Antonio Miniño, a Caribbean genderqueer artist based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Collaborators including theater and visual artists explored the stories of children and families in U.S. detention centers, while centering the memories and relationship of one particular mother and daughter. But instead of storytelling through a traditional, staged production, they coupled tales of migrant journeys and experiences with powerful works of visual art that viewers encountered as they wandered through the space. The experimental mix of culture and creativity reverberated with the power of present, future, and past.

Flash back a few years before the pandemic, and you couldn't go a week in Phoenix without tripping over a live storytelling event. Storytelling series and open mics sprouted up faster than weeds. Time, the most patient and merciless of gardeners, has yanked most of them out by their roots. But some plants are hardier than others — The Storyline's roots run deep in downtown, and it continues to bear sweet storytelling fruit each month at Changing Hands' Phoenix location. Hosted by Dan Hoen Hull and Joy Young, The Storyline Slam combines the confessional storytelling you'd see at places such as The Moth with the competitive energy and scoring of a poetry slam. Each month, a group of storytellers tell stories around a theme like "magic" or "camp," wowing crowds with their hilarious and emotional personal stories while a panel of audience judges score each storyteller. Ever wanted to tell a story? Don't be afraid to throw your name into the hat — this event is open to newcomers and veteran performers alike.

Sometimes you just need to get lost in a sea of stories where you can have your pick of thousands of adventures spanning myriad times and places, while also delving into the wonders of your own little corner of the world. There's so much more to explore at Burton Barr Central Library than just a fabulous collection of books. There's the architecture of Will Bruder, city views through walls of windows, works by local artists exhibited in the gallery and other library spaces, dedicated spaces for youth, a rare book room, and even a gift shop where book nerds can support a good cause while finding book-themed gear or old magazines for all those collage projects. We feel more alive every time we step inside, as if we're actually skipping through the pages of one of our best-loved books.

A literary hub might have sounded like a luxury just a few years ago, but now it's an absolute necessity as politicians at the local, state, and national level are working so hard to limit access to books with material they find offensive. The small presses, bilingual bookstore, and zine shop that share this literary home are working tirelessly to assure that community members have a place to find a diverse array of titles written by local and international authors with authentic voices. You can relax and read zines inside the Wasted Ink Zine Distro, shop for great gifts at Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, or enjoy works by local artists in the on-site gallery. Great conversations happen here, in a welcoming, unhurried environment that always has something challenging and new to offer.

For more than 30 years, the Circle K at the corner of Southern Avenue and Hardy Drive in Tempe was more than just a convenience store: It was the shooting location (and subsequent local landmark) for some of the pivotal scenes in the classic '80s comedy Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. (You know: "Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.") Then the news came this spring that the store was closing, and a generation of local film buffs bemoaned the imminent loss of this cultural touchpoint. Local movie chain Harkins Theatres responded to the outcry by giving the Circle K the best possible sendoff: On May 18, it hosted two screenings of Bill & Ted in the parking lot of the convenience store. Tickets sold out pretty much immediately for both shows, and attendees showed up ready to party, several of them dressed up like the titular characters. The screenings included a prerecorded intro from Alex Winter (a.k.a. Bill S. Preston, Esq.) and a sense of nostalgia so strong it was palpable. Today, the convenience store at Southern and Hardy is called Corner Market, but to us, it'll always be the starting point of a most excellent adventure.

Film archivists have a term for the chemical reaction that causes old film stock to deteriorate. It's called "vinegar syndrome," and it often looks like pools of luminescent liquid eating away at the celluloid. When the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix screened a restoration of Mario Roncoroni's 1915 film Filibus with an original live score by avant-garde dieselpunks RPM Orchestra, the visual quality of this silent movie was excellent — full of striking colored tints and silvery B&W photography — except for a distorted scene in the middle of the film that suffered from a bad case of vinegar syndrome. It was the best part of the screening. A film shot in the same spirit as Louis Feuillade's classic serials like Les Vampires, Filibus is the story of a cross-dressing female thief who pulls off heists from her secret airship. RPM Orchestra's score added a playful and immersive energy to Filibus, but what made their music particularly entrancing is how they responded to the quality of the physical film. Whenever there were scratches or distortions the music would take on a similar dissonant quality. When the vinegar syndrome was at its worst, RPM Orchestra wailed a cacophony that would make Merzbow reach for some earplugs. It was sublime.

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