The Three Javelinas – Theatre Review: Childsplay, Tempe

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After a three-year workshop and development program, Childsplay finally unveiled its ambitious new home-grown musical this weekend, The Three Javelinas, based on the hugely popular children’s book of the Southwest by Susan Lowell.  The lengthy preparation has paid off wonderfully well with a result that is both exciting and very, very funny.

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 Anyone in this part of the country who has a child will probably have heard of the book even if they’ve never read it.  Those who’ve recently migrated to the Southwest will find much in the nicely illustrated short story to not only entertain but to use as a source of flavoring for the appreciation of living a new life in a new part of the country buried deep in desert Southwestern culture.  By adapting Lowell’s book – it’s full, original title is The Three Little Javelinas – and adding imagination of her own, writer and lyricist Jenny Millinger collaborating with Todd Hulet who wrote the music, bring Lowell’s fun story to colorful life.  It’s the accomplished cast of Childsplay that makes the adventure leap off the page.

Based on the classic fable The Three Little Pigs and all looking wonderfully resplendent in D. Daniel Hollingshead and Kish Finnegan’s grand and detailed costume designs, barnyard javelina brothers Juan (an appropriately timid Tommy Strawser) and Jose (a funny D.Scott Withers) along with sister Josefina (a truly delightful Molly Lajoie) regularly perform their country musical, foot-stomping, hand-clapping act at the Last Chance Saloon.  It’s a place that asks for no rowdy behavior and everyone is to leave their horse outside.  But barnyard performing is no longer enough for Josefina.  She has dreams.  When the sister receives an invite to go to Hoggywood where she believes her talents will be noticed by those who count, Josefina sees this as the opportunity she’s always wanted.  She could be known as Josefina, the Prima Javelina Ballerina.  Much to the chagrin of the two brothers, Josefina packs her bags and heads further west.  “Who will cook dinner?” asks a worried Jose.

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If losing their sister to the glamour of Hoggywood wasn’t enough, there’s even more trouble for the not so little javelinas.  A big, bad coyote (a perfectly animated Kyle Sorrell) who possesses a rare talent for trickery – we’re even treated to a slight-of-hand magic trick – has been given three chances by the unseen Coyote Council to catch a javelina.  Like its more famous fairy tale counterpart, what follows is the coyote’s attempts to blow down Juan’s tumbleweed house, Jose’s wigwam-like home made of saguaro ribs, and finally Josefina’s house made of the finest adobe bricks of the Southwest along with a wood stove built in the corner just right for any unwanted coyote intruder who even thinks of climbing down the chimney smoke stack to get inside.

Backed by musicians Alan Ruch, Jason Brown, Christopher Rose and Nick Rizzo seen throughout in a raised, wooden barnyard pen of their own, and Millinger and Hulet’s upbeat, tuneful and occasionally surprisingly elaborate songs, the musical moments nicely propel the story forward without stopping the show.  They’re all brought to life by the show’s three leads, particularly Molly Lajoie whose talent for dancing – Molly also choreographed the musical – is equaled by an outstanding singing ability.  Molly’s The Day I Lead The Parade is a heartfelt, musical highlight.

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But there’s one more cast surprise, and his every moment, no matter how brief, is always a scene-stealer.  Jon Gentry plays several supporting characters, including all Hoggywood talent agents who close their doors on Josefina, and the adobe brick maker who aids the javelina ballerina in the building of her brick home, but his main character is The Boy Who Brings You the News, principally the mail man who enters, sings his brief introduction, delivers the letter, then promptly marches off.  There’s such a warm, friendly manner to Gentry, backed by a cheeky sense of humor and delivered with such great, comedic timing, not to mention the distinctive sound of his voice, that when he’s there, the stage is always his.

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Running longer than several recent Childsplay productions – including an intermission, the show lasts approximately 110 minutes, plus there’s a 10 minute Q&A with the cast after the show which always produces at least one gem of a question from its young audience – for the most part, director Dwayne Hartford has produced a thoroughly delightful and laugh-out-loud musical production that engages until Tim Monson’s colorfully lit fade out.

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Only occasionally does the production falter when some dialog is lost amidst the backing score, particularly during the chaos of the coyote’s attack on the brick house when panicked characters shout but what they’re saying is lost in the noise, plus the cavernous Tempe Theatre stage often makes the staging look sparse, despite Holly Windingstad’s eye-catching set design.  A smaller and more intimate setting would work wonders.

 For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the Childsplay website.

Posted in Theatre

Ex Machina – Film Review

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When computer programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) receives a note of congratulations from his company on his monitor he thinks he’s won a much coveted, in-house competition.  Everyone believes he’s to spend a week with the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at the man’s way off-the beaten path luxury home up in the mountains.  His colleagues are thrilled.

“This is as close as I’m allowed to get to the building,” states the helicopter pilot who flies Caleb across state then drops him off seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  “What building?” Caleb asks looking around him.

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The house, once Caleb eventually finds it, is not so much a home but an underground research center.  For some time, Nathan has secretly worked on experiments with artificial intelligence.  As a sharp employee, Caleb was picked specifically by Nathan to spend the week with him not so much to hang out, drink beer and enjoy the waterfalls, but to perform a special task.  “Do you know what the Turin Test is?” Nathan asks the confused young programmer.

Caleb is there to spend time with Nathan’s invention, a robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander).  His task is to determine whether Nathan’s machine is indistinguishable in intelligence from that of a human, and if there is a weakness that indicates a divide between something artificial and something real, then Caleb needs to point it out.  “I want to share it so badly it’s eating me up inside,” states the CEO.

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The film is separated into chapters – or sessions, as in Ava: Session 1 – where each new day spent talking with the robot with the feminine, human mask and the soft and somewhat alluring voice brings Caleb closer to understanding its mind; at least, what he perceives as an understanding, except there’s a problem.  Not everything is straight-forward.  When the research center’s power temporarily goes down and the CEO in a separate room can no longer eavesdrop on the conversation between the programmer and the robot, Ava’s tone changes.  “He isn’t your friend,” the robot warns the alarmed young man and tells him not to believe everything the boss says.

Throughout the early scenes, there’s an odd sense of slow motion creepiness that pervades every minute – practically every frame – of the film.  During the opening moments, when Caleb is at work sitting in front of his computer receiving the note that he has just won the company competition, the scene is played in silence and seen from the point of view of the computer looking directly at Caleb.  It’s as if we’re viewing the moment through the eyes of someone unseen; a machine studying the reaction of its operator.  That same exchange between man and machine continues during the daily sessions with Ava when the robot views Caleb face to face and studies his reaction with the same sense of behavioral judgment that Caleb is using on the robot.

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Plus, that creepiness belongs not only to the somewhat mysterious Nathan but also to his home in the mountains.  Once inside the heavily protected center that can only be entered with pre-programmed ID cards, Caleb discovers there are no windows; once you’re in, you’re in and there’s no way out.  Everywhere has that sleek, cold and somewhat impersonal design reminiscent of an Ikea showroom at its most clinically sparse.   Plus, there’s also Ava.  “Are you attracted to me?” she suddenly asks in the middle of one of Caleb’s sessions.  It takes the young man off-guard, but at the same time it’s an indication of something else beginning to take shape between them.  The question doesn’t feel like simple curiosity from the mind of something artificial, especially when it is followed by a question posed with what appears to be genuine concern: “What will happen to me if I fail your test?” Ava asks.

Ex Machina is as sleek looking a film as the interior of Nathan’s home.  Unlike Caleb’s character who only starts to think that something other than a Turin Test is going on once he gets to know Ava better, we’re on our guard from the beginning.  Some suspicious outcomes and motives occur as you imagine they will, yet the film surprises with an unexpected conclusion that becomes more horrifying the more you think about it, but so too come some puzzling questions regarding that final act.  Sadly, to discuss narrative concerns in any detail would require giving away the ending.

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However, while real motives are finally revealed creating a less than satisfactory conclusion, the first two acts are gripping as director Alex Garland builds an almost sensual sense of claustrophobia that you instinctively know is not going to end well for certain parties.  Oscar Isaac continues his recent winning streak of solid performances, while Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson impresses with an authentic sounding American accent, but it’s Sweden’s Alicia Vikander who has the most difficult job.  Every move she makes, every turn of the head or blink of the eye is something audiences will be scrutinizing in order to determine how a physical movement or an odd inflection of her voice gives away the knowledge that she’s just a robot and not real.  She does it well.  Like the film, Ava is smart, sleek, sensual, attractive and cold.

 MPAA Rating:   R     Length:  108 Minutes    Overall Rating:  7 (out of 10)

 

Posted in Film

Clouds of Sils Maria – Film Review

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Look it up and you’ll find that Sils Maria is a municipality in the district of Maloja in Switzerland.  For visitors, this picturesque valley is car-free; only local residents have vehicles.  It is said that when weather conditions are right, clouds form and snake their way through the Maloja mountain pass of the Alps.  It’s as though the clouds have a life of their own, grouped together, creating the appearance of some kind of giant, air-filled, ghostly monster sliding its way through the opening and over the valley where it will eventually dissipate. Those who have seen it describe it as an inspiring, majestic sight.

Clouds of Sils Maria tells of a playwright who witnessed this phenomenon and was so inspired by what he saw he wrote a play and titled it Maloja Snake.  The play had little to do with the mountainous spectacle, but for the playwright, it seemed like an apt description of his play’s theme, that of older businesswoman’s unhealthy obsession with her younger personal assistant who, you could perhaps say, had snaked her way into her employer’s life.

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When we first meet her, we learn that Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) has had a great acting career.  When she was young, her theatrical landmark role was that of the youthful assistant in Maloja Snake who eventually drove her older employer to suicide.  She was even cast in the movie version.  Now, all these years later, she’s about to star in a London revival, only this time, things for Maria are reversed; she’s now to play the older woman.  On top of the pressure of appearing in a production that has special meaning to her – in reality, the actor owes everything to this play – she’s also in the middle of a divorce, she’s said no to another superhero movie – “I’m sick of hanging from wires in front of green screens,” Maria declares – and on her way to Zurich she’s informed by her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) that the playwright responsible for starting her successful career has just died.

What makes Clouds of Sils Maria initially interesting is watching the relationship between the aging performer, Maria, and her younger assistant, Valentine, and how it echoes the relationship of the businesswoman and the younger assistant within the play.  When Maria and Valentine rehearse scenes together, the line between what the characters within the play say and their real-life counterparts becomes blurred.  As a viewer, you may even find yourself occasionally questioning whether what you’re hearing are the words of the playwright or something the two women are actually discussing.  But what makes the conflicts really interesting is the eventual introduction of a third character, the actor now cast as the younger assistant.

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Chloe Grace Moretz is rising star Jo-Ann Ellis and she’s to play the role that Maria originated all those years ago, and she’s trouble; a young Hollywood starlet constantly in the media for all the wrong reasons.  You Tube videos show interviews where she looks misty eyed and slurred of speech with only a vague knowledge of the names of those she’s working with; a DUI arrest, plus several, drunken foul-mouthed tirades against those who get in her way.  Imagine the public perception of Lindsay Lohan – a performer with talent squandered by bad behavior.   Interestingly, as a real-life footnote, at the tail end of Lohan’s negative Hollywood publicity, the performer moved to London to headline a West End play.  But despite the reckless behavior, Maria’s assistant is a fan.  “She’s got great presence,” Valentine tells her boss.

Long before the German/Swiss/French production of Clouds of Sils Maria arrived on American shores, the film had already garnered praise.  It was selected for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival along with six Cesar Award nominations, including one for its director, Olivier Assayas, and an eventual win for best supporting actress Kristen Stewart as Valentine.  Critics have also sung the film’s praises, almost unanimously, yet despite the acclaim, not to mention good performances from its three leads, audience reaction may differ.

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Interest in the trials and tribulations of an ageing actress finding herself on the opposite end of something she started years ago, plus the parallel between her real-life personal assistant and the fictional one can only go so far.  When it comes to exploring motivations and how the people with whom you are working can affect an actor’s life, industry insiders may be curious, but others with only a passing interest in the psychological torment of wealthy actors and their lifestyle may see it all as, frankly, indulgent and not as interesting as the film might consider itself to be.  Plus Clouds of Sils Maria only tells us so much regarding its own motives; the audience is required to fill in as many gaps as possible.  Not being spoon fed every piece of information is certainly a good thing, and a rarity in the cinema of today, but here it eludes.   There’s even a point as early as the midway mark where it feels as though the film is never going to end.

Plus it doesn’t help when an important character who, just like those clouds, simply disappears in the middle of a scene, never to be seen again with no explanation.  True, there’s a discussion moments before this event occurs where the person in question talks of how a character within the play vanishes, but the significance of the same thing happening to the one talking about it only adds to the overall uncertain nature of everything else in the film.

The film’s widescreen Swiss valley setting is a thing of beauty, plus that moment when we actually see the phenomenon of the clouds as they snake their way through the mountainous opening is as majestic as it sounds, but the anxieties of an aging performer in what feels like an unnecessarily overlong film with ambiguity to spare may test your staying power.  It’s not that interesting.

MPAA Rating: R      Length: 124 Minutes     Overall Rating:  5 (Out of 10)

Posted in Film

Lambert & Stamp – Film Review

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The new documentary Lambert & Stamp from first-time film director James D. Cooper is not only riveting, it’s probably close to the kind of film its two swinging London characters of the film’s title had always wanted to make for themselves but never did.

The time is post-World War 2; it’s London in the early sixties when a revolutionary cultural change was taking place faster than anyone over the age of forty could handle.  Teenagers were absolute beginners and had started to embrace the new, in-your-face, pop/rock sounds of groups – referring to them as bands came later – like The Beatles, Freddie and the Dreamers and Gerry and the Pacemakers.

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It was during this early period that an unlikely bond between two equally unlikely Londoners came to be.  Chris Stamp (brother to actor Terence Stamp) was from a working class background who played in the derelict bomb sites left over from the Second World War and whose father worked on the tugboats of the River Thames, guiding ships safely into London Docks.  Kit Lambert was from upper-class stock who was educated at Oxford University and whose father was composer and classical music conductor Constant Lambert.  His godfather was the famous composer, William Walton. To say that Lambert and Stamp were as different as chalk and cheese is to understate the matter.

A chance meeting at a London coffee shop called Act One Scene One resulted with the two young men reaching an agreement.  They both wanted to be film directors and decided that the only way they could break into the industry was to find a rock and roll group, make them successful, then make a documentary about what they had done.  The only problem was they knew nothing about the music industry.  “We never said we knew how to do it,” Chris Stamp, the only surviving partner at the time of filming the documentary, states in one of the many revealing interviews throughout the film.

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It was at The Railway Club in Wealdstone that Lambert and Stamp first saw The Who.  The group had gone through several changes before either of the two hopeful entrepreneurs came into the picture, but by the time Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp arrived, the lineup of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and John Entwistle was already in place.  “Kit was the first person who was ever interesting to me,” Daltrey said.  And as for Chris Stamp, in Daltrey’s words:  “He did not give a monkey’s toss if he needed to break the rules.”  Even though the two men who wanted to be the group’s managers had no experience, the group was on board.  “Their ideas were fantastic,” Daltrey said, “And that’s all I cared about.”

First to go was the name.  At the time, the group was called High Numbers, but on the tickets that were being given away, High Numbers sounded like a night of bingo.  The other and considerably lengthier name used was The Hair And The Who, but that sounded more like a pub, so they cut it down to simply The Who, and it clicked.

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The opening, black and white interview with Pete Townshend is filmed in such extreme close-up, reminiscent of the overly intimate style of close-ups used in early BBC TV documentaries before widescreen monitors became the norm, you worry that the rest of the film will be the same – the style, while okay for TV, is too much for a cinema canvas – but once a well framed Chris Stamp is interviewed in color with a stark white background, the documentary uses a medium shot making everything that follows easier on the eye.

The documentary takes us on a journey from the early sixties up until the present, highlighting key events and, through interviews, revealing fascinating facts regarding the backgrounds of things we knew about but had no clue how they came to be.  The stutter used by Daltrey in My Generation came from a suggestion by Stamp who thought the sound would reflect that of a typical teenager trying to express himself.  There are also the reflections from Townshend commenting openly on his fellow band mates.  “John Entwhistle was a genius,” he states.  “Roger was normal and lost and didn’t know his role.”  And as for drummer Keith Moon?  “Keith was not a drummer,” Townhend states.  “He did something else,” referring to Moon’s unique and often manic performing style that visually looked as exciting as the sound it produced.

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The film jumps from glorious black and white to moments of color revealing how ironic the visual difference can be.  When in black and white, the film displays a distinct time and place; when in color, things simply look dated.  Interviews are filmed and edited with the energy of a rock number, while the songs themselves play in continual short bursts on the soundtrack.  We never see a complete performance, just glimpses, including brief moments from Woodstock and a speedy compilation of scenes from the Ken Russell production of Tommy.

Kit Lambert died in 1981 after falling down the stairs of his mother’s house.  Chris Stamp was still alive at the time of the documentary and is seen throughout, though he died of cancer in 2012.  Nowhere in the end credits is this mentioned; at least, not in the screening print used at the reviewer’s preview.  Perhaps later prints might include this important detail.

Anyone who ever bought a record by The Who should know the names of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert.  Their names were always there, on the label.  In the same way that producer George Martin was considered to be the fifth member of The Beatles, such were the hands-on approach to everything the band did or recorded, Lambert and Stamp were considered to be the fifth and sixth members of The Who.  This terrific, must-see documentary explains in nothing less than fascinating detail why.

 MPAA Rating:  R     Length:  117 Minutes    Overall Rating:  9 (out of 10)

Posted in Film

Pump Boys and Dinettes – Theatre Review: The Palms Theatre, Mesa

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Before it was the name of a musical, Pump Boys and Dinettes was a band.  More specifically, it was a performance group that evolved in the early eighties beginning with a two-man act at a restaurant in New York.

The four guys and two girls who developed the project together wrote the book, wrote the music and basically directed themselves.  They then opened their show in an intimate west side theatre, grew in popularity and moved the production to Greenwich Village.  By 1982, the Pump Boys and Dinettes, all six of them, opened on Broadway. Here’s what’s important.

With the exception of the Florida beach front locale that opened up the set for a couple of songs in the second half and a cast of seven instead of six, what you’ll see at The Palms Theatre in Mesa is pretty much what those New Yorkers saw.  And even though the piece is now over thirty years old, when you think about it, because of its musical style, its setting, and its warm, simple humor, this is one show that may never really date; at least, not for a few more decades.

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The setting is simple.  Somewhere in North Carolina between that grand metropolis of Frog Level and the equally legendary Smyrna along Highway 57 there’s an auto body shop where four good ol’ boys hang out all day.  There’s little evidence that those boys can use a tool but they can sure hammer a tune on guitars, drums and a piano.  “Work gives you something to look forward to,” states one of the boys, “Like no more work.”  On the other side of the highway there’s the Double Cupp Diner run by waitresses Prudie and Rhetta Cupp.  You won’t see many customers after the breakfast rush, but those sisters are sure proud of their coffee and their pies.  As the handwritten sign says: No Parking Unless You Pie.  After all, where else can you eat and get gas?

Based on the original set design, Rob Watson has effectively split the Palm Theatre stage in two.  On one side is the gas station, the other, the diner, and down the middle, with a false perspective running out towards a never-ending horizon, is Highway 57.  And it’s all nicely lit by Michael Haslanger whose lighting design changes from song to song, creating a different warming, atmospheric color to the proceedings depending on the tempo and the subject of the song.

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Pump Boys and Dinettes isn’t exactly a musical play, there’s no plot; it’s more a country flavored revue where four guys and two gals innocently flirt, exchange friendly punch lines and sing songs that tell stories.  The music is the kind that country radio used to play in the eighties as it transitioned its format from the traditional to the country/pop/rock of today.  Pump Boys is somewhere in the middle with just the tiniest dash of theatre.

Director David Simmons, himself an accomplished singer and musician – he looked as though he was having a ball as The Big Bopper in an earlier production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – ably guides the seven roadside characters as they go through the musical motions of their day before hitting the road for Florida.  True, in a revue like Pump Boys, as long as the cast can sing and play those instruments – which this cast does tremendously well – the director’s job is halfway done, but Simmons keeps the characters constantly on the move as they call to each other across the highway, huddle for a group song – Fisherman’s Prayer is particularly effective – clog under the guidance of Lauran Stanis, bang a percussive beat on wheels and hubcaps – the kind of thing that Stomp built a whole show around – and for a moment become creatively dreamy when L.M (Danny Karapetian – the L.M. stands for Love Machine) sings of The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine while an imaginary Dolly sits at a diner table with her back to the audience.

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In a show where all characters are on stage all the time there’s a tendency to fix your eyes on a favorite. The five boys, Matt Drui, Alex Mack, John Thomas Hays, Rob Watson and Danny Karapetian sing and play well together, often alternating instruments depending on who is doing the solo, but it’s the two dinettes that add the real color and sound.  Both Caitlin Newman as Prudie and Kira Galindo as Rhetta practically open their arms to the audience and invite everyone in the moment they enter the stage, and, yes, as shown in the song Vacation where Rhetta takes the lead and tells all that she needs to get away, these ladies can really sing.

In truth, Pump Boys and Dinettes is hardly great theatre, but with seven truly likeable performers who get it right, a first half that runs forty-five minutes and a second that runs no more than thirty, no one outstays their welcome.  Plus, for the audience of a buffet style dinner theater setting like The Palms, the musical revue is perfect for the menu.  And you never know, if you’re lucky enough, during the intermission, you may even be the winner of a $3 designer air-freshener that you can hang in your vee-hickle, your tractor or your outhouse.  Beat that for value.

 For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for The Palms Theatre website.

Posted in Theatre

Sweet Charity – Theatre Review: Arizona Broadway Theare, Peoria

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By the mid-60’s, even though dancer, director and choreographer Bob Fosse already had several big shows on his resume, it was his 1966 production of Sweet Charity that truly brought him back into the public eye, reinstating him on the theatrical pedestal from which he had temporarily fallen.

Troubles began in 1961 when he was replaced as director/choreographer in the musical The Conquering Hero.  Then, in order to pay the bills, he quickly followed by taking a job as choreographer-for-hire in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.  It wasn’t until after two more less than successful ventures – one as a co-choreographer, the other as director/choreographer of a failed show that closed out-of-town before Broadway – that Sweet Charity came along, and everything changed.

With a memorably tuneful score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields and a witty Neil Simon book, Fosse’s Sweet Charity is often described as a vanity musical.  Inspired by the 1957 black and white Fellini drama, Nights of Cabiria, Fosse and his wife with the flaming red hair, celebrated dancer and muse to her husband’s creative excesses, the fabulous Gwen Verdon, together adapted the story of the prostitute in Rome who looked with little hope for true love and re-designed the plot as a vehicle to get them back where they both belonged; on Broadway.  On opening night, when Broadway’s Palace Theatre curtain rose, the gamble paid off: Audiences roared with immediate approval at the first silhouetted sight of Verdon in that now famous Charity pose with the flexed, high-heeled foot.  Theatre history was immediately made and the show hadn’t even begun.

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If that same opening doesn’t receive quite the same, ecstatic response on the Arizona Broadway Theatre stage in Peoria, what follows deserves to come pretty close for all the following reasons.

Choosing wisely to use the show as a nostalgia piece for the 60’s – something that several productions in the past decade have ignored, instantly making Neil Simon’s funny book sound dusty – on the wide ABT stage, proudly celebrating its sixties origins in its design and its references, Sweet Charity suddenly feels somehow fresh again.

Liz Fallon as Charity Hope Valentine, the ever-hopeful taxi dancer of the Fandango Ballroom, charms the moment she starts to talk.  With a constant upbeat clarity of voice that constantly sounds as if she’s smiling, Fallon may not appear as slender as some of her previous Sweet Charity counterparts, but she dances with the agility of an experienced hoofer incorporating all of those signature Bob Fosse moves – the rolled shoulders, the sideways shuffle, those jazz hands – and sings with the muscle of a Broadway belter.  Those in the back row will have no trouble.

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Director M. Seth Reines has made good choices throughout.  While some regional productions chose to trim songs, update references and even use a new dirge of a melody from the ’69 movie, Reines’ production does what ABT does well; it ignores the trends of newly imagined revivals and sticks as closely as possible to the original.  Not only is that a good decision, it becomes the strength of the show.

Choreographer Kurtis W. Overby does the same thing.  Rather than do what happened with the Christine Applegate 2005 revival where the dance routines were redesigned with just a flavor of Fosse, Overby incorporates as much of the original as possible, and the large, capable cast rise to the demanding challenge.  The musical highlights are many, including the Bach inspired Rhythm of Life, Liz Fallon’s delightful solo, If My Friends Could See Me Now, the spectacular and exciting I’m A Brass Band, and the epitome of everything Fosse created, Big Spender.  When those horns blast and those less than dainty ladies of the Fandango slink towards us and wrap themselves around the railing, often referred to as the meat-rack, beckoning the next customer to spend a little time with them, Overby has really done his job.  In the silences of the song, and the powerful, dead-pan manner of the ladies, all of whom would rather be somewhere else, the effect is one hundred percent Fosse.

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Only Geof Eroe’s overall scenic design, based on the colorfully psychedelic inspired shapes of sixties graphic artist Peter Max that decorates the proscenium arch and frames the production, differs from the ’66 original.  With the effective, cartoonish look of bendy buildings permanently on display in the background, the New York City skyline takes on the comical appearance of how it might appear to someone in the early stages of a 60’s acid trip.

For whatever reason, the Saturday night audience sounded hesitant when responding to the humor.  Even the funny, sketch-like episode where Charity and a panicked Oscar (an appropriately ordinary Andy Meyers, just as he should be) are stuck in a YMCA elevator failed to get the laughs, despite Neil Simon’s punchy dialog.  Perhaps, depending on your birth date, Sweet Charity has aged to the point where not everyone is going to get it.  Yet with every production number, including the intentionally corny love ballad, Too Many Tomorrows – a song cut from the film – a huge applause and a chorus of approving cheers always followed.

When you leave the show, it’s the excitement of the dance numbers and Liz Fallon’s winning personality you’ll remember the most.  Shirley MacLaine’s movie Charity, which lost so much money it almost closed Universal, cried way too much.  Liz’s innocent and upbeat Charity, who appears throughout in a short, black dress, just as Bob Fosse always demanded of the character, makes you believe she really will live hopefully ever after.

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Rounding off the overall experience of the evening, the music played in the house while you eat are all well-known pop hits of the 60’s, plus look for fun sounding featured drinks created to compliment the show, including the Rich Man’s Frug – named after another terrific musical highlight - and a special martini mix called The Fan-Dango.

 For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the ABT website.

Posted in Theatre