Wednesday, May 24, 2017

a conversation with Mason Reeves about his FINDING THE REAL cabaret show

by Gil Benbrook

Mason Reeves may be just 19 but like so many of the talented young actors in the Valley he's been seen constantly on numerous stages across Phoenix, from lead parts to ensemble roles, since before he was a teenager.

He's been nominated for two ariZoni Awards and just completed his freshman year at the University of Michigan in the Musical Theatre Department within the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

This coming Sunday he appears in Finding the Real, a cabaret show at Desert Foothills Theater. In between rehearsing for this show, taking voice lessons and working his summer job, Mason sat down to answer some questions about his past, his present and his upcoming concert.

Thanks for taking time in your incredibly busy schedule to talk about your upcoming show. How did this cabaret show come about?

"My mother, Meribeth Reeves, who is the managing director of Desert Foothills Theater, reached out to me after discovering their vacancy for cabaret performers. This is the first year that I’ve had the time and capability to partake, and I couldn’t be happier that I’ve been asked."

The show is titled Finding the Real, what is the meaning of that?

"It’s a reference to one of my favorite musicals of all time, Passing Strange. In the musical, the main character, Youth, leaves home in search of something better for himself through his music and life that he was being denied at home, what he referred to as 'the real.' Everywhere that he travels to he finds that his experiences are still not enough to satisfy his search and continues moving on, leaving behind his relationships and attempting to ignore his past. After a long period of time without returning and ignoring his single mother, whom he left at home alone, he receives word that she has passed away. He then resigns himself to creating art to honor her memory and finally recognizes that 'the real' has always been around him. Had he only stopped to understand and be thankful for the people around him, he would’ve realized that. In a way, I find that me returning home from school to do this cabaret and support DFT, the theater that I came from, is 'Finding the Real' for myself, and giving back what little I can to the place that has given me so much."

Mason Reeves
What are some of the songs we can expect to hear?

"There’s a wide variety of old Broadway songs, new Broadway songs, songs from films, and even a few standards from the likes of Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and George Gershwin. Highlights will include: “No One is Alone”from Into the Woods, “I Wish I Could Go Back to College”from Avenue Q, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land and “Send in the Clowns”from A Little Night Music plus Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's “Very Glad to Be Unhappy” and
“Go Back Home”from The Scottsboro Boys.

I actually saw the video clip of you singing "Go Back Home" at an Arizona Broadway Theatre cabaret and you were fantastic on that.

"Thanks!"

Did you get a chance to see Scottsboro Boys when it played at Phoenix Theatre earlier this year or were you still in Michigan at that time?

"I did get a chance when I was back home. The production at Phoenix Theatre was absolutely incredible and left me drained in the best possible way. The cast was stellar and nailed the emotional heart of the piece, capturing perfectly the power of such a story.

I know you've mentioned before how important that musical is to you, what can you tell us about that? 

The Scottsboro Boys means so much to me because, in my opinion, it is one of the most powerful shows representing the black experience ever written. It's stylized as a minstrel show revolving around the main nine wrongly-convicted African-American men and depicts their dealings with a racist judicial system and their treatment by racist individuals. By using this methodology of story-telling, the show prevents the audience from shrugging off the severity of the subject matter and ensures that they truly understand the underlying pain of what such performance techniques are indicative of and how terrifying discrimination can be if left allowed to thrive. The song "Go Back Home," represents the Scottsboro Boys' desperate hopes that someone will at last come along and tell them to "hop a freight and go back home," finally treating them as human beings and not just as their skin colors. This is something that has become incredibly core to my belief system as an African-American in modern America: the desire that we all be treated with humanity regardless of our skin tone, while still understanding and embracing that our different ethnicities influence our identities in their own ways. The hope for understanding, acceptance, sensitivity, true listening to one another, and communication."

Ali Whitwell
You've also got some special guests for this show. They are all people who you are very close to. What can you tell us about them and what will you be singing with them?

"Yes, they are all very dear friends of mine. I’ll begin with Mark 4Man. He’ll be joining me on the keys and I’ve know him for the past three years now. The first time we worked together was in All Shook Up at Spotlight Youth Theater, for which he was the director and music director. Since then, I’ve worked with him in a variety of different shows and was a part of his performing troupe, Pitches and Tones, until the end of last year.

Next is Ali Whitwell. She’ll be joining me for a duet, a pair of her own solos and some group numbers. We first met during a production of Shrek at Valley Youth Theater a very long time ago. We then worked together in the aforementioned production of All Shook Up and have gone on to do a number of productions together, including Smokey Joe's Cafe at Desert Foothills Theater. She just finished a run of Oliver at Arizona Broadway Theatre and will be travelling with the production to the Fort Peck Summer Theater in Fort Peck, Montana. After this summer, she is headed off to get her Musical Theatre BFA from Syracuse University.

Last but certainly not least, Zach Zupke. Zach and I first met in our high school choir and became fast friends. Eventually, Zach got into theatre and him and I worked together on our first production at Desert Foothills Theater in Little Shop of Horrors. He then went on to do shows at his high school as well as Desert Foothills Theater, including The Wizard of Oz, in which he played the Cowardly Lion. Currently, he is studying to get his Musical Theatre BFA from the University of Arizona where he has been a part of other productions, most notably Epic Proportions."


Zach Zupke
You've just completed your first year of college. What were the high points and low points of you first year at Michigan?

"It’s been a wonderful first year, so this is going to be hard, but I’ll try to keep this short! For high points, I’ll just keep it to two. One of my favorite experiences that I got to partake in was a student directed, choreographed, and staged cabaret that used songs from Thirteen the Musical, but rather than use the libretto of the show, we motivated the songs with stories from our own lives when we were 13. My second high point was when I got to be a part of a production of a contemporary play, We are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia Formerly Known as Southwest Africa from the German Sudwestafrika between the Years 1884-1915, a mouthful, I know. It was an incredibly influential piece and gave me an opportunity to explore aspects of my identity that I hadn’t experienced before. As for any arts major, there were low points, as well. They were usually revolving around self-doubt and a fear that I wasn’t capable of doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing. Though those times were certainly not fun, they’ve provided me with valuable knowledge of how to overcome those situations in the future and continue to work hard to achieve positive growth and get closer to reaching my dreams."

Looking back at all the shows you did in Phoenix before you went away to college, what were the ones that meant the most to you, and why?

"The shows that meant the most to me back home were A Raisin in the Sun at Desert Stages Actors’ CafĂ© and Hairspray at Desert Foothills Theatre. These shows meant a lot to me because they provided me with not only performance growth, but personal growth, as well. A Raisin in the Sun introduced me to a group of performers and individuals that I had never had the joy of working with before who formed a community for me that has continued to affect me and encourage me as a performer to this day. Hairspray means a ton to me because it was just one of the most enjoyable performance experiences I’d had and was also an opportunity to perform at my home theater and spend quality time with the people I’d been raised by and had grown up with."

What are your plans for the summer after your cabaret show?

"After my cabaret show, I’ll be spending my summer performing at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. I’ll be in a production of Guys and Dolls directed by Hunter Foster, as well as a series of original cabarets that they will be putting together to advertise for the theater, itself around the area."

CLICK HERE for more information on Finding The Real, which plays Sunday, May 28th at 7:30pm. and to purchase tickets

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