Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Dancing on a giant peach: a conversation with Isaac Wesley Wilson, the choreographer of CYT Phoenix's JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH

Isaac Wesley Wilson
by Gil Benbrook

The warm and witty musical James and the Giant Peach is based on the whimsical book of the same name from Roald Dahl, the man who created "Matilda" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."  The show features a truly charming and funny score from Oscar, Grammy, and Tony winning composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the score for Dear Evan Hansen, the songs for the movie La La Land, and also wrote the songs for the current film The Greatest Showman.

CYT Phoenix opens their production of this family friendly musical this Friday at the Mesa Arts Center.

The production is being choreographed by Phoenix native Issac Wesley Wilson, who has an extensive performing and training background, including a dance background that features ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, ball room, and tap.

Wilson took a break in final rehearsals for the show to sit down to answer some questions for PHX Stages about the show, CYT, and his theatre experiences in the Valley.

For those who aren't familiar with Dahl's book or this show what can you tell them it's about?

"James and the Giant Peach is a classic story about a young boy who's family is taken away from him too soon.  He is forced to live with his two terrible aunts who see him only as a servant and a meal ticket.  One day, James meets a magical individual who sets him on a course to regain the love that he lost with the passing of his parents.  Through his wild adventures upon a truly giant peach, James finally finds a home, a family, and himself."

You've worked at a lot of theatres in the Valley. Could you describe some of your past work?

"I have gotten to do some really fun things on stage.  I got to play Nana, the dog, and the Crocodile in Peter Pan for Arizona Broadway Theatre, earn a Zoni nomination with Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company, and book my very first professional show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, at the former Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre with Prather Entertainment Group.  I have sung South Pacific with the Phoenix Symphony, and toured Arizona Elementary Schools teaching kids to not smoke.  I have played animals, children, men, and men who dress as women to get out of paying their taxes to name a few. "

How has your previous experience prepared you to choreograph this show?

"While preparing to choreograph this show, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the story we were trying to tell and how movement would play a part in it.  I have always loved this story, and with it being set to the gorgeous music of Pasek and Paul, the inspiration came quickly.  I also knew in advance that I wanted to push and challenge this cast so I didn't shy away from challenging choreography.  Some of the dances started forming in my head as soon as I heard the songs for the first time.  There were other numbers though, that required more intention to achieve a more specific effect.  This project maintained quite a driven pace, but the cast worked incredibly hard and rose to every challenge we threw at them.  They were eager to learn and determined to master these difficult, high-tempoed steps.  As a choreographer, I couldn't be more proud of what these performers have accomplished with this production. It was also really fun to choreograph a show on and around a really giant, beautifully designed peach with multiple levels, sides, and special effects to play with!"

I know that this is your second show choreographing for CYT and that you've taught for them for several years now and are also serving as their class coordinator this year. What has the experience of working at CYT been like?

"Working for CYT has been a joy.  The students are bursting with talent and a drive to cultivate their craft.  They truly love and support each other.  These kids are fast becoming the type of artists that I would enjoy having as peers in this industry.  The leadership are passionate advocates for the arts, students, and staff.  They are patient and encouraging with everyone, including one another.  CYT has created a culture where people use their personal strengths to lift one another up in a manner that allows everyone to grow together.  It has been a joy!"

How does teaching at CYT compare to your other experiences teaching?

"I have enjoyed teaching for many companies, both locally and otherwise.  Teaching for CYT has been especially nice.  They have a way of making you feel like you are a part of their community right away.  I have always felt valued as both a teaching artist as well as a friend."

You've been in a lot of shows - both musicals and plays - in Valley Theatres. How does working with a cast of talented youth compare with working with adults?

"Adults in theatre? It's about the same.  Haha.  Students in theatre are typically very professional and disciplined from an early age and adults in theatre never seem to loose their youthful energy and creative freedom.  I would say the main difference is simply the number of cast members who's parents pick them up after rehearsal. "

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing this show?

"I hope that audiences will leave this show with a renewed belief in magic.  I hope they never forget the power of kindness.  And I hope that, like James, people can be brave enough to go get the things that make them happiest, even if they have to cross an ocean on a giant peach to find them."

CLICK HERE for more information on CYT Phoenix's production of James and the Giant Peach at the Mesa Arts Center, which runs February 2nd to February 11th 

audition notice - MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY - Mesa Community College - March 5 & 6

Auditions for Mesa Community College Theatre's Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play, will take place on Monday March 5th and Tuesday March 6th from 4-8pm. Monday the 5th will be auditions and Tuesday the 6th will be callbacks.

CLICK HERE for more information and to sign up for an audition slot. Please only sign up on Tuesday if you absolutely can not make Monday.

Please come prepared with a contemporary monologue (preferably comedic) that is a maximum of two minutes long and also a pop song of your choosing that is 16-32 bars. There will be no accompaniment, the song will be a capella.

The total audition should not exceed 5 minutes in duration.

Rehearsals will be from 6-10 on Mondays-Fridays starting March 7th. Actors will be notified of call dates/times in advance. Performances are April 20th - April 28th.

Location: 1833 W Southern Ave, Mesa Community College Theatre, TH-2

cast announcement - MAJOR BARBARA - Grand Canyon University

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs from February 9th to 18th

Barbara Undershaft………… Christine Ward, Victoria Nay (US)

Andrew Undershaft………… Cameron Cluff, Micah Larsen (US)

Lady Britomart………… Emily Sheppard

Stephen Undershaft………… Ryan Ardelt

Sarah Undershaft………… Halee Conway

Adolphus Cusins………… Brandon Brown

Charles Lomax………… Isaac Bills

Bill Walker………… Caleb Raney, Gavin Harris (US)

Snobby Price………… Osama Awadalla, Micah Larsen (US)

Rummy Mitchens………… Megan Sutton

Peter Shirley………… Trustin Adams, Joel Segraves (US)

Jenny Hill………… Camryn McCullers

Mrs. Baines………… Mandy Tompkins

Bilton………… Christina McSheffrey

Morrison………… John Wilson

Ensemble………… Emily-Rae Abang, Samantha Johnson, Amy Kee, Michael Naughton


review - KELLI O'HARA - Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Kelli O'Hara
Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

"This past Saturday night kicked off the first of four concerts in the 2018 "Broadway @ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts" series with a sublime evening of song and story featuring Tony winner Kelli O'Hara. The series features popular Sirius XM radio host Seth Rudetsky as host and pianist, with a different Broadway performer each evening. Rudetsky draws on his expert knowledge of Broadway to engage each guest to speak about their experiences in an informative and spontaneous conversation in between songs. O'Hara's charming and spunky personality and soaring voice brought both plenty of laughs and poignancy during the discussion and her sublime and pristine vocal abilities were rewarded with not only applause but also a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the evening....Future dates for shows in this year's season of "Broadway @ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts," are Megan Hilty on February 24, Kristin Chenoweth on March 17 and Vanessa Williams on April 7.. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

promo photos - BEAUTY AND THE COMPUTER GEEK - East Valley Children's Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs from February 15th to February 25th

Suzy Olson of Mesa as Crystalline
Patricia Dawson of Mesa as Jinx
Harrison Graham of Mesa as Charles
Connor Besemer of Gilbert as Rooben

Photos by Penrod Photography

Musical Theatre of Anthem's Weekly Classes

MTA offers the following weekly classes. A separate punch card is needed for each class type (where applicable). *No Classes during MTA Tech Weeks; see website for details.

Director Caia Decker
When: Mondays, 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Ages: 6 - adult
Cost: $10/Class (Drop-in) or $75 for a punch card for 10 classes (do not need to be consecutive).
Description: This class will consist of group Musical Theatre singing with harmony,
dynamics, diaphragmatic breathing, and more. There will also be one-on-one coaching
time so the participants can all learn from each other and prepare for their MTA

2. ACTING - taught by MTA Director Laura O'Meara
When: Tuesdays, 5:45 p.m. - 6:45 p.m.
Ages: 7-14*
Cost: $10/Class (Drop-in) or $75 for a punch card for 10 classes (do not need to be
Description: Focus will be on Voice Projection and Diction, Character Development,
Scene-Study, Improv, and much more. All Levels Welcome. *Participant must be able to

3. YOGA - Taught by MTA Parent and Volunteer, Jody Kring
When: Tuesdays, 7:15 p.m. - 8:15 p.m.
Ages: 16 and up. All levels welcome!
Cost: $10/Class, Drop-in. Cash or Check only.
Description: A refreshing vinyasa style class filled with fun and creative sequencing,
smiles, and endless options to take your practice further. *Must bring own mat and

4. DANCE – Diamond Dance Works (DDW)
Cost: $100 for 10 classes, $50 for 5 classes
Description: MTA has partnered with Diamond Dance Works (DDW), who is offering norecital,
drop-in punch card technique dance classes for MTA kids (and other kids) who
want to focus on building their technique skills in Jazz, Acro, Tap, and Ballet without
having to worry about absences or a recital.

CLICK HERE for more information

review - TRYING - Theatre Artists Studio

Alan Austin and Vanessa Benjamin
photo by Mark Gluckman
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 4th.

"...a 25 year old aspiring writer from the bleak Prairie Provinces of Saskatchewan, enters the cloistered environs of this 81 year old cantankerous judge...This is the relationship that Joanna McClelland Glass conveys in TRYING, the tender and poignant account of a year in her early life (1967-68) as the secretary to Francis Biddle, whose distinguished career included service as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Attorney General and President Harry Truman's appointee to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Translating the interaction between two characters of such different backgrounds and dispositions ~ each at a crossroads in their lives, one whose sun is rising and the other's setting ~ requires a deft and balanced hand in the director's chair...Judy Rollings excels in meeting the challenge...This is a play that, as it tracks the passage of the characters and their evolving relationship, likewise requires performances that are steady, nuanced and authentic. Alan Austin as Biddle and Vanessa Benjamin as Sarah Schorr fulfill the requirements with sterling craftsmanship..." Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

BLITHE SPIRIT - February 9 & 10, 2018

Broadway returns to Mesa as the Mountain View High School Theatre Department will present the 2nd Annual “Broadway at the Mountain.” This year’s production will be Blithe Spirit with a cast of guest artists from the Broadway productions of WICKED, LES MISERABLES, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and more!

This two-night-only event will take place in the Mountain View High School auditorium on February 9 & 10, 2018. Mark your calendars now so you do not miss this event that is sure to sell out!

Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit is a lighthearted and endearing spook-tacular comedy classic. Set in summertime in Kent, England, the play follows writer Charles Condomine who is working on his latest novel The Unseen. As part of his research, he and his wife Ruth host a séance with an eccentric medium known as Madame Arcati and invite their friends to play along. Things go decidedly wrong,  and Charles suddenly finds himself face to face with the ghost of his deceased wife, Elvira... much to the chagrin of his current spouse, Ruth. Love and marriage devolve into laughter and mayhem when Ruth is accidently killed and united with Elvira on the “other side.” Together the paranormal pair of
blithe spirits haunt their hapless husband with hilarious consequences.

The cast includes Broadway veterans and AriZoni Award winning actors such as: Stephanie Likes (Mrs. Brandman), Tamra Mathias (Elvira), Jessie Jo Pauley (Edith), Dave Ray (Dr. Brandman), Tregoney Shepherd (Madame Arcati), Lana Shumway (Ruth), and Rob Stuart (Charles Condomine).
The creative team has received numerous AriZoni Awards for Excellence in Theatre in their respective fields and include: Jere Van Patten (Director), Dori A. Brown (Scenic Design), Angel Woolsey (Lighting Design), Jeffrey Sloan (Sound Design) Aurelie Flores (Costume Design), Melody Stuart (Makeup Design), Gina Hoyt (Wig Design), and Angel Woolsey (Production Stage Manager).

Mountain View Theatre Department wishes to express our gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: Actor’s Equity Association, American Guild of Musical Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the artists to appear in this program.

Mountain View High School is located at 2700 E. Brown Road in Mesa, Arizona on the NW corner of Lindsay and Brown roads.

Tickets: On sale now, and are $10 - $25.

For more information and to choose your own seats visit:

Blithe Spirit is rated PG and is recommended for audiences over 8 years old. Please be aware that smoke, haze and strobe lights may be used throughout this production.

cast announcement - WEST PALM PRIME - Compass Players

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs from March 15th to March 31st


ROSE MEYERS - Jeanna Michaels

RYAN MEYERS - Derek Gaboriault

TOM SHEEHAN - C.D. Macaulay


MURRAY MORROW - Peter Noonas


reviews - IT'S ONLY A PLAY - Phoenix Theatre

Tony Latham, Debra K. Stevens, Toby Yatso, D. Scott Withers, Pasha Yamotahari, Rusty Ferracane, and Ashley Stults
photo by Reg Madison Photography
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 11th.

"...Terrence McNally's comedy It's Only a Play... stars some of the top comic actors in the Valley. While the play itself is a bit long and includes a lot of famous name dropping and backstage drama that might go over the heads of those not well versed in the in-depth knowledge of the business of Broadway and New York City, it still amounts to a fun, charming and often times hilarious ride through the nonstop behind the scenes theatrics at the opening night party for a new Broadway play...McNally's characters are funny and interesting individuals that are fairly fleshed out and three dimensional, though they are also almost all narcissists who truly only care about themselves. ..Director Matthew Wiener has assembled a cast of gifted comedians who get some big laughs from McNally's funny script, though not every joke lands and a few aren't delivered as successfully as they could be. Chalk that up partly to the unfamiliarity of some of the names that are dropped that are very specific to New York and Broadway as well as the somewhat uneven tone and direction the play goes in the second half of the second act which pads out the play and shortchanges some of the humor of the show.... " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...The jokes come fast and furious...but when the payoff is limited to the famous name-drop, what brought the house down on Broadway is in danger of only receiving a muted laugh when played regionally....Director Matthew Wiener’s proven affinity for farcical comedy is clearly evident. He draws the broadest of broad gestures out his cast and keeps the action moving at such an effective breakneck speed you may not notice that there’s hardly a plot at all...." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"There’s abundant raucous laughter and madcap confusion in “It’s Only a Play” at Phoenix Theatre.  The delightfully daffy production is due to Terrance McNally’s hysterical script and a superlative local cast of comic farceurs. ...The superlative cast runs with every bit of amusing mayhem.... fabulous comic details in Matthew Wiener’s expert staging....The opening night audience never stopped laughing ...nothing but perfect comic performances in the seven person ensemble.  ...“It’s Only a Play” entertains mightily because of the performers’ comic expertise in this beautifully staged production. .." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

COMING SOON - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Neither Douglas Clarke's lavish set nor Paul Black's Broadway-bright lights, neither Connie Furr Soloman's classy and colorful costume design nor a cast comprised of some of the Valley's thespian luminaries can save Terrence McNally's IT'S ONLY A PLAY from its weak legs and gratuitous nastiness. ... a firecracker that fizzles, every now and then sparked by a singular stand out the end of this two-hour slog, IT'S ONLY A PLAY, directed by Matthew Weiner, is a vehicle stuck in first gear. " Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

HAMILTON takes over the Arizona Department of Transportation Signs!

by Gil Benbrook

Proof that Hamilton is as big as Star Wars: in honor of the musical opening tonight at ASU Gammage, the Arizona Department of Transportation has flexed their creative minds to create some fun safety messages that tie into the lyrics and messages of the show. 

In the past, ADOT has updated the messages on their signs to tie into the opening weekends of big blockbuster movies, holidays or special events, but this the first time that I can think of where they've done this for a musical!

Hamilton plays through February 25th at ASU Gammage. Daily $10 Lottery tickets are available as well as tickets are being released daily for upcoming performances. Info can be found as

photos courtesy ASU Gammage/ ADOT

Monday, January 29, 2018

WEEK AT A GLANCE: January 29 - February 4

Click on any show title to get more information on that production




ASU Gammage 
January 30 - February 25, 2018

Stay Cat Theatre
February 2 - 25, 2018

Mesa Encore Theatre 
February 2 - 18, 2018


promo photos - HEATHERS, THE MUSICAL - Brelby Theatre Company

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs from February 9th to March 3rd

photos by Shelby Maticic

Sunday, January 28, 2018

audition notice - STUCK MOVING UP - Ghostlight Theatre - February 10

Auditions for Stuck Moving Up
as Ghostlight Theatre will take place on Sat Feb 10th at 1pm

Auditions are held at Ghostlight Theatre. Come to auditions prepared to do cold reads.  Monologues are optional

Business Man- 30+. A good looking corporate type guy.

Heather Roman- Mid 30’s- early 40’s   Unemployed, divorcing, beautiful, intelligent, confident, wary of men.

Bradley Jameson- Mid 30’s-early 40’s Corporate businessman. Good looking, smart, cocky, but a decent guy.

Harold Romono- 40’s-50's- Elevator repair man. Gruff, sarcastic, worn down, decent man. Thick New York accent

Nina Pollo- Early  20’s Elevator repair trainee. Cute, sweet, naive warm hearted, romantic

Bert- 30+ Elevator repairman. Sleazy.

(There is a gas stipend being provided for actors in this production)

For additional info please contact Helene Benigno at

Desert Foothills Theater's Spring Classes Start Soon!

Register for Spring Classes!

Spring Break Camp • Teen and Adult Dance Classes • Acting Class
Pop Star Musical • Classes Start January 30th • Ages 5 and Up

Desert Foothills Theater's Spring Class List

Register Today!

Pop Star Musical with Miss Berta!

Ages 8 - 12
Come sing, dance, and shine in this class. Pop Star Musical combines musical theater concepts with pop music songs.

Act It Out: Ensemble with Miss Heather!

Ages 8 - 12
Learn about how an ensemble can tell a story together. Create creatures in collaboration with friends. Tableaus, 7 - human monsters and more!

more audition slots have been added for JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT at TheaterWorks

Due to demand, additional audition slots have been added for YouthWorks at TheaterWorks upcoming production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamocoat

CLICK HERE to sign up for you audition slot!

cast announcement - CAVE BOYS - Paradise Valley Community College

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs February 1 - 4

Jacques................................Joey Whelan
Madame Marsal......................Emily Wood
Monsieur Laval...........................Ric Alpers
Simon....................................Jason Jones
Georges................................Larak Rogers
Franck..............................Taylor McMurray

Saturday, January 27, 2018

cast announcement - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST - Hale Centre Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs from April 5th to May 12th

John Worthing, J.P.: Aaron Blanco
Algernon Moncrieff: Spencer Dooley
Honorable Gwendolen Fairfax: Shelby Daeffler
Cecily Cardew: Clara Bentz
Lady Brackwell: Laura Soldan
Miss Prism: Ami Porter
Reverend Canon Chasuble, D.D.: Matthew Harris
Merriman / Lane: Nathan Spector

In the director's chair with Katie McFadzen, making her directorial debut at Childsplay with SNOWY DAY

Katie McFadzen
by Monica Sampson

Opening today at Childsplay, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, features the Childsplay directing debut of local actress Katie McFadzen.

PHX Stages sat down with McFadzen, Associate Artist for Childsplay, to get a special look into her newest show, artistic history and learn how that influenced her first time directing.

This colorful show is based on four books by the author (and illustrator): "The Snowy Day," "Whistle for Willie," "Goggles!," and "A Letter for Amy." The play follows young Peter through adventures and experiences in growing up. When asked to describe the plot, McFadzen stated that the main character explores playing outside in the freshly fallen snow which is where the plays namesake comes from. The Snowy Day is all about the hallmarks, joys, and challenges of childhood.

This original colorful world of author Keats inspired the overall artistic look for the show. As Director, McFadzen used Keats' illustrations in the books as inspiration for the look of the show.

The production incorporates three projection screens that are creatively used for shadow puppetry and projections of drawings. These child-like dancing shadow puppet silhouettes come directly from the way Ezra Jack Keats drew his characters.

In regards to the artistic and visual process of the play McFadzen said, “We did a lot of problem solving in the rehearsal hall trying to figure out when and where we should incorporate shadow puppets and how best to tell this story using only three actors who have to play many characters.

For McFadzen, being in the directing chair is a fun and new experience, she says, adding that her first love as an artist is acting, “I love to watch other artists work. I think my approach and style are based on my own acting instincts and from working with so many incredible directors and actors over the years.”

the cast of Snowy Day at Childsplay
photo by Tim Trumble 
Although this is McFadzen's directing debut with Childsplay, she has been with the company since 1993 and has collaborated with Valley actors, directors, designers, and technicians over the years all leading up to this show. That collaboration and passion is what McFadzen says has inspired her work and helped her work grow, as McFadzen has been professionally acting for more than 25 years.

McFadzen is no newcomer to Arizona stages, her acting work has been seen all around the Valley in shows like the recent Mamma Mia! at Phoenix Theatre, The Wedding Band with Black Theatre Troupe; Speech and Debate and The Year of the Rooster with Stray Cat Theatre; and Little Queen with Teatro Bravo.

This creative network is what lead McFadzen to her own directing style. When asked about her thoughts on being in the directing chair for the first time at ChildsPlay, McFadzen says she drew on her artistic roots, “I've directed many youth productions over the years and had the pleasure of directing Ron May in The Trump Card for Stray Cat Theatre in 2016.” McFadzen continued by saying,” When The Snowy Day was chosen to be part of this season, our Artistic Director Dwayne Hartford thought it would be a good fit for me.”

Hartford may have thought this because McFadzen has a lot of experience with puppetry and working on productions for younger audiences (The Snowy Day is geared towards young people ages 3-8)

Over all McFadzen stressed, that for her this whole process was about creative teamwork, collaborating to get the job done, and the end result of seeing smiling audiences watching this new Childsplay production. 

“I'm a collaborative artist. I rely on the people I work with to be contributors to the creative process," said McFadzen,  I enjoy directing but I'm definitely not a director who comes into rehearsal with everything set and all the problems solved.” Why? Well in her own words all creative projects should be looked at one way, as McFadden said while closing her thoughts on the show, “I'm a team player!”

photos - LIFE COULD BE A DREAM - Hale Centre Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production which runs through April 17th

photos by Nick Woodward-Shaw