Friday, November 30, 2018

photos - A WINNIE THE POOH CHRISTMAS TAIL - Valley Youth Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through December 23rd



photos by Memories by Candace

Bah! Humbug! Rob Stuart takes on Scrooge in Hale Centre Theatre's annual production

Rob Stuart
photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw

By Haddi Meyer

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a beloved holiday treasure. Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey is a classic change-of-heart story, on par with The Grinch in terms of personal growth. He has been reincarnated as an animated character, Donald Duck’s distant relative, and dozens of other stage, film and literary appearances.

Every year, Hale Theatre in Gilbert pulls out all of the stops for their elaborate production of A Christmas Carol, and it has become a dearly loved and highly anticipated tradition. With over 50 performances, Hale needs two separate casts to handle the task of performing this show up to four times a day.

Rob Stuart is an accomplished actor, a prominent member of the ariZoni Board, and he is taking on this holiday classic for the first time playing the iconic Scrooge in Hale’s green cast of the show.  Cory McCloskey portrays Scrooge in Hale' red cast of the show.

Stuart officially opens in the show tonight and, despite a busy rehearsal schedule, he took some time to speak with me about the upcoming production.

What is it like playing this role for the first time in a production that has become an annual tradition?  

"It’s wonderful and very exciting and quite a challenging role which I also love. I have been waiting for this role for a while. I played Bob Cratchit in the same production about 5 years ago. I played him for two years, but then I decided that I can't wait until I get my shot. I hoped I would get my shot. I told Dave (Dietlein, owner of Hale Centre Theatre) a few years ago, I said 'you know if a spot ever comes open I sure would be interested.' I tell you that to illustrate how excited I am to play this role because I have been waiting for it for a long time. I am very excited about the challenge, both casts are wonderful. It’s going to be great."

When you learned you had the role of Scrooge, how did you feel when you found out you had it?

"It was kind of surreal that I was finally going to be able to tackle this role that I had imagined for a long time. At the Hale Theatre they tend to stick with their Scrooges for a time, so you never know when one of those roles is going to open up. When I got the news it was very exciting. It got me invigorated and ready to jump on it immediately. In fact I think I called the theatre that day and said ‘Hey, by the way can I get a script so I can start memorizing’ and that was months ago. As long as they will have me [I will continue in this role]."

What is it about your Scrooge that differentiates him from all of his other incarnations?

"I do my best when ever I take a role to not watch or listen to any other productions of that character because my ultimate goal is to have it be completely fresh. With a character like Scrooge it's almost impossible to do that because it's such an iconic role and character who is everywhere. It’s difficult but I try to do the best I can not to think of how I’ve seen it played before. I do the best I can to make sure I am making fresh choices with a character that someone has seen a million times. "

How did you find the nasty side of the character?

"That’s kind of a fun thing to do when you're finding that side of a character but it can also be taxing because that's not myself. A lot of the time I will pull from experiences I have had in the past and imagine, if I was a curmudgeon, how I might address people I meet. "

I know there are two alternate casts for this production, but you still perform many shows each 
week. How are you preparing to do so many performances of this show?

"Well the good thing is that since I have been fortunate enough to play many roles at Hale, I am familiar with at least doing five or six (shows) a week, but yes this is more. I shifted my work schedule around and my kids are a little older than they were years ago so it’s easier to make this schedule work. I also try to keep myself healthy. I make sure I have plenty of energy. When you have a heavy show schedule it can certainly weigh on you. My daughter is also in the green cast this year, and it’s my first show working with her. She plays Martha Cratchit. Part of preparing for this is preparing her for the schedule as well. She’s a sophomore in high school and I need to make sure she understands what the commitments going to be and how to approach it with her school work. "

Why do you think A Christmas Carol is such a beloved tale and one that has become a tradition for so many people to experience each holiday season?

"It’s a story about coming face to face with what's really important in life. Scrooge is blinded by his desire to have money and have control, and he’s a very selfish person and he worries about that and nothing else in his life. It’s a great story about him coming face to face with the results of that kind of life and how important it is to acknowledge your fellow man and acknowledge the people who love you and the people you can accept love from. It’s important for Scrooge to understand that he has all this wealth and he can use it to help people, and in the end he does.  To me it’s, ‘hey here's what the holiday season is about’ it’s about let's take a minute away from all this stress and all of society's expectations and let's remember family and let's remember giving. Maybe we don't want to be as hard and broody in the future. Let's remember what it's like to just smile and enjoy each others company. To me I have always loved this story and when I played Bob Cratchit when every single show ends I feel like now I am in the season. I get it. I am reminded every single show what's really important. I think that's why it’s so beloved it’s such a simple message, but it’s so powerful."

CLICK HERE for more information on A Christmas Carol at Hale Centre Theatre, which runs through December 24th

video preview - THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, THE MUSICAL - East Valley Children's Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through December 9th

audition notice - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL - State 48 Theatre Company - December 6, 7 & 8

For ages 8-19
Adapted and directed by Andrea McFeely from the novels by Baroness Orczy

 Auditions December 6th, 7th, 8th
Performances February 27th-March 9th

State 48 Theatre Company auditions, rehearses, and performs at The Fuse Box, 943 S. Gilbert Rd., Suite 202, Mesa AZ

Sign up for an audition slot at

Auditions will consist of sides from the play (sides will be sent out in advance of the audition to anyone who is signed up online).  Actors should come to the audition dressed appropriately for movement.

Who is the Scarlet Pimpernel?  Hero?  Bored playboy?  Foolish adventurer?  In this adaptation of the novels, the Scarlet Pimpernel has become a thorn in the side of the French government.  France sends her enemies to be executed under the blade of Madame la Guillotine - but the Scarlet Pimpernel keeps rescuing them!  Citizen Chauvelin vows to unmask the dashing and heroic Pimpernel and travels to England to discover the disguised man.  In London, fashionable fop Sir Percy Blakeney and his brilliant wife, Lady Marguerite Blakeney, stand between Chauvelin and his goal.  In their battle of wits and swords, Chauvelin, Sir Percy, and the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel may destroy Marguerite as she faces Chauvelin's blackmail, a brother's intrigue, and her husband's deceit.  One wrong choice and someone Marguerite loves will die.  Adventure, romance, betrayal, and sword fighting - it’s all here as Percy and Marguerite navigate the treacherous waters of the French Revolution... and marriage.

State 48 Theatre Company is a performing arts organization for performers of all ages committed to enriching the lives of individual people as well as bringing a community together. We create high quality entertainment while fostering a safe and welcoming environment for kids, teens and adults to learn and grow. State 48 believes strongly in a collaborative work atmosphere where our performers and families can contribute to each production and event with skills and talents that include singing, dancing, acting, movement, writing, technical theatre, stagecraft, costuming and more. We believe participation in the arts (in all aspects) brings about a heightened level of sensitivity, culture, sophistication and human connection throughout our community and beyond.  Check us out on FB:

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bringing the "Rain" to Phoenix: a conversation with M. Seth Reines, director of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, IN CONCERT at Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre

by Haddi Meyer

Even if you haven’t seen the movie, any time you hear someone talk about singing or dancing during bad weather, your brain probably goes right to Singin’ in the Rain. The catchy, titular song from the beloved 1952 classic film is iconic, and Showtunes Productions, in coordination with American Theatre Guild, is bringing all of the fun, pizzaz, and music of Singin’ in the Rain to the Orpheum theatre, which opens tomorrow night.

The show only runs for one weekend, but it is sure to pack a punch with a live orchestra, and an large, talented cast. The show isn’t quite a full musical, but also isn’t a concert version with the cast standing on stage and singing into microphones either, and patrons who saw this producing duo's previous production of Music Man in Concert last season will be familiar with the show's formatting.

M. Seth Reines, who is the director of Singin’ in the Rain told me he is grateful for an “audience who continues to support theatre” and took some time to let me in on some of the secrets the show is hiding. From spectacular music to dancing and a show that's given joy for generations, if you’re looking to see this classic show in a whole new way, Singin’ in the Rain in Concert is certainly a great opportunity.

Singin' in the Rain is a classic movie musical but for anyone who hasn't seen the film or this musical adaptation before, what can you tell them it's about?

"It’s about a few things. It’s about technology's effect on an industry because we went from silent to sounds, but then it’s a just a good, fun old timey movie musical, which critics say is maybe the best movie musical ever made. We’re in 1927, The Jazz Singer has just brought sound to moving pictures, and the studio has to kind of react to that. Unfortunately, a lot of their stars did not have good voices because they were silent movies stars, so that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from."

While I know this is being billed as a show "in concert" I believe it's more than just a concert version. Can you elaborate on what this production will entail?

"Last year our company did Music Man in Concert, at the Orpheum for the Theatre League, which is now called the American Theatre Guild, and it was very successful and they had a survey that went out to their subscribers asking what musical in concert they wanted to see and Singin’ in the Rain oddly enough was number one. It’s a hard one to do in concert, it has a lot of challenges but basically everything that was in the film is on stage in our version of it. What we’ve done is we’ve kind of created a studio surround so the whole play takes place in Monumental Studios and our version is kind of the making of the making of Singin’ in the Rain. We have the film sequences which actually now we do with video instead of film. It’s been edited down slightly but it’ll give the idea of what those black and white silent and early sound movies we’re like. All of the dances were in the original movie except for the ballet. In our production the ballet was replaced by a 42nd Street style Broadway production style (number). The ballet is not available in the materials the licensing company sends you. Pretty much it will feel like, what it would be like to come into Monumental Studios in the 1920’s.  The only thing we can’t do on stage is we can’t make it rain. One of the reasons is we have four days to practice and then we open and there’s just no way. It’s such a technological thing that we just can’t do, so we’re doing it with lights and sound effects and the audience's imagination. "

Will Broyles
What can you tell us about the cast and the casting of this show?

"The process started last spring. We had a local audition and a majority of the cast came from that or from local actors that the creative team had worked with in other productions. 10 of the 16 have worked for Showtunes in productions at some point, so we have six new people. (The role of) Don Lockwood, we just couldn’t find locally. It’s hard to find somebody who sings, dances, acts, and is non-union, because this is a non-union production. We did some ads online and got some video submissions from a lot of people and oddly enough one of them had actually worked with our musical director about 10 years ago and that’s our Don Lockwood, Will (Broyles) who is terrific. "

What else does Showtunes Productions have planned for this season?

"Showtunes productions does a lot of things. The company does trivia shows small musical revues. We just opened a Christmas show that was out in the Wisconsin Dells. Next summer we have a Johnny Cash show that will be done in Maine. So we’re kind of expanding. There’s News Years Eve and our Elvis will be in Albuquerque for a few shows. The company has been around for 8 years, we use a lot of local people and use a lot of headliners we just bring in. Our Elvis has been doing "Elvis Live" in Australia for a few years and is touring the UK this summer. That’s the kind of thing that Showtunes Productions does. "

Sounds like you guys have a lot going on, and not just in Phoenix. Getting back to Singin' in the Rain, why do you think this musical is so beloved?

"I think it’s kind of been passed from generation to generation because it’s odd that a lot of the millennial audience is excited about seeing it. They remember watching it with their parents sitting in front of a TV. A generation beyond that saw it when it first came out in the 50’s. It’s just a feel good production and there were some really classic performances in it. Now, we have MTV and with music videos all that kind of stuff, younger audiences are coming back to musical theatre and with some of these incredible things like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen and that kind of thing. It’s exciting to see a younger audience excited about seeing musicals again. "

What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing Singin' in the Rain in Concert?

"I hope they’ll come away from it having had a unique experience where they use their imagination to create the things that aren’t on stage and to enjoy the things that are on stage. I think in concert productions challenge the viewers imagination. I hope they have a good time. It’s selling like crazy, and it’s gotta just be the name."

audition notice - YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU - Pinnacle Creative Arts - December 4

One of the most popular and successful straight plays of modern times. 

You Can’t Take It With You is a madcap, idealistic comedy that reinforces the idea that you can only live life to the fullest by doing whatever makes you happy.

For ages: 10 - 19.

Creative Team
Our creative team for this show is Chris and Kristin Bowler. They say that limitless creativity is the heartbeat of ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ and that can only be facilitated in a welcoming and supportive environment. Chris and Kristin aim to bring that thesis to life with this production.

You Application Includes
Approx 10 weeks of amazing stage training
Personal Script
Professionally produced full-scale play
4 incredible productions
Show T-shirt
Professional Show Photos
DVD (If the rights are available)
Keepsake Photobook
Cast Party

For more information and auditions scheduling, please visit:

photos - THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, THE MUSICAL - East Valley Children's Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs November 29-December 9

photos by Don and Kathie McMahon

video preview - A CHRISTMAS CAROL - Hale Centre Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs November 29 to December 24

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Finding the moments within SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD

Xandra Gunnel, Alicia Ferrin, Nathan Sheppard, and Darren Friedman

by Haddi Meyer

“It’s a concert with a plot. It’s a list of songs that you don’t think will lead you anywhere, but they really have an overlying arch and they do all fit together. It’s the audiences job to put them together and make their own story and conclusion out of it.”

That's what CJ O’Hara said when asked to describe Songs For A New World, which opens at Arizona Regional Theatre this Friday and runs through December 9th.

One of the show's leads, Xandra Gunnell concurred, “It’s more about the audience, and the actors and the audience being able to tell whatever story they want to tell.”

Songs for a New World, is not quite a musical, but a lot more than a revue O’Hara stated. The show is an amalgamation of songs written by Jason Robert Brown all collected into a show that lies somewhere between a musical and a song-cycle.

It features four actors who portray a myriad of different people across different time periods, who may not seem like they connect but Gunnell says the themes presented in each plot line absolutely align.

“A really common lyric is ‘it’s about one moment.’ and kind of how each moment could change your life, and how every decision you make little or big will have some kind of effect on you.”

Gunnell plays "Woman Number One" who discusses fear and love and motherhood over the course of the show. Part of her characterization process was to name ‘woman one’ in each scene she is in.
 “Every song is different. In one song she’s Amy, in ‘I’m Not Afraid of Anything’ her name is Rose.”

Characterization is an actor’s challenge, but CJ O’Hara really takes the idea of challenge to a new level. He is not only the conductor and music director for the show, but also Songs for a New World’s sole director.

“I’ve been pushing myself like crazy, to do work ahead of time and be ready to go but also to let my creativity flow over and just go ‘Oh, that’s an idea, let’s try this’ or ‘Oh no, that didn’t work let’s try something else,’ O’Hara explained, “So that’s been my fun and a little bit of my struggle.”

CJ O'Hara
The music in the show varies greatly, and O’Hara was kind enough to let me sit in on a rehearsal. The music is striking and emotional, and the four actors he selected for these roles all play compelling and dynamic characters. I found myself tearing up a little just watching a run through of “The Flagmaker, 1775”.

Gunnell sang plenty of praises for the show as well, saying “It’s going to be such a killer show. I’ve never worked with such a hard working cast. We learned the score in two nights.”

“Yeah, they really did,” O’Hara interjected. “It has been the most incredible experience. We have put so much work into it and it’s just going to be incredible.”

Songs for a New World is certainly a hidden gem of a musical and from what I saw of the rehearsal, Arizona Regional Theatre’s production will undeniably be full of charm.

Sometimes going into a musical blind with no background knowledge can be a bit of a drag, and can lead to confusion but Gunnell says that having no foreknowledge of Songs for a New World, is one of the best ways to appreciate the show fully.

“It’s good that [they] don’t know what it is or that [they’re] not quite sure because, like we said at the beginning it’s all about your imagination. It’s all about whatever you want to make it, so when you come and see it, not knowing anything about it is a better place to be in. You can make it completely your own.”

reviews - MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, THE MUSICAL - Arizona Broadway Theatre

Emily Grace Anton and Cody Gerszewski
Photo by Scott Samplin
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 December 29th.

"...a charming and faithful adaptation of the classic film....However, with a lackluster score that adds nothing to the plot and an ending that isn't as good as the film's, it doesn't quite measure up to the high amount of charm or the emotionally moving experience of the movie....Willson's book is full of warmth, and that has a lot to do with the fact that it's a fairly faithful adaptation of the Oscar winning film script by Valentine Davies and George Seaton. Unfortunately, the ending lacks the film's emotional focus and the score never rises to the high standards of Willson's The Music Man...Director James Rio does a very good job in adding many original bits of warmth, charm and humor that help detract somewhat from the weak score...In a perfectly poised and polished performance, Emily Grace excellent as Susan. ...Melissa Mitchell is quite good as her mother Doris. ...As Fred, Cody Gerszewski is upbeat and full of charm and honesty and, like Mitchell, his vocals are excellent...As Kris Kringle, MJJ Cashman has the right look, though he could be a bit jollier....While the musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street doesn't add anything new to the classic film, and the score and ending are actually a slight detriment, the plot, characters and themes are still heartwarming and, with a cast and direction that help offset some of the show's shortcomings, Arizona Broadway Theatre's production still results in a feel-good charmer of a show." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...While there’s little problem with Wilson’s book adaptation of the famous film that some tweaking could easily fix, his score for 'Miracle' is quite the Christmas turkey. With the Christmas wreaths hanging around the two lamps that flank the stage and the show’s overall colorful design, including lighted Christmas trees and seasonally decorated sets, ABT does what it can to add twinkle and make an ordinary work at least appear attractive..." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

" seems near incomprehensible and feels mostly disappointing that the same composer, Meredith Willson, who created THE MUSIC MAN would have fashioned something as ill-conceived and uninspiring as his adaptation of the film classic into a musical.  ABT's production of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, directed by James Rio, is more notable for some individual performances than it is for the flow of the story line or the overall staging. On the other hand, the elements of the show that may attract a child are two and far between, spirited numbers adeptly choreographed by Heather Adams..Ava Newton (who rotates in the role with Emily Grace Anton) is refreshing as Susan, revealing a sweet stage presence that is remarkable for a ten-year-old. Cody Gerszewski brings charm and dash to his turn as Fred Gaily...and while Ms. Mitchell totes a lovely voice, there's not the spark of mutual attraction that makes their unfolding romance credible..." Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

promo photos - THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, THE MUSICAL - Spotlight Youth Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs from November 30-December 16

photos courtesy Spotlight Youth Theatre