Thursday, February 28, 2019

Playing Perón: a conversation with EVITA's Gary Bartón

Gary Bartón
by Gil Benbrook

In the current world we live in, powerful political leaders are constantly in the news. Yet, with all of the campaign promises our leaders guarantee and the positive things they initiate, there, unfortunately, almost always seems to be some form of corruption, lying or abuse of power underneath. You only have to look at the news events of this week to see how power, politics, corruption and lies seem to never go away.

Juan Perón, who served as the President of Argentina three times, is also a man who, while incredibly popular during his terms in office, also had his share of detractors and corruption charges.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice immortalized Perón, and his wife Eva, in the Tony wining musical Evita, and Gary Bartón portrays Perón in the national tour of the show that comes to the Orpheum Theatre this weekend, playing March 1-3.

Bartón is a classically trained actor, singer/songwriter, director and playwright, with a vast resume of stage, TV and film credits. He's also done a lot of research on Juan and Eva to prepare him for this role, and has found, like any person, they had both positive and negative traits.

Bartón sat down in-between tour stops to answer some questions about this show, his character, and the relevance of a musical with poplar, political characterst that's set over a half century ago with our current politically polarized world.

Evita is an award winning musical that has had revivals, tours and even a filmed version yet some people may not have heard of this show. What would you tell them it’s about?

"Evita is about Juan Peron’s rise from the military to President of Argentina… oops, that’s my characters point of view!  Evita is about Eva Duarte, a young woman who came from poverty with a chip on her shoulder about those who had money and influence. She used her womanly charms and acting talent to rise up the social ladder until she found a similar man who needed a strong woman’s help to push him toward his own ambitions. With Eva’s help Juan Peron becomes president, but being first lady doesn’t get her the respect and love she needs and craves. In the end she finds that even being adored by the masses isn’t enough.  All this takes place with her storyteller/conscience Che feeding her doubts about her motives and prodding her with what the future may think of her."

Tell us a little about the character you play?

"Juan Peron, came from lower-middle class parents and worked his way up through the military to vice president under a military regime. When they were overthrown he was jailed.  When he was released he made a bid for president and enlisted the help of the labor unions. His marriage to a well-known actress Eva Duarte boosted his popularity and led to his election.  He was influenced by the fascism of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy when he was military attaché and based there from 1938-1940. Also he learned a lot from the nationalism and socialism that Mussolini spouted.  I could go on, but I believe you can only take so much from research as you have to look at what the author’s of the musical/play have determined important or how they strayed from history.  So you use what you can. In the musical, he is written to have ambition, but perhaps not as much confidence as history suggests and that he needed Eva to spurn his ambitions and to help him over his own self doubts in order to become President."

What type of research did you do for this show?

"Since these are real people, we all did extensive research, but in the end only used what supported the author’s vision for the musical as what isn’t reflected in the actual show becomes useless. However, the good that Eva did for the country isn’t quite reflected in the show.  Whether for political reasons or not she and Peron brought more equality to the poor, the laborers (higher wages, health etc) and women (getting them the vote) leading to better conditions. However, the play also doesn’t go into some of the abuses of power such as firing tons of University professors who opposed them.

Gary Bartón and Yael in Evita
photo by Will Page, courtesy of the National Tour of EVITA

In this show you play an actual person. What are the difficulties in playing someone that actually existed?

"Well, you want to be as true to the person as possible, but you also have to be true to the story you are telling and sometimes they differ.  As I’ve seen, history is written by the winners, so in some instances we don’t know the actual truth behind some of the research we’ve done.  Our job is to tell the story written and hopefully we do a good job of that.  In my case, I had to make some assumptions about Juan and Eva’s love story.  I made the choice that he loved her with all his being… though some say it was their mutual ambition that drove their attachment… I believe it started that way, but for Juan became true love… perhaps when he saw the power she held over the people of Argentina that infected him."

All three lead characters have their strengths and weaknesses. How has your opinion of your character changed since you started this tour?

"When we started performing, my character through-line changed as I realized how much Juan Peron loved Eva and when (in the play) his respect of her ambition changed to actual love. "

What is your favorite part of the show?

"There are too many to list. From watching the Ensemble (from the wings) set up their characters in the movie theater scene at the beginning,… to my character lifting Eva up after she’s passed out from the effects of cancer.  I’d have to say though, my favorite part is during 'Don’t Cry For Me Argentina' when the crowd goes into slow motion adoration of Eva that seems to make her saint-like… this is the moment in the show when my Juan Peron falls madly for her. "

Evita takes place mainly in the 1940s and 1950s and is a musical that first premiered in the 1970s. Why do you think this story is still relevant today?

"So many reasons: women’s rights and respect; how people treat a powerful woman figure; politics and corruption; and, promises and lack of fulfillment… It’s the story of every government everywhere… One of my favorite lines is when Peron sings, 'It’s annoying that we have to fight elections for our cause, having to get a majority (always elicits a laugh from the audience). If normal methods of persuasion fail to win us applause, there are other ways of establishing authority. "

What important messages are there in this musical?

"Don’t let power get to you.  Remain true to your message.  It’s an awkward musical in that you have a hero/anti-hero in Eva because you always have Che questioning her motives and her gains. "

What do you hope audiences take away from seeing this tour of Evita?

"I don’t want to put anything into our audience’s heads… I want them to experience this new and exciting version without preconceived notions."

CLICK HERE for more information on EVITA, which plays at the Orpheum Theatre from March 1-3

Musical Theatre of Anthem Announces its 2019 Benefit Fundraiser

Musical Theatre of Anthem is excited to announce its Annual Benefit Fundraiser, an event that is open to the community. Bring your friends and family and join us for an exciting evening of:

  • Performances by professional singers and MTA's Outreach Group*
  • Dinner and gourmet desserts
  • Live auction
  • MTA Prize Basket drawing
  • Announcement of the performances for our Terrific 12th Season

DATE:  Friday, March 8, 2019
TIME:  6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Musical Theatre of Anthem:  42201 N. 41st Drive, Suite B100   

COST:  $75 for adults; $40 for students and children 17 & under
TICKETS Tickets can be purchased at

*Musical Theatre of Anthem's Outreach Group is a group of elite, award-winning performers who tour around the valley to serve their community.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Dancers, The Vision, The Dream: a conversation with the director and stars of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS at Arizona Broadway Theatre

Andrew Ruggieri and Rebecca Shulla
photo by Scott Samplin
by Julia Bashaw

Who doesn’t adore a love story, history and dance all mixed into one? An American in Paris has all of those elements and more including a gorgeous score by George and Ira Gershwin. This Tony winning musical has been running at Arizona Broadway Theatre since January 25, and once the show ends this coming weekend at their Peoria home, the cast, crew, sets, and costumes will be transferring to the Herberger Theater Center in Downtown Phoenix for another month of shows, playing from March 8 through March 24.

An American in Paris is set in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. The musical follows character Jerry Mulligan, a now former US army Lieutenant, who decides to stay in liberated France and start his life. He meets a mysterious French woman named Lise Dassin, and he is instantly fascinated by her.

“I would describe the musical as a completely new interpretation of what people think,” Director Kurtis Overby explained. “I’m not trying to make you think real hard, I just want you to escape. It is that escapism, but knowing that there is a story we are trying to pay homage to. Honor those people that do know, and we want to make sure that they’re kept in our brains and our hearts, but we want the people to escape and just have fun.”

Kurtis Overby
For those who don’t know, this show has multiple intense dance scenes including a 12-minute ballet. Overby decided to both direct and choreograph this production. He explained why he chose to take on both roles.

“With a show like this, there was no other option.” Overby laughed. “It is a big ballet in my brain. I wanted to direct it because that was my world for so many years. I wanted the opportunity to do a classic musical. I knew I wanted to dig my teeth into this and push the envelope. I wanted to see what I could do.”

Overby decided to add four extra days to the rehearsal schedule in order to really focus on and tackle the dance scenes. Near the end, there is a 12 minute ballet, four minutes of which is centered on the two leads. And, if you thought that was tough, add the fact that the girl, Lise, is being lifted up in the air by Jerry numerous times in that sequence. Therefore, Overby and his team needed to find actors that could measure up to what the show would demand of them, not only their acting potential but especially their dancing abilities.

“Was it hard when the right people walked in? No. But a lot of people walked in.” Overby said, explaining the casting process. “We found Andrew (Ruggieri) earlier, but we were still trying to find the girl. I knew I had to find that little ballerina.”

Andrew Ruggieri, who plays the lead male role, Jerry Mulligan, has wanted to play this role for quite a long time and became even more motivated when he saw it on Broadway in 2015.

Andrew Ruggieri and Rebecca Shulla
photo by Scott Samplin
“I fell in love with it,” Ruggieri said. “This is my dream show, dream role. I was told initially that I would never play this role by dance teachers and by friends. They said 'you’ll never play this, you’ll never be in this show.' So, from that point forward, I made it a goal of mine to be in this show. I found a dance teacher who helped me for two years to prepare for this show and role.”

Finding the woman who was to perform Lise Dassin though took some dedicated time. She was originally cast as an ensemble member, but within 24 hours Kurtis knew that Rebecca Shulla was to be his ballerina, Lise.

“I’ve been dancing since I was five,” Shulla said. “I grew up doing pretty much straight ballet for a very long time. I wanted to be in a ballet company, but as I got older I realized I just wanted to dance in general. I saw An American in Paris on Broadway and knew it was a show I wanted to be in. Ever since the tour I've gotten callbacks for every regional theatre but never got an offer. I never even dreamed of playing Lise. I just wanted to be a dancer in it, so this is a dream come true. This experience has been exhilarating.”

Tackling the dance scenes were the hardest challenge along with time. Overby was splitting his time between directing and choreographing, both of which require much attention. But as Overby stated before, he did not believe there was any other way, he had to and wanted to do both. When it came to choreographing, he explained his process working with Ruggieri and Shulla.

“I never wanted to force people to do anything that didn’t look right on them,” Overby stated. “It is my job to make people look good and feel comfortable so they can do it eight times a week. They are the ones up there doing it eight times a week, and it is important for a director-choreographer to take that into consideration. It’s not something where we need to force people. There is one thing to push people for a breakthrough, that’s one thing. There is another thing to just jam something down someone’s throat. You don’t get the best out of them. It is my job to make them comfortable so they can tell their story and do what we hired them to do.”
Andrew Ruggieri and Rebecca Shulla
photo by Scott Samplin

Being comfortable with each other was something that Ruggieri and Shulla had to learn quickly, but it came easily. While answering questions, they kept finishing each other’s sentences and saying ‘you’ instead of their characters names.

“The war never really left them,” Ruggieri explained. “You really see how the war affected Jerry and how much he really needs this one true love as well. You, her character, balances him out.”

“And likewise,” Shulla responded to Ruggieri. “You balance me out. He brings her joy again. Love trumps everything, no matter how much hate there is going to be in the world. Because there’s always going to be hate, there’s always going to be wars and there’s always going to be disagreements. But love will always...”

“...conquer it all.” Ruggieri and Shulla said in unison.

When asked what he hopes audiences will walk away with after seeing An American in Paris at ABT, Overby answered truthfully. “It is not my favorite question, because I think people take away things that they need,” he explained. “If we do our job, then they can take away whatever they need from this performance. Hope, love, memories, raw emotions, whatever you do, I hope you feel. It’s not what you take away, it is what you feel, and if you take something away from that feeling, awesome.”

An American in Paris is a beautiful show and audiences should come to be reminded that, through all the trial that these characters face, there is hope and joy on the other side.

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through March 1 in Peoria and then runs March 8-24 at the Herberger Theater Center

review - DETROIT '67 - Black Theatre Troupe / Tempe Center for the Arts

Lillie Richardson and Calvin Worthen
photo by Laura Durant
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 March 17th.

"During the summer of 1967 the city of Detroit experienced racial unrest when violence erupted between police and African-American residents...With arson and looting of over 2,000 stores, more than 1,000 injured, and 40+ people killed, it was a bloodbath that went on for five days, finally ended after President Johnson called in military reinforcements. Playwright Dominique Morisseau was born in Detroit and her play Detroit '67, the first in her three-play cycle titled "The Detroit Projects," depicts the impact the riots had on a brother and sister and their friends in the area. While it isn't a perfect play, its local premiere in a co-production by Black Theatre Troupe and Tempe Center for the Arts has a gifted group of actors who inhabit their roles and an ending that delivers hope for the fictional characters. Morisseau knows how to write realistic dialogue and create fairly three-dimensional characters, but at 2-½ hours, including intermission, and with repetitive moments and little drama in the first 30 minutes, it's too bad she didn't tighten the piece up to make it even more riveting and moving....Director Ralph Remington has found a talented cast who create believable characters, but he also doesn't help with the pacing of this production which is a bit slow in parts. ..
As Chelle, Lillie Richardson beautifully evokes the cautious and grounded woman who wants something solid in her and her family's life. Richardson perfectly projects strength and a hard exterior yet we clearly see in her steady performance the fear and uncertainty that is always just underneath Chelle's exterior. Calvin Worthen is equally as good as Lank, an ambitious man who wants more from life and is looking to build something for their future. The two create a natural bond as this close-knit brother and sister. ...While Detroit '67 isn't as deep or profound in how it approaches social issues and racism as other plays that tackle the subject, the characters Morisseau has created are intriguing and the powerful and positive ending is quite moving. Over fifty years after the riots in Detroit, it still clearly resonates today with almost daily news of police violence against African Americans and other minorities." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Stray Cat Theatre's 2019 / 2020 Season!

Stray Cat Theatre unleashes 2019-2020 Season

Stray Cat Turns 18!

Small Mouth Sounds
By Bess Wohl
August 9 - 24, 2019
at Tempe Center for the Arts

Directed by Michael Peck

More than words…
In the overwhelming quiet of the woods, six runaways from city life embark on a silent retreat. As these strangers confront internal demons both profound and absurd, their vows of silence collide with the achingly human need to connect. Filled with awkward humor, this strange and compassionate new play constructed almost entirely out of silence with relatively little actual dialogue asks how we address life’s biggest questions when words fail us.

“Bess Wohl’s luminous play uses silence to dig into the core of human pain, which, like everything unendurable, can also be very funny…as entertaining as it is transcendent.” - Time Out New York

American Psycho – The Musical
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Duncan Sheik
based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis
November 8 – 23, 2019
at Tempe Center for the Arts
Directed by Ron May

A high octane nightclub musical
The sexy, ruthless and daring new musical from Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Riverdale). Based on the electrifying novel by Bret Easton Ellis, the musical tells the story of Patrick Bateman, a young and handsome Wall Street banker with impeccable taste and unquenchable desires. Patrick and his elite group of friends spend their days in chic restaurants, exclusive clubs and designer labels. But at night, Patrick takes part in a darker indulgence, and his mask of sanity is starting to slip. Even MORE exciting? The Stray Cat production will star local superstar Toby Yatso as Patrick Bateman. Hype!

"American Psycho slays onstage! Wonderful! Graphic sex acts, torturing, stabbing, slashing, axe-wielding, snorting coke off toilets and a marvelous score" - The Associated Press

The Wolves
By Sarah DeLappe
February 7 – 22, 2020
at Tempe Center for the Arts
Directed by Heather Harper

FINALIST! 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
One of the most talked about and produced plays in recent years, THE WOLVES is at its core a fly-on-the-wall look at a girls’ high school soccer team as they go through their warm-ups. From the safety of their suburban stretch circle, the team navigates big questions and wages tiny battles with all the vim and vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors. A searing portrait of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for nine American girls who just want to score some goals. Listen very carefully.

CRITIC'S PICK! "The scary, exhilarating brightness of raw adolescence emanates from every scene of this uncannily assured first play by Sarah DeLappe." - The New York Times

Dance Nation
By Clare Barron
May 8 - 23, 2020
at Tempe Center for the Arts
Directed by Ron May

Winner! 2017 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize
Best Theatre of 2018 New York Times
Best Theatre of 2018 The Washington Post
Best Theatre of 2018 Forbes
Best Theatre of 2018 BuzzFeed
Best Theatre of 2018 The Stage
Best Theatre of 2018 Vulture
Best Theatre of 2018 Independent

Cuteness is death
Somewhere in America, an army of pre-teen competitive dancers plots to take over the world.
And if their new routine is good enough, they’ll claw their way to the top at the Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay. But in Clare Barron’s raucous pageant of ambition and ferocity, these young dancers have more than choreography on their minds, because every plié and jeté is a step toward finding themselves, and a fight to unleash their power.

"A blazingly original play [...] marvel at how close what you see cuts to the bone." - The New York Times

Visit for details

ticket discount - EVITA & CHICAGO - Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre

Our friends at The American Theatre Guild and the Orpheum Theatre have a special offer for PHX Stages followers!

You can save up to 30% on tickets for the upcoming productions of EVITA and CHICAGO at the Orpheum Theatre!

EVITA runs March 1-3, 2019
CHICAGO runs March 28-31

Valid through March 15, 2019, some restrictions apply, not valid on prior ticket purchases

CLICK HERE and use code "PHXSTAGES" to save now!

cast announcement - DISASTER! - Desert Foothills Theater

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs March 29-April 14

Chad - Dakota Kuhlman
Scott - Matt Pleasant
Ted - Michael Blau
Marianne - Janelle Frisque
Tony - Kevin Glenn
Jackie - Corielle James
Ben/Lisa - Taya Burman / Morgan James
Sister Mary Downy - Cindy Campbell
Shirley - Bridgette Phipps
Maury - Darrell Spencer
Levora Verona - Ashley Rahaman
Jake - Jon Craig
Wealthy Man - Peter Strupp
Wealthy Woman - Phyllis Strupp
Ensemble - MacKenzie Campbell
Ensemble - Sofia Doe
Ensemble - MaKayla Kovac
Ensemble - Katelyn Karcher

review - 13 - Spotlight Youth Theatre

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 March 10th.

"The desperate need and desire to fit in when you're a teenager along with the stress derived from school and one's first relationship, and a whole lot of teen angst, are the focus of the musical 13. ...With a sensational cast and superb creative aspects, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production is excellent....Director Kenny Grossman has proven time and again that he knows how to work with young actors to ensure they not only get across the comedy of a show but the emotion as well, and each member of this cast delivers. Owen Donsker is superb as Evan. He has a firm stage presence and good comic timing yet is also able to make you feel for him through his emotional line delivery. His singing ability is rich and strong. It's an all-around excellent performance. Zoie Moller and Christopher Poulios are equally good as Patrice and Archie. Moller is tender and soft as the fragile Patrice and Poulios is a natural comic who gets plenty of laughs as the self-deprecating, handicapped Archie....The topics brought up in the musical, which range from having to make friends and deal with enemies, jealousies, gossip and romance, are ones that almost everyone experienced during middle school and high school years. ...It also has the important life lesson that it's better to be yourself than to try to be someone you're not just so others will like you, which is something we can all be reminded of no matter what age. With direction that expertly balances the humor and emotion in the plot and an excellent cast, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production of this popular youth musical is a joyful, funny and moving experience." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

photos - EVITA - National Tour: Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs March 1-3

photos by Will Page, courtesy of the National Tour of EVITA

added auditions for BROADWAY BOUND at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, March 3

A second round of auditions has been added to next Sunday’s callbacks on March 3 at 7pm for Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound! 

Looking for both men and women! 

Check out all the info and register here: 

photos - SINGIN' IN THE RAIN - Hale Centre Theatre

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through March 30th

photos by Nick Woodward-Shaw