Monday, October 31, 2022

Talking to Amie Bjorklund about directing GREASE at Mesa Encore Theatre

Amie Bjorklund

by Gil Benbrook

California Native Amie Bjorklund has directed and acted at many theatres, including at theatres in California, New York, England and Arizona. Her local credits include directing at Mesa Encore Theatre, Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival, and Southwest Shakespeare Company and she's appeared in shows at the Phoenix Theatre Company, Flagstaff Shakespeare, The Bridge Initiative, Southwest Shakespeare, Nearly Naked, and Hale Centre Theatre. She also teaches acting at ASU and film studies at Chandler Gilbert College.

Bjorklund previously directed Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Mesa Encore Theatre and she's back to direct their production of Grease, which opens this Friday, November 4.

Bjorklund sat down during final rehearsals to answer some questions about the challenges of directing a big, beloved show like Grease, the importance for diversity in the cast, and how community theatres are important as a way for people to be challenged and grow.

What brought you back to MET?

"I loved working with MET when I directed Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in 2019. The group of people who put the time in to support the show were welcoming and hardworking. After the pandemic I was eager to get back into live theater, no longer in front of a screen, and MET is one of the theaters working to make that return happen safely. I also am glad to work with a company who wants to make theater for the community which is reflective of where we are going and the people we entertain."

Why did you choose Grease?

"Well I didn't choose Grease. The season was already decided when I reached out to MET asking if they had a need for a director. Thankfully it fits into my calendar and my wheelhouse of experience. I'm glad MET decided to do it. It's an adventurous undertaking and not a small production. It's a challenge on many levels. I like the idea of a challenge. This script and the sheer size of the production offers me that. Thankfully Sarah Wiechman, my dear friend and choreographer, agreed to come on this adventure with me. Add to the mix Michael Snyder, our musical director, and I was confident we'd be successful.

Plus there's a lot of positive things to say about working with an energetic cast filled with young talent who are eager to be in front of an audience."

What does Grease say to you that other musicals don't?
"The biggest lesson Grease teaches us is that strong friendships usually means a good life. The friendships at Rydell High, and the world it inhabits, are very strong. They may be forged in proximity, as most high school friendships are, however they grow from that and become something real. These kids mock each other and give each other a hard time while still loving each other and looking out for each other. Even Rizzo and Sandy, with their different backgrounds and goals, protect each other at various times in the show. Grease shows us that life can be short or long and the people we choose to spend our time with is the best decision we can make."

For a show that premiered over 50 years ago, why do you think Grease is still such a popular show, and why do you think it still resonates today?

"I believe Grease is a popular show because the songs are so catchy. They get into your head and just will not leave. The dancing is fun to watch and be a part of. Audiences usually like watching shows which make them smile and this show, especially our production, will give them that. I believe the show resonates still because we like to think high school was this fun. We like to imagine we were part of these friendships and falling in love. It's nice to imagine. And it's an easy show to enjoy. It also resonates because ultimately it's about relationships, and everyone can relate to that. Those relationships are what keep us going and empower us to keep changing and growing."

What is something important to you about this production?
"The diversity of the cast is something I find incredibly important. The call for Grease went out across the valley and we had over 40 people audition. That's amazing and I was so excited to be able to use everyone who wanted to be a part of this. With every show I direct my goal is to create a full welcoming cast - gender, race, sexuality, everything. Everyone is welcome at the table as long as you come ready to work. The cast we have is diverse on so many levels and that diversity is allowed to shine with this script. For this show it doesn't matter what you look like or what your offstage life contains. It matters that you show up and you tell the story with all of us.
Everyone on that stage is important and it's important to me that the actors feel utilized. I have a strong musical theater background and firmly believe that the stronger the ensemble, the stronger the show. Sarah, our choreographer, has the same vision. We work with everyone in the cast to make sure we are all telling the same story, are in the same show, and have the same goals. I love that each of them would be able to tell you their character's backstory or objective at any point in the storyline."

What's next for you and MET?

"I hope there will be more directing opportunities for me at MET. I have watched the theater undergo a lot of changes in the past year and I can see them actively working to be a place where all theater creators can feel welcome and artistically challenged. I hope to be a part of that as we move into the next year and beyond."

What do you hope to see in the Valley Theater Community? How do you want to be a part of that?

"Our theater community is one which is constantly changing. I'd like to see those positive changes continue and have a community which evolves and grows. I'd love more money put into the theaters, especially those which are struggling. I'd love more time given from people in the community, if money can't be donated. I'd love more people to show up and support the arts, in any capacity they can. You'd be surprised how many theaters need help painting, organizing, cleaning, and administrative work. There is so much happening and the more people who can help, the better. It means a lot to our entire community when we have an active theater life. I want to be a part of this active life for as long as possible. Currently that's as an actress and a director. In the future it might look like being the Artistic Director or Board President. I don't foresee myself ever being stagnant in the Valley theater scene."
How does MET fit into the Valley Theater Community and what might the future hold for MET?

"MET is vital to the Valley Theater Community. As a Community theater we offer opportunities other theaters might not offer. I have done years and years of community theater, each production teaching me a new skill I took with me to other jobs. Community theater should be the place where we learn and we teach. It's the place where we can try new things and develop skill sets we can use in life. It's where we can challenge ourselves because it's a safe place to try. Ever wanted to try your hand at running a sound board for a musical? Or designing costumes? Or playing the villain? Or running the fly rail? Community theater is the place to take those risks and find out what happens. Possibly find a new passion you didn't even know you loved. As long as MET continues developing talent and keeping their doors open to anyone who wants to work hard and try, I believe there are at least another 100 years available to them."

What do you hope audiences take away from seeing a performance of Grease at Mesa Encore Theatre?

"As cheesy as it sounds, I want our audiences to walk away with a smile. I want everyone to walk out of the theater feeling a bit lighter than before, a bit happier. I believe theater is vital to this world and can be a powerful voice for change and social advancement. It is also meant to be a haven from the world, a place we can go and just enjoy being happy. Grease can be that place. It is a happy piece of theater with catchy songs and wonderful dance numbers. I want people to be proud of what they just saw and know they supported a great team of artists who work hard to entertain them."

Former ASU quarterback, Gus Farwell, stars in new musical performance at ASU Gammage, “Gridiron to ASU Gammage” on November 4

By Emily Mai
ASU Gammage

When Gus Farwell was a theater major at ASU as well as the quarterback for Arizona State’s famous Rose Bowl team, he had a dream to one day perform on stage at ASU Gammage. Now, 26 years later, that dream is coming true.

“At some point, I remember sneaking into ASU Gammage, standing on the stage only lit by a ghost light and looking up at the empty seats thinking, ‘Well, one day I'm going to sing here and I’m going to perform onstage in front of so many people.’” said Farwell, who is debuting his new performance show, “Gridiron to ASU Gammage”.

“Gridiron to ASU Gammage” is a musical performance that celebrates Sun Devil spirit and finally being together again. Farwell will perform songs from a wide discography including music from popular pop artists, Broadway musicals and classic opera. It will also include collaboration with the ASU Symphony Orchestra, Gospel Choir, Sun Devil Marching Band as well as faculty performers. The event also has a pre-show tailgate with food, games and fun activities. "Gridiron to ASU Gammage" premieres Friday, Nov. 4, at ASU Gammage. Tickets are on free but registration is required at

“It's not really about me, it’s a celebration of all things ASU. I just want to give everybody a night to come out and enjoy themselves, enjoy the university and just really feel some Sun Devil pride. This whole idea was born through a lockdown and the pandemic, so this is a chance for us to all get together to feel that energy and really just celebrate life again and being there for one another,” Farwell said.
Farwell has always had a passion for performing. His love for theater started young and followed him through high school and college, at the same time his love and involvement in playing football remained too. Farwell balanced going to theater rehearsals with football practices for a long time but was determined to see both loves of his through to the end even though doing both put a serious strain on his time, energy and relationships.

“I felt when I was at ASU that I loved going back and forth between the two worlds. I think people think they see doing the two as opposite ends of the spectrum, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. I actually think performing onstage and music have so much in common with football. I see both as types of performances and no matter what you have to work hard for long periods of time to be any good,” said Farwell.

During this same period of time, Farwell discovered his love for opera music. During a high school party, he accidentally came upon a CD of Luciano Pavarotti’s Greatest Hits and with no background in singing opera music, he was hooked. This would eventually lead him to become the iconic voice of the “Go Devils Go!” that’s played at the beginning of every Sun Devil football game.

“I truly just fell in love with the melodies and the music. I asked to borrow the CD and I just drove around through the rest of my senior year of high school and throughout all my time at ASU just singing along even though I didn’t really know the words, composers or even what was going on in the story,” Farwell said.

Farwell performed opera singing for the first time publicly during a talent show at Universal Studios the week before the 1996 Rose Bowl game. His performance was televised and in front of a panel of celebrity judges and teams from Arizona State and Ohio State.

“I think they thought that I was just joking at first and then they all realized as I kept going that I was serious. It was at this point that they all went dead silent and got a standing ovation at the end. But that was really my first time and I just didn't really know what to do with it afterward,” Farwell said.
Farwell’s opera journey took him across Europe but has not always been a smooth one. Between academic burnout, personal tragedy, rejection and a global pandemic Farwell was all but ready to stop pursuing music entirely. That all changed when one video of him singing on his balcony in Spain went viral online.

During the lockdown in Spain, every night people would go out onto their balconies and applaud the frontline workers and medical professionals. It was shortly after the applause ended one night that Farwell decided in the spur of the moment to sing a couple of notes before returning inside. Encouraged by his wife and two daughters, this became a regular event. One that would carry on for 65 days in a row.

He became a source of joy and entertainment for the people in Spain and across the globe. The pressure was on him every night to provide that experience for everyone at a time when people had so little to look forward to. Soon he was receiving letters and messages from people around the world thanking him for what he was doing and encouraging him to keep doing it.

“Anytime I felt unsure if I wanted to go out there again, I always told myself, ‘You get to do this.’ Then I’d go out there and that interaction with the audience would completely lift me up,” Farwell said.
It was through this new fame and stardom that Farwell would find his way back at ASU. The creation of this show started from a conversation Farwell had with ASU Gammage Executive Director Colleen Jennings-Roggensack. In an interview during the pandemic, Farwell mentioned that it has always been his dream to one day perform at ASU Gammage to which she told him that she’d be more than happy to make his dream come true.

“I wasn’t completely sure that she really meant it, you know?  Now knowing Colleen better, I know that she doesn’t say something unless she really means it and there are so many people behind the scenes supporting us that have helped make all of this possible, and I couldn't have done any of this without them," Farwell said.

WEEK AT A GLANCE: October 31-November 6, 2022

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





Saturday, October 29, 2022

Your first look at GUYS AND DOLLS at Zao Theatre

Cast announced for THE WICKHAMS: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at Arizona Theatre Company


Celebrate the holidays with ATC!
A must see holiday story about what it means to truly give in the season of giving.
Boisterous sister Lydia Wickham returns front and center this holiday season joined by her long lost husband and the home’s downstairs residents. The bustling staff find themselves amid a holiday scandal, complete with misunderstandings and shenanigans. When the festivities spiral into chaos, Lydia finds her voice in this celebration of family and forgiveness.
Don’t miss this parallel story to last season’s holiday show!
“This is a play for everyone. And it’s an outing that is sure to boost the holiday spirit. If you only see one more play this decade, let this be the one.”
— Broadway World Atlanta

Grab Your Tickets Today!

Review Highlights: THE LION - Arizona Theatre Company

Max Alexander-Taylor
Photo by Tim Fuller

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 November 6

"How do you weather the storm? That question is something many of us have felt the last two-plus years in having to deal with the vast impacts of COVID-19 on our lives, but it's also the burning question in The Lion, an autobiographical musical that tells of one man's emotional journey through love and loss and how he discovers that music can be a catalyst for both clarity and redemption. Arizona Theatre Company is presenting the area premiere of this intimate and emotionally rich solo musical in a production that is inspiring and deeply moving....While it may not be your story, and you may or may not have experienced or suffered through some of the family drama or trauma that Scheuer did, you'll most likely find an intimate connection to the piece and find new understanding about life, your relationships with your family, and yourself. The Lion is a modern folk musical that's heartbreaking, inspiring, and very moving. It's also a haunting musical, just as the events in Ben's past continued to haunt him." - Gil Benbrook, (click here to read the complete review)

"crafted by Benjamin Scheuer as a memory of his difficult childhood as the musical relates the difficulties of growing up with Rick, a father who expects his son to follow life exactly as he approaches it....The production is enhanced by the stellar joint staging of ATC artistic director Sean Daniels and Alex Stenhouse coupled with Alexander-Taylor.  This production premiered in London and is presented locally in conjunction with the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.  The short show is tightly constructed and never gets tedious with repetition.  The tunes provide an entrancing way for Ben to describe what could be dull life details."   -Chris Curcio, Curtain Up Phoenix (click here to read the complete review)

"If a work of art is inspired by one's real-life travails, there's no bigger catalyst for a masterpiece than one's ruthless fray with desolation and mortality. That's what we're privy to in ATC's one-man musical that launches the company's 55th season: a stirringly intimate recounting of one man's odyssey from existential crisis to triumphant self-renewal. What makes THE LION a wholly engaging piece of theater is the lucid paradox of its simplicity: a lone performer - stripped of the usual technical pageantry - sharing his compelling songs of wonder and despair (though not without lighthearted anecdotes in between)..."   -  Robert Encila-Celdran, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

Friday, October 28, 2022

Cast announced for RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA at The Phoenix Theatre Company

Single Tickets Now on Sale for Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre's 2022/2023 shows!

The American Theatre Guild is pleased to announce single tickets to all four engagements in the 
22–23 BROADWAY AT THE ORPHEUM THEATRE SERIES are now on sale. All engagements will be held at the Orpheum Theatre. 

Single tickets start at $35.25 and will be available at, or by calling 1-602-262-7272. Group ticket savings for 10+ are available by contacting Information about each Broadway touring production can be found below.

• FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, December 2–4, 2022
• R.E.S.P.E.C.T., January 13–15, 2023
• BUDDY – THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, March 3–5, 2023
• ANASTASIA, May 5–7, 2023

December 2–4, 2022

Audiences across North America are toasting a new production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF! 

Rich with musical hits you know and love, including "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset;' "If I Were A Rich Man;' "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "To Life (L'Chaim!)," FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is the heartwarming story of fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, and life, love and laughter.

Tony®-winning director Bartlett Sher and the team behind South Pacific and The King and I bring a fresh and authentic vision to this beloved theatrical masterpiece from Tony winner Joseph Stein and Pulitzer Prize winners Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Featuring a talented cast, lavish orchestra and stunning movement and dance from Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter, based on the original staging by Jerome Robbins, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF will introduce a new generation to the uplifting celebration that raises its cup to joy! To love! To life!

January 13–15, 2023

The Queen of Soul is coming to you with a concert experience like no other! R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is an electrifying tribute experience celebrating the legendary Aretha Franklin. This joyous concert event journeys through Aretha Franklin’s courageous life of love, tragedy, and triumph, starring a live band, supreme vocalists, and a night full of music by one of the greatest artists of all time.
More than just a concert, this is the Aretha experience, featuring all your favorite hits in one evening, including "Natural Woman,” “Think,” “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Chain of Fools,” “Respect,” and many more. You’ll be out of your seat and dancing in the aisles as you lose yourself in the inspirational music from the one and only Queen of Soul!

March 3–5, 2023

"Terrific…Even the chandeliers start to swing!" — Chicago Tribune

"Forget about feel-good.  Buddy is feel-great, leaving its audience roaring for more." — Vancouver Sun

BUDDY — THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY tells the true story of Buddy’s meteoric rise to fame, from the moment in 1957 when "That’ll Be The Day” hit the airwaves until his tragic death less than two years later on “The Day the Music Died.” The show features over 20 of Buddy Holly’s greatest hits including “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” “Oh Boy,” “Not Fade Away,” “Rave On” and “Raining in my Heart,” plus Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace.” Seen by more than 22 million people worldwide, Buddy opened in London's West End in 1989, and has been seen on Broadway, throughout Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Scandinavia, South Africa, the Netherlands and Singapore; winning numerous awards along the way. Buddy will have you on your feet and “Send you out of the theater on an unstoppable high!” (The Boston Globe).

May 5–7, 2023

Inspired by the beloved films, the romantic and adventure-filled new musical ANASTASIA is on a journey to Phoenix at last!
From the Tony Award®-winning creators of the Broadway classic Ragtime, this dazzling show transports us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Pursued by a ruthless Soviet officer determined to silence her, Anya enlists the aid of a dashing conman and a lovable ex-aristocrat. Together, they embark on an epic adventure to help her find home, love, and family. 

ANASTASIA features a book by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally, a lush new score by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) based on original direction by Tony Award® winner Darko Tresnjak with choreography by Peggy Hickey and tour direction by Sarah Hartmann.

Please note:, and the Orpheum Theatre Box Office are the only official sources for tickets to all shows in the 22–23 BROADWAY AT THE ORPHEUM THEATRE SERIES. If you purchase tickets through another source, you may pay over-inflated prices and your tickets will not be guaranteed.

Cast announced for PLAY ON! at Desert Foothills Theater


Don Crosby, Gerry Dunbar
Lynn Golden, Polly Benish/Lady Margaret
Scott Jones, Saul Watson/Doctor Rex Forbes
Josie Madden, Smitty Smith/Doris the maid
Andrea Markowitz, Phyllis Montague
Jennifer Scott, Aggie Manville
Zach Snyder, Billy Carewe/Stephen Sellers
Peter Strupp, Henry Benish/Lord Dudley
Phyllis Strupp, Louise Peary
Alexa White, Violet/Diana Lassiter

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Cast announced for HELLO DOLLY! at Yavapai College Performing Arts Center


Toni Tennille - Dolly Gallagher Levi 
Kate Howell - Standby for Ms. Tennille   
Craig John Ralston - Horace Vandergelder
Wesley Traver - Cornelius Hackl    
Stephanie Zeh - Irene Molloy   
James Howell/Duncan Calhoun - Barnaby Tucker
Georgia Harrington - Minnie Fay
Makena Morishima - Ambrose Kemper
Julie Woolsey - Ermengarde
Leah Cheri Morales - Ernestina
Don Langford -Rudolph Reisenweber
Linda Miller - Mrs. Rose
Marnie Uhl - Judge
Kennan King - Stanley

Ensemble: Duncan Calhoun, Kelsey Claire, Tori Daniels, Ash DiCristina, Alyssa Ebel, Jacob Eriksson, Thomas Ewell, James Howell, AJ Jackson, Greg James, Olivia Keating, Kennan King, Emily Lawhead, John Simon Medina, Meghan Paquette, Danielle Peterson, Mary Rizk, André G. Sylvester, Andrea MH Sylvester, Luis Tovar, Anthony Veneziano, Tanner Bond, Ariella Centeno, Madison Eden, Mary Heller, Lee Howard, Adriana King, Debbie Lipely, Phil Middleton, Aidan Moloney, Crystal Ogden, Monte Reichert, Gina Steverson, Norah Steverson, Maya Traver, Deb Vernam, Talia Weiss, Jackson Wells, Kai Yamamoto

Review Highlights: THE ADDAMS FAMILY - Scottsdale Community Players

The Cast
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 October 30

"It may not have garnered much critical acclaim on Broadway when it premiered in 2010 but The Addams Family has proven to be a hit musical in regional theaters...The stage musical is very funny with a huge amount of charm. With a superb cast, impressive direction, and rich creative aspects, it's receiving an incredibly solid production from Scottsdale Community Players...Under Meribeth Reeves' solid direction, the entire cast shines. Matthew Harris and Alice Liners-Johnson are wonderful as Gomez and Morticia, respectively. They both have impeccable comic timing that ensures every one of their humorous lines gets big laughs, and they have rich singing voices that excel on their numerous songs. Harris does a lovely job depicting the father who realizes his daughter has grown up and Liners-Johnson is wonderful as the jealous wife who starts to realize she's not as young as she used to be...a fast-paced musical with a never-ending string of jokes. Scottsdale Community Players production has sharp direction, lovely creative elements, and a wonderful cast who beautifully depict these lovable, gothic and ghoulish characters while also managing to elicit non-stop laughs and a lot of charm." - Gil Benbrook, (click here to read the complete review)

DISNEY'S MARY POPPINS, JR - Banzerini House - November 11-20, 2022


Based on one of the most popular Disney movies of all time and the Broadway musical that played for over 2,500 performances and received multiple Olivier and Tony Awards nominations, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins is capturing hearts in a whole new way: as a practically perfect Broadway Junior musical!

​The jack-of-all trades, Bert, introduces us to England in 1910 and the troubled Banks family. Young Jane and Michael have sent many a nanny packing before Mary Poppins arrives on their doorstep. Using a combination of magic and common sense, she must teach the family members how to value each other again. Mary Poppins takes the children on many magical and memorable adventures, but Jane and Michael aren't the only ones upon whom she has a profound effect. Even grown-ups can learn a lesson or two from the nanny who advises that "Anything can happen if you let it."

Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins JR. is an enchanting mixture of irresistible story, unforgettable songs and breathtaking dance numbers. 

Friday and Saturday - 7pm
Saturday and Sunday - 2pm

HEAD OVER HEELS - ASU Music Theatre and Opera - November 17-20, 2022

ASU Music Theatre & Opera presents Head Over Heels

​Songs by The Go-Go's 
Based on 'The Arcadia' by Sir Philip Sidney 
Conceived and original book by Jeff Witty 
Adapted by James Magruder

Directed by Toby Yatso 
Music Direction by Lindsay Noel Miller

Nov. 17,18 and 19, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 20, 2 p.m.
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre

"Head Over Heels" is the bold new musical comedy from the visionaries that rocked Broadway with "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Avenue Q" and "Spring Awakening." This laugh-out-loud love story is set to the music of the iconic 1980's all-female rock band The Go-Go's, including the hit songs, "We Got the Beat," "Our Lips are Sealed," "Vacation" and Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven is a Place on Earth" and "Mad About You." A hilarious, exuberant celebration of love, Head Over Heels follows the escapades of a royal family on an outrageous journey to save their beloved kingdom from extinction - only to discover the key to their realm's survival lies within each of their own hearts.  

Content Warning:  This show contains mature themes related to sexuality and gender, inferred strong language and innuendo, suggestive depictions of sexual acts, and simulated violence. Recommended for ages 14 and up.

Head Over Heels is produced by special arrangement with Broadway Licensing. (

SONGS FROM LIQUID DAYS - ASU Music Theatre and Opera - October 28-29, 2022

Songs From Liquid Days is a Music Theatre and Opera student lab production. 

Music by Philip Glass
Libretto by Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne and Laurie Anderson
Music Director - Mario Yniguez
Associate Music Director - Andrew Chen

Songs From Liquid Days is a collection of songs composed by composer Philip Glass with lyrics by Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne and Laurie Anderson. Philip Glass describes the project as a collaboration that "brought together quite an astonishing assortment of people...For me, their commonality is that they are an uncommonly talented group of people - and about as diverse in personal style and practical approach to music-making as you're ever likely to find working together." Join talented ASU students from all backgrounds who lead this unique and exciting project.