Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Theatre Scene in Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Phoenix, Arizona, and its surrounding suburbs represent the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States, and while any urban area of that size is bound to contain its share of undesirable elements (Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer, the insufferable summer heat, and enough guns to arm the entire country of China - to name but a few), it also has some positives that make the city bearable for sane residents.

Phoenix is home to professional teams of every major sport, a first rate university (Arizona State), and a multitude of cultural opportunities that include offerings such as symphony and dance performances, wonderful art exhibits, and endless desert vistas.   The Phoenix National Public Radio Station KJZZ is one of the finest that I have heard anywhere, and the authentic Mexican food served in many of the local restaurants and cafes is some of the finest to be found on either side of the border.

But it is the local theatre offerings that have really sold me on the city.  The last time I lived here (2007-2010)  I attended performances at Valley theatres on a fairly regular basis, and got to see some wonderful productions - including national tours of Les Miserables, The Kite Runner, and A Raisin in the Sun - as well as some quirkier offerings that were presented by the smaller theatres.  I wrote about many of the plays that I saw here in The Ramble.

There are six live theatres in the Phoenix area with which I am familiar.  Their seasons essentially match the school year, running from September through May or early June.  I attended multiple performances at four of these theatres when I was here before, and I plan to do better this time around.

The Phoenix Theatre is located in the heart of Phoenix at 100 East McDowell.  It has a nice auditorium with plenty of good parking, and their season always has a great lineup.  (I was actually a season ticket holder at the Phoenix Theatre at one point.)  This year their offerings include the hit Broadway musical Spamalot (9/19-10/14), Defending the Caveman (10/31-11/25), S' Wonderful (12/12-1/6), Love Makes the World Go Round (1/23-2/17), La Cage Aux Folles (3/13-4/7), and Thornton Wilder's classic, Our Town (5/1-5/19).

The first live play that I attended in this area was Altar Boys at the Phoenix Theatre.  It was a great piece of musical theatre which my daughter, Molly, and I enjoyed together.

The Phoenix Theatre owns a second, smaller auditorium on the same property which is the home of Nearly Naked Theatre, a more daring theatre troop that pushes boundaries in an effort to live up to its name.  Partial nudity is not uncommon in their productions, and sometimes things get even more risque.   But prudishness (or squeamishness) aside, Nearly Naked Theatre has some wonderful productions that are regularly enjoyed by serious theatre-goers.

A couple of years ago I saw a little known work entitled Killer Joe performed at the Nearly Naked Theatre.  It was the tale of members of a family who hire a killer to off their mother for the insurance proceeds.  I mention that only because that same material has just been released as a movie, also entitled Killer Joe, which stars Matthew McConaughey in the title role and Juno Temple as the virginal daughter who gets taken by Killer Joe and held as collateral until the family pays his fee.

The year's schedule for Nearly Naked Theatre has not been released as of this time, but the season will be a good one - it always is!

The Arizona Theatre Company usually performs their productions in Tucson and Phoenix - with the Phoenix shows being produced at the beautiful Herberger Theatre which is also located in the central part of the city.  This year the schedule at the Herberger includes Next to Normal (10/11-10/28), Lombardi (11/15-12/2), Jane Austen's Emma (1/3-1/20), Freud's Last Session (2/14-3/2), The Sunshine Boys (3/28-4/14), and Clybourne Park (5/2-5/19).

Gammage Theatre at Arizona State University is also known for hosting some great plays - and although I didn't make it to any of their productions in the past, I plan to correct that oversight this year.  The Gammage season opens with the wonderful Les Miserables  (9/11-9/16), followed by Anything Goes (11/13-11/18), The Addams Family (12/11-12/16), Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan (1/8-1/13), War Horse (2/5-2/10), Memphis (3/5-3/10), Disney's Beauty and the Beast (4/9-4/14), Flashdance, the Musical (4/30-5/5), and Sister Act (6/25-6/30).

Stray Cat Theatre is more experimental in nature and somewhat transient.  I have seen Stray Cat productions at a couple of different locations.  This year they have four shows scheduled:  punkplay (9/14-9/29), Wolves (11/30-12/16), Sons of the Prophet (2/15-3/2), and Chicks with Dicks (4/19-5/11).  The last production reportedly centers on a female motorcycle gang.

Theatre Works in Peoria is located in the West Valley near where I live and work, but somehow I never made it to any of their shows the last time I was here.  They have a nice auditorium, and I plan on attending some of their work this year.  The schedule for Theatre Works includes Doubt (9/7-9/30), The Music Man (10/5-10/28), A Christmas Carol 12/1-12/25), Burning in the Night - a Hobo's Song (1/25-2/24), Musical of Musicals (3/5-4/7),  Accomplice (4/12-5/12), and Hansel  and Gretel (5/10-5/26).

So that's what's happening at several of Phoenix's main theatre venues this year.  If you are thinking about traveling out west to see me, plan accordingly.  We'll take in a show or two!

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