Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love Makes the World Go 'Round, Even in Phoenix

by Pa Rock
Theatre Patron

The man who scanned my ticket as I was entering the Phoenix Theatre last night heard an odd beep from his machine.  He did a careful examination of the gadget's readout, and then looked up at me and grinned.  "Thank you for  being a subscriber," he said.  I acknowledged his thanks and walked on into the lobby feeling a bit proud of being a contributor to that classy corner of the Phoenix arts society.

Being a subscriber means that I have a ticket to every show for the season.  I was also able to get the same seat, six rows back toward the center, for each show.  Most of my reservations are for the first Saturday night of the productions, and, last night, my neighbors in the auditorium were the same individuals who had sat by me a month ago when we all showed up to see 'S Wonderful, and though I don't personally know them, we all spoke and it felt kind of family-familiar.

'S Wonderful, the most recent show at the Phoenix Theatre, was a musical retrospective of the works of the Gershwin brothers.  The current production, Love Makes the World Go 'Round, is very similar endeavor, but with the focus on the music of Bob Merrill.   Merrill wrote hundreds of unique songs with catchy lyrics like People (Remember Barbra Streisand belting that one out?), to the quirky How Much is that Doggy in the Window? by the singing rage, the late Patti Page.  "Doggy" topped the charts the year I was born.

Love Makes the World Go 'Round involves three women who show up at a New York City piano bar one evening and slowly become acquainted with one another while the wily piano player brings them together through Bob Merrill's music.  Each of the ladies has issues revolving around romance.

The oldest of the three, Irene, (Patti Davis Suarez), is a cynic who has loved and lost on multiple occasions and seems to be in the process of giving up on love.  Miss Suarez has a commanding presence on the stage, and her character has some of the best lines in the musical review.  (I have been a fan of Patti Suarez for over thirty years, from back when she was a local television newscaster and personality in southern Missouri.)

Anna (Jeannie Shubitz) is the middle woman in age.  She is a divorce lawyer whose own marriage is falling apart.    Through the music of Bob Merrill, Anna begins to remember some of the reasons that she  originally fell in love with her husband.  Miss Shubitz had some of the most moving musical numbers in the review, and she was truly mesmerizing.

Natalie (Allison Houston) is a young adult who is involved in her first serious relationship with a man.  Unfortunately, she has made such a poor choice, a low-level gangster named Mr. Gambino, that everyone in the bar and the audience immediately knows that he is a bum who is taking advantage of a sweet kid lacking worldly experience.   Not only does Miss Houston have great physicality and comic timing, she can belt out a song in a way that would make Ethel Merman sit up and take notice.

All three of these ladies weave in and out of the spotlights and musical numbers while the piano player, Henry (Brad Ellis), anchors the production.  Mr. Ellis, who plays Brad the Pianist on the television show Glee,  provides the continuity and keeps the story flowing.  He is a wonderful musician and very adept at bar banter.

It was cool and rainy in Phoenix last night, which is a very odd circumstance in the Valley of Hell, and there were numerous empty seats at the Phoenix Theatre.  Those who chose to stay home because of the weather missed out on a great night of musical theatre.    That, sadly, was truly their loss.  I enjoyed the evening immensely.

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