By the Genre, 2014-2015

Theatrical variety appeals to a wide palate of tastes

By Richard Schultz, Aug. 28, 2014.

Let’s face it: We all have our preferences. Some relish a hearty buffet, while others prefer the simplicity of tapas. The same holds true with theater. Some theatergoers clamor for the big, feel-good musical, while others prefer an intimate psychological drama probing the nuances of human emotion. The good news is that the 2014-2015 theater season offers a delectable range of works promising to entertain, enlighten and educate along the way. Dig in and enjoy!

Musicals

An original costume from Cats on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. - Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

An original costume from Cats on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. – Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Cats
Aug. 29-Sept. 14
Fountain Hills Theatre

As the second longest-running musical in the history of Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved Cats is based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats. The Jellicle cats are celebrating at the Jellicle Ball, awaiting Old Deuteronomy’s choice of which cat will be reborn into a new life. One by one, the cats step forward to introduce themselves, auditioning for the chance to take the journey to the Heaviside layer.

Memphis
Sept. 17-Oct. 12
Phoenix Theatre

Celebrate the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the sound that you remember with Memphis. This 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical bursts off the stage with a toe-tapping, head-shaking score. Filled with laughter, emotion and roof-raising vocals, this musical theater production chronicles an incredible ride — complete with the pursuit of big dreams, the defeat of obstacles and the voyage to find what fills your soul.

42nd Street
Jan. 9-Feb. 8
Desert Stages Theatre

Peggy is terrified to fill diva Dorothy’s dancing shoes and decides to go back home to Allentown. It takes some coaxing by director Julian to convince Peggy to change her mind, but she finally agrees. Before the curtain rises on her opening night debut, Julian utters the now famous show biz line: “You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star!” This classic rags to riches score includes timeless hits like “Dames,” “We’re in the Money,” and “Lullaby of Broadway.”

Dreamgirls
Feb. 13-March 1
Desert Foothills Theater

At a time in history when rhythm and blues blended with other styles of popular music to create a new American sound, a girl group sets out to make their dreams of stardom come true.  They are well on their way when they get their big break at an amateur competition and find themselves singing backup vocals for James “Thunder” Early.  But when their agent, Curtis Taylor, Jr. makes Deena, not Effie, the star of the group that will become known as the “Dreams”, things begin to spin out of control. This musical, being produced by a local group for the first time in nine years, details the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry.

Follies
Feb. 20-March 15
Theatre Works

An old, dusty curtain rises to the sound of soft timpani and so begins a surreal, sophisticated, compelling, heart-wrenching and epic theatrical event. Stephen Sondheim’s legendary masterpiece is considered by many to be one of the greatest musicals ever created — yet it is rarely done. A reunion of Follies performers in a crumbling theater sets the stage for a parade of colorful and brilliant numbers, including “Losing My Mind,” “I’m Still Here” and “Broadway Baby.” Amid the reminiscing, two middle-aged couples confront the truth about their past and present while coming face to face with the future.

An original Edith Head costume sketch for Sweet Charity.

An original Edith Head costume sketch for Sweet Charity.

Sweet Charity
April 17-May 10
Arizona Broadway Theatre

This bittersweet musical offers a tender and poignant, yet hilariously funny, look at the misadventures of loveable Charity Hope Valentine in the ways of love. With entertaining songs popularized by Shirley MacLaine in the 1969 film including, “If They Could See Me Now” and “Too Many Tomorrows,” paired with incredible dancing and sophisticated comedy about the journey of finding love.

Comedy

Charles Janasz (left) and Joshua James Campbell in Arizona Theatre Company’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. - Photo by Joan Marcus

Charles Janasz (left) and Joshua James Campbell in Arizona Theatre Company’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. – Photo by Joan Marcus

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Tucson: Sept. 13-Oct. 4
Phoenix: Oct. 9-Oct. 26
Arizona Theatre Company

ATC kicks off their season with the hilarious winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, written by Christopher Durang. In rural Bucks County, Pa., Vanya and Sonia have frittered their lives away in their family’s farmhouse full of regret, angst and the alarmingly ambiguous prophecies of their housekeeper Cassandra. Enter their sister, self-absorbed movie star Masha, with her prized 20-something boy toy Spike, and the stage is set for an absurd weekend of hilarity and global warming.

Speed the Plow
Oct.17-Nov. 2
Theatre Artists Studio

Two Hollywood insiders and a seemingly innocent newcomer straddle the chasm between business and art while they debate whether to produce a spiritual novel or a surefire blockbuster. David Mamet’s satirical dissection of the greed in Hollywood is conveyed in dialogue that is like being caught in a sudden shower of verbal broken glass. It’s so sharp that it slices the senses and there is an iciness to the darkness of the humor.

Seminar
Oct. 24-Nov. 9
Actors Theatre

This provocative comedy from Pulitzer Prize-nominee Theresa Rebeck follows four aspiring young novelists who sign up for private writing classes with Leonard, an international literary figure. Under his recklessly brilliant and unorthodox instruction, some thrive and others flounder, allegiances are made and broken, sex is used as a weapon and hearts are unmoored. The wordplay is not the only thing that turns vicious as innocence collides with experience in this biting Broadway comedy.

39 Steps
Jan. 9-25
Mesa Encore Theatre

An Alfred Hitchcock thrilling spy mystery is reinterpreted as a manic mash-up of suspense and Monty Python. An ordinary man is caught up in an international conspiracy as he flees a murder scene and chases down the leader of the nefarious “39 Steps”. A handful of virtuosic actors recreate a chase atop railway trains, shootouts, a plane crash, and over 150 characters in this Tony Award-winning comedy.

Stage Kiss
March 13-29
Actors Theatre

Sara Ruhl’s charming comedy is a story of art imitating life and life imitating art when two actors with history are thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930s melodrama. The two quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage follows them off stage.

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club
March 20-29
Desert Foothills Theater

This stage thriller features the famed sleuth in a tale full of mystery, romance, twists and chills. In the heart of London, behind the impassive facade of a windowless house, some of Europe’s most powerful men gather to play a game. The game is murder, and this is The Suicide Club. But the club has a new member, Sherlock Holmes: brilliant, brooding, the greatest detective in the world. The comic whodunit mystery comes complete with a “wow-I-didn’t-see-that-coming” ending.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor
March 20- April 5
Fountain Hills Theater

From Neil Simon’s real-life experience on the Sid Caesar show comes this side-splitting comedy following the writing, fighting, and wacky antics in the writers’ room of a weekly variety show. While chaos reigns backstage, star Max Prince battles with NBC executives who fear his humor is too sophisticated for Middle America. With characters based on his co-writers, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar, Simon perfectly showcases the hilarious jokes and banter of the original kings of comedy.

The TomKat Project
April 24-May 9
Stray Cat Theatre

Don’t expect a Hollywood ending in this comedy. Brandon Ogborn’s biting satire delves into the three-way marriage of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Scientology. Based on actual interviews and completely imagined scenes, seven actors portray 54 characters, including Oprah Winfrey, Matt Lauer, Josh Hartnett, Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lopez, and, of course, Suri Cruise. Expect a razor-sharp production from the Valley’s most edgy theatre company as it chronicles this Scientology saga and skewers our collective obsession with celebrity.

Drama

The Brothers Size
Sept. 19-Oct. 4
Stray Cat Theatre

Set on the back roads of the Louisiana bayou, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play follows the recently paroled Oshoosi Size as he seeks to jumpstart his life. Working in his brother Ogun’s repair shop was not at all what he had in mind, so when his old friend Elegba rolls up, offering a different “direction,” Oshoosi quickly finds himself torn between his brother, his loyalties, and his dreams. Flights of poetry, music and West African mythology slam together in a visceral tale that begins in ritual and evolves into a hot-blooded, tough and tender drama about the need to belong somewhere, to something, to someone.

They Call Me a Hero
Borderlands Theatre, Tucson
Sept. 25-Oct. 12

This world premiere by Valley playwright Guillermo Reyes is based on the memoirs of Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old intern who saved Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s life and became a national hero. This moving tale examines the life of an unexpected hero thrown into a whirlwind of publicity. As his private life becomes public, Daniel’s family and upbringing in South Tucson provides the backbone that empowers him.

Radio Golf
Sept. 26-Oct. 12
Black Theatre Troupe

This is the final play in August Wilson’s epic 10-play cycle, chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century. Harmond Wilks, an Ivy League-educated lawyer with an educated and ambitious wife, wants to redevelop a poverty-stricken section of Pittsburgh. He is also preparing to enter the 1997 mayoral race to become Pittsburgh’s first black mayor. Suddenly another world intrudes when the owner of an old mansion at 1839 Wylie refuses to give up his home and make room for the development. It turns out that the house at 1839 Wylie has a more significant past than Harmond or his investors could have imagined.

Presidents Clinton, Bush, Regan, Carter and Ford at the funeral of President Richard M. Nixon on April 27, 1994. - AP Photo

Presidents Clinton, Bush, Regan, Carter and Ford at the funeral of President Richard M. Nixon on April 27, 1994. – AP Photo

Five Presidents
Tucson: Jan. 10-31
Phoenix: Feb. 5-22
Arizona Theatre Company

The eagerly anticipated world premiere by Rick Cleveland, the Emmy Award-winning writer of The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Mad Men and House of Cards. It’s April 27, 1994, in Yorba Linda, California, and the five living current and former Presidents at that time — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — gather in a room to wait for the start of Richard Nixon’s funeral. A loving, witty and touching speculation on what may have happened at this true-life event, Five Presidents wrestles with life, getting older and, of course, politics.

Lombardi
Jan. 23-March 15
Desert Stages Theatre, Actor’s Café

It’s 1965, the Green Bay Packers are having a stellar season, and they’re on their way to the championship. Look Magazine reporter Michael McCormick wants to find out all he can about their amazing coach. In this critically acclaimed drama, Vince Lombardi is considered “the most imperfect, perfect man.”

The music of Billy Strayhorn is the focus of Black Theatre Troupe’s Conviction. - Photo courtesy of Robert Levi

The music of Billy Strayhorn is the focus of Black Theatre Troupe’s Conviction. – Photo courtesy of Robert Levi

Conviction
Feb. 6-22
Black Theatre Troupe

The year 2015 marks the centennial year of the genius that was Billy Strayhorn. His conviction to creating some of the world’s greatest music and to living his truth shaped his life and those around him. In this inventive new play, “a convict” performs songs for a select group of his fellow inmates as a reward for their individual accomplishments. In one evening he reminisces and performs songs that have enriched his life: the music of Billy Strayhorn.

The Heiress
Feb. 27-March 15
Theatre Artists Studio

This is a compelling, psychological tale of a young woman’s journey to win the affection of a distant and disappointed father, to experience the joys of romantic love and, ultimately, to discover her own place in the world. Suggested by the Henry James classic novel Washington Square and set in 1850, this production marks the first time The Studio has presented a 19th century period piece.

Classics

Photo by Mark Gluckman

Photo by Mark Gluckman

King John
Oct. 10-25
Southwest Shakespeare Company

Considered by many to be Shakespeare’s most underrated play, King John tells the thrilling story of the “game of thrones” that occurs upon the death of Richard the Lionheart. Filled with some of the most compelling characters Shakespeare ever penned, the play contains elements reminiscent of Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. As John desperately tries to hold onto power, the legitimacy of his reign is questioned by Constance, who asserts that her son, Arthur, is the true heir to the throne.

Romeo and Juliet

Tucson: Feb. 28-March 21
Phoenix: March 26-April 12
Arizona Theatre Company

ATC’s first-ever production of Shakespeare’s poetic masterpiece, brimming with jealousy, prejudice, betrayal and the chance that true love could actually conquer all. This breathtaking telling of the timeless tale of the famous young lovers who will stop at nothing to be together in the midst of the warring world of the Capulets and Montagues.

Uncle Vanya
Feb. 27-March 21
Southwest Shakespeare Company

This new adaptation of Chekhov’s classic from critically acclaimed playwright Annie Baker brings colloquial language and a new intimacy to this internationally beloved story of human relationships and yearning. Written with the “goal of creating a version that sounds to our contemporary American ears the way the play sounded to Russian ears during the play’s first productions in the provinces in 1898,” Ms. Baker’s Uncle Vanya introduces 21st century audiences to Chekhov’s enduring wit, insight and emotional depth.


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