Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Arizona Theatre Company Review: "Cabaret"

A bold and brash rumination on humanity's capacity for freedom, joy, lust and evil, "Cabaret" is a psychosexual explosion of a musical that sets out to disrupt the status quo.

If you'd think it would lose its edge after five decades, you'd be wrong.

Arizona Theatre Company's production reinvigorates playwright Joe Masteroff's artistic voice, joined with Bob Fosse's sense of electric movement. The story set in 1930s Berlin is every bit as relevant and poignant a mirror of 2019 Tucson. Or Moscow. Or Mar-a-Lago.

The tale of a dive sex club's gradual loss of spirit and soul in the backdrop of the Nazi takeover lulls you into a hypnotic flow of garish entertainment, only to sock you in the stomach with twists and revelations brought on by the knocking on the door from the outside world. It's a story of the loss of idealism and humanity's ability to rationalize any indignity as a necessity of day-to-day survival.

As thought-provoking as the show may be, it's never short of an Atomic fireball-flavored fun. Director Sara Bruner keeps every corner of the stage crackling with intoxicating movement and exhilarating sound.

Standouts among the superb cast include Michelle Dawson as the sultry Fraulein Kost, Sean Patrick Doyle as the lithe, naughty emcee, Madison Micucci as falling star Sally Bowles and David Kelly as the dark, subtly domineering Herr Schultz.

An able ensemble, which includes acrobatic performances from Shaun-Avery Williams, Tatumn Zale, Lisa Kuhnen, Spence Ford, Xander Mason and Antonia Raye, share a uniform brilliance and barely-restrained energy that resonates throughout the audience. Jaclyn Miller's seductively vigorous choreography keeps everyone busy.

A phantasmagorical explosion of sultry indulgence, boundary-blurring sexuality and cross-cultural  blending, "Cabaret" is a gasp-inducing rumination of a society's willful descent from freedom to tyranny. It's also a savage indictment against the flaccid defense of ignorance as an excuse not to stand up to the sight of liberty swirling the drain.

"Cabaret" plays in Tucson through Dec. 29, then moves to Phoenix from Jan. 4-Jan. 26. For more information and tickets, click here.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Book Report: "No Better Friend"

No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWIINo Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII by Robert Weintraub
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Weintraub crafts a story tailor-made for movie adaptation. An inspirational and often devastating tale of survival despite onerous odds, "No Better Friend" is a captivating travelogue about a British sailor and his trusty dog.

Avoiding flowery descriptions and overdramatization in favor of economical, understated storytelling, Weintraub goes beyond his considerable research to place you inside the minds of his human and canine protagonists.

Through captivity in prison camps, long, harrowing voyages via sea and marches and cutthroat combat, the heroes endure, overcoming starvation, exhaustion and flagging hope in order to strive to see the next day.

A workmanlike profile in courageous friendship and sacrifice in the face of looming doom, this is a powerful historical document that doubles as a resounding fable, the novel is a triumphant accomplishment.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Jesus Christ Superstar"

You can't go wrong with "Jesus Christ Superstar" during Christmas season.

The creative team could be excused for soft-pedaling and hitting the easy marks, well-established by decades of success.

Director Timothy Sheader, however, isn't content with the status quo, and instead adds a fresh take on the classic, injecting it with fresh, vibrant energy that makes it seem as new as it must have during its initial run.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" is peak Andrew Lloyd Webber. Thumping, rhythmic music pulses through the audience, and the performers expend maximum energy, leaving every ounce of their exertion on the floor with beet-faced abandon.

The latest touring production does away with the 70s rock opera aesthetic for a grungier, 1990s mosh pit-style feel. Drew McOnie's raw, charismatic choreography gives the tone a rustic elegance that blends with the aesthetic.

Above all, the refreshed take on the production makes the story Judas's personal story of anguish, divided loyalty and resentful fatalism. James Delisco Beeks commands the show in the role, belting out his songs with the gusto of Aaron Burr in "Hamilton."

Not to be upstaged, topknot-donning Aaron LaVigne thrives in the given lead role, leveling the audience with a rockstar performance that adds a welcome masculinity to the traditionally milquetoast interpretations.

Jenna Rubaii completes the masterful lead trio as Mary, delivering heartbreaking renditions of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Everything's Alright."

A passion play in both the traditional and emotional senses, the production revitalizes "Jesus Christ Superstar," somehow making the show even better than you remembered with a vigor that could be described as heaven-sent.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" plays through Sunday at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Monday, December 02, 2019

"Where the Water Tastes Like Wine" Switch Review

"Where the Water Tastes Like Wine" speaks to a sense of cultural fabric that makes up Americana, the joy of road trips and the historical texture that blends together to coalesce into culture.

Less a video game than a branching-paths graphic novel, the narrated text-heavy journey provides a barebones narrative structure to a succession of short stories. You travel an overworld, meeting eccentric characters along the way who spill their yarns, which you collect and deploy in the manner that you would currency and items in a traditional RPG.

After releasing on PC in February, the adventure game makes its way to Switch, where it's a natural fit for handheld mode. You can practically feel the dog-eared pages yellowing in the virtual paperback, and can just about taste the dust kicking up from the trail, as well as the pleasant sting of sunshine as you meander along your rocky paths.

Developer Serenity Forge takes an eccentric concept and plays it out to the defiant extreme, caring little about pacing or a cohesive plot. The threadbare narrative hook places you on the losing end of a poker game to a diabolical yet sagely wolf figure, who commands you to collect yarns from the road in order to redeem your freedom.

The joys of the game come not in advancing the storyline, but from bathing in the eclectic tales the game is stuffed with. A short story showcase disguised as a game, "Where the Water Tastes Like Wine" is every bit as poetic and obtuse as its title.

I crave offbeat experiences such as this, and if the premise intrigues you, you'll no doubt find yourself just as entranced by the strange marvels the game offers. Just a few sips will work up a fine buzz that will only have you craving more.

Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: 5 Shows to Binge in December 2019

For my full post, click here.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

"Strange Telephone" Review

Since the telegraph introduced the prospect of long-distance communication, humanity has wrestled with the juxtaposition of isolation and instant connectivity.

The advent of the telephone and internet brought different media into the equation, further muddying the landscape, and presenting opportunities for romance, exploration and horror.

Developer HZ3 Software's "Strange Telephone" uses the awkward communication conundrum and mines it for its branching storytelling potential. A port of the 2D adventure game released on PC in January, the oddly entrancing "Strange Telephone' dials up the Switch.

Taking on the role of Jill, you are trapped in darkness. Her one outlet to the outside is Graham, a sentient digital assistant and telephone she uses to solve, cause and ruminate on all her problems.

You use Graham to enter various realms, each of which contains puzzles that unlock items you can use to unlock new passageways. With the end goal of finding your way through the dark labyrinth to make your way home, you sink into the increasingly murky cross-dimensional catacombs.

While the puzzle difficulty ranges from insultingly simplistic to find-me-a-walkthrough-right-now impenetrable, the storytelling remains consistent enough to keep pulling you along.

Appealingly offbeat, the one-note tale leans on its intrigue to draw you back for multiple playthroughs to see where different choices take you. A slim, spirited package, "Strange Telephone" keeps you guessing as you meander your way through its sprawling telephonic web.

Publisher provided review code.