Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Broadway in Tucson Review: 'Blue's Big Play'

Bolstered with impressive puppetry and generous interactivity, "Bluey's Big Play" manages to connect with its preschool audience while helping parents see through the eyes of their youngsters.

A thoroughly entertaining, 45-minute, one-act experience, the show draws chuckles and cheers.

Adapted from the Aussie show, available on Disney+, about a mischievous Blue Heeler dog and her family, the series delivers gentle lessons on manners and morals while providing colorful, relatable entertainment.

The play understands its audience and caters to the needs of parents with short-attention span youngsters. Far different from a typical stuffy night at the theater, the actors and their characters encourage the audience to express themselves as the show unfolds.

The plotline, in which Bluey and her sister swipe their dad's phone in order to convince him to spend more time playing with them, also has pointed parenting advice. Surely, twinges of sympathetic guilt went down the spines of moms and dads who recall moments spent glued to their devices rather than taking part in the fleeting moments of childhood.

"Bluey's Big Play" helps remedy such guilt. The thrill and sheer joy of watching your little one get one of their first glimpses at theater is priceless.

"Bluey's Big Play" plays through Jan. 25 at Centennial Hall. For tickets, click here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Broadway in Tucson Review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

As a stirring rumination on childhood memories and moral foundations, as well as the kernel of the push for introspection that would shove the Deep South from Antebellum oblivion to the skirts of the Civil Rights movement, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a substantial and powerful story renewed as a passionate play.

Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's source material is powerful and vibrant, if a little long-winded for its own good. The flourishes he adds and moments he subtracts tend to revitalize the novel, adapting it to the 21st century. 

Wielding a convincing cocktail of accent and mannerisms Melanie Moore thrives as Scout, the show's heart and soul as well as the projection of innocence that the surrounding characters strive to protect.

Most of the grandiose moments, of course, go to Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch. Channeling the delivery of Jeff Daniels in Sorkin's "The Newsroom," he stands in for the auteur's take on the conflicted moral crusader, who struggles with his tendency to favor passivity, weighed against his demands to topple injustice with all his might.

Steven Lee Johnson is a meek, aloof presence as a note-perfect Dill, and Justin Mark conjures a boastful Jem, making up for his insecurities with a feigned imitation of what he perceives to be manhood.

Also standing out is a stately performance by an autoritative David Manis as Judge Taylor, as well as the scene-stealing bubbling angst of Yaegel T. Welch as falsely accused rapist Tom Robinson and Jacqueline Williams as suppressed-rage simmering servant Calpurnia.

Several of the monologues boom with such power and precision that the audience reacted with spontaneous applause. At times, the court drama lifts to the raucous vibrance of a basketball game. When the judge bellows "All rise," it's not necessary. The spiritual effects of the play, accented by the music, lift spirits so high that the legs can't help but follow.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" plays at Centennial Hall through Jan. 22. Buy tickets here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Broadway in Tucson Review: 'Annie'

Bursting with smiles, good cheer and relentless optimism in the face of dire circumstances, "Annie" is the spoon full of sugar needed for those who fear we are teetering on the brink of a recession.

Joyous and energetic, the Depression-era musical is powered by cast chemistry and energetic showmanship. More than in most musicals, the pounding orchestrations from the pit flow into the audience, setting up the succession of show-stopping numbers for enrapturing triumph.

Ellie Rose Pulsifier powers the show with a rambunctious, effervescent title role performance, and she's complemented aptly by a crankily crusty turn by Stefanie Londino as corrupt orphanage manager Miss Hannigan.

Christopher Swan brings the necessary hard edge as Oliver Warbucks, the millionaire benefactor who takes Annie in as a publicity ploy. Julia Nicole Hunter, as Warbucks' assistant, Grace, provides a buffer as Warbucks power through his character arc, which is central to Annie's story and reflects the impact of her audacious good cheer.

Also making an impact is Nick Bernardi as conman Rooster Hannigan and Mark Woodard as President Franklin Roosevelt, who gets the idea for the New Deal in a meeting with the sprightly orphan.

Even though many of the plot points in "Annie" don't age well -- there are unwelcome hints of grooming and questionable relationship dynamics -- the spirit of the show manages to shine through the decades.

"Annie" radiates innocence and joy, and its charm makes it easy to take down your walls and let the good feelings flow. The show is every bit as ineffable as its fire-headed lead character. 

Annie plays through Jan. 8 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Book Report: "The Sound and the Fury"

The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shifting through perspectives, narrative styles and timelines through a lively, innovative narrative, William Faulkner paints an intriguing, mystery-laden portrait of a Southern artistocratic family imploding from within.

While the disjointed nature of the material makes it tough to keep pace with the narrative, the story unfolds in the manner of a puzzle, with often satisfying conclusions set up by a steady trickle of hints.

Faulkner's immense talents are on display throughout, but his storytelling methods are jarring and often exhausting. The novel is worthy of study and analysis, but it's so brutal that I left feeling punished and exhausted.

A classic that is worth the effort while not wholly satisfying, I recommend the book for someone looking for a readerly challenge to kick off the new year.

View all my reviews