“Unbeatable” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ August 11, 2008


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Torrential rains fell outside Phoenix Theatre during last Thursday’s final preview of the world premiere musical “Unbeatable.” But the stage inside was sizzling with this new triumph. The theme, breast cancer, isn’t the usual musical plot. But “Unbeatable” turns Tracy’s journey into a struggle between tragedy and discoveries about life’s real joys.

It deals sensitively with the disease’s dark and lonely side. You will cry frequently during Tracy’s courageous battle. “Unbeatable” brilliantly balances maudlin pathos with upbeat humor that gets Tracy through this challenge.

“Unbeatable” is based on Laurie Frey’s autobiographical story of her victory over breast cancer. Eric Coble crafts the exquisite book and Phoenix Theatre artistic director Michael Barnard brings the musical to a vibrant stage life. Todd Schroeder and Kevin Fisher wrote the winning songs that magnify Tracy’s emotional moments as well as the characters that walk with her through this battle.

The work began two years ago during Phoenix Theatre’s News Works Festival. After the local run, it moves to Houston’s Stages Repertory Theatre before its planned October 10 opening at New York’s off-Broadway New World Stages.

“Unbeatable’s” Tracy, Frey’s stage personification, is an intense, successful, and upwardly mobile career woman. Her climb has compromised her ability to see life around her. She steps on people and takes others, including her friends and husband, for granted. She ignores a breast lump for a year. Stage III cancer is the result. Tracy won’t give in to her cancer. She selects a difficult treatment that cripples her with side effects but she fights through an amazing “life trial” where her road to recovery opens her to new attitudes to those around her. She learns that “every moment counts,” an invigoratingly positive discovery.

Barnard’s impeccable production is perfection. An exquisite cast demonstrates dedicated enthusiasm, spunk, and energy as they become these characters.

Kristy Cates’ boundless gusto captures Tracy perfectly. Cates’ evolves as the cancer challenges her. Rarely will you see a performer become a character so completely. Janet Carroll plays Tracy’s caring Mom flawlessly as she becomes referee and judge during Tracy’s mock life trial. Kathleen Conry plays a starchy doctor and Tracy’s hard driving boss with standoffish compassion. John Ashley Brown is a sensitive Brad, Tracy’s initially unengaged husband who turns loving as he comprehends Tracy’s taxing journey. Maria-Christina Oliveras balances caring and pushy hardness as Ally, Tracy’s closest friend. The rest of the cast play a variety of co-workers, doctors, and technicians with commendable distinction.

An excellent trio plays the score with moving compassion and the dances and physical elements couldn’t be better.

“Unbeatable” is an amazing journey that’s sophisticated and accomplished. It should go on to great success. Don’t miss this gem that’s here only to August 24. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or go online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A