“A Little Night Music” – Theater Works and “Don Juan in Chicago” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ March 19, 2012


Theater Works, Mary Jane Gyder Theater, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts
Peoria, AZ


The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Two very different theater productions are reviewed tonight revealing local theater’s diversity.  Peoria’s Theater Works tackles Stephen Sondheim’s beautiful “A Little Night Music” successfully while Nearly Naked Theatre mounts a disappointing staging of the weird “Don Juan in Chicago.”

Presenting a Sondheim musical challenges, but Theater Works’ exemplary “A Little Night Music” boasts artful singing in the David Vining directed production that keeps the convoluted story understandable.  This version seems influenced by the successful Broadway revival that starred Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  Although the local staging lacks the revival’s turntable that shifted the show’s myriad of locations easily, Vining’s concept moves like the revival.  The set changes glide about choreographically never allowing the production to lag.  Steve Hilderbrand’s stellar orchestra plays the waltz score stylishly as the musical explores love through Frederik, his still virginal wife, Anne, and his rekindled affair with fading actress Desiree Armfeldt.  Desiree’s now dowager mother, Madame Armfeldt, confined to a wheelchair, taught her to manipulate men.  Confrontations between Frederik and Desiree’s current paramour, Count Carl-Magnus, dot the story while Desiree’s daughter, Fredrika and Frederik’s insecure son, Henrik, complicate things.  Based on Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night,” everyone ends up with the right match.

Patty Nieman’s Desiree sings with touching sincerity, especially “Send in the Clowns,” bringing the right pathos to the multi-faceted character.  No less artful is Patti Davis Suarez’s Madame Armfeldt, a worldly woman past her prime.  Her “Liaisons” sums her wickedly resourceful skills with men.  Ken Goodenberger’s Frederik conveys his silly marriage to Anne and shows his devotion to Desiree.  Short of mentioning every performance, there isn’t a weak link anywhere.  Lush costumes and the sets enhance Theater Works winsome “A Little Night Music” continues through April 7 at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts.  For tickets, call the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts box office at 623-815-7930 or order tickets online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: A


Nearly Naked Theatre’s “Don Juan in Chicago” mixes up the Devil, as personified in Mephistopheles, to whom Faust or Don Juan here sells his soul for all knowing power and immortality.  In exchange for the power, Don Juan must successful bed a woman daily, a task that overtakes the eternity and knowledge he’s gained.  The production starts in 1599 in Spain and shifts to present day Chicago where Don Juan is exhausted.  It’s the typical unusual theater the company is known for but it grows wearisome as it takes an eternity to resolve.  The cast struggles with the play’s wacky implausibilities so it drags.  “Don Juan in Chicago” lacks the exuberant zaniness that transforms many of the off-kilter Nearly Naked shows to entertaining extravagances.  “Don Juan in Chicago” continues through March 31.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.nearlynakedtheatre.org.

Grade: D