Review of the First Half of the 2014/15 Theater Season

Theater Review – February 2, 2015

This review aired on KBAQ February 2, 2015


As the first half 2014/15 Valley Theater Season ends, let’s review the Valley theater scene and I will point out significant trends.

The biggest catastrophe was the death of our longtime professional theater company, Actors Theatre.  Around for years but never financially secure, Actors Theatre had often hollered the end was near but last minute pledges always saved them.  Not this time.  Long a fixture at the prestigious Herberger Theater Center, the beginning of the end started a few seasons back when the company left the Herberger.  It looked like they had found a home at the Black Theatre Troupe’s new downtown Phoenix facility but scarce financial resources couldn’t support their professional productions.

While Actors Theatre death is bad, the brightest spot locally is with major American musicals.  At ASU Gammage, Colleen Jennings Roggensack has carefully crafted a venue that presents the best of current Broadway musicals that tour.  Years ago, Phoenix rarely saw major Broadway touring productions.  Now Jennings Roggensack has made the annual ASU Gammage Broadway season an important stop on any national Broadway musical tour.  When the touring shows stop at ASU Gammage, they consistently earn some of the highest weekly grosses for any tour stop so New York producers now fight for a place on the local Broadway season and we see most major Broadway touring musicals.

But big musicals in impressive productions are not the exclusive domain of ASU Gammage.  When Michael Barnard returned to Phoenix from a show business career with Walt Disney, he elevated and changed Phoenix Theatre into a major three theater campus that produces brilliant local productions of major Broadway musicals that are usually as good as Broadway productions.

Arizona Theatre Company has experienced its share of financial and artistic struggles in the past few seasons but has ironed out most of its problems because of a resourceful Board and strong artistic leadership and has settled back into presenting prime professional productions of new and classic theatrical works.

Peoria’s community theater, Theater Works, is making a transition like Phoenix Theatre into using some professional actors in its shows and crafting better productions.  Finally, our two scappy but never complacent theaters – Stray Cat Theatre and Nearly Naked Theatre – produce the best off-beat shows from the fringes of the theater community.  Without these two always innovative and usually well-produced theater companies, Valley theatergoers wouldn’t get to see the unusual and always interesting shows these companies feature.

The Valley theater scene has come a long way since I arrived here in 1979.  At that time, I traveled often to the west and east coasts to keep up with popular theater. Now, Valley theater is loaded with rich opportunities as we evolve into a significant theater city.

One Response to “Review of the First Half of the 2014/15 Theater Season”

  1. Jennifer Doering said:

    Feb 05, 15 at 15:24

    I’d like to add a few more shout-outs to your list! ASU’s Lyric Opera Theater has put on some great shows in the last few years, from operettas to Reefer Madness, including this year’s Children of Eden which got a nod from the Kennedy Center.

    Then there are two small troupes making names for themselves, Class 6 Theatre, now in Mesa, always professional and producing new stagings of quality works (Sylvia and How I Learned to Drive going on now, I think). And the young Brelby theater in Glendale, if they were in New York, people would call them edgy and amazing, since they’re in Glendale, they get quirky and hard-working, but it’s new theater and it’s in Arizona!