“Pluto” – Stray Cat Theatre and “Follies” – Theater Works

This review aired on KBAQ February 23, 2015



Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center

Tempe, AZ

An exciting weekend of theater brought two stellar shows to the Valley for the first time.  Stray Cat Theatre’s vibrant staging of Steve Yockey’s new play “Pluto” exposes a dysfunctional family and the impacts a weird lifestyle has on a mother, her son, his girlfriend, and the family’s three-headed dog is a winner.

Theater Works presents the first local production of Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical masterpiece “Follies.”  The musical tells about a quartet of former musical theater performers who exist in their past lives as stars because reality didn’t turn out as planned.  Theater Works disappointing production fails to capture this show’s disturbing complexity and doesn’t bring the show’s elaborate production numbers to lush life.

“Pluto” explores mother Elizabeth, son Bailey, his girlfriend Maxine, and the family dog as the distanced Mother tries to reconnect with her son.  It’s been so long since the pair communicated so that challenge proves impossible.  What a statement about communication’s importance.

Artistic Director Ron May stages “Pluto” with a taunt lunacy that vividly realizes the small family’s weird take on life and how it impacts them.  May brings out fine performances from Neda Tavassoli as the mother, Elizabeth, Cole Brackney as her rebellious son, Bailey, and Yolanda London’s masterful take on the family dog who is the most logical thinker on stage.  “Pluto” continues through March 7 at Tempe Performing Arts Center.  For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-227-1766 or order tickets online at www.straycattheatre.org.

Grade: C


Theater Works, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts

Peoria, AZ

“Follies” is Sondheim’s masterpiece and it is one of the most difficult musicals to produce.  The extremely complex characters require superb singer/dancers to perform the telling emotional songs and execute the extravagant follies numbers that made these performers stars.  The show requires two looks, one is the stark reality of the performers failed lives, while the other must bring the elaborate follies routines to life.  The show’s disappointing design fails to bring either the crumbling reality of the once grand theater these performers called home to life and the showy Loveland numbers that feature the former follies stars in their superficial numbers are drably handled.

Without a vibrantly beautiful production, the musical numbers fall flat and although the performers sing well, they fail to bring these complex characters to believable life.  Only the superb orchestra brings the rich score to melodic life.  Theater Works earns two stars out of five because the production misses so many of “Follies” essentials.  Theatergoers who never saw the original “Follies” will wonder why musical theater aficionados have made this show a classic.  It continues through March 15th.  For tickets, call the Theater Works box office at 623-815-7930 or order tickets online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: D