“Bullets Over Broadway” – Phoenix Theatre and “Native Son” – Stray Cat Theatre

Theater Review – March 13, 2017


Phoenix Theatre, Mainstage
Phoenix, AZ

An insightful “Native Son” produced superbly by Stray Cat Theatre is about a down-and-out young Chicago Black man in the 1930s, while a wondrous Phoenix Theatre staging of the musical version of Woody Allen’s 1994 movie comedy “Bullets Over Broadway,” present two diverse productions for local theatergoers.

When Woody Allen’s classic 1994 movie comedy, “Bullets Over Broadway,” was adapted into a musical, Susan Stroman’s Broadway production bombed.  The story is about David Shayne, a 1920s playwright, soured on producing his plays because Broadway ruins them.  When playwright Shayne finally gets to stage his own show, he must use his gangster/producer’s no talent actress/lover as his star.

A new score wasn’t composed as adapters used recognizable song hits to add musical comedy pizzazz to the story.  Like the original film, a successful production must include an over-the-top, razzle-dazzle extravaganza to make the story’s bizarre machinations evolve from overblown silliness into hysterical comedy.  Under Michael Barnard’s deft staging and utilizing the finest local singing and dancing comedians, the Phoenix Theatre production creates the necessary comic allure that was missing on Broadway.

I floated out of Phoenix Theatre on a laugh-filled high because of Barnard’s jazzy production, Sam Hay’s amusing dances, Robert Kovach’s ingeniously moving sets, and Cari Sue Smith’s gorgeous 20s fashions.  The large cast is perfection from Toby Yatso’s concerned playwright David Shayne, to campy Sally Jo Bannow’s hysterical, over-the-top star Helen Sinclair.  Michelle Chin delights as the show’s forced star, Olive Neal, Caleb Reese is an evil Cheech, the gangster/producer, while Trisha Hart Ditsworth turns Eden into a fun excursion because of the character’s dog, Mr. Woofles, who is played adorably by pooch Bennie.  “Bullets Over Broadway” even takes several hysterical jabs at theater critics.  “Bullets Over Broadway” continues through April 2.  To order tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 6602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A

Stray Cat Theatre, Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

“Native Son,” adapted from Richard Wright’s novel, paints a terrifying study of young Black man plagued by the problems of living in a rundown area of Chicago that implies a bad environment dooms.  Ron May’s finely staged production is blessed with a superbly engaging performance by Micah Jondel DeShazer as Bigger Thomas, the guy forced to fail after he kills a white woman in a flash of panic.  DeShazer’s performance grips audiences.  “Native Son” continues through March 25.  To order tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-227-1766 or order tickets online at www.straycattheatre.org.

Grade: A