“Happy Birthday Dionne” The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – November 14, 2020


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Courtyard, Central United Methodist Church
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

The pandemic has translated into no live theater.  Virtual productions on computer screens aren’t equivalent because theater is something shared with others in an auditorium.  Lacking that dimension, it is not the same experience.  Local theater has been dark since March and Broadway and touring shows will remain closed until June at the earliest.

The Phoenix Theatre Company was anxious to bring back safe live theater.  So TPTC looked beyond its three theater indoor complex and, in cooperation with the Central United Methodist Church located just north of TPTC, a new theater space was born outdoors in the Church courtyard.

To open the venue, TPTC booked a musical concert dedicated to singer Dionne Warwick and celebrating her 80th birthday.  Called “Happy Birthday Dionne,” it is performed by two top-notch singers and five instrumentalists.  The resulting show is not really theater but is a pleasant tribute to the great pop singer featuring a dozen of her well known hit tunes.  The show does not impersonate Warwick; the ensemble just performs the tunes admirably with minimal staging.

Singers Renee Patrick and Diana Lee roll their luxurious voices over the songs while local legend Nicole Pesce jams instrumentals on her rockin’ piano and synthesizer, along with Suzanne Lansford’s mean violin, Mel Brown’s sultry bass, Greg Warner’s steady drum beat, and Joe Garcia shaking percussion that back up the singers with beautiful renditions of the songs.  It is quite the ensemble and they all do their parts to make this musical journey through Warwick’s career hits a vibrant honor to the singer.

There are some nice instrumentals between the songs.  And although Warwick had a long career with many hits, the selections used include Warwick’s most recognizable like “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “What The World Needs Now,” “Do You Know The Way to San Jose,” and “That’s What Friends Are For” among others.  Pesce does a rich arrangement of several Warwick songs in a breezy medley.

Drummer Greg Warner played with Warwick and tells a rambling story about almost missing one of her Australian performances that should be condensed.  The outdoor venue has been constructed with abundant of lighting possibilities all well used here and a fine sound system that amplifies everything perfectly while keeping nearby Central Avenue noise at bay.  Seating is on uneven grass so walking without falling is a challenge.  Chairs are hard plastic so bring cushions and restrooms are in the back and since the show is presented without intermission should be a stop before the performance begins.  There are no hard copy programs so you must use your Smartphone to check show credits and to order concessions which are efficiently delivered to your seat.  Tickets must also be downloaded to your phone.

The biggest challenge confronting the venue is the cool evening weather so dress warmly.  It got very chilly opening night.

The Phoenix Theatre Company has scheduled several shows in the outdoor venue through May when they hope they hope to return to their indoor facility.  For tickets to “Happy Birthday Dionne,” contact The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A-