“The Lion” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – October 23, 2022


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

As you enter the theater for Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Lion” the stage is a down home locale with five different guitars prominently displayed across the rear of the stage.  Each instrument will be used by agile star Max Alexander-Taylor playing Ben who sings 15 simple but catchy tunes used to describe his challenging relationship with his father, Rick.  The father heads an American home that also includes two brothers plus a British mother.

The show is crafted by Benjamin Scheuer as a memory of his difficult childhood as the musical relates the difficulties of growing up with Rick, a father who expects his son to follow life exactly as he approaches it.  Ben has greater expectations for a richer life. Like many children, Ben starts life closely tied to Rick until he begins to see that his father is far from perfect and that other positive things await resourceful people.  Details of what we learn about both characters and their complicated relationship would spoil the show for audiences.

The production is enhanced by the stellar joint staging of ATC artistic director Sean Daniels and Alex Stenhouse coupled with Alexander-Taylor.  This production premiered in London and is presented locally in conjunction with the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.  The short show is tightly constructed and never gets tedious with repetition.  The tunes provide an entrancing way for Ben to describe what could be dull life details.

One production problem.  Even though “The Lion” makes heavy use of microphones, there was dialogue that could not be heard and several audience members commented on the issue when leaving the performance.  “The Lion” continues through November 6 at the Herberger Theater Center.  Tickets may be obtained by calling the Arizona Theatre Company at 833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: A-

ATC has made two significant announcements.  As the only dual city theater company in the country, ATC begins its 55th season with the unpleasant notice that artistic director Sean Daniels will leave at the end of this season to become associate director of Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. The Florida company gains a great artistic leader and the ATC Board promises a thorough search to replace Daniels.

The other pronouncement is that the company will move next season from the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix to the Tempe Center for the Arts.  The Tempe Center has proved a challenging space for users and audiences.  ATC will be using a much larger venue then at the Herberger.  With many vacant seats at the opening night of “The Lion,” the bigger theater will require an expanded ticket selling campaign.  ATC claims much of its audience comes from the East Valley.

The seating capacity of the two theaters was relayed to me when the Center opened.  A check of the Center’s website shows that the information provided by Center staff was incorrect.  The large theater that ATC will use is 600 seats so it is smaller than Center Stage at the Herberger Theater Center.  Since there are many unsold seats when ATC uses the Herberger space, the smaller capacity at the Tempe Center for the Arts should prove better for ATC although selling more tickets to fill this smaller space should be a top priority for the Company.  The smaller Studio Theater seats only 220, another mistake presented by Center staff when the facility opened.

The Tempe Center is also damned by a terrible parking garage.  Not only is the lot a lengthy walk to the theaters but parking tickets are required mandating payments.  Handicapped parking is extremely limited coupled with the hike to the Center. You must park in the Center’s garage because no alternative parking exists.  It will be interesting to see how ATC solves these major challenges.