Dames at Sea (Okay, Across from the Water Tower) at Gilbert's Hale Centre Theatre Will Shuffle Its Way Into Your Heart

Sam Miller
Not just Dames at Sea, but sailors, too! Yum. Kate E. Cook leads Vinny Chavez (left) and Julian Peña back to good times, while Emily Giauque Evans has their six and Tedd Glazebrook (right foreground) remains doubtful.
The setup: Before sometime in the 1940s, American musical theater consisted of just a buttload of singing and dancing, reasons to look at women's exposed legs, and no particular attempt at character or storytelling. During the Great Depression, movies were an affordable, diverting novelty, and the more implausibly cheerful and uplifting the plots, the better we liked them. So the Busby Berkeley style of extravaganza (which did add a tiny bit of narrative, conveniently about show business, generally) filled the silver screen like implausible giant cupcakes in a glass case.

Flash forward to the mid-1960s in Manhattan. Rodgers and Hammerstein have changed everything. Fiddler on the Roof is somewhere in the middle of what will be its first 3,242 performances. We're mere months or a couple of years out from shows like Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Oh! Calcutta! Counterculture sentiment and avant-garde expression are erupting everywhere. But a team of spunky troupers in a Greenwich Village club put together a literally cheap, six-person parody of those '30s tuners called Dames at Sea. It starred newcomer Bernadette Peters, it became a bona fide off-Broadway hit, and you can see it now at Hale Centre Theatre on Mondays and Tuesdays only -- not your usual theater nights.

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Scottsdale's Theatre Artists Studio Revives And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little

Mark Gluckman
From left, Dee Rich and Maureen Dias pause between past and future in And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little.
The setup: Many of the best off-Broadway theaters are clubs of a kind: like-minded artists who've come together to form a company that produces the kind of work they value, to joyfully challenge their skills, to share the results with audiences in a meaningful way. If you've spent years doing and/or watching theater in the Phoenix area, it's natural to be suspicious of any arts enterprise that people purchase memberships or pay dues or fees to participate in (especially if you've been a child actor or stage parent), but exploitation is not the nature of Theatre Artists Studio -- it's more New York-style in its mission and operations -- and its members' devotion is what makes the shows so darn good. The directors cast the member actors quite a bit; that's part of the point. But the company also works routinely with theater artists who aren't members, and the cross-pollination is good for everybody.

The Studio also brings us interesting plays we don't get to see often, and its current offering, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, presented here as a longish one-act, is the second best-known play by Paul Zindel, who won a Pulitzer for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. The man sure could write a quirky, memorable title. Zindel, raised by hardworking women after his father left the family, also had a firm grasp on the pain, humor, and absurdity of female-led families (and human behavior in general) and the way that intimate, complex conflicts play out.

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Around the World in 80 Days in Downtown Phoenix in a Couple of Hours, from Arizona Theatre Company

Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company
From left, Mark Anders, Bob Sorenson, and Jon Gentry hew to the timetable in Around the World in 80 Days.
The setup: If you're fans of some of the Valley's best theater artists, it's both delightful and reassuring when they get particularly good jobs like a gig with Arizona Theatre Company, which is a nice bump in pay, visibility, and production values. Around the World in 80 Days is our opportunity to see the work of several of our favorites in a smart, charming, slightly tongue-in-cheek stage adaptation of Jules Verne's classic-yet-popular novel.

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Don't Dress for Dinner Is a Farce to Be Reckoned with at Desert Foothills Theater

Kyle C. Greene
They didn't dress. Why should you? From left, Melissa Powers, Glenn Parker, Diane Senffner, and Roger Prenger in Don't Dress for Dinner
The setup: Madcap, whirlwind, and sexy, the farce is the perfect form of theater to revive the pants off of during recovery from an economic recession. As I recall, if you do it right, an illicit relationship can be one of the most affordable diversions ("We can't go out; people might see us!") -- but it's really the silliness that's the point. People hiding their actual or prospective side dishes from their significant others: the suspense!

So Marc Camoletti's Boeing Boeing, which eventually became a Tony Curtis movie about a man who easily juggled engagements to three international stewardesses until planes got faster in the early '60s, has made a second round in this century from Broadway all the way out to people like us. And another of Camoletti's scripts (he wrote a great many, but most have not been translated from French yet), Don't Dress for Dinner, is currently going strong 20 years after its American première that never got out of New Jersey. The West End revival ran six years, and now, on the heels of 2012's New York production, Desert Foothills Theater in Carefree gives us a nice big serving of crazy.

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New Musical National Pastime at Peoria's Theater Works: Hit, Run, and Score Mean Different Things Onstage

Grads Photography
From left, Alanna Kalbfleisch, Sarah Wolter, and Joe Kremer in National Pastime
The setup: Three American cities have hosted "tryout" productions this season of National Pastime, a new musical with an interesting little history and a super-adorable, relatively plausible premise. Its creators continue to project optimism about its suitability for Broadway, or at least they did before it opened at Theater Works.

Much better shows than this have closed within days of opening on Broadway, so I think the production team would have to kidnap someone really important to raise the necessary $9 million they estimate needing -- but that doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch in its current incarnation.

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The Sickie Bunch from The [SIC] [sic] [∞] Sense: Perfectly Repulsive

courtesy of The [SIC] Sense
The setup: For The [SIC] Sense's third show in its new home in the Basement Theatre at Phoenix Center for the Arts, the sketch comedy troupe takes a break from transitioning new cast members in and welcomes back Kristie Cowles, a one-woman ninja patrol of comic anarchy. About half of the sketches are about some kind of sex (sometimes it's hard to tell), and while that alone doesn't make the show inappropriate for children, it's promoted as containing "adult themes," and parenthood is challenging enough without explaining, any sooner than you have to, women with fake penises (let alone real ones) hanging out of their jeans or how to play Fuck, Marry, or Kill.

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iTheatre Collaborative & ASU West's The Submission at Downtown Phoenix's Kax Stage: Identity Politics on an Intimate Scale

courtesy of iTheatre Collaborative
From left, Richard Bates, Nicole Belit, and Randy Rice in The Submission
The setup: Like Danny, the hero of his currently popular play The Submission, writer Jeff Talbott is a Yale Drama School grad who's finished a handful of full-length scripts that haven't really gone anywhere -- until now. (Talbott does have a festival reading of his newest work, A Public Education, scheduled at Salt Lake City's Pioneer Theatre Company this weekend if you happen to be there.) What's a great relief to audiences of normal people is that The Submission isn't really a navel-gazing story about a bunch of Ivy League-educated theater folk; it's about how far a person might go once he's taken the exit to Bad Idea Town because the needle's on empty.

When iTheatre Collaborative had trouble casting By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, the play it had announced for this slot in the 2013-14 season, they were able to get the rights to The Submission. Staged with support from iTheatre's frequent collaborative partner, ASU West's School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, the show is provocative, funny, troublesome, and a good fit for the troupe's mission of inclusive multiculturalism.

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Teatro Bravo!'s Clock: Script Runs Slow Despite Nuclear Latina Power

courtesy of Teatro Bravo!
From left, Sandy Leon and Victoria Servin in Clock
The setup: In her diverse 30+-year career, writer-comedian-educator-activist Monica Palacios, a.k.a. the Surfer Chola, has not written a whole lot of plays (though she's helped others make hundreds of theater pieces) -- she's more of a lecturer, standup/solo performance artist, blogger, essayist, and magazine-style journalista making queer Latinahood something that's about including each community in the other. Complexity, fluidity, fun, humor, visibility, respect, all that.

But between 1998 and 2005, after being awarded a fellowship in playwriting from L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum, she developed Clock, a play about a lesbian Latina couple contemplating parenthood via alternative insemination. Phoenix's Teatro Bravo! has wanted to produce the show for some time, it's finally happening this season in a world première mounting, and four performances remain.

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South Pacific at Mesa's The Palms Dinner Theatre Is a Little Tame but Holds Up Well

courtesy of The Palms Theatre
Bloody Mary (Debra Thaïs Evans) surrounded by our fighting men, in South Pacific
The setup: 1949's South Pacific, based on a few of the stories in James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, is Rodgers & Hammerstein's third big show to completely change the face of the American musical (a genre that typically had made even less sense before). Instantly both a blockbuster hit and breaking controversial ground with its anti-racism theme -- which suggested white people might not just want to tolerate Asians (in this particular case), but also sex up, love, marry, reproduce with, and be proud of them as significant others and family members -- the show won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and 10 Tonys, and the 1958 film version still holds a box-office record in the UK, where it ran for years. And if your parents or grandparents didn't have the soundtrack on vinyl, I'm very surprised.

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Other Desert Cities from Arizona Theatre Company -- a Funny, Miserable Surprise

Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company
Paige Lindsey White and Will Mobley in Other Desert Cities
The setup: Since 2014 began, it seems we theatergoers have faced down an awful lot of family dysfunction depicted on Valley stages -- especially if you count The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth, which one probably should. You ought to hang in there for one more real masterpiece, though -- Jon Robin Baitz' 2012 Other Desert Cities, in the final week of its production by Arizona Theatre Company.

The buzz about this show has been strong, and I couldn't figure out why. Though the script was shortlisted for both a Tony and a Pulitzer, it didn't win. Baitz is a creator of television (Brothers & Sisters). Cities is supposed to be terribly witty and largely about the contemporary American political landscape. It didn't sound like the kind of thing the audiences I know would get excited about -- I mean, a lot of you/us do, but not huge crowds of subscribers-to-ATC sort of people. I thought.

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