Valley actor and director ‘noises off’

Lizabeth came home from school on Thursday with an interesting “to do” list–gather info for a community service project, return borrowed books to her voice teacher, and pick a night to see “Noises Off” at Phoenix Theatre. Such is the life of a senior theater arts major.

"Noises Off" runs Aug 25-Sept 12 at Phoenix Theatre

It reminded me that “Noises Off” will open Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season this week–and that associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, who’ll appear in the fabulous farce, recently did some of his own ‘noising off’ as we discussed trends in musical theater.

“Musical theater has always reflected the temperament of the culture at hand,” observes Harper. The ’50s were a sort of golden era with a “happy, feel good focus.”

During the ’60s, “our thinking as a culture became less linear because of Vietnam.” As the ’70s ushered in new styles of popular music, Sondheim brought us the first “concept musical”–called “Company.”

"3 Redneck Tenors" runs Sept 29-Oct 17 at Phoenix Theatre

Today a good story isn’t enough, reflects Harper. A good musical must also consider “the human condition.”

“As our culture has grown up,” says Harper, “musical theater has gotten more thoughtful.”

Many of today’s musicals, such as “American Idiot,” are “used as instruments to get across a particular point of view.” Sometimes, notes Harper, the stories get a little bit boring.

"Hairspray" runs Nov 10-Dec 12 at Phoenix Theatre

Harper says he enjoyed seeing “American Idiot” in New York (“there was some amazing lighting”) although he confesses to wishing someone would just turn the music down a tad. (I hear you.)

So what of today’s musical theater landscape? “We have a little bit of everything,” reflects Harper. “Musical theater is becoming incredibly artistic because everybody is diversifying.” Think “Spring Awakening” and “[title of show].”

"No Way to Treat a Lady" runs Jan 12-30 at Phoenix Theatre

As we question ourselves more on issues like war and sexuality, we see those struggles reflected in works of musical theater. “The point of view of the underdog is more popular than it used to be,” adds Harper.

Another trend? The use of on-stage cameras, huge screens and other technology. It’s due in part, says Harper, to the growing influence of multi-media in all parts of American culture.

Musical theater is growing in popularity as it’s being developed by younger and younger artists, observes Harper.

He cites the musical “Rent” as an example–noting that it was “the first one in years that was a huge hit by an unknown.”

"Avenue Q" runs Feb 23-March 20 at Phoenix Theatre

“Now it happens all the time,” muses Harper. He describes “Avenue Q,” which Phoenix Theatre will present Feb 23-March 20 of next year, as a prime example.

Still, many seasoned musicals continue to attract new audiences. Harper recalls being struck by the incredibly long line of patrons waiting to see “The Phantom of the Opera” last time he hit New York.

“Lots of people still haven’t seen it,” notes Harper. “I don’t care if that’s all they see–because the point is that they tried it.”

I’m reminded of Lizabeth’s first trip to DC and NYC, during which fellow travelers were thrilled to see “Phantom” on Broadway while Lizabeth and a fellow student made their way to the Booth Theater to experience “Next to Normal.”

It’s all good, I suppose.

"Nine" runs April 13-May 8 at Phoenix Theatre

After all, reflects Harper, many Broadway visitors will return home to support their local community theaters.

Soon the Valley’s many theater companies (including Phoenix Theatre, Arizona’s oldest) will open their 2010-2011 seasons. They’ll offer everything from classic to contemporary, giving us all a bit of Broadway–and beyond.

To enjoy an insider’s look at Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season, and your own conversation with associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, you can enjoy “A Noises Off Tea” at The Ritz-Carlton Phoenix, featuring an exclusive opportunity to chat with Harper about his role in the comedic play “Noises Off” and more.

The event takes place at noon on Wed, Sept 1, and costs $35. Phoenix Theatre promises ‘no sardines, but a lovely English Tea.’ For reservations, call 602-468-0700.

Prepare those dialing fingers and pointed pinkies…

–Lynn

Note: You can double the fun by seeing Harper and others perform in “Noises Off” live at Phoenix Theatre and renting the 1992 film version of “Noises Off” starring Michael Caine and Carol Burnett (direction by Peter Bogdanovich). Other comedies coming soon to the Valley include “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Mesa Arts Center, Aug 27-Sept 12) and “The Kitchen Witches” (Tempe Center for the Arts, Sept 17-Oct 3).

Coming soon: Focus on fall festivals, Music and dance with William Shakespeare, “Eat Pray Love”–museum style

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