I attended two shows in Scottsdale this weekend — each with something of a harem theme. First, a community college production of a Shakespeare work. Next, a community youth theater production of a Disney tale. Those of you still searching for Halloween costume inspiration take note.
The Theatre Arts program at Scottsdale Community College is performing William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” through Sat, Oct. 29. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but director Randy Messersmith brings a unique twist to the work – setting the comedic escapade about the follies of love in ancient India rather than Athens.
Sets, costumes, music and props convey an “Arabian Nights” feel that keeps the play fresh even for those who’ve seen it performed countless times. With a little time spent on the storyline and characters before attending, it makes for a fun introduction to Shakespeare for teen audiences or those not terribly familiar with Shakespeare’s work.
I attended Friday night’s performance, and was especially impressed by one actor in particular – a recent theater graduate from the University of Arizona. Andy Cahoon, who performs the role of Lysander, has a firm grasp of Shakespeare’s language, delivering his lines comfortably and convincingly.
Sasha Wordlaw shines in seductress mode as she performs the role of fairy queen Titania, and Ryan Wetter’s Nick Bottom is a brilliant bit of buffoonery. Much of this production’s humor derives from movement choreographed by Karryn Allen that’s well executed by the entire cast.
The real stars of this production are two members of the design team, whose work elevates the feel of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to something akin to opera. The combination of scenic design by Kimb Williamson and lighting design by Paul Black does justice to the play’s reputation as a visual feast.
The SCC theater production students who tackled scenery construction for this one, as well as the electrical crew, deserve high praise for bringing the designers’ visions to life. I’m in awe of you, one and all.
I enjoyed costume designer Elizabeth Peterson’s work, but got a bit nervous when a pair of harem pants seemed to hit closer to the bikini line than the belly button. Maybe that’s just the mother in me talking.
The “Midsummer” mask work by Maren Maclean Mascarelli adds much to the show. I’ve seen this woman paper maché, and mold the human medium — and she’s fierce. SCC theater students are fortunate to study with her, and with Williamson and Messersmith too.
Greasepaint Youtheatre performs the kid-friendly musical “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” through Sun, Oct. 30. Whether the Scottsdale theater venue they call home is dubbed “Greasepaint Youtheatre” or “Stagebrush Theatre” depends on who you ask — but no matter, it’s got a perfectly-sized stage for serious productions.
“Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” is directed by Jodie Weiss, events specialist with Childsplay in Tempe. The musical is based on the screenplay by Ron Clementsand, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Jim Luig adapted the musical’s book and wrote additional lyrics.
But it’s the contributions of Alan Menken (who wrote the music), plus Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (who wrote the lyrics) that fans of musical theater most fervently praise. Best loved songs from the show include “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.”
I attended Sunday’s matinee performance, where the packed house included enthusiastic audience members of all ages. The cast delivered a high-energy performance full of dance, acrobatics, humor and song. Liz Grannis (Princess Jasmine) and Andrey Lull (Aladdin) are well matched as the romantic couple at the center of the story. Lull delivers both a strong vocal performance and a kiss complete with dip.
The script is full of humor — playing on words, adding new twists to songs well loved by the “yuppie generation” and sprinkling dialogue with fun expressions like “riff raff” some of us thought only our mothers were accustomed to using. Actors Jacob Stovall (Jafar), Amanda Rahaman (Genie) and Lexa Rose (Iago) are the perfect comedic trio.
Greasepaint’s production of “Aladdin Jr.” has the feel of a glorious piece of big musical theater — making good use of its large cast in the song and dance department, and adding a trio of live musicians whose performance on keyboard, drums, saxaphone and flute gets the joint jumpin’ with a jazzy big band vibe.
John Luke Osorio serves as musical director and Ariana Ziskin as choreographer. The artistic team boasts some impressive resumes. Josef Rahaman and Kris Rahaman did set and properties design. Nathalie Koyabe did costume design. Pete Bish did sound design. Andrea Williams serves as stage manager.
Lighting design is the work of Bob Nelson, who proves in the production that less can be more. His work is subtle, adding to the ambiance of Agrabah both day and night without screaming at the audience. Be prepared, when you attend, for moderate use of fog and strobe lights.
Part of this production’s charm is the number of very young cast members, who bring both talent and a serious dose of adorable. Two other actors deserve special mention — Thea Eigo in the role of Abu and Grace Elsie in the role of Magic carpet.
Still, the fun, fabulous feel of this show is a collective triumph for the entire cast and creative team. As I observed those involved in the show before, during and after Sunday’s performance — it was clear that Greasepaint Youtheatre understands the importance of theater as a team sport.
Note: Photos above feature (L to R) Andy Cahoon (Lysander), Paula Vasquez (Hermia), Kaylyn Riggs (Helena) and Chris Ellis (Demetrius) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Scottsdale Community College — and Andrey Lull (Aladdin), Liz Grannis (Princess Jasmine) and Grace Elsie (Flying carpet) in “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” at Greasepaint Youtheatre.
Coming up: Born to be blue?, Celebrating birthdays — theater style