You Can Dance, You Can Try, I Had The Time of my Life!

by Felíz Torralba

Set on an idyllic Greek island, 20 year old bride-to-be Sophie (Olivia Gainey) dreams of having her father give her away on her wedding day. Sophie invites three strangers discovered in her mother’s diary: Sam (Rafael Acuña), Harry (Evan Taylor) or Bill (Andrew Miller) who all might be her father. Sophie secretly invites the three men to her wedding with the hope that she will finally find out who her father is. When her mother, Donna (Thea Lancaster) sees the three men, she, with the help of her best friends and former singing partners Rosie (Gianbari Deebom) and Tanya (Shann Oliver), also tries to figure out what she will do with the sudden appearance of three former lovers. As complications ensue from the misunderstandings, Sophie and Sky’s (Eduardo Rodriguez) wedding and relationship may be jeopardized. While finding what is truly in their hearts, many may discover the course of true love. The best part: the story unfolds to the nostalgic and uplifting beats of ABBA!

The audience is primed for the story with a gorgeous musical overture (Mark Nelson, conductor). From this moment on, I knew that I would enjoy this performance solely based on the orchestra’s infectiously joyful sound. There was a whimsical, modern spin on the music that I enjoyed so much I could have listened to that and been satisfied. When the curtains lifted, I was immediately drawn to the simplistic architecture of this set (Todd Poelstra). There are two versatile pieces of what look like limestone structures with rusted iron rods and old, colorful wooden doors. This transported me straight to Greece and the island hotel where the story takes place. Scene changes were seamless and entertaining (this makes or breaks musicals in my opinion), and it was amazing that the versatility of the set allowed a dock, a chapel, a hotel, and different bedrooms to inhabit one stage.

The choreography (Mickey Nugent) is really one aspect of the show that blew me away the most. The show was choreographed as if the ensemble was one giant amoeba. Everybody hit every cue, each detail was articulated clearly, and each seemed like the moves came naturally to them. The movement supplemented the show so incredibly well and made me want to keep watching. I also think an element of the show that should not go unnoticed is the musical direction (Martha Reed). The cast knew how to HARMONIZE. This made their sound swelling; (literally) giving off good vibrations.

The Cast of Mamma Mia! Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

The Cast of Mamma Mia! Photo by Carol Carder, courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

One of my favorite performances of the night was the radiant Rafael Acuña, who portrayed Sam. Credit is very much due and deserved here. Acuña was romantic, paternal, showed impeccable vocal control and ability, and gave us a damn good Sam. This program is very lucky to have him and I would watch this performance again just to experience this young man of color perform. Thea Lancaster (Donna) acted as the glue that held this show together. Lancaster was balanced in all aspects of her performance and it was satisfying to watch. She was both playful and maternal, both harsh and sweet, youthful and womanly. I found her portrayal of Donna refreshing.

Unfortunately, I found Olivia Gainey’s Sophie to be insincere and sloppy    She was simply not mature enough to be Sophie, she did not look or sound like an island girl and was not the sexy, fun, curious character that you’d expect when reading the script. In fact, during the number between lovers Sophie and Sky “Lay All Your Love On Me,” I was a little uncomfortable because she looked like a very little girl in a questionable situation. It was evident that she relied too heavily on her direction and her vocal ability (which had its moments but was inconsistent in volume and quality).

Quite frankly, Lidia Zadareky who played Sophie’s friend Lisa read more “Sophie” than anyone else. Zadareky shone brightly and reflected (appropriate) youthfulness along with very capable vocal and physical ability. She looked very confident and gave a genuine performance filled with joy and playfulness. She stood out, you need that kind of power when casting a strong female lead. I feel that if Gainey and Zadareky would have been cast in each other’s place the show would have benefited from it.

I would also like to mention Gianbari Deebom and Shann Oliver – Rosie and Tanya respectively. They were quite the duo and I was impressed by their contrasting vocal timbre. They complimented each other incredibly well (them harmonies, though!). Rosie is a free, fearless woman and Tanya is an affluent, pampered, girly girl and the performances from these two young ladies were so true to the script. It was very refreshing to see young performers put their egos aside and work to tell the story and not make the performance about themselves. Bravo.

Although the casting for Sophie was not ideal, everyone else was cast very strategically. Every actor had strengths and each person’s talents brought something valuable to the storytelling. Each artist understood the story, knew where it was going, and took the audience with them. Most had clear intentions, high energy, and seemed settled into each of their characters. All of this is a sign of good direction (Todd Poelstra) and a healthy communication between the actors and the director.

The costumes were hit or miss (Julio Hernandez). Sophie was dressed very oddly throughout the play. There was not one outfit of Sophie’s that seemed to match the character, not even the wedding dress. Sophie is classically dressed in a white tank top and shorts. Throughout the play, she was wearing long skirts and loud shirts – totally opposite from the character’s free-spirited, curious nature. I was disappointed by Donna’s wedding outfit: a modern day halter dress with blue tye dye. It seemed as if the designer did not understand how to dress people for everyday life, especially women. To contrast, the designer did well with the “showy” outfits: Donna was wearing her classic overalls at the beginning of the play and for the song “Mamma Mia.” Donna and the Dynamos looked FABULOUS. They looked like a girl band, and that was the goal. The party dresses for the ensemble in “Voulez Vous,” were gorgeous.

Gianbari Deebom as Rosie, Thea Lancaster as Donna, and as Shann Oliver Tanya. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

Gianbari Deebom as Rosie, Thea Lancaster as Donna, and as Shann Oliver Tanya. Photo by Carol Carder, courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

As always, when experiencing Pima Arts shows, I love seeing young POC’s getting opportunities to play historic musical theatre roles. Everyone seemed like they were enjoying themselves so I could not help but enjoy myself. With all that’s going in on the world today, it was just so nice to forget about everything and smile, laugh, listen to fun music, and be entertained by talented, enthusiastic performers. I can guarantee you’ll have a blast at Pima Arts’ production of Mamma Mia!

Ticket and box office info: Feb 28th at 7:30, March 1st at 2pm & 7:30 pm, March 2nd at 7:30pm and March 3rd at 2pm. Buy tickets to see Mamma Mia at www.pima.edu.cfa or call (520) 206-6986.

 

A ‘Modern’ Take on Moliere’s Classic Scandal, “Tartuffe”

by Felíz Torralba

Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts presents Moliere’s Tartuffe, a comedy about Orgon, a wealthy Parisian patriarch who falls under the influence of Tartuffe, a hypocrite and conman.

Scarlett Sky was enchanting as Elmire. This young woman has incredible focus and engagement. She always seemed to have an internal dialogue. Watching her made me feel excited as an audience member. Though, similar to Miller, I feel that she could have been “aged up” a bit. Taylor Hernandez, who played Mariane, reminds me of a lovely Juliet. I really sympathize with her character. She was heartbroken that her father was forcing her to marry Tartuffe and successfully showed the audience her frustration and outrage. My only criticism is that anger was the primary emotion she really showed us. I really would have liked to have seen more sadness, confusion, and maybe even a little sarcasm – this would make Mariane more rounded and relatable. Bianca Regalado, who played Cléante, had very impressive physicality. She took us on a journey and worked hard to clearly get her points across. She really showed me Cléante. Enunciation and vocal energy was a bit weak. Nevertheless, she was engaged and attentive to each scene she was in. Chris Farnsworth as Tartuffe had consistent low energy, low volume, and looked bored when he wasn’t talking. He did not embody Tartuffe. He did not make choices, or play with the audience, or take advantage of this amazing character. He did not tell us a story. In all honesty, Farnsworth was a bit difficult to watch. Gianbari Deebom, who played Madame Loyal, is a force to be reckoned with. She is so powerful and executed her performance perfectly. She was laser focused and balanced acknowledging the audience and being present in the scene seamlessly. She left me wanting more!

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Tartuffe, art courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

After reading Chris Will’s director’s notes* I was disappointed with his brief and seemingly careless commentary. His text elicited a lack of interest and it just didn’t seem like his heart was in it. This reflected in Pima’s production of Tartuffe. These young performers are oozing with talent and potential. I just don’t think they were given the proper guidance. This is a fantastic show for students to study and perform. Performing a farce is not an easy task, the actors have enough on their plate just by navigating the story and taking the audience with them. As this is educational theatre, each student definitely could have used more help with character analysis, identifying/utilizing iambic pentameter, and other basic skills like projection, cheating out, and breaking the fourth wall for comedic effect. “Don’t expect this to be a historical play,” writes director Chris Will. With all due respect to the director, this is a historical play, and if claiming a ‘modern twist,’ I felt it needed more components. It lacked follow through, and seemed to make a complicated play even more complicated. Even the actors didn’t appear able to bridge the gap between a classical text and a ‘modern twist’.
During the time this play was written (1664) women were seen as inferior objects. This is obviously not a modern way of thinking. This is a play about a man, written by a man, and directed by a man. Perhaps finding a creative way to highlight the women’s struggle and their opinions would have added a more modern vibe. The cast is following what’s in the script, and many of the situations these characters go through is very prominent in today’s politics and society – I definitely made those connections and still would have made them without electronic music awkwardly sprinkled throughout the play.
There were 7 women and 6 men in the cast. I couldn’t help but think, what if the role of Tartuffe was played by a female-identifying individual? Now that would have been a game changer. I think the gender breakdown of this play could have been tastefully tweaked. What if the role of Elmire was played by a male-identifying individual? Switching one of those two roles could have added an LGBTQ acknowledgement to the story. I think if this play was supposed to “relate to the modern audience’s struggle,” this could have been one tactful choice to take that point and run with it. Tartuffe is supposed to be risqué, sexy, and “cause quite a stir.” Perhaps making a creative choice like ‘gender-bending’ would have achieved that with a modern audience.
When the show started, I was pleasantly surprised by a dance with modern, french music. This was very a creative way to catch the audience’s attention and introduce the actors. The sound was high quality and the lighting color choices looked very thoughtful, elegant, and bright. Unfortunately, this same dance strategy and music was used to transition between scenes and didn’t seem to produce the same effect as when first presented. It got old rather quickly. The actors looked confused when dancing – not all of them were committed – and it made me feel confused as well. The dance should have been used only at the beginning and maybe after intermission.
There were moments of internal thought for a few characters. This was done by pre-recorded dialogue and a spotlight while the actors used facial expressions to tell the audience their thoughts. This was very distracting and just didn’t really work.
The costumes and the set were absolutely stunning. Everything looked really expensive and elegant. I wonder if the costumes and set were modern, perhaps this would have made the director’s vision of a ‘modern’ day Tartuffe’ more clear.
I did not leave the theatre feeling moved or inspired. The one thing I truly walked away with was joy because it’s a beautiful thing to see actors of color performing classical theatre. This made me very happy. If anything, come to this show to see passionate young men and women having fun up there! We just don’t see that enough these days. You will definitely be entertained here.
To purchase tickets, go to https://pima.edu/cfa or call 206-6986. You can see the show from now until November 18th at 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:00pm on Sundays in the Pima Community College (PCC) Center for the Arts Black Box Theater.
* “This sardonic comedy, set in the era of King Louis XVI of France, caused quite a stir when it opened, creating an exposé of the times. Don’t expect this to be a historical play! Be prepared for some surprises as this old story unfolds and relates to the modern audience’s struggle to make sense of today’s politics, society, and family values.” – Chris Will