STAFF PICK: Side Man at Arizona Theatre Company was one of the most affecting plays seen in town this year. Written by Warren Leight, the drama told his semi-autobiographical tale of growing up with a musician father whose jazz career was fading with the advent of television. The man lived and breathed his music, and his marriage deteriorated along with the old-time live music biz. Both parents were flawed, but the narrator-son's picture-perfect evocation of his lost childhood was bittersweeet, not bitter, a nice change from the Mommy Dearest genre. This was a small, quiet play, with a sensitive script and moving performances all around.
LOOSE CHANGE: Play On!, Arizona Theatre Company. Ellington and Shakespeare must have taken a spin on the A Train to orchestrate this uptown adaptation of Twelfth Night--a jazzy celebration of hot horns, toe-tapping rhythm, and some cats who can really scat. Sheldon Epps' musical gem is a visual feast as well. We are wowed by the striking sets and eye-popping jewel-tone colored costumes. Dig that screaming canary yellow Zoot suit. Shakespeare really swings in Harlem as illusive identities belt out some of the Duke's best tunes with their harmonic and soulful voices. In spite of having nothin' but the blues, happy endings ensue as all agree sweet music is the food of love.