The Invisible Theatre Checks Into A Local Hotel To Beat The Summer Doldrums.
By Margaret Regan
THE VENERABLE INVISIBLE Theatre on First Avenue has only 80 seats. Even more lamentably, given Tucson's July weather, it has swamp cooling but no AC.
Those are two impeccable reasons for the company's temporary move to swanker quarters this week. IT's limited-run engagement of Sizzling Summer Sounds will be in the decidedly air-conditioned Doubletree Hotel. What's more, the company can fit 150 seats into the hotel's Bonsai Boojum Room, along with a stage, lights, a grand piano and tables.
"It will have the feel of a New York cabaret," enthuses IT artistic director Susan Claassen, "like an evening at the Algonquin."
The production, likewise, will be more cabaret than theatre. Billed as "an evening of musical magic featuring pop, jazz and Broadway show tunes," the show stars singer Jack Neubeck, a Broadway veteran who now lives in Tucson, and jazz pianist Jeffrey Haskell, a prof of jazz studies at the UA. Betty Craig, who last appeared with IT in A...My Name Is Alice, also sings, as does a Carol Channing whom Claassen will describe only as faux. (Hint: IT theatregoers saw this Channing alter ego in still another female guise last fall.) Jazz trombonist Tom Ervin, also of the UA music department, will join the crew for the first three evenings only.
"The first act will be all Broadway," says Claassen, who directs and hosts the show. "We'll do excerpts from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which is having a revival on Broadway now, from The King and I, and from Hello, Dolly, which the real Carol Channing recently did again on Broadway. That's one of our jokes: How can people say Broadway is dead when it's always being revived?"
Loosely knit together by skits and humorous interludes, the show segues into a second act honoring the song-writing teams responsible for so many standards: Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, et al. Sample numbers include "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "Love Potion No. 9" and "Yackety Yak." The evening's finale is a cornucopia of Gershwin songs.
IT has put together the summer cabarets off and on since 1990. Last summer's revue was one week only, this year it's two weeks, and Claassen hopes it will get even bigger in future years. She sees the collaboration with the hotel as a model for the arts and business working together for the benefit of both, especially during the summer doldrums.
"These are hard times for the arts and for business," she asserts. "It's a win/win situation for both of us."
And, Claassen adds, the Doubletree has a long history as a spawning ground for local theatre. The Arizona Civic Theatre, which later evolved into the Arizona Theatre Company, used to do plays at the hotel, including Vanities and Starting Here, Starting Now, she says. Claassen and City Council Member Molly McKasson originated their comedy improvisation act, Mols and Suz, at the Doubletree in the early '80s. (Sidelined for the time being by McKasson's political career, Claassen predicts the comedy team will one day re-emerge. In politics, she says, "Molly's doing research for the next Mols and Suz.")
The first IT production of A...My Name Is Alice also moved over to the Doubletree for an extended run, in part to accommodate the larger audiences clamoring to see the popular play.
Besides the history, the larger space and that nice cool air, there's something very urbane about repairing to a hotel by night, Claassen says.
"It's festive to go to a hotel," she says. "I myself will be in sequins."
Sizzling Summer Sounds runs through Saturday, July 13, at the Doubletree Hotel, 445 S. Alvernon Way. The shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 5 and 6, at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 7, and every evening at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 10, through Saturday, July 13. Tickets are $15. Patrons who have dinner at one of the Doubletree restaurants before the show (reservations required) get a 25 percent discount on their meal and reserved seating at the show. All other seats are general admission. For show reservations call 882-9721. For dinner reservations call 881-4200.
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