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Best Local Theatre Production (Since 7/97)

Five Guys Named Moe
Arizona Theatre Company

READERS' PICK: This musical showcase did a lot more than get the Arizona Theatre Company audience up on stage shimmying in a conga line, though that was a feat in itself. An exuberant historical reclamation project, it resurrected the pioneering music of the late Louis Jordan, the African American composer and performer whose 1940s innovations in rhythm and blues inspired the next decade's early rock-and-rollers. Perfect in just about every way, the ATC production featured six (not five) gifted song-and-dance men who tap-danced and strip-teased and sang their way through 24 Jordan hits, including "There Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens," "Is You or Is You Ain't My Baby?" and the calypso tune "Push Ka Pi Shi Pie."

The Moes wore fabulous costumes, from zoot suits to Chiquita Banana fruit suits, and the wonderful sets evoked by turns a contemporary apartment and a funky bar. Simple lights briefly, ingeniously, conjured up Paris.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: It doesn't matter which production you see at Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Blvd.; every single one is fun and funny. An endearing vaudeville throwback, Gaslight invariably offers a good guy and a bad guy, a sweet gal and a vixen, audience boos and cheers, briskly enjoyable live music, and the inevitable happy ending. Serious theatre it ain't, but convivial live entertainment, it is. In fact, it's a gas.

CLUE IN: Last winter's The Heiress was the best serious piece of theatre out of Arizona Theatre Company in a long time. Based on the 1881 novella Washington Square, by Henry James, the play is an engrossing exploration of gender and power in the marriage marketplace of upper-crust New York in the mid-19th century. Anne Torsiglieri was sublime as Catherine Sloper, the rich girl with a loving heart, whose happiness becomes the victim in a tug-of-war between her father and her suitor. Ken Ruta delivered a superlative performance, too, as the hard-edged and hateful dad, who doesn't have a clue about how much he's undervalued his only child. The deliciously meandering prose of James, master at the nuances of human relationships, was compressed into a smartly compact play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz back in the 1940s. Yet what could have been an historical chestnut was a wholly absorbing suspense story about the ambiguities of love and money.

CLUE IN: Kindertransport at Invisible Theatre was a wrenching Holocaust story, with the sobering message that there are some kinds of hurts from which survivors cannot recover. The play skillfully moved backward and forward in time, presenting its fictional heroine, Eva, first as a terrified 9-year-old about to be packed onto a train for England; and then as Evelyn, a middle-aged Englishwoman who's hard as nails, wholly assimilated and emotionally ruined. Both actresses, Natasha Martina as young Eva, and Maedell Dixon as grown-up Evelyn, were great. The play was a wonderful piece of stagecraft as well, and the set, a simple attic in a London house, proved a flexible vehicle for the play's time travels.

Case History

1997 Winner: Arizona Theatre Company
1996 Winner: A Midsummer's Night Dream
1995 Winner: Dancing At Lughnasa

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