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BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company

Offers a glimpse into the role collaboration may play in rebuilding Arizona’s artistic landscape.

BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Credit: Reg Madison Photography

UNWRAPPED: An Original Christmas Revue not only represents the topnotch entertainment and production quality we've come to expect from The Phoenix Theatre Company (TPTC), but this unique partnership with Brock Pro Entertainment (BPE) also offers a glimpse into the role collaboration may play in rebuilding Arizona's artistic landscape. UNWRAPPED is the holiday concert you don't know you need. I was unprepared for the series of emotions I was to experience when I pulled up to the Central United Methodist Church, which serves as the home for TPTC's new outdoor stage. By a stroke of luck, the church happens to be adjacent to TPTC, sharing a parking lot, so the outdoor courtyard still feels very much like an extension of the main theatre. They have also put their signature black and red trademark throughout the space, giving you a sense of familiarity, like coming home. Walking to the entrance, I was flooded with flashbacks of attending the theatre, something I've done nearly every week for most of my life, after 8 months of theatre closures, these memories now feel like a lifetime ago.

At the entrance, I was greeted by none other than the friendly masked faces of Patron Engagement Manager Luis Terrazas and House Manager Crystal Lutton, who's sparkly eyes and glittery glow make her instantly recognizable. In such a small theatrical community, it felt like seeing family again, and I immediately started to well up with tears in an unexpected combination of excitement and comfort. I quickly picked up my tickets from the gloved box office attendant behind a screen, and off we went, six feet behind the audience members in front of us. The aisles have easy to follow guides, including direction, distancing, and row/chair markings. Seats come in sets of two, with plenty of space all around.

BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Credit: Reg Madison Photography

The impressive stage is the centerpiece, souped-up with full lights, a massive video wall, and a back row of masked musicians ready to rock. I, masked up as well and wrapped in my blanket (which is an absolute must have), looked around and felt a sense of ease wash over me in knowing TPTC had thoroughly considered every precaution. I was finally, back at the theatre safely, seated, relaxed, and ready for that special magic I've gone 8 months without. The lights dimmed, the music started, and my eyes again began to water as I cheered and clapped with all my heart.

UNWRAPPED is an 80 minute concert that delivers a variety of holiday musical offerings. Swiftly directed by Robert Kolby Harper, there is never a dull moment, and the runtime passes in a flash. At its heart, UNWRAPPED is a rock concert, and though they perform many of the classics you're looking for, it is a special type Christmas show that demands to be outdoors for fear of blowing the roof off. They don't hold back on the intensity, and the wave of electricity pouring from the stage is exactly the kick start needed to energize a sea of pacemakers. Credit is due to local rock king, Mark 4man. Mark 4man, the revue's music director and arranger, is also the co-owner of Brock Pro Entertainment, a new local concert production company collaborating with TPTC (More information: brockpro.org). Mark and his wife, BPE co-owner Lynzee Foreman who also performs in the revue, began BPE as a way to create beyond the traditional musical theatre stage, and have since built a variety of concerts for venues all over the state. Much like TPTC, Brock Pro Entertainment has created opportunities for countless local artists and singers. Both companies are homegrown successes, and in similar fashion they have both found themselves in the difficult situation of needing to adapt as the pandemic continues to devastate arts organizations all over the country.

After shutting their doors over 8 months ago, TPTC has managed to pivot just in time for the holidays. While you may not see the "mainstage" style productions for a while, TPTC is committed to presenting high quality entertainment within the safety and spatial constraints inherent in performing outdoors during a pandemic. Thankfully, we live in a state that allows for open air stages, even in the winter. TPTC is the oldest theatre this side of the country and after 100 years of success, they've approached these new challenges head on. Bravely jumping into the innovation needed to reinvent local partnerships, with two major steps to get them back up and running.

BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Credit: Reg Madison Photography

Firstly, by striking up a deal in the stage's creation with the Central United Methodist Church. Secondly, by refocusing on the local artist community, and collaborating with BPE. "It's been a very collaborative situation...working closely with Robbie [Harper]," said Lynzee Foreman. "We do concerts, and Phoenix Theatre does theatre shows. And they're extremely different. From both the production side and the performer side....This could not have been more of a perfect collaborative experience with two companies than I think could ever have happened. It was just seamless." Harper is no stranger to raising up new voices. According to his bio, now in his "19th year of being on staff at The Phoenix Theatre Company," Harper also acts as "the Director of The Phoenix Theatre Festival of New American Theatre where he has been instrumental in deepening TPTC's commitment to the development of new plays and new voices."

UNWRAPPED features five singers, with a second cast ready in the wings in case anyone gets sick. Not only are five of the best local vocalists gracing the stage, but I'd argue these are THEE five best singers in all of Arizona. Each singer is at the top of their game, and has had great success at both the national and international levels. But what ties them all together is their home, Arizona.

BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Alyssa Chiarello
Credit: Reg Madison Photography

Alexandra Ncube, whose credits include the Tony Award winning mega hit, The Book Of Mormon (1st National Tour & West End Production), is in her element as she commands the stage delivering a flawless "All I Want For Christmas." Ncube is the real deal, a genuine star who I could easily imagine listening to for hours on end. Next up, there is nothing Alyssa Chiarello can't sing. This versatile performer has a voice unlike any I've heard before, so distinctly unique and powerful I can only compare her to rock icons like Janis Joplin and Joan Jett. Always pitch perfect, it is no wonder she has become a TPTC favorite. Walter Belcher, another TPTC veteran, brings a completely different energy to the show. Like a deep breath, Belcher's voice is soothing. He leans back and relaxes with you as his sound, easy and full of character, warms you up like a fireplace. And finally, Lynzee Foreman and Sam Primack, this "Christmas Revue's" two Jewish singers, all but stole the show.

Lynzee Foreman is a jack of all trades, raking in choreographer, producer, and performer credits for this concert alone. Primack, an AZ native, comes straight from the Broadway and National Tour Cast of the Tony winning hit, Dear Evan Hansen, where he played the Evan alternate! The tour is on hiatus, but Phoenix is in luck, because in the meantime one of our brightest stars has come home to share his talent. Lynzee and Mark have been a large part of Primack's early training and development. "I've known him since he was 9 years old," says Lynzee. Mark 4man said it best, "The chemistry between Lynzee and Sam over the years is evident on stage."

BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Sam Primack and Walter Belcher
Credit: Reg Madison Photography

The duo shined in my favorite song of the night, the hilarious rap duet, "Happy Hanukkah" by Matisyahu. Lynzee says, "we have the same brain wave, it's just bizarre. Performing with him is kind of ridiculous and unfair." Lynzee is a formidable singer who has made a name for herself as a true rocker (you can see why she and Mark make a great team) but her standout moment of the night was the ultimate Disney song, "Let It Go" from Frozen. I ushered for over 30 performances of Frozen on Broadway, and I have never heard the song sung as well as Foreman. This was pure, contemporary Broadway belting at its finest, and at that moment I was reminded of how lucky we are to have such high caliber local talent. Of course I started to cry. I'm seeing flashes of Mark and Lynzee rehearsing at their home with Shiloh, their 4 year old daughter, singing along. How lucky we are to have the Lynzee and Mark, who have decided to keep their incredible talents local, and strive daily to keep artists working. At that moment, Sam Primack moves center and sings "Into The Unknown," a sentiment layered with meaning. His voice knocked the wind out of me, and I started to openly weep. It was the type of 11 o'clock performance that you think only happens on the Broadway stage. The impressive, extended high notes met with such skill and power, my mask was soaked with tears. In a year of struggle, I wasn't sure I would have a memorable Christmas moment, but Primack's stellar voice, coupled with his joyful spirit, was something I will never forget, and which was unexpectedly the ultimate start to my holiday season.

BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Mark 4man
Credit: Reg Madison Photography

At a time when many theatres across the country are permanently closing their doors, Arizona theatres have been leading in innovation, both experimenting and adapting. Theaterworks is trailblazing with immersive theatre productions. Arizona Theatre Company is raking in tens of thousands of views with online virtual content. And The Phoenix Theatre Company has not only shifted programming to a brand new stage, but has also curated a community-wide effort focusing on local businesses, artists, neighbors, and audiences. The future of theatre in Arizona is very uncertain, but this seemingly standard concert stands as a beacon of hope for the power of community involvement. It is an odd time to review a show, especially knowing this is one of the few productions happening throughout the state, and with normalcy now many months away it feels doubly important to draw attention to the very real struggle theatres are facing. The night ended with a genuine, heartfelt plea to, "support The Phoenix Theatre Company," and the introduction of the "Keep The Joy Alive" fundraising campaign. According to their website, "By donating today, YOU can ensure our live performances and outreach programming remain a staple in our community, and guarantee the arts and The Phoenix Theatre Company have a place in Arizona." (Donate Here: https://tickets.phoenixtheatre.com/donate/q/keepthejoyalive2).

The arts are struggling more than nearly any other industry, and they need support. Purchasing gift cards, donating, volunteering, following, sharing, and liking social media posts are a few ways you can help. There is something magical happening at The Phoenix Theatre Company's Outdoor Theatre, and all you have to do in order to experience it is get your tickets before December 23rd, bundle up, and get ready to rock the holidays!

BWW Review: UNWRAPPED: AN ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS REVUE Creates Hopeful Magic at The Phoenix Theatre Company
Credit: Reg Madison Photography

Additional Information: The Phoenix Theatre Company's outdoor venue is located at 1875 N. Central Ave., a half block north of the theatre's three-stage complex. It includes sociallydistanced seating, hand sanitizer stations, and contactless food and beverage ordering. Masks are required. Tickets are $59 each. To purchase tickets, call 602-254-2151 or visit www.phoenixtheatre.com. To learn more about how The Phoenix Theatre Company is keeping its staff, artists, patrons and community safe, visit www.phoenixtheatre.com/health.

By Seth Tucker (For more information www.SethATucker.com)




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