Downtown’s Phoenix Theatre reaches 1,000th show

[Source: Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic] — Having survived the Great Depression, World War II, and 20 Arizona Cardinals seasons, Phoenix Theatre has marked more than a few milestones since it was founded in 1920.  But as the state’s oldest performing-arts group celebrates its 1,000th production this fall, it will be looking, not back on the first 999, but to the future.  The show in question will be the first local version of “The Producers,” the musical version of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy.  It’s the perfect pick, artistic director Michael Barnard says.  “It’s about show business, and I think it’s a show that appeals across demographics,” he says.  “It’s important to us to reach out to a younger audience.”

That’s not what was important when Barnard took over in 1999.  For decades, Phoenix Theatre had essentially been the only game in town, but after the rise of such competitors as Arizona Theatre Company and Actors Theatre, it had hit a bit of a slump.  Barnard, one of the Valley’s most talented directors of musicals, lured audiences back with high-quality renditions of such tried-and-true tuners as “Tintypes,” “Beehive,” and “How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying).”

Once the ship was righted, however, Barnard looked at the changing landscape, with a younger crowd being drawn to a revitalized downtown, and decided it was time to change with the times.  Last season, in addition to such “safe” material as the Gershwin revue “Crazy for You,” the theater took a chance on the fresher (and somewhat naughty) “Altar Boyz” and “The Full Monty.”  In addition to “The Producers,” the 2008-09 season will include the first local production of the mega-musical “Les Miserables,” as well as a world-premiere musical, “Unbeatable,” inspired by one woman’s battle with breast cancer.  Barnard is planning to take the production to New York in October.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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