Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Heaven Can Wait
Hale Centre Theatre


Josh Hunt, Wayne Peck, Mark Kleinman,
and Jonathan Holdsworth

Harry Segall's comedy-fantasy play Heaven Can Wait was the basis for several films, including the 1978 movie of the same name that starred Warren Beatty and 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which earned Segall an Academy Award. The play is a lighthearted comedy about a prizefighter who is accidentally sent to heaven before his time and, even though the play is slow in a few parts, Hale Center Theatre's wonderful cast and clear direction deliver many comedic and even several touching moments.

Joe Pendleton is a young New Jersey boxer who finds himself in heaven after he encounters a problem with the engine of the plane he's flying. However, it turns out that he would have survived the plane crash and lived another 60 years but an over-eager and newly employed guardian angel took his soul too soon. Head soul collector Mr. Jordan tries to make things right, but when he realizes that he is unable to return Joe to his body, due to Joe's distraught boxing manager having had the body already cremated, Joe is given the body of a recently murdered millionaire tycoon named Farnsworth to inhabit until a more suitable one can be found. However, things don't go according to plan and Segall throws plenty of interesting plot twists into the mix, along with many laughs and an ending full of heart and even a touch of sadness.

Director Alaina Beauloye has cast an exceptional group of actors, led by Josh Hunt as Joe and Mark Kleinman as Mr. Jordan. Hunt is full of life as the spunky, feisty Joe, constantly prancing and moving around the stage just as a young boxer would in a match. Hunt has the "New Joisey" accent down pat, and embodies the role with plenty of "street smarts" and an ever-burning desire as well as a huge dose of charm. Kleinman is appropriately fatherly as the soft spoken, mysterious Mr. Jordan, bringing a clear feeling of sensitivity to the part. They work well as a mismatched pair, with their many scenes together having a refined sense of poignancy.

Wayne Peck is Joe's agent Max, and Peck's expert comic chops, double takes, and expressions are perfect for this man who at first is hard to convince that Joe isn't dead. Alanna Kalbfleisch and Stephen Serna are a hoot as Farnsworth's wife and secretary, respectively, who are still obsessed with killing him off. Kalbfleisch brings a lovely effervescence to the part of the conniving, agitated and flustered murderess while Serna's droll line delivery and rubbery facial expressions work well for the role. Peck, Kalbfleisch, and Serna get most of the comic bits in the play and all deliver in spades.

Melissa Powers is sweet and sincere as the young woman Joe falls in love with after finding that Farnsworth had framed her father, sending him to jail. As the ambitious angel who took Joe's soul too early, Jonathan Holdsworth displays plenty of frustration with his unfortunate predicament. In smaller parts, Tedd Glazebrook is great as the always flustered Inspector; Timothy Pittman is appropriately gruff as a boxing manager; and Laura Soldan, Shaylin K. Renfro and Aaron Ford add some fun comedic touches as Farnsworth's house staff.

Beauloye manages to not let the slow parts in the script bog the production down too much while also ensuring that the show is staged in a way to never make anyone on any side of the "in the round" space feel left out of any key moment—comedic or dramatic. She doesn't let the emotional moments get too sappy while also ensuring that the several scene changes are well orchestrated to not slow down the pace of the show. Technical aspects are, as usual with a Hale show, excellent, with Mary Atkinson's costume designs lovely throwbacks to the 1930s, with the flowing gowns for Kalbfleisch knock-outs, while Jeff Davis' lighting is bright for the comedic moments and somewhat mysterious for the opening sequence.

With an interesting plot that is full of surprises and a lead character you root for, Heaven Can Wait is a fun play full of fantasy, twists, and comedic situations. While the play itself is slow in parts, especially the beginning, Hale Centre Theatre's great cast, exceptional leads, strong supporting ensemble, and clear, succinct direction result in a charming, quirky, heartfelt production.

The Hale Centre Theatre production of Heaven Can Wait runs through November 17th, 2015, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181

Directed by Alaina Beauloye
Set Designers: Adam DeVaney, Brian Daily, Alex Fogle & Monica Christiansen
Props: Monica Christiansen
Costume Designer: Mary Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis
Sound Designer: Justin Peterson
Wigs & Make-Up: Cambrian James
Stage Manager: Jessica Cochrane

Cast:
Josh Hunt: Joe Pendleton
Mark Kleinman: Mr. Jordan
Jonathan Holdsworth: Messenger 7013
Wayne Peck: Max Levene
Stephen Serna: Tony Abbott
Alanna Kalbfleisch: Julia Farnsworth
Melissa Powers: Bette Logan
Laura Soldan: Mrs. Ames
Tedd Glazebrook: Inspector Williams
Darryl W. Poenisch: Doctor
Timothy Pittman: Lefty
Shaylin K. Renfro: Suzie, Harpist
Malcolm Hooper: Workman /Ensemble
Aaron Ford: Mansfield/Ensemble


Photo: Nick Woodward- Shaw /Hale Centre Theatre

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix


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