Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Arden Theater Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Rebecca's reviews of Wrestling Jerusalem and Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole

(front) Alex Keiper and Michael Doherty Back; (back)
Jess Conda, Kevin R. Free, Joliet Harris, April Ortiz
and Darick Pead

Photo by Mark Garvin
TouchTones is an outrageously funny new musical about chastity, phone sex, intimacy, and being true to yourself. Michael Hollinger's book and lyrics are devilishly clever and the energetic ensemble makes the most of the excellent material. This production marks Hollinger's tenth premiere at the Arden Theater Company. The fun, uncomplicated score, with music by Robert Maggio, has a lot of spirit and some truly memorable numbers. There are a few songs that miss the mark, but you will probably be laughing too hard to care.

At 17 years old, Christine and Justin proudly don golden rings and take a vow of chastity, promising to remain virgins until after they are married. Fast forward five years to 1999 and the long wait has taken its toll. With only four months until their wedding, Christine is desperate to go all the way and Justin has resorted to calling a sexy 900 number known as TouchTones. When an extremely frustrated Christine finds out that Justin has been talking to "Mercedes" every day (sometimes twice!) she seeks revenge by becoming a phone sex operator herself. The diverse and worldly wise staff at TouchTones befriend Christine and help her bring out the confident woman waiting inside. Will the new Christine go back to Justin or sow her wild oats with smart, handsome, and sexually liberated co-worker Brad?

Director Emmanuelle Delpech's campy and upbeat production is extremely well cast and loads of fun to watch. Alex Keiper is completely earnest and just the right amount of naughty as Christine. Justin is adorably awkward, thanks to an endearing performance by Michael Doherty. Darick Pead is effortlessly charming and dead sexy as experienced operator Brad, with rich and warm vocals to boot. Joilet F. Harris brings her bright, powerful voice and an amazing sense of humor to Pearl, the no-nonsense owner of TouchTones. The entire ensemble work off each other to get big laughs and create a real sense of office camaraderie.

TouchTones can boast several catchy upbeat numbers ("You Gotta Be Who They Want," "Sex Ain't What It Used to Be") as well as a few memorable songs that capture the humor and spirit of the show ("Ready" is my favorite), but the score is musically and thematically inconsistent. Songs like "What Do I Tell Them" and "What's Wrong" do not have enough emotional impact and others are repetitive. Blackouts after almost every song—mostly to allow for set changes as Tim Mackabee's design shifts between the TouchTones office and other locations—can make things feel a bit choppy too.

Even though the characters deal with some explicit sexual topics and drop a couple of f-bombs, TouchTones is so lighthearted and humorous it will appeal to a wide array of audiences. Keeping things naughty rather than raunchy allows the audience to explore a variety of topics that are normally taboo. And you don't even have to pay by the minute.

TouchTones runs through December 3rd on the Arden Theater Company's Arcadia Stage at 40 N. 2 nd Street in Philadelphia PA. For tickets call the Arden Box Office at 215.922.1122, visit or visit the box office at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City, Philadelphia.

Christine: Alex Keiper
Justin: Michael Doherty
Teresa: April Ortiz
Brad: Darick Pead
Pearl: Joilet Harris
Gary: Kevin R. Free
Holly: Jess Conda

Artistic Team:
Playwright: Michael Hollinger
Director: Emmanuelle Delpech
Composer: Robert Maggio
Music Director/Conductor: Ryan Touhey
Choreographer: Melanie Cotton
Scenic Designer: Tim Mackabee
Lighting Designer: Mike Inwood
Costume Designer: Alison Roberts
Sound Designer: Rick Sims
Stage Manager: Alec Ferrell

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