Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Tales from the Arabian Nights
Theatre Works/ Youth Works

Taylor Lawritson and Skyler Washburn

The origin of theatre began with people telling stories to a captivated audience and one of the greatest pieces of literary storytelling is the classic collection of engrossing tales The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights. Including such well known "tales" as "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," Michael Bigelow Dixon's theatrical adaptation of these stories is a perfect combination of theatre and literature. Theater Works' Youth Works production has an energetic cast and rich creative elements that pull us into the stories and bring these famous tales magically to life.

Bigelow Dixon's adaptation focuses on just a few of the 1,001 tales but uses the same framing device from the book quite effectively. That framing element, which is another "tale" as well, focuses on the Persian King Shahriar who no longer trusts women after being bewitched by a magic sword. He marries a new woman each day and then, feeling that she might betray him, has her murdered by the enchanted sword the next morning. His latest bride, the smart and clever Scheherazade, realizes the only way to keep her head attached is to tell her new husband intriguing never ending stories in order to continually delay her execution.

With stories exploring everything from love to death, as well as lessons in morality, the tales are wide ranging and since some of them are stories-within-stories, it forms a complex and engrossing affair with plenty of layers. The classic tales Scheherazade tells are not only intriguing but also great fodder for the talented cast of (mostly) teenage actors to bring to life these stories in comical and theatrical fashion.

Director Chris Hamby has found a gifted cast of kids to portray the numerous characters in the play with everyone getting a moment or two to show off their comical skills, dancing abilities or talent to simply entertain. Claudia Pollack and Ellis Temlak form an interesting couple as Scheherazade and Shahriar with Pollack's rich, soothing delivery of her stories entrancing. Temlak perfectly gets across Shahryar's conflicted view of uncertainty concerning if Scheherazade is attempting to trick him or entertain him with her never ending tales. Temlak also shows off his fanciful sword fighting skills toward the end of the show.

Skylar Washburn and Taylor Lawritson are hilarious as Ali Baba and the Captain of the Thieves with Washburn's expert, professional line delivery perfectly in character and Lawritson's humorous delivery and movements culminating in a very funny death scene. In that tale Max Mendoza plays all 39 of the other thieves with theatrical relish. In another story that involves a Princess and a man turned into a tiger, Kelly Sampson evokes an Asian accent and the perfect stature and demeanor of a Chinese doll to bring her character to life, even her way of walking is hilariously in character. As the man turned tiger, Dylan Kurtz uses a thick combination of a New York and European accent for his character to great comical effect. Nine year old Corinne Seaver holds her own with kids almost twice her age and is funny as Speedy, the messenger in this story as well as has a fun time manning the snake puppet in another tale.

In that story, Hahnna Christianson and Drake Ethan Current are amusing as the inquisitive wife and her stoner snake charmer husband. Madison Butler has expert delivery of her lines and gets an impressive dance solo that works seamlessly into the story of Ali Baba. Quincy Anntinette Janisse is humorous as the fisherman who finds a bottle with a genie in it, Safiya Valenzuela puts a fun spin on the part of Scheherazade's clueless sister and Emilio Cress, Hannah Grossenbacher and Autumn Froitland each play several ensemble parts with glee.

Hamby's direction is effective in not only pulling us into the stories but in the way he creatively uses his cast throughout the show and how he incorporates the set, props and bits of theatrical magic to evoke the enchantment of the stories. The set design by Michael Armstrong includes a painted stage that looks as if it is expensive marble tile that also includes a separate space for Scheherazade and Shahriar to sit during the tales without them being in the way of the action. Creative cut outs in the stage floor allow for other set pieces to pop up in order to quickly move the stories along. The rich, inventive set design combined with Jason Washburn's prop designs and Julaine Stark's media design produce some creative theatrical effects including the use of smoke and projection to represent a genie out of its bottle. Cari Smith has created an array of bright, colorful satin costumes and imaginative masks for some of the characters in her designs. Hamby's and Stephen Christensen's sound design includes an abundance of sound effects to add elements to the stories as well as the use of an echo effect to mysteriously represent the voice of the magic sword. Daniel Davisson's lighting is rich and evocative.

While the few musical numbers in the play don't add much to the overall effect, the combination of rich storytelling and the Eastern themed set, costume and sound designs along with the touches of modern humor that Bigelow Dixon (and I'm assuming Hamby) have added, provide an updated contemporary spin on the tales. Well-acted and with fun, confident direction, The Tales from Arabian Nights is an imaginative and upbeat theatrical adventure that will entrance children of all ages.

The Tales from Arabian Nights runs through September 28th, 2014 at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 623 815-7930

Written by Michael Bigelow Dixon
Director: Chris Hamby
Music Director: Jennifer Whiting
Choreographer: Paul Pedersen
Scenic Design: Michael Armstrong
Lighting Designer: Daniel Davisson
Costume Designer: Cari Smith
Hair and Make-Up Designer: Jean Tanton
Make-Up Design: Cate Pinckney
Sound Design: Chris Hamby and Stephen Christensen
Scheherazade: Claudia Pollack
Ali Baba / Goblin: Skyler Washburn
Shukat: Dylan Kurtz
Zubaida: Hahnna Christianson
Grand Vizier / Captain: Taylor Lawritson
Shariar: Ellis Temlak
Ming: Kelly Sampson
Mohammad: Drake Ethan Current
Morgiana / Imp: Madison Butler
Dunyazed: Safiya Valenzuela
Fatimah / Demon: Autumn Froitland
Thief: Max Mendoza
Dalilah / Khalifah: Quincy Anntinette Janisse
Speedy/Cobra: Corrine Seaver
Mustafa / Kassim: Hannah Grossenbacher
Omar: Emilio Cress

Photo: Moran Imaging / Theater Works

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix