Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

It Happened One Night
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Christine Ebersole with Seth Rudetsky and The King and I

Harmon Swartz and Katherine Martin
Photo Courtesy Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
The "screwball comedy" was a staple on the silver screen in the 1930s and '40s. One of the best in this genre, featuring witty, fast-paced dialogue and madcap adventures and also centering around the battle of the sexes or the struggle between the classes, was It Happened One Night. This Frank Capra directed movie wasn't only a box office smash but also won big at the Oscars, receiving the top five awards for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Actor and Screenplay. That screenplay, written by Robert Riskin, with additional input from director Frank Capra, has been brought to life on stage at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre in Scottsdale in a production that is as rewarding, rich and whimsical as the original film, with standout performances by Katherine Martin and Harmon Swartz.

Set during the Depression, the story follows the wild and independent heiress Ellie Andrews, who runs away from her father and rejects her wealthy lifestyle to spite him for not approving of her free spirit and her playboy fiancé, King Westley. She boards a bus bound for New York City to be with Westley and ends up seated next to Peter Warne, a grumpy, indifferent, and recently fired newspaper reporter. Through a series of mishaps, the mismatched couple, who come from very different worlds, find themselves thrown together as they travel via bus, car, and hitchhiking, even sharing rooms due to their shortness of funds, as they both try to get to New York City. Ellie's father is trying to find her and even offers reward money for any tips to her whereabouts. Peter discovers who Ellie is and, even though he thinks she is just a spoiled brat, he agrees to help her. But is he really helping her because he likes her or because he's just out for the reward money?

Katherine Martin and Harmon Swartz do incredibly well as Ellie and Peter in creating two individuals who are independent, stubborn, and completely mismatched. They both navigate their way skillfully through the abundance of fast-paced dialogue and the non-stop verbal battles of wit that Riskin and Capra crafted. Swartz's expert facial expressions and charm are superb in portraying how Peter is a fast-thinking man who adlibs his way through any bind or bad situation thrown at him. Martin is steadfast but also warm as Ellie, and the connection the two create as these lovable characters makes it understandable why they fall for each other, even though they are almost complete opposites.

Jim Coates is excellent at Ellie's father. From his stage presence and line delivery it's clear that, while he may meddle in his daughter's business, he truly loves her. Zach Parrish is hilarious as two larger than life individuals, Ellie's fiancé and a man she meets on the bus. In smaller parts, Jackie Horn is both bossy and compassionate as Peter's editor, and Tom Endicott is a hoot in about a half dozen humorous, caricature parts.

It Happened One Night features dozens of locations, including the interior of several busses, a plane, and hotel rooms. Director Erica Parrish does a very good job in bringing them all to life on the intimate Don Bluth stage, with whimsically staged musical scene-changes featuring the ensemble dancing the scenic and prop elements on and off stage. Parrish's direction is swift and smart and she does well in using the raised back platform to portray the seat on the bus where Ellie and Peter sit as well as one of the beds in the hotel room where they first sleep, in order for the whole audience to be able to see these important key moments in the show. Corinne Hawkins' costumes offer a wide range of outfits, including a beautiful beaded gown for Ellie and period outfits for the ensemble. Parrish and Roger McKay's sound design features many fine effects that help bring a sense of realism to the many scenes set on the road.

With superb leads, fine creative elements, and clear and concise direction, It Happened One Night is a thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly fun theatrical adaptation of this classic Oscar winning comedy.

It Happened One Night, through April 28, 2018, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, 8670 E. Shea Boulevard, Suite 103 in Scottsdale AZ. For more information on this production or to order tickets, go to or call 480 314-0841.

Directed by Erica Parrish
Set and Prop Design: Erica Parrish and Cheryl Schaar
Lighting Designer: Don Bluth and Judy Starr
Music and Sound Designer: Erica Parrish and Roger McKay
Costume Designer: Corinne Hawkins

Ellie Andrews: Katherine Martin
Peter Warne: Harmon Swartz
Alexander Andrews: Jim Coates
Oscar Shapeley, King Westley: Zach Parrish
Gordon, Ensemble: Jackie Horn
Zeke, Ensemble: Tom Endicott
Zeke'S Wife, Ensemble: Patty Stephens
Ensemble - Rachel Weiss, Kathryn Katsikis, Michelle Herro, Kim Singletary, Skye Ayers, Kim Huenecke, Terri Parker, Devon Driver, Frank Aaron, Malcolm Hooper, Harold Leboyer, Isaac Greenland

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