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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Powerhouse: The Tesla Musical
Brelby Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Native Gardens and Rabbit Hole


Melody Chrispen and Danny Hernandez
Photo by Shelby Maticic
Plays and musicals that focus on famous people have proven to be some of the most intriguing theatrical endeavors. Even better is when the person is someone people have heard of but the facts of their life aren't that well known, as it makes it for a more rewarding and insightful journey. Brelby Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere production of their original musical Powerhouse: The Tesla Musical, which focuses on the engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla. While there are a few shortcomings in the musical, the production features an upbeat score and passionate performances, which give a lot of insight into the brilliant vision of this intelligent man.

The piece is set mainly in the early 1900s when Tesla was building, with the financial backing of J.P. Morgan, the Wardenclyffe Tower, a structure that he hoped would send wireless transmissions across the globe. Through a series of flashbacks, we witness his earlier life, his rivalry with Thomas Edison as well as the many triumphs and setbacks in his career, including his competition with Marconi to be the first to send a wireless signal, and his ongoing battle to prove that A/C power is truly better than D/C.

With a book and lyrics by Brian Maticic and John Perovich and music by CJ O'Hara, the musical has a solid structure and makes fine use of the flashback structure, with the addition of a new assistant for Tesla to act as reason to explain his past. O'Hara's music features a nice range of musical styles, including a few catchy tunes. However, a flashback to Tesla's time in Colorado Springs is unclear, seemingly unnecessary and has a forgettable song. Also, the ending is a bit of a downer and seems a bit unfocused. I'm not saying that Tesla's history needs to be rewritten to provide the show with an upbeat and happy ending, but after spending two hours and witnessing the passion of this man it seems sad to have an ending that is very downbeat and not entirely a testament to the legacy of Tesla.

The energetic cast have fun playing these famous and fictional characters. Danny Hernandez is appropriately relentless, focused, passionate and crazed as Tesla, with a bright singing voice that does well on his many songs. Melody Chrispen is energetic and inquisitive as Hazel, the woman who has come to learn and assist Tesla. As Thomas Edison, William Diehl II is humorous and conceited, with a powerful singing voice. Also, Shannon O'Brien's clear voice provides several beautiful moments as Tesla's mother.

Shelby Maticic's direction keeps the show moving at a fast pace and she has staged the action well on Brian Maticic's smart design, which gives a sense of the changing locations in the musical. There are just a couple of small moments that could be better focused, especially twice when Tesla is singing or speaking for an extended period of time far off toward stage right. And, even though the Brelby space is small, several cast members could project better to ensure their dialogue and lyrics are clearly heard. Shelby Maticic's costumes are beautiful and turn of the century perfect.

Powerhouse: The Tesla Musical is an intriguing musical about a very fascinating man. While I feel there are a few shortcomings in the show, the energetic score has some toe-tapping tunes and the script does a good job of demonstrating the struggle of ideas between Tesla and his rivals, which makes for an interesting document of this forward-thinking visionary of a man.

The Brelby Theatre Company's Powerhouse: The Tesla Musical, through October 27, 2018, with performances at 7154 N 58th Drive, Glendale AZ. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at 623-282-2781.

Director: Shelby Maticic
Scenic / Lighting Designer: Brian Maticic
Props Design: Jonathan Gradilla
Costume Designer / Hair & Makeup Designer: Shelby Maticic
Sound Design: Clayton Caufman

Cast:
Nikola Tesla: Danny Hernandez
Hazel: Melody Chrispen
Thomas Edison/Ensemble: William Diehl II
J.P. Morgan/ Mark Twain/ Ensemble: Brady Anderson
George Westinghouse JR. / Ensemble: Clayton Caufman
Marguerite Merington / Ensemble: Emily Wood
Duka Tesla / Ensemble: Shannon O'Brien
Patrick / Ensemble: James Beneze
Kolman Citzo / Ensemble: Sarah Bary
Anthony / Ensemble: Tyler Miller


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