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When the arts thrive, our community thrives
And right now, they’re doing pretty darn well
It’s a Friday night in May, and The Missus and I are out by the Peoria Sports Complex — not for a baseball game, mind you, but to catch a Tony Award-winning musical.
We’re at Arizona Broadway Theatre, and if you haven’t heard of it, you should check it out. Tucked away just south of Arrowhead Towne Center is a gem that will get your attention the instant you walk in — a surprisingly large dinner theater with an expansive stage, hundreds of seats and a nicely diverse menu.
But what will really get you is the quality of the performance. Arizona Broadway Theatre is no volunteer-only troupe — it showcases a talented cast of professionals, many of whom are aspiring actors recruited from New York and other more famed locales, and gives them a chance to bolster their resumes. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the Broadway touring shows you’ll find at ASU Gammage Auditorium, but it’s pretty darn good, and some of the performances particularly shine.
We were there to see “Oliver!”, the precocious rollercoaster of a musical set in Victorian London. We were accompanied by the theater’s Development Director, Ellen Versen, and her husband Walt. Now in its 12th season, Arizona Broadway Theatre produces eight shows per year.
“We’re not new, but we’re young,” Ellen Versen explains — and the performance we take in is packed.
The theater is becoming a staple in the West Valley, and is now working to expand its presence Valleywide. Arizona Broadway Theatre’s productions are now not just confined to its West Valley home, but are also heading downtown for performances at the Herberger Theatre.
The Arizona Broadway Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol The Musical” on the Herberger Center Stage last December was the initial collaboration. This year the show will return for the holidays, and they will also take Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” to the Herberger for two weeks this summer.
“The partnership is expected to thrive as audiences have responded to the shows enthusiastically,” said Kiel Klaphake, CEO/Executive Producer for Arizona Broadway Theatre.
The arts in Arizona can seem as though they are always on precarious footing. Phoenix doesn’t exactly have a reputation around the globe as a Mecca for the arts, but we’ve come a long way, baby — and in sound economic times, the foothold the arts gain in our community grows stronger.
The world-class Broadway touring productions are firmly engrained in the civic psyche, and anchored by the smash hit “Hamilton,” Gammage has sold out its season tickets for the Broadway shows for the first time in 52 years — all before a single performance takes place.
And it’s not just theater that is thriving. The Phoenix Symphony is enjoying a run of increased popularity in the community thanks to a mixture of the classics, pops performances and outreach to families and younger audiences. The Arizona Opera’s new facility on Central Avenue is a sign that the future is now. Valley Youth Theatre has had the spotlight shine brightly on it as former student Emma Stone has emerged as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars.
There’s no shortage of visual arts, either, with the ongoing quality of the Phoenix Art Museum’s offerings, expansion and groundbreaking exhibits at the Heard Museum, robust programming from galleries such as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and a litany of new museums and galleries popping up across the Valley.
(We’ll get into all of this in more depth come August, when Frontdoors Media will release its first-ever Arts & Culture Preview Issue).
Why is all this important? Because Phoenix and the Valley as a whole are still growing up. And we’re not going to grow up and be a truly cosmopolitan city — one where people want to live because of more than just a nice winter climate — without providing the kind of diverse experiences for our residents that you might see in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Seattle or any of the other “hip” cities in the western United States.
Those experiences not only draw new residents and create economic growth, they make the quality of life for those of us who have lived here for decades even better. They provide opportunities for our children to experience culture in ways they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy.
So if you’re looking for something to do on a hot summer night, don’t just hit Netflix. Head on out to Peoria or down to the Herberger and enjoy Arizona Broadway Theatre, or support any of the myriad beneficial theater groups, musical performances and art galleries that are becoming such a critical part of the Valley. You may be surprised at what you find.