Lucky (Season) 13

By Seth Reines, July 2018 Web Exclusive.

This has been a good year for Arizona Broadway Theatre (ABT), the highest attended year-round live theatre experience in the Valley.

Now in its 13th season, the only nonprofit dinner theatre in the United States recently produced the regional premiere of Bridges of Madison County and hosted a gala concert with Bridges’s composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown.

Callista Walker, Andy Meyers, Cassandra Klaphake and Devon Christopher in Bridges of Madison County. Photo courtesy of

An accomplished pianist, music director, conductor, and lyricist, Brown is known for his lush scores that fuse pop-rock stylings with theatrical lyrics. One of Broadway’s current musical theatre titans, Brown is the three-time Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist of Songs for a New World (1995), Parade (1998), The Last Five Years (2002), 13 (2008), The Bridges of Madison County (2013) and Honeymoon In Vegas (2014).

Brown’s ABT concert included selections from Jason's repertoire plus performances by members of ABT's Bridges cast and a talk-back between the composer and audience, moderated by ABC15's “Sonoran Living” Susan Casper.

The concert also opened The Encore at Arizona Broadway Theatre, a flexible 6,000 square foot performance/banquet facility.

“This new space opens up entirely new opportunities for our audiences to experience concert, special event, guest artist, intimate theatrical, and performance art pieces, which the larger mainstage space cannot,” boasted Brad York, ABT's director of marketing.

But ABT’s biggest 2018 coup is joining Arizona Opera and Childsplay as a new resident company of Herberger Theater Center (HTC). Along with current resident companies Arizona Theatre Company, Center Dance Ensemble and iTheatre Collaborative, ABT will help fulfill HTC’s vision to provide significant, relevant experiences as a premier performance venue “where audience meets art.”

“I am thrilled the Herberger Theater Center’s board of directors has selected ABT as one of its newest resident companies,” said Kiel Klaphake, ABT's CEO and executive producer. “With our past success at HTC of A Christmas Carol last December and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast last summer, we know there is an audience in central Phoenix and the East Valley for ABT’s brand of entertainment.”

Next season, ABT and HTC will co-present Broadway at The Herberger, Sept. 4-16, with the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical Sweeney Todd. Penned by Stephen Sondheim, America’s greatest living Broadway composer/ lyricist, Todd is a penny dreadful thriller set in 19th century London. What Sondheim thought of as a small horror piece eventually became a colossal portrait of the Industrial Revolution in the hands of brilliant director Hal Prince, who also staged Broadway’s longest running musical Phantom. The Herberger Broadway series will continue with An American in Paris, March 8-24, 2019, and The Addams Family, July 12-28, 2019.

“We are excited and proud to welcome ABT as one of our new resident companies who call HTC home,” said Mark Mettes, HTC's president and CEO. “The diverse offerings of the resident companies of HTC will entertain and inspire audiences of all ages, providing more reasons than ever to live, work and play in downtown Phoenix.”

ABT alum Renée Koher stars as Mary Poppins with ABT newcomer Chris McNiff as chimney sweep, Bert. Photo courtesy of

But audiences won't have to wait too long for ABT's next show. After a successful five-week run on the Peoria mainstage, ABT will present its 100th production, Disney’s Mary Poppins, from July 6 to 22 at HTC.

"Mary Poppins is a technically complex show," said Clayton Phillips, the show's director, who staged ABT’s hit productions of Beauty and the Beast, Funny Girl and The Producers. "There is magic, people flying and many special effects which all need to be adapted to a new space. It is both challenging and exciting at the same time."

ABT and HTC will also partner with Phoenix Public Libraries for A Spoonful of Sugar This Summer at the Library: Summer Storytime with Mary. ABT’s “Mary” Renée Koher will lead stories and songs and pose for photos with children in attendance. Catch Mary at Ironwood Library (4333 E Chandler Blvd., in Phoenix), June 28 from noon to 1 p.m. and at Burton Barr Central Library (1221 N. Central Ave., in Phoenix) July 11 from 10 to 11 a.m.

Looking forward to ABT’s 14th season, co-founder and artistic producer Cassandra Klaphake offered a teaser of the lineup.

“ABT’s upcoming line-up of shows is an example of the diversity and variety we’ve tried to accomplish in each season over the past 13 years," she said. "From major Broadway-blockbuster hits – [from] Maury Yeston’s Titanic and the international sensation that is Mamma Mia! to more recent productions like The Addams Family, Sister Act and Xanadu – we continue to fill the ABT stage with some of the industry’s top emerging artists ... many cast from ABT’s biannual auditions in New York City along with top talent selected from right here in Arizona.”

For more information on ABT upcoming shows, visit

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