Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Under Tony Robinson's musical direction and Mary Robinson's stage direction, the 90-minute show features close to 30 tunes, including many of the Parker and Stone's most popular songs. It also gives a fairly in-depth overview of the main characters and plot elements of "South Park" and also of the highlights in Parker and Stone's careers. While most of these facts are common knowledge to hard-core "South Park" devotees, even the biggest fan or cursory watcher will learn something from Tony's well scripted narration.
The cast of six features some very talented singers from the Valley with each delivering a solo or two and providing backup vocals throughout. While the concert is focused mainly on the characters and pop culture phenomenon of the "South Park" TV show, several songs from the South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut feature film receive stellar deliveries. These include "Mountain Town," which opens the concert and is the perfect way to introduce the characters from the show as well as all six singers. Patti Suarez's take on "Blame Canada" gets a rousing performance. Joshua Vern's stellar vocal abilities and ease with performing different character voices in his singing form a perfect comical take on two of the film's biggest hits, "It's Easy MMMkay" and "I'm Super," which are sung in the movie by two of the most loved supporting characters, Mr. Mackey and Big Gay Al. Tony Robinson's smooth voice achieves some lovely sounds on "Up There," which is sung by Satan in the film, and Alex Kunz's performance of "Kyle's Mom's A Bitch" is filled with an exuberant amount of energy.
Brenda Goodenberger's soaring soprano voice delivers a poignant take on the TV show's "I Remember When We Fell in Love" and the entire cast deliver knock out performances of "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo" and "Make Bullying Kill Itself." The harmonies achieved in these group numbers and the arrangements by Tony Robinson are stellar. Songs from outside of "South Park" include Elyse Wolf's stunning delivery of "This Side of Me" from Parker and Stone's first film Cannibal the Musical and two numbers from their Team America: World Police marionette film, including a touching delivery from Tony of "I'm So Ronery," which is sung by the character of Kim Jong-il in the movie, and the upbeat "Freedom Isn't Free," an inspiring duet from Kunz and Vern. A trio of numbers from The Book of Mormon (which Parker and Stone wrote with Robert Lopez) include Wolf's superb and moving version of "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" and Kunz's powerful "I Believe."
While the mix of songs is good, there are a few faults in the structure of the evening. The balance of the solo performances is a bit off, with Vern getting almost all of his solo moments in the first half of the evening and Wolf virtually non-existent until the last quarter. Also, while Tony Robinson's narration is informative and his delivery varied, he is mainly the only one to speak, delivering virtually every line. It would be more effective if the narration were dispersed amongst all six performers.
"South Park" uses the naiveté and innocence of children to satire and poke fun at social behaviors. The situations and themes that Parker and Stone focus on are current, relevant, timely and witty. While I may have a few quibbles with the concert, this Theatre Artist Studio production still amounts to a lot of fun and is a loving homage to Parker and Stone's silly, campy and comical yet also beautiful and poignant musical numbers.
Equal Opportunity Offenders: Music from South Park at Theatre Artists Studio runs through June 5th, 2016, with performances at 4848 East Cactus Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602-765-0120.
Director: Mary Robinson
Cast: Patti Suarez*
* Member, Actors' Equity Association