Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The two-act, one hour and 45-minute show begins with Bannow talking about her cancer diagnosis and then, since she has "boobs on the brain," she is whisked away to "Boobtropolis" where the actress takes on the persona of over a dozen different characters, both female and male and young and old, who all are obsessed with boobs. Along the way, Bannow presents such hot topics as the debate over breast feeding in public to lighter fare that includes a photo montage of male boobs in all shapes and sizes.
Bannow's comical songs, with additional music from composer and music director Craig Bohmler, are mostly short, bright and breezy, though not necessarily memorable. But the serious songs in the piece that focus on things like the joy of nurturing a child through breastfeeding and an homage to the words of wisdom from the women who came before Bannow are quite moving. There is also a recurring musical theme that is nicely threaded throughout and Bannow's expert ability to use a few moments of poetry jam throughout are both inspiring and varied from the other bits in the show.
While the various characters Bannow creates are interesting, and she is incredibly talented in playing members of both sexes at a wide range of ages, the beginning of the piece needs clarity in order for the jump from her cancer diagnosis to the caricature-filled world of "Boobtropolis" to have a clearer connection and for Bannow's fear, confusion and pain of her diagnosis to have a deeper meaning. At first it seems the show is going to be focused mainly on the serious topic and aftermath of Bannow's diagnosis (which she tells us was preceded by two misdiagnoses), so when within seconds we are transported to the comical world where everyone is focused on breasts, it's like the issue of cancer isn't that important. Only later when she returns to talk about some of the feelings she had about such things as the first time her husband saw her breasts after her surgery does the pain of cancer come back. But, since we didn't have much of an understanding as to how the diagnosis impacted her at the beginning of the show, those moments don't resonate as much as they should.
Michael Barnard's direction and musical staging, along with Bohmler's music direction, keep the show moving at a fast pace with good use of video elements from Kristen Peterson to fill in some of the moments when Bannow is changing costumes. Douglas Clarke's colorful set elements and the costume designs from Connie Furr Soloman provide plenty of inventive and humorous sight gags, while Daniel Davisson's lighting is quite effective in pinpointing the action and various moods of the show.
The creation of The Boob Show, and performing in the work, is obviously a labor of love for Bannow. Her ability to focus on the comedy and drama of topics that surround our fascination with breasts of every shape and size is to be commended. The message of loving yourself is also nicely incorporated. But if this show is to have a future, perhaps eliminating some of the characters that aren't that specific to the theme of the show (a male doctor who likes to wear fake breasts being one of them) and having a better focused opening with more dramatic elements would result in a more moving piece.
Phoenix Theatre's The Boob Show, through March 25th, 2018, at the Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling (602) 254-2151
Book, Music and Lyrics by Sally Jo Bannow
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.