First off, I have to say that I am a huge Don Bluth fan. And by “huge”, I mean huge. I can rattle off all his films in order by year, tell you obscure facts about his films and studio…I think you get the picture. But all fangirling aside, I really hold this man in high esteem for his contributions to the animation industry.
That being said, initially the only reason I went to Don Bluth Front Row Theatre was to see Don Bluth (that was the hope, at least). Well, I not only got to see Don, but I also got to meet him. To sweeten the deal, the play—“Bullets Over Broadway”— was absolutely amazing and exceeded my expectations. This is my review of the whole Don Bluth Front Row Theatre experience.
What Is Don Bluth Front Row Theatre?
Let me just prep you by explaining what exactly is Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. Basically, it is a theatre company that animation legend and director, Don Bluth, started seven years ago out of his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Yes, you heard me correctly; the theatre is at his house, more specifically his living room. It features a variety local actors—old, young, amateur and professional. Anyone who has ever had an inkling to act is encouraged to audition. But don’t let those things fool you, the production is very well acted, produced and designed.
My friend—Chelsea—and I had tickets for opening night. A few days before the play, we got an email saying that opening night was now a full dress rehearsal. We would be getting a refund (as everyone else in the theatre would be seeing it for free), but our seats would still be reserved if we still wanted to come. Free play and we get to keep our seats? Bonus!
The night of the play, Chelsea and I dressed up in our finest theatre-going attire and set out for the play. We entered a quaint upscale Scottsdale neighborhood filled with quite a variety of custom homes, both old and new. We reached Don’s house (it still sounds so cool to say that) and a parking attendant helped us park in his driveway. The parking attendant was wearing a suit and we were pretty sure he was an actor in the play (our suspicions were later confirmed).
As we walked up the long path up to the house, the front door was slightly ajar. That’s when my first internal fangirl moment occurred. From inside the house, I saw a peak of a man in a red shirt. If you do a quick google search of Don Bluth, you’ll notice that the majority of pictures show him in a red shirt—it seems to be his signature color. Immediately I knew that Don stood before us. I tried my best to stay cool and collected as we stepped inside and he handed us a program. I remember only giving a very over-the-top “thank you!” as we were shown the way to the theatre.
After walking down a hall, we walked through a curtain, which opened up to a spacious living room. On three sides, there were two rows of chairs and on the fourth side was the stage, backdrop and lights. The theatre is very intimate with only 45 seats—all with a great view of the stage (because honestly, at max you’re only sitting 15 feet away from the action). We bought our tickets the first day they went on sale and sat front and center—in our opinion, the best seats in the house. Slightly to the left is what obviously used to be a wet bar, but was covered with a bunch of foliage and converted into the light control area for Don and another stage hand. His house is covered with artwork and photos from his career: sketches of Mrs. Brisby from The Secret of NIMH, promotional stills from Anastasia and what seems to be a black-and-white photo of him at a Hollywood awards ceremony.
The play, “Bullets Over Broadway” is adapted from a Woody Allen film of the same name. It tells the story of a struggling and Broadway-aspiring playwright, David Shayne, who reluctantly agrees to have the mob produce his latest play. But there’s a catch: he must cast the mob boss’s talentless girlfriend, Olive, in the play. To give production credibility, he is able to hire the famous alcoholic prima donna, Helen Sinclair. David’s world is turned upside down as pressures from the mob continue force him to keep Olive in the production and an unsuspecting person turns out to be a creative genius and edits his play for the better.
Overall, the play was impressive. The actors masterfully used all corners of the theatre during the performance; at times they were on the stage and other times they were right beside me (I even got sprayed with food crumbs at one point). Ultimately, I got lost in the performance. Particularly notable performers were Derek Naumann (David Shayne), Emily McAtee (Olive) and our parking attendant Bradnon Sibetang (who played Olive’s bodyguard, Cheech).
Anyone who has the chance to visit this little gem of a theatre, should take advantage of it. We were informed that after seven years, the production will be moving out of Bluth’s home to an actual theatre this summer. Personally, I thought much of the production’s charm came from the location inside Bluth’s living room. Despite sitting in the living room, I was entirely captivated and transported into the roaring ‘20s. Chelsea and I enjoyed it so much, that we plan on becoming patrons of the theatre and can’t wait for the next production, “The Star Spangled Girl” in April.
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre is located in Scottsdale, AZ. In addition to “Bullets over Broadway”, the company has plans to perform four other plays in 2012. Tickets are $20 and premium tickets are $22. For the show schedule, tickets and more information, please visit www.donbluthfrontrowtheatre.com.
Review by: Morgan Burt Stradling