Escape the Heat Desert Stages Theatre presents a diverse lineup this summer

Black curtain of classical theater, 3d rendered

By Bridgette Redman

Desert Stages Theatre has planned a perfect escape from the heat for you this summer.

With offerings from big-name musicals to works created by its late founder, Desert Stages has packed the summer months with five shows presented in the comfort of Scottsdale Fashion Square.

The theater, founded in 1995 by Laurie and Gerry Cullity and Gerry’s mom Joan Thompson, moved into this space a few years ago where they perform on two stages—the Actor’s Café with 56 seats and Cullity Hall with 219 seats. Both are proscenium stages, but the Cullity Hall accommodates bigger shows with larger casts.

The shows are designed to give actors of all ages a chance to be a part of the world of theater.

“Desert Stages goes through the different stages of an actor’s life from youth to teen to adult,” says Virginia Olivieri, the director of marketing and social media, who also acts and directs in the Actor’s Café.

“Gerry and Laurie and his mother Joan Thompson really wanted to make sure every kid had an opportunity to shine and an opportunity to perform in front of an audience and in front of their family.”

Two shows this summer, “Gerry Cullity’s Alice in Wonderland” and “In the Kingdom of Clouds” were written and composed by the late Gerry Cullity to custom create the experience they wanted for their actors.

“More kids have an opportunity to shine and to get those special moments with Gerry,” Olivieri says. “His music and his styling of music is really beautiful and fun and really enhances the story.”

The shows this summer are:

“Legally Blonde the Musical,” now through June 16

“Gerry Cullity’s Alice in Wonderland,” Now through June 9

“The Wedding Singer,” June 28 to July 28

“Dixie Swim Club,” June 21 to August 4

“In the Kingdom of Clouds,” August 2 to August 4, August 9 to August 11

“Legally Blonde” is a teen and adult show. Lisa Barton Figueroa directs it.

“‘Legally Blonde’ is really popular; our teens love it,” Olivieri says. “It is a fun show and it has a great message about empowering women. Elle Woods goes to Harvard and goes through this journey of being the best person she can be.”

The 2007 musical is based on the novel and movie in which Elle Woods goes to Harvard law school to try to win back her ex-boyfriend, Warner, but instead discovers who she can be despite everyone else’s low expectations of her.

“Alice in Wonderland” is what the theater likes to call one of their “Gerry” shows. Their late founder was a prolific playwright and Desert Stages tries to do two to three of his shows each year. It is being co-directed by Kristin Alba and Erin Tarkington.

“We love to do our Gerry shows through the year,” Olivieri says. “It is a really darling rendition of the Lewis Carroll story. Mr. Cullity wrote music to it and has his own spin on it. We perform it every few years. It’s very popular for our kids. They just love it.”

To give as many children a part as possible, it has an early cast and a late cast with different children given roles in each cast. The early cast performs on Friday nights and Saturday matinees, the late cast performs Saturday night and Sunday matinees. They also rehearse at different times, with one cast rehearsing from 4 to 7 p.m. and the other from 6 to 8 p.m.

“The Wedding Singer” is the summer teen show. They have a husband and wife team, Mark and Lynzee Forman, directing it, whom Olivieri says have done great work around the Valley.

The musical, which premiered in 2006, is based on the 1998 film. It follows the travails of Robbie, a musician who earns his keep singing at weddings. He’s mourning his relationship with his former fiancée and possibly falling in love with a new woman, Julia.

“The Dixie Swim Club” is a popular comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, a team of playwrights who write plays  about Southern women and their relationships.

In this play, five Southern women who were on a swim team together in college meet every August for a long weekend together. The play follows them through their life, jumping decades with each scene. It is the adult show that is being performed in the Actor’s Café stage.

“‘Dixie’ was chosen by KatiBelle Collins, the director,” Olivieri says. “It talks about these five women and how they were in the swim team in college and their progression through life together. It’s a really wonderful story and a beautiful play.”

The summer season ends with the play that also kicks off their 25th anniversary season, Gerry Cullity’s “The Kingdom of Clouds.”

Directed by Matthew Villarreal, it is a lyrical rock opera about love, sacrifice, hope, and fate. It takes place, as the title suggests, in the Kingdom of Clouds where the hero, Cirrus, tries to restore balance to a world where hope and creativity have been lost.

Mixing it up

Olivieri says Desert Stages works hard to make sure their lineup is diverse. Throughout the year, they put on 250 performances with 38,000 seats. They do five youth shows with casts of 60 to 126 actors, ages 3 to 19 and eight adult shows.

Their stage in built in a former movie theater. They’ve retained the snack bar for concessions.

“What’s really fantastic about our theater is that we offer something for everyone,” Olivieri says. “We have such a diverse lineup of shows. There is something you will want to see whether it is ‘Legally Blonde,’ or ‘Dixie Swim Club.” We had a Christmas show earlier this year that was a huge sell out. We have comedies, dramas, fun musicals. We had the Southwest premiere of ‘Disaster’ and (creator) Seth Rudetsky came out and did a talk back. We had such a great time with that.”

Whether it is family time, girls’ night out, or a date night, Olivieri says their ticket prices are competitive, and with Arizona being so hot in the summer, they can offer cool indoor things to do that will keep everyone entertained.