Tag Archives: A Year With Frog and Toad

From Wallace to Willy

Pat McMahon and the cast of "The Wallace & Ladmo Show" (Photo: Centennial Theatre Foundation)

Like many parents born and raised here in Arizona, my husband James grew up watching “The Wallace & Ladmo Show” — the longest running same-cast children’s television show in history. Think 1954 to 1989. Thanks to a collaboration between Centennial Theatre Foundation, Actors Theatre and Desert Foothills Theatre, generations old and new can revisit the show via a production written and directed by Ben Tyler.

It’s being presented this weekend by Desert Foothills Theatre (and during June at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix). Performances take place March 23-25 at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center in Scottdale. Folks eager to explore this and other historic fare can also visit the House of Broadcasting in Scottsdale.

Musical Theatre of Anthem performs "Willy Wonka" March 29-April 1 (Photo: Olga Smirnoff)

Another North Valley theater, Musical Theatre of Anthem, has exciting news to share. Their production of “Willy Wonka,” being performed at the Boulder Creek High School mini-auditorium in Anthem, opens Thurs, March 29 and runs through Sun, April 1. They’re also anticipating the opening of their new theater at 42323 N. Vision Wy. come July, just in time for summer theater classes.

Musical Theatre of Anthem recently revealed its 2012/13 lineup, which includes “Our Town” (Sept), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Sept/Oct), “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley Jr.” (Oct), “A Year With Frog and Toad KIDS” (Oct), “Thumbelina (A Swallow’s Tale)” (Nov), “Something Beautiful” (Nov/Dec), “Winnie the Pooh KIDS” (Feb), “Little Shop of Horrors” (March), “Dear Edwina JR.” (March) and another show that’ll be announced once rights are secured. Their 2012/13 season also includes a holiday show (TBD in Dec) and fundraiser (Feb).

This future home of Musical Theatre of Anthem should be ready in July

The Arts Council of the North Valley presents their “7th Annual Regional Teen Art Competition” at The Caepe School and Fellowship Church in Anthem Sat, April 28 and Sun, April 29. The works of more than 60 students from area high schools will be exhibited. Think paintings, sculpture, photography and drawings. A panel of professional artists and educators will select winners, and folks who attend can cast their vote for “Viewers’ Choice.”

The council also presents “Picnic Under the Stars” next month. The Sat, April 28 benefit includes “a live auction, raffle items, culinary delights, and a cash bar.” Click here to learn more about the council’s many programs, including educational outreach — or to sign up for Arts Council of the North Valley alerts featuring timely news on music, dance, theater and visual arts offerings.

– Lynn

Note: Both Musical Theatre of Anthem and Desert Foothills Theatre offer summer theater camps, so check their websites for details (and find additional camp options here).

Coming up: I’m more than these stripes

Baby meets Broadway

Valley actor D. Scott Withers isn’t a father in real life, but says that hasn’t been a problem in tackling the role of a 40-something father of three in a musical titled “Baby” opening July 22 at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria. Like all actors, Withers has done plenty of things onstage that he’s never done in real life.

He’s quick to point out that despite the musical’s appeal to parents or those expecting a child, it’s really a work about relationships. “The baby,” he says, “just puts a magnifying glass on them.” Seems his couple, the oldest of the three, experiences an unexpected pregnancy just as they’re preparing for life in the “empty nest.” One is thrilled, but the other — not so much, really.

The youngest expectant parents in “Baby” are college students. Another couple deals with infertility. “Parents will recognize these relationships,” says Withers. But plenty of folks without kids love the work for other reasons. Withers describes “Baby” as a cult favorite among musical theater lovers.

“The music,” says Withers, “is fantastic.” Think catchy, upbeat numbers and beautiful ballads. Just ask my daughter Lizabeth, who knows to crank up the volume every time the SiriusXM Broadway channel plays “The Story Goes On.”

Still, Withers says it’s “not a dance show.” Instead, it’s a “character driven” musical with a small cast. All the more reason to rejoice that seasoned actors like Withers are involved. Withers is a longtime “associate artist” with Childsplay in Tempe whose other plans this season include directing “The Music Man” and performing in “Gypsy.”

Baby” features book by Sybille Pearson, music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. It was performed on Broadway in 1983 and 1984. Withers’ preference for the music over the writing is shared by several who’ve reviewed the work.

It’s infrequently performed in these parts (Withers recalls a Theater Works production from a decade or so ago), meaning that those who worship at the altar of musical theater will want to make the pilgrimage to Peoria for this production. For all its charms, “Baby” is a show that’s unlikely to come around again anytime soon.

After years of watching Withers perform in Childsplay shows like “Go, Dog. Go!” and “A Year With Frog and Toad,” I’m eager to witness his work with more mature fare. If his “Alan” in “Baby” is even half as engaging as his “Edna” in “Hairspray,” Valley audiences are in for a real treat.

– Lynn

Coming up: Performing arts “sneak peek” events, Childsplay’s 2011/12 season, Parenting meets performing arts, From book to stage, Girl power!

Weekend of new beginnings

Center Dance Ensemble performs "The Snow Queen" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

I’ve been enjoying Center Dance Ensemble works for more than a decade. If dance companies were shoes, they’d be a cross between my favorite well-worn pair and my shiniest new pair. Both make me smile.

For years they’ve treated Valley audiences to Frances Cohen Smith’s “The Snow Queen” at the Herberger Theater Center. It’s based on a delightful Hans Christian Andersen tale and has terrific appeal to both children and adults.

But this weekend, you can enjoy a performance titled “New Beginnings.” It features the premiere of a new work by Center Dance Ensemble as well as new performances by several guest artists.

It’s being held through Sat, Oct 16 at the newly-renovated Herberger Theater Center, so those of you who’ve been waiting for an excuse to check it out now have one (actually, there are several).

Center Dance Ensemble performs New Beginnings this weekend (Photo: Tim Fuller)

Other weekend happenings in the Valley (and yes, weekends start on Friday for stage moms) include the following:

Goof & Giggle. Fri, Oct 15 at 10am. Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Features a fun class for 1-3 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include dance, song, exploring musical instruments and movement.

Tot Art. Fri, Oct 15 at 10:30am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features artmaking for 2-5 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include painting, sculpture and collage.

Artful Tales. Fri, Oct 15 at 11am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features an interactive storytime followed by art activities based on the theme of the featured book.

Comprised Voices. Sun, Oct 17 at 4pm. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Features symphonic music by Musica Nova.

International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival. Madcap Theaters in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features indie, retro and other horror and science fiction titles in this 6th annual event. (It’s not for the kiddos, but parents enjoy the arts too.)

ASU presents 26 Miles this weekend

26 Miles. Lyceum Theatre at ASU in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features a coming-of-age “dramedy” about a Cuban American teen who explores her identity while on a road trip with her estranged mother. Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes wrote the book for the Broadway musical “In The Heights.” (One for parents to enjoy with their older teens, perhaps?)

Cars and Guitars. Through Sat, Oct 16. Tempe Center for the Arts. Features exhibit of some mighty fancy guitars, cars and cool retro finds (including old storybook art). I had a great time exploring this one the day I saw Childsplay’s “A Year With Frog and Toad” at the same venue. (The cars/guitars exhibit makes a cool father/son outing.)

This weekend is your last chance to see this new work by James E. Garcia

The Eagle & The Serpent: A History of Mexico Abridged. Through Sun, Oct 17. Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in Phoenix. Features New Carpa Theater Company presenting seven actors in 50 roles recreating the history of Mexico from 30,000 B.C. to the present “in 90 minutes or less.”

Romantic Fools. Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features vaudeville-style comedy “examining love, lust, dating, and romance.” (Also for grown-ups only due to mature content.)

Watch for a second post Friday featuring weekend (and upcoming) theater by youth and for youth.

Ridiculous rulers. Bumbling bears. Colorful cupcakes. They’ve got it all.

–Lynn

Note: Please check details for all events before attending since prices vary, tickets may have limited availability and such.

Coming up: Making art in Mesa, Stage moms changing the world, Playwriting perspectives

Fun with farce

I’m a relative rookie when it comes to the “farce” genre in theater — only recently enjoying my first live experience with the art thanks to Phoenix Theatre’s “Noises Off.” I hadn’t expected to enjoy the form, but now find myself becoming a bit of a farce fanatic.

Whether you’re a farce fan or merely farce-curious, this weekend presents a rare opportunity to enjoy farce at its finest — the Flaherty and Ahrens musical called “Lucky Stiff.” It’s a murder mystery based on the novel “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”

“Lucky Stiff” is being performed this weekend at Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre) in Scottsdale by students from Arizona School for the Arts (ASA).

It’s a real high school musical, directed by Toby Yatso, an artist in residence with Phoenix Theatre who leads the ASA theatre arts team.

I’ll be there all weekend in true stage mom mode — hoofing tickets and hocking candy. My daughter Lizabeth has been hush hush about the show, so I’ve had to do a bit of my own research. Here’s what I know…

It’s the work of the award-winning team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, whose other collaborations include “Seussical” and “Ragtime.” It’s got a dog, a dead body and hidden diamonds — plus a wheelchair and a heart-shaped box with surprising contents.

There’s stiff competition in Valley theater this weekend as the Herberger Theater Center reopens to reveal remarkable renovations, The Black Theatre Troupe presents the Tony Award winning August Wilson play titled “Fences” and the Broadway touring production of “Young Frankenstein” plays at ASU Gammage.

“Lucky Stiff” is recommended for ages 12 and up, so that’ll make theater-going decisions easier for parents of preschoolers to preteens. Your choices are equally appealing as Childsplay presents “A Year With Frog and Toad” at Tempe Center for the Arts and Valley Youth Theater opens their production of “Pinkalicious” (both based on children’s literature).

I narrowly missed the opportunity to see “The Ice Pirates” presented by the Dobson Drama Club at Dobson High School in Mesa this weekend. I only learned of the show when I stumbled on a flyer while Jennifer and I were looking for a “STAND Up 4 Africa” event held there on Saturday.

It looks like I’ll have other opportunities — since Dobson High School has upcoming productions that include “Friday Night Live” (Dec 17) and “The Breakfast Club” (Jan, 2011). And I do hope other schools will drop me a line to let me know their offerings.

Attending school and community theater events featuring the Valley’s many talented youth is a truly enjoyable and economical way to experience theater productions you might not encounter at other venues — and to support youth in our community who engage in positive, creative activities in the face (and farce) of so many competing and crass alternatives.

– Lynn

Note: Click here or go to Brown Paper Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com to purchase tickets to “Lucky Stiff.” For a comprehensive listing of family-friendly theater and other activities, visit the online calendar for Raising Arizona Kids magazine. Next up at Greasepaint Youtheatre is their production of “The Wiz” directed by D. Scott Withers.

Coming up: A marathon of movie reviews, Monsters among us, Getting to know you: Gammage goers

Update: Soon after posting, I learned of another comedic piece coming to a Valley stage (this one is for mature audiences). It’s a “comedic vaudeville” work titled “Romantic Fools” being presented by Chandler-Gilbert Community College Oct 14-17. For tickets call 480-732-7343 or go online. Theater Works opens “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” also a comedy, on Oct 1 at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets call 623-815-7930 or go online.

First chance, last chance

Leave the kittens at home for this baby...

“Does this play make me look fat?” That’s the teaser for a Neil LaBute play opening this weekend as Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe begins its ninth season. It’s your first chance this season to experience the edgy and enlightening work of these creative cats, led by the master of all feline funny business — Ron May. Grab a date or group of friends and leave the kittens at home for this baby, a play that’s heavy on dueling dialogue and relationship revelations.

This weekend is your last chance to see the season opener for the Southwest Shakespeare Company. It’s an original adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy  — “Blood Royal” by Michael Flachmann. Most relationships don’t stand a chance in this play, which could easily be subtitled “Reasons to be petty.” “Blood Royal” is full of men (and a few women) with swords who aren’t afraid to use them, especially if it means securing a royal crown. It’s another option for the teen and up crowd.

Grab some girlfriends for his one...

It’s also your last chance to get in on some festive fundraisers benefiting important arts organizations in Arizona. Tonight the Women’s Metropolitan Arts Council (WoMAC) holds its annual “It’s In The Bag” event to benefit the Phoenix Art Museum. Tomorrow night in Tucson the Arizona Theatre Company holds its “Gala 2010: A Night In Lights” at the Temple of Music and Art. The featured performer at the ATC event is “rising star” Megan Hilty, who played Glinda in “Wicked” and Dora Lee in “9 to 5.”

If supporting scholarships for music students is your thing, you can head to South Mountain Community College tonight for a classical music concert to aid student scholarships. It features two SMCC faculty members. Mezzo soprano Isola Jones performs arias from Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and Saint-Saens. Pianist Henry Rose performs works to include “Preludes” and “Etudes-Tableaux” by Rachmaninoff.

This evening is your only chance to enjoy a free dance performance at the ASU Galvin Playhouse in Tempe (which welcomes the touring production of “Young Frankenstein” this week as it opens the 2010-2011 Broadway Across America Arizona series). The new work (still a “work in progress”), which includes mature content and themes, is co-presented by the ASU School of Dance and ASU Gammage. Dean Moss’ “Nameless forest” explores identity and perception via performance, dance, video, audio and visual design.

A wonderful day for family play...

Saturday in Sedona the whole family can enjoy the “Celtic Harvest Festival” from 10am to 8pm at Tequa Festival Marketplace. The festival features entertainers from diverse Celtic cultures, performances by Sedona-area children who have studied with teaching artists (in music, dance, piping and storytelling) and a children’s courtyard with “fun activities for children of all ages.” Master of Ceremonies for the event is Senator Tom O’Halleran.

Saturday evening in Tucson families can enjoy “A Mexican Celebration” presented by the Arizona Symphony Orchestra. The 7:30pm event takes place in Chowder Hall on the University of Arizona campus, and will feature the music of popular Mexican composers including Chavez, Revueltas and Galinda.

My daughter Jennifer is keen to get over to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe tonight to hear three teen parnormal authors read from and discuss their work. I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze in time to be the dessert mom for a Saturday rehearsal of Lizabeth’s school musical. I still can’t bring myself to buy cupcakes or other treats rather than making them myself.

Another fun pick for families...

If you head over to Changing Hands at 10am on Saturday morning, your kiddos (and you) can enjoy one of their many events for children — an “Explore-A-Story” with Childsplay based on Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” series. Childsplay is performing “A Year With Frog and Toad” through Oct 16 at Tempe Center for the Arts — so you have plenty of chances to see it. But why wait?

–Lynn

Note: For a comprehensive listing of activities for children and families, visit the Raising Arizona Kids magazine online calendar. Always call event presenters before attending to confirm date, time, location, age recommendations, cost and other details.

Coming up: Focus on film, Easing on down the road

Childsplay photo pictures D. Scott Withers, Dwayne Hartford and Katie McFadzen in “A Year With Frog and Toad” (photo by Heather Hill)

AriZoni awards a la Lynn & Liz

AriZoni 2009-2010 winner "The Goats Gruff" by East Valley Children's Theatre

Talented actors at all ages and stages. An honest-to-goodness hilarious accountant. Women whose sign language sings. A professor who specializes in stage combat.

They all came together Monday evening at the Tempe Center for the Arts for the 2009-2010 AriZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence, produced in association with Childsplay.

The event, a celebration of 20 years for the AriZoni organization, was hosted by Katie McFadzen of Childsplay and Ron May of Stray Cat Theatre. Katie was the one in the red dress.

The evening, meant to honor the finest of Valley theater from the previous season, had three “acts” — a youth awards ceremony, an adult awards ceremony and an after party (held at the Fiesta Resort Conference Center). What happens at the after party stays at the after party.

Both ceremonies opened with a video montage of Valley theater productions through the years and a performance of “If They Could See Us Now” — with hosts McFadzen and May exercising enormous restraint in saving the raciest content for act two.

During the youth awards, a bit about dancing cheek to cheek included only a charming bit of face to face time, but the adult ceremony had them bumping cheeks of a different sort (tastefully, of course). The adult ceremony also included more subtle (and not so subtle) political humor.

With the rest of the nation poking fun at Arizona politicians, pink boxer sorts and such, it only seems fair that we reserve the right to poke fun at ourselves.

Speaking of poking, the topic was one of many covered by McFadzen and May during their reading of the rules for the ceremony. “You may not poke me on stage,” quipped May, “or on Facebook.”

The duo also noted that acceptance speeches should be “deliciously short” at 20 seconds or less — although an exception was granted for a young man whose thank yous consisted of a long string of showtune lyrics.

It was sometimes difficult to hear the names of award winners because of the roar of the crowd. I remember Theater Works Youth Works being particularly rowdy at last year’s youth ceremony, but I’d have to give this year’s “loud and proud” award to Spotlight Youth Theatre – who have a real “the little theater that could” vibe.

I promise myself every year that I’m going to use my very best audience member etiquette — and there are plenty of times when I pull it off. But Lizabeth and I couldn’t help ourselves when one of her teachers at ASA, Toby Yatso, won two awards. I fully expect to see him holding a Tony Award one day because, as Lizabeth once told me, “he sparkles.” (To the people who sat behind, beside and in front of us — please pardon our enthusiasm.)

“Thank you mama for being here again to always support me,” chimed Yatso during one of his acceptance speeches. Plenty of award recipients thanked parents and fellow professionals, while some thanked their children for getting them involved with theater and inspiring them in a myriad of ways.

Several spouses (in all combinations of genders) thanked partners who worked alongside them at the theater or tended to home and family so the other could do their theater rat thing. My favorite was a gentleman who thanked his wife for staying home alone most nights to play “Halo” so he could indulge the lure of greasepaint.

Especially touching moments included the presentation of scholarships to three students studying theater, one of whom (Chelsea Groen) Lizabeth recalls acting with at Greasepaint Youtheatre as a young child. I’ll write a bit more about distinguished service and outstanding contribution honorees in a future post because their accomplishments are worthy of a higher word count.

Attendees paused for a moving moment of silence during the adult ceremony to remember three members of the theater arts community who died during the past year — Eleanor Hofmann, Scott Jeffers and Noah Todd — reflecting together that ‘there are now more stars in the sky to light our way and guide our hearts.’

I suspect we could all have some fun inventing our own awards based on Monday night’s ceremonies. My “shiniest” award goes to Katie McFadzen for a sparkling silver bustier (likely borrowed from Betty White) and Zachary Tatus, who donned a gold lame jumpsuit to perform the role of “Conrad” in a number from Spotlight Youth Theatre’s “Bye Bye Birdie.”

The “funniest five seconds” award goes to McFadzen and May for popping up through round holes in the stage to reveal a Viking headpiece and clown wig before the presentation of awards for hair and make-up design. Their use of a Childsplay prop in a rather unconventional manner might win second place — though the competition was stiff.

My “cuter than spit” award would have to go to AriZoni winner Zoe Whiting of “The Goats Gruff” with East Valley Children’s Theatre, who beamed alongside the podium as a tiny bundle of sincerity and enthusiam. I like her style.

Big winners in the 2009-2010 youth theater category included EVCT’s “The Goats Gruff” (Overall Production-Play), Spotlight Youth Theatre’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” (Overall Production-Play) and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Overall Production-Musical), and Theater Works Youth Works’ “Beauty and the Beast” (Overall Production-Musical).

In the adult category, winners among non-contracted theaters included ASU Lyric Opera Theatre’s “The Rocky Horror Show” (Overall Production-Musical), Nearly Naked Theatre’s “Evil Dead: The Musical” (Overall Production-Musical), Desert Foothills Theater’s “Unnecessary Farce” (Overall Production-Play), Stray Cat Theatre’s “Speech & Debate” (Overall Production-Play) and Theater Works’ “All My Sons” (Overall Production-Play).

Winners among contracted theaters included Actors Theatre’s “No Child” (Overall Production-Play) and Phoenix Theatre’s “The Light in the Piazza” (Overall Production-Musical).

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Childsplay’s McFadzen performing in “Speech and Debate” and Dwayne Hartford (now appearing in “A Year With Frog and Toad”) directing “The Rocky Horror Show.” Watch for a future post toying with the many talents of Childsplay artists on and off the Childsplay stage.

Click here for a listing of winners in each youth theater and adult theater award category – and to join the AriZoni mailing list if you’d like to receive e-mail alerts including monthly newsletters. It’s a great way to stay informed about Valley theater offerings, resources and opportunities.

– Lynn

Coming up: Real-life high school musicals, Social justice takes the stage, More season previews, The fine art of sign language, Fun with film, Arts organization fundraisers

The fine art of animals

Scene from Childsplay's "A Year With Frog and Toad"

I got to thinking about art with an animal theme as I was making plans to attend “A Year With Frog and Toad,” the opening production of Childsplay’s 33rd season, which runs Sept 18 to Oct 16 (Sat/Sun 1pm & 4pm) at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Turns out there are plenty of theater works for children who enjoy animals of all shapes and sizes — including another Childsplay offering (“Go, Dog, Go!”) scheduled for Jan 29-March 6 of next year, and a Phoenix Theatre Cookie Company production of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” to run Nov 19-28 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale.

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater closes its run of “Baby Bear Goes to School” on Sept 12, but has oodles of animal fare lined up for the rest of their season — including “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Apolodo,” “Little Bunny’s Halloween,” “The Little Red Hen,” “Cinderella,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “The Monkey and the Pirate,” “The Three Little Pigs” and more.

Scene from Childsplay's "Go, Dog, Go!"

I’m especially intrigued by “Apolodo” — which the puppet meisters will perform one night only, Sept 17, at 8pm. It’s based on a poem by Gellu Naum, “one of the greatest Romanian avant-garde poets.”

It’s the tale of a little penguin from a great circus in Budapest who has a full time job as a tenor and entertainer — and “is a bit of an actor on the ice rink.” Sounds like most of my multi-tasking theater friends.

Scene from Great Arizona Puppet Theater's "Apolodor"

Great Arizona Puppet Theater often presents work that increases youth appreciation for wildlife and their habitats.

In “Hotel Saguaro” (Feb 2-20, 2011), grandpa Sammy tells little Sammy about the relationship between desert animals and the saguaro cactus. With “Canyon Condor” (Feb 23-March 6) children learn about the importance of the condor and protecting its environmental niche.

I recall enjoying many a show by the Great Arizona Puppet Theater when my three children, now ages 17-21, were younger. It’s a wonderful introduction to the joys of storytelling, live theater and communal arts experiences.

"Dancing Bear" by Inuit artist Pauta Siala (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

Many a Valley museum features animal-related arts and culture — including the Heard Museum (which has both Phoenix and North Scottsdale locations). I’m especially fond of the polar bears and other North American wildlife depicted in their “Inuit Art” collection, but visitors also can enjoy a host of other animal art from several different cultures — created in all sorts of mediums. The Heard Museum is an especially fun place to play games like “How many fish can you see in this room?” or “Can you find a wolf in this exhibit?”

Keep an eye out for animal-related art at local zoos, nature centers, animal rescue organizations and wildlife habitats. The Phoenix Zoo offers their next “Wild Art” class for 2-5 year olds at 9:30am on Sept 25. (Did you know that koalas are headed their way?) Take a sketch pad and some charcoal or colored pencils along on animal/nature adventures and create your own animal-inspired art.

"Animals and People" by Inuit artist Winnie Tatla (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

If birds or butterflies are your thing, check the offerings at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Upcoming art gallery exhibits at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum include an “Art Institute Student Show” opening Oct 2 and “The World of Nature in Miniatures” opening Dec 11.

Several of the Native American petroglyphs at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center depict animals. The museum also offers an educational program called “Ollie’s Storybook Adventures” which offers “fun and interactive ways for children to learn about…plants, animals and archeology of the American southwest.”

Cat in the Hat” fans (of all ages) can now enjoy a new television series on PBS. “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That,” which first aired on Monday, introduces young children to the wonders of science and the natural world. Comedy lovers may be especially delighted with the choice of actors to voice the role of the Cat — Martin Short (featured just last season at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts).

"Raptors of Arizona" opens Sept 11 at the ASDM Art Institute (Pictured is Richard Sloan's "Harris' Hawk")

Movie buffs who love animal fare can look for a 3-D film about two wolves named Kate and Humphrey opening soon in theaters Valleywide. “Alpha and Omega” also features angry bears, prickly porcupines and a golfing goose with a duck for a caddy.

Remember too that museum gift shops often offer unique animal-related gifts like the mouse-shaped cheese grater I recently picked up at the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop for a certain pasta-lover at our house. I also found a fanciful stuffed animal (a “Deglingos” offering called “Pikos the Hedgehog”) at the Phoenix Art Museum online shop. Alas — I have so far been unsuccessful in landing the rare “Mr. Pricklepants” of thespian and “Toy Story 3″ fame.

Mireya Mayor (photo by Mark Thiessen) comes to the MAC in 2011

Finally, you can enjoy any or all of four “National Geographic Live!” events coming to Mesa Arts Center this season. The first, featuring “Ocean Adventures” with Jean-Michel Cousteau, takes place Oct 20. The final event in the series this season  (March 23, 2011) will feature Mireya Mayor — pictured above with a new lemur species she discovered.

If your organization or venue offers visual or performing arts with an animal theme, please comment below to let our readers know.

– Lynn

Kennedy Center tour hits Higley

Note: Higley Center for the Performing Arts presents a rare treat on Nov 16 for school children pre-K to 1st grade — the touring production of “Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Musical” presented by Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences. Reservations are required.

Coming up: Sampling of symphonies, A weekend of “Bollywood & beyond”

Here are the answers to trivia questions posed in a recent “Laugh Your Brass Off” post about this weekend’s production of “The Music Man” with The Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre: “The Music Man” received the 1958 Tony Award for “Best Musical” nominated alongside “New Girl in Town,” “Oh, Captain!,” “Jamaica,” and “West Side Story.” Actors who have performed the role of Winthrop Paroo on stage or screen include Ron (then “Ronnie”) Howard, Eddie Hodges, Cameron Monaghan and Christian Slater.

The fine art of farce

A Valley reviewer recently dubbed Phoenix Theatre’s “Noises Off” the “best comedy you are likely ever to see.” I’d be inclined to agree had I not seen so much fabulously funny fare from this professional theater company through the years.

There’s plenty more to come from Phoenix Theatre – including the first production of the racy Broadway musical “Avenue Q” by an Arizona theater company. Who’s to say they won’t outdo themselves yet again?

Their casting is simply superb — and this show is no exception. Add a complex and creative set, maddeningly funny material and music to knock your socks (or boxer shorts) off — and you have a farce that’s nothing short of fine art.

"Noises Off" elevates farce to a fine art (Photo by Laura Durant)

Direction by Matthew Wiener, producing artistic director for Actors Theatre of Phoenix, only fuels the flames — for both the fantastically talented cast and the audience members who mistakenly presume they are out for a night of modest theater.

Picture yourself in a British theater waiting for the curtain to rise on “Nothing On” presented by “A Noise Within” productions. You’re leafing through the program only to discover actor/creative team credits that include playing Britain’s most famous lollypop lady, winning a coveted medal for violence, and loving anything small and furry.

It’s easy to imagine because every “Noises Off” playbill includes a fictitious “Nothing On” program replete with cast/creative team bios as well as a lovely bit of dramaturgy borrowed from an expert ‘in the semantics of Bedroom Farce.’

Members of the "Noises Off" cast in all their slapstick glory (Photo by Laura Durant)

If you carefully read the pseudo-program before the curtain opens, you’ll get your fix of fascinating facts about various elements of the production — the slamming doors, the falling trousers, mistaken identities and more.

You’ll discover that uproarious laughter, for some, “is a metaphysical representation of the sexual act.” If that’s the case, you’re in for one heck of an orgy when you see this show.

Good news for parents: Other than a black negligee and boxer shorts (not worn together, thankfully), there’s little that’s explicitly rude or crude in this show. It’s rife with inuendo, but I can’t imagine that many kids would catch the subtleties. They will, however, appreciate the many triumphs in physical comedy.

You never know where that baggage might end up (Photo by Laura Durant)

“Noises Off” by Michael Frayn consists of three acts featuring the folly of a ficticious “Nothing On” production. Act I depicts the final rehearsal for “Nothing On” — setting up characters and situations that won’t be fully appreciated until later in the work. It’s funny, but you won’t yet find yourself wishing you’d made that last minute potty stop.

Act II reveals a bevy of backstage bungling as we witness a performance of “Nothing On” from behind the scenes. It’s funnier and more outrageous than the first, but the farce really hits the fan during Act III, when we finally see the onstage mayhem as it appears to unwitting audience members.

Plenty of pratfalls involve persnickety props — a disappearing and reappearing plate of sardines, a rotary dial phone with a tendency-to-tangle cord, flowers that never cease to find their way into the wrong suitors’ hands. The rotating set-piece — the two-story home where “Nothing On” is set — is equally delightful.

I do have to wonder, though, whether younger audiences would be more appreciative if the work was updated a bit with Starbucks in lieu of sardines or computer wires in lieu of telephone cords. Of course, there’d be no stopping there since the world may soon be wireless — and the modern day quest for efficiency robbed of sensual pleasures like reading a paperback book over a cup of coffee might just as easily bring caffeine injections via some sort of biochip.

Steer clear of slippery sardines, among other things (Photo by Laura Durant)

It’s been several days since I saw the play, being performed at Phoenix Theatre through Sept 19 (extended from Sept 12 due to ‘popular demand and critical acclaim’). But I still find myself leafing through the actual program — where I’m learning all sorts of things about our local talent.

Leann Dearing (Brooke) and her husband Matthew are acting instructors with Dearing Acting Studio. Mike Lawler (Selsdon) is a member of Phoenix Theatre’s “Partners That Heal” program. Maren Maclean (Belinda) has extensive Shakespeare experience (including several seasons as education outreach director for Southwest Shakespeare Company) — which I’m convinced is the best training ground for the craft of comedy.

Gail Wolfenden-Steib (costume designer) operates Rukshana Raks!, a custom dancewear business specializing in belly dance costumes for both cabaret and tribal dance styles. Katie McNamara (properties designer) has worked as a prop artisan for the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Shakespeare Santa Cruz and others.

Matthew Wiener (director) holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. Michael J. Eddy (production manager/lighting designer) sits on the board of Scorpius Dance Theatre (which presents “A Vampire Tale” to sold out crowds each Halloween season). Pasha W. Yamotahari (assistant director and more) holds a journalism degree from the Cronkite School at ASU and has earned dramaturge and critic awards from the presitigious Kennedy Center.

Beware of doors that fly open or slam shut (Photo by Laura Durant)

Despite the farcical nature of the fare, I came away from it asking myself a rather serious question. Might I want to be a dramatuge when I grow up? Thankfully, I still have time to decide.

In the meantime, being an avid supporter of the Valley’s arts scene is a mighty fine gig.

–Lynn

Note: Mention the word “sardines” when ordering your tickets to enjoy a $5 savings while the offer lasts.

Coming up: Lynn and Liz encounter a frog and a toad a la Childsplay in Tempe; “Music Man” (with Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre) meets the Musical Instrument Museum; Making magic happen

Photos (from the top): Joseph Kremer;  Mike Lawler, Joseph Kremer, Christopher Williams, Maren Maclean, Cathy Dresbach; Christopher Williams, Leeann Dearing; Christopher Williams, Cathy Dresbach; Joseph Kremer, Cathy Dresbach, Robert Kolby Harper, Leeann Dearing (counter-clockwise from top left). All photos by Laura Durant of Durant Communications.

Once upon a kindness

The finest of good deeds are done quietly. No expectation of rewards. No sense of self-importance. 

They’re just given. 

And not soon forgotten… 

Childsplay sets are stunning works of art

So it is with Childsplay, the Tempe-based professional theater company for young audiences and families, which opens its 33rd season in September. 

The first year I bought play passes for Childsplay productions, we weren’t able to use a single ticket. 

Our son was having a tumultuous year, as we all were, when a serious health condition became our constant shadow. A trip to the theater felt tougher than a trip to the moon. 

We mourned the loss of many things that year—the joys of children’s theater among them. 

I shared a bit of our story with one of the fine folks at Childsplay, who graciously offered us play passes for the following season. 

Life had settled a bit by then, and the light of theater chased many shadows from our midst. 

Childsplay extends learning beyond the classroom

I’ll always be grateful to Childsplay for that simple act of kindness. 

I remember it well each time they announce another season full of whimsy and wonder. 

I recently learned that Childsplay passes for the 2010-2011 season are an especially good value when purchased before June 30. 

When you purchase play passes, they’re deposited directly into an account created for you at the Tempe Center for the Arts box office, and you can exchange the passes for show tickets either in person, by phone or online. 

Friendship is a common theme for Childsplay

The play pass program gives you a chance to enjoy lower ticket prices, waived processing fees and the ability to obtain show tickets a week before they go on sale to the general public.

Tickets can be mailed to you, printed at home or held for you at the box office. 

This is especially lovely for those of us who find that dealing with tangibles like tickets and money is way beyond bothersome. 

Although passes will be available for purchase through September, you’ll enjoy the best discounts if you order before June 30. You can click here for all the juicy details. 

Childsplay offerings for the 2010-2011 season are:

“A Year With Frog and Toad.” Follows the adventure of two great friends—a cheerful frog and a grouchy toad. Sept 18-Oct 16. Ages 4+. 

Childsplay makes learning fun

“Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” Recreates the world of intrigue that is “Room One” in a trio of Barbara Parker’s best-selling books. Jan 29-March 6. Ages 5+. 

“Go, Dog. Go!” Brings the adventures of P.D. Eastman’s book to life in a frolicking musical dog party. Jan 29-March 6. Ages 3+. 

“The Imaginators.” Explores the power of make believe as three friends discover friendship, courage and cooperation. April 9-17 (two weekends only). Ages 5+. 

“The Borrowers.” Follows a family who live under the floorboards as their curious daughter begins to explore the world of the ‘human beans’ who live upstairs. April 30-May 22. Ages 7+. 

Each show has it’s own charm, and back-story. To learn more about individual shows, their creators and their characters, visit Childsplay online at www.childsplayaz.org

I lost my heart to Childsplay after that first act of kindness. But more than a decade later, I still feel a genuine heart-tug each time I see them perform. 

Childsplay is truly the gift that keeps on giving. 

–Lynn 

 
 

Childsplay shows make great play dates

Photos from previous Childsplay productions of “A Year With Frog and Toad,” “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” and “Go Dog. Go!” courtesy of Childsplay

Note: Childsplay will also perform “New Kid” (tour only) and “Ferdinand the Bull” (national tour only) this season. They offer classes year-round and are now booking school performances for the coming school year. Consider getting extra passes so you can take friends along and have some on hand for last-minute birthday gifts.  

Coming up: An intriguing season from Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Preview of weekend arts events (including the “I Matter” performance this Friday night by youth in the Free Arts theater camp program), Valley theaters present new works