Tag Archives: Alice Ripley

Feeling next to normal

Alice Ripley (L), Aaron Tveit (center) and J. Robert Spencer in "Next to Normal" at the Booth Theatre (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Some musicals mirror our lives. Others manage to change them. For our family, “Next to Normal” did both. So news that it’ll open Arizona Theatre Company’s 2012/13 season hits home. Our son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during middle school, and the road from first symptoms to stability was a rocky one.

For many years, the everyday experiences of living with mental illness took a toll on every member of our family, including Christopher’s two younger sisters. For Lizabeth, who’s long been interested in stage and screen, the musical “Next to Normal” felt an anthem of sorts in ways that only she can fully explain.

“Next to Normal” imagines the life of a suburban family fraught with depression and denial. Parents Diana and Tom battle their own demons, and each other, long after the death of son Gabe. Other characters include daughter Natalie, a friend of hers named Henry and Doctor Madden.

It features music by Tom Kitt, and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey — and is being directed for ATC by the company’s artistic director, David Ira Goldstein. The Broadway production won a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama and three Tony Awards, including one for best musical score.

"Next to Normal" on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Lizabeth saw the musical during its Broadway run at the Booth Theatre, and we traveled together last January to see the touring production featuring Alice Ripley (who originated the role of Diana on Broadway) at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. I’m hoping she’ll be on fall break during Arizona Theatre Company’s Oct. 11-28 run in Phoenix.

If not, we’ll continue our tradition of exchanging show stories. I’ve enjoyed hearing her accounts of everything from “Seminar” to “Porgy and Bess.” Some shows, like “Godspell” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” she’s seen more than once. Others, like “The Book of Mormon,” are tough to take in on a college student’s budget.

If Lizabeth gets to “Freud’s Last Session” at New World Stages in NYC, we’ll be able to compare notes on imagined conversations between Sigmund Freud and C.S Lewis – because Arizona Theatre Company is co-producing the Southwest premiere of this work with San Jose Rep as well. A Feb. 14-March 3 Phoenix run means those of you with a warped sense of humor have Valentine’s Day planning in the bag.

The 2012/13 season for Arizona Theatre Company also includes “Lombardi” (a play about Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi), “Emma” (a musical based on Jane Austen’s novel), “The Sunshine Boys” (a Neil Simon play about comedians reuniting to rehash their old schtick) and “Clybourne Park” (a play exploring race and real estate in America, which received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in drama).

Theater has long been a normalizing force amidst circumstances sometimes isolating and unpredictable. Works like “Next to Normal” remind families living with mental illness, or grief following the loss of a child, that they’re not alone. I’m not sure whether seeing “Next to Normal” again will feel more like applying a bandage or ripping one off. Both are necessary for healing.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Arizona Theatre Company’s current season and here to explore their 2012/13 offerings (show are performed at both Tucson and Phoenix venues)

Coming up: Dust in the wind

Update: “Clybourne Park,” which my hubby James saw during his last trip to NYC, has been nominted for several 2012 Tony Awards — including best play. Click here for a full list of this year’s Tony Award nominees. 5/1/12

Moms in musical theater

Patti LuPone as Mama Rose in Gypsy on Broadway-Photo by Joan Marcus. LuPone performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts March 3, 2012.

I got to thinking about mothers in musical theater the other day while looking forward to the return of “Mamma Mia!” to ASU Gammage this week, which my daughter Lizabeth is eager to see for a second time. Apparently watching a fictional parent prance around in bell bottoms has more appeal than living with the real thing.

Alice Ripley as Diana in Next to Normal-Photo by Joan Marcus

We’ve seen all sorts of parents portrayed on Valley, and other, stages. We saw Alice Ripley perform the role of “Diana” in “Next to Normal” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. Estelle Parsons perform the role of “Violet” in “August: Osage County” at ASU Gammage. And Rich Hebert perform the role of “Dad” in “Billy Elliot” at ASU Gammage as well.

“Mamma Mia!” follows the adventures of a young daughter, “Sophie,” readying to wed. She lives on an island with her mom, “Donna,” who isn’t quite sure which of three suitors from her own youth might be Sophie’s biological father. It’s all set to music by ABBA and it’s an especially fun show for folks who like their theater upbeat and awash with bright colors.

Madalena Alberto as Fantine in Les Mis-Photo by Michael La Poer Trench

A mother facing a more serious dilemma, the care of her young daughter in her absence, is at the heart of the next musical coming to ASU Gammage — Les Miserables. As a mom named “Fantine” who has sacrificed much for her child lay dying, an ex-convict named “Jean Valjean” vows to keep the child “Cosette” safe. It proves quite a task given his own past and stirrings of revolution in early 19th century France.

The perplexing nature of parenting seems sometimes to be the only thing fueling the future of theater craft. A quick review of shows coming to Valley stages during the 2011/12 season reveals a long list of works filled with mommy or daddy issues — some set to music, others just words.

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna and Chloe Tucker as Sophie in Mamma Mia!-Photo by Joan Marcus

Arizona Theatre Company presents the Yasmina Rez play “God of Carnage” in Tucson and Phoenix this fall. It’s the tale of two couples brought together by a playground fight between their 11-year-old sons. I’m delighted to learn that mothers and daughters aren’t always the ones under the microscope.

Phoenix Theatre performs a classic work of musical theater about stage mothering gone horribly wrong next spring. “Gypsy” is the story of “Mama Rose” and the two daughters forced to endure her insecurity and interference. That woman needs to cut the cord already.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” based on a book in which Sheri Mandell shares experiences surrounding the murder of her 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef. It’s been adapted for the stage by Todd Salovey, and reviews of other productions paint it as gut-wrenching.

While I suppose it’s tempting for some to relish all those ABBA moments without experiencing more sobering reflections on parenting, I’m looking forward to doing both.

– Lynn

Look to these nuns for some serious fun... (Photo: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts)

Note: Looking for an additional way to enjoy mother/daughter or grown-up friend time? Head to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Sat, May 21 for the “Sing-Along Sound of Music.” $12/adults, $6 children ages 3-12. Warm up & costume contest at 2pm, film and sing-along at 2:3opm. Hosted by “Sister” Patti Hannon of “Late Night Catechism.” Click here for info on costume discount available from Mardi Gras costumes in Scottsdale.

Coming up: Summer dance classes, Ode to season tickets, Seuss meets symphony, Musings on photo I.D.

Much more than normal

by guest blogger Gabrielle Abrams

ASU student Gabielle Abrams saw "Next to Normal" at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego on Jan 22, 2011

Next to Normal is a musical that jumps over the line that many musicals shy away from.

Many people will even shy away from the topics brought up in this heavy yet entertaining show.

Next to Normal deals with issues of depression, and those coping with family members who are being treated for mental illnesses.

The cast members in this show are intense, bringing an electrifying score to life. It’s a small cast of only six actors who carry along the entire show.

Each actor was amazing, hitting notes that so many can only dream of. They demanded the attention and it was difficult when all were on the scene at the same time to focus on only one of them.

Alice Ripley, who originated the role of Diana, is touring with the show and giving it her all. She is a fierce actress and hits the emotional scenes with such force and honesty.

Yet Ripley’s vocal performance is not what it used to be. The songs are draining on her voice and it seems much raspier and strained than on the original recordings. 

The set is unusual to most big Broadway musicals, being a more minimalist type set. The framework stays the same throughout the whole show and is formed to be a three story house as if you cut it in the middle.  

This allows the actors to move about in their own “rooms” and do something independent. This helped the scenes switch easily from one area to the other.

This is one musical that dares to go where none other has. The characters are well defined and are easily connected with. 

Next to Normal is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. This is one musical that shouldn’t be missed.

Note: Gabrielle Abrams is a journalism student at Arizona State University.

Road trip: Balboa Theatre

Balboa Theatre in San Diego

I confess to feeling like a bit of a traitor. Eager to see the musical “Next to Normal,” I went with Lizabeth to San Diego for the weekend so we could see the show at the Balboa Theatre.

We’re longtime season ticket holders for the “Broadway Across Arizona” series at ASU Gammage, but haven’t any way of knowing whether “Next to Normal” will be part of their 2011-2012 slate.

When a small group of students from Lizabeth’s school went to NYC last year, everyone else saw “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. Lizabeth chose to see “Next to Normal” instead, and took another student along for the show — only to learn that an understudy was replacing Alice Ripley (winner of a 2009 Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical) for that performance.

Young fans sometimes linger after the show to request autographs

We waited a long time outside the Balboa Theatre stage door after Saturday night’s “Next to Normal” performance — hoping to meet Ripley and tell her just how powerful we found her performance.

Though she didn’t come out after the show (we suspect she was feeling a bit under the weather), we did get to chat with several other cast members — all very gracious about talking with folks, signing programs and posing for pictures.

Considering all the lights and strobe effects in the show, I half expected cast members to wince at the thought of enduring a flurry of flashes. But they seemed happy to linger, with smiles and personalities as bright as those amazing lights on the three-tier set.

Balboa Theatre features beautiful decor

We shared that we’d come from Arizona — and folks asked “Which part of Arizona?” My answer — “the liberal part” — drew a hearty laugh from a cast member who shared that he’d grown up in Utah. We felt among friends.

Also waiting at the stage door that night were two Arizona students — including an ASU journalism major. I gave her my card and invited her to send me a review of “Next to Normal” — which she sent nearly perfectly polished and before “deadline.”

This chocolate joint was open past midnight!

We were among the final folks to abandon the quest to meet Ms. Ripley. When the theater security guards lock up and a police car starts lingering nearby, you get the feeling your level of interest might be misconstrued.

But before we moved on for a late night Ghirardelli run, we chatted with a delightful stage mom. I’m afraid to attempt the spelling of her name — which is quite beautiful and exotic. But I can handle the name of her 8-year-old son, Pierre.

Perhaps Pierre will sign autographs some day

Apparently Pierre was terribly shy until his parents enrolled him in a theater class, which introduced him to a world where different can be good. Now he’s becoming a regular on the San Diego Junior Theatre stage.

Remembering as we spoke that Theater Works’ Youth Works in Peoria is readying to open “James and the Giant Peach,” I invited Pierre’s mom to have him give me a call. Seems he’s an avid reader of Roald Dahl — the author of the book on which this play is based. I also encouraged her to make an Arizona road trip to explore our family-friendly theater offerings by Childsplay and others.

The beaches of San Diego (portrayed in this mural at the airport) are hard to leave behind

We’ve never spent a night at the theater without being introduced to compelling ideas and creative people — whether here in the Valley, on Broadway, or in another state. I can’t wait to see what Arizona companies and venues are offering during the 2011-2012 season.

Even the folks who sell show merchandise are friendly and fun

Something tells me that a pair of young men we met in San Diego will be heading to Tempe this week to see “Spring Awakening” at ASU Gammage. It sounds like they may follow this musical the way young adults of earlier generations sought out the Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen.

But what of “Next to Normal?” I’ll share thoughts on the show in a future post — and am delighted today to share a review by Gabrielle Abrams, whose writing I expect to be reading in all sorts of places for many years to come.

– Lynn

Note: Visit the “On Stage” section of the daily online calendar at www.raisingarizonakids.com to learn about family-friendly theater options here in the Valley.

Coming up: Film competition for high school students, Valley theater company holds playwriting competition, More history meets theater

Photos by Lynn Trimble (with special thanks to Lizabeth for enduring her mother’s fascination with photographing signs and other oddities)

Musings on “mature content” musicals

I finally broke down and watched the movie “Shutter Island” with my 17-year-old daughter recently after someone who’d seen it mentioned how much she’d probably enjoy it.

I’m one of those quaint parents who’s not a big fan of the under-17 set seeing movies with an R-rating, although Lizabeth saw plenty of “mature content” musicals before turning 17.

Folks who watch “Glee” will recognize the actress in this poster from “Spring Awakening” on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

She’s seeing “Spring Awakening” for the second time this week when it returns for two nights only to ASU Gammage.

Last time it toured in Tempe, we surprised her with tickets for on-stage seating — since rows of audience members sit stage left and stage right for the entire production.

This time around we’ll enjoy it together from seats in the house — and it’ll be our second “mature content” musical for the week.

About the time this gets posted, we’ll be seeing “Next to Normal” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego.

Lizabeth first saw “Next to Normal” at the Booth Theatre during a high school trip to NYC and DC last year, but Alice Ripley didn’t perform the night Lizabeth attended.

We’re thrilled to be seeing Ripley perform in the touring production — and will offer more musings on our return.

People often ask me what theater material is and isn’t appropriate for certain ages. My answer to this mirrors my take on most parenting issues. It depends on the child.

Families have different values. Children have different sensitivities. And everyone has a different take on art.

When I spoke a while back with Paris Bradstreet, a member of the touring cast for “Spring Awakening” at ASU Gammage, she noted that primetime television offers far more violence and sexual content than the plays and musicals folks fear as too racy.

Touring cast of “Spring Awakening” (Photo: Andy Snow)

Since we spoke, MTV has started airing a weekly series called “Skins” — billed as “a journey throughout the lives of nine high school friends stumbling through teenage adolescence.”

Think partying with drugs and alcohol, trading sexual favors, popping pills, reading porn and more.

Pay attention when theater offerings have content advisories, but do more digging.

Sometimes the things parents fear, like the brief and barely lit nude scene in “Hair,” are far more tasteful than what your kids are seeing on television or in movie theaters.

Bradstreet observes that “mature content” fare often sails right over the heads of younger children.

If your tween or teen is old enough to know when a character is simulating sexual activity (with self or others), it’s unlikely the thought of sex has yet to cross his or her mind.

And as the mom of a teen who has seen everything from “Rent” to “Avenue Q,” I can assure you that no Broadway show has ever inspired her to run right home and start swearing up a storm or sneaking out at night for some sinister purpose.

Touring cast of “Spring Awakening” (Photo: Andy Snow)

If anything, it’s taken the glamour away from activities that would otherwise derive power from their mystery.

Who wants to raid a liquor cabinet after watching the mother in “August: Osage County” drink herself into oblivion? Who wants to shoot heroine after seeing a drug user in “Rent” contract AIDS?

I hadn’t realized, when we rented the movie “Shutter Island,” that it involved a mother killing her children. I only recall the slick little DVD case warning against language, cigarette use and nudity.

Apparently it’s the smoking killers who most offend. But all is well if they’re fully clothed.

I wasn’t entirely sure after watching “Shutter Island” that I’d made the right call.

But I am sure that much of what our tweens and teens experience via television, video games and the Internet is far more rude and crude than anything I’ve ever seen in a work of musical theater.

– Lynn

Note: One of the best ways to gauge the age-appropriateness of content is to view something for yourself before deciding whether it’s okay for your child or teen. If you check with friends, ask enough of them to get a good sampling of opinions — which will give you more insight than a single thumbs up or thumbs down.

Coming up: Good clean fun with children’s theater, All things “Alice,” Spotlight on Sedona

Update: ASU Gammage has just announced special pricing for certain tickets to “Spring Awakening.” Use the code “SPRING” when ordering tickets in price levels 1-3 (excludes balcony seating; additional fees apply). Offer not valid on previously purchased tickets or in conjunction with any other offers. Tickets available from ASU Gammage and Ticketmaster.

Theater trips to NYC or London

Soon we’ll be sending our Broadway baby (that’s a whole other story) to the East Coast for her first experiences with New York City and Washington, D.C.  She’s traveling with a small group of high school students (and chaperones) touring the two cities together during spring break.

I suspect the highlight of the trip for Lizabeth, a 16-year-old junior who’s majoring in theater arts, will be seeing her first production on Broadway. She’s hoping for “Next to Normal,” a show she finds fascinating for a host of reasons—including a strong personal connection to the subject matter and a deep respect for the artistry of all those who bring it to life.

I got a little ticket trigger happy one morning and decided to search for “Next to Normal” tickets online—just to see whether there’s even a remote chance that Lizabeth might be able to get tickets if her group, or at least one fellow traveler, seems game for taking in this particular show.

Tickets are, in fact, available—and you can only imagine my dismay in having to let them slip away since it makes no sense to buy anything at this point. It was even harder than letting the online Ticketmaster clock run out on Bon Jovi tickets when I realized we’d need the money for Lizabeth’s trip.

 “Next to Normal”—an original musical from the director of “Rent” that “explores how one suburban household copes with crisis”—was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2009.

The award for best orchestrations went to Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt for “Next to Normal” (and to Martin Koch for “Billy Elliot, The Musical”), while the award for best original score (music and/or lyrics) went to composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey.

This helps to explain why I’m so enamored by the music and lyrics whenever I’m lucky enough to pry the original Broadway cast recording from Lizabeth’s hands.

The recording features the six-member cast and a seven-member band (conducted by Charlie Alterman) featuring piano, keyboard, cello, violin, drums and percussion as well as electric and acoustic basses and guitars.

Alice Ripley received the award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical for her portrayal of the mother, Diana. I can only imagine how exciting it would be for a young actress to see someone so talented, for whom she has such admiration, perform live on Broadway—so I’ll be keeping every last one of my fingers and toes crossed on this one!

In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying the touring production of another relatively new musical called “Avenue Q,” coming to ASU Gammage this week as part of the Broadway Across America series. “Avenue Q” garnered three Tony Awards—best musical, best score and best book—in 2004.

Did you know that Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, Executive Director for ASU Gammage and Assistant Vice President of Cultural Affairs for ASU, is Arizona’s only Tony Award voter? She gets to spend plenty of time in New York, seeing Broadway shows wearing a multitude of hats (including that of modern dancer).

The fine folks of ASU Gammage have arranged a three-day trip they call the “Broadway Adventure Tour to New York City,” designed to give participants a “rare and unique look at the behind-the-scenes of New York and Broadway.”

The ASU Gammage tour runs Friday through Sunday, June 4th to 6th, and includes a two-night stay at the Millennium Hotel in the theater district, two Broadway shows (patron choice—plus house seats obtained directly from the producers), and more.

For an additional cost, travelers can attend the 2010 Tony Awards on Sunday, June 13th at Radio City Music Hall (then hit a post-ceremony celebrity party). You can learn more, or jump right in, by calling Mollie Trivers of ASU Gammage at 480-727-0005.

Fountain Hills Community Theater is having their annual “Adult Theater Trip” to London May 16th to 22nd. The trip includes a seven-night stay at the Strand Palace Hotel adjacent to the Thames, best available tickets to four West End shows, and more.

Folks on this trip can enjoy an optional day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, with tickets to a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. More information is available online and by calling 480-837-9661, ext. 3.

Phoenix Theatre is offering a “Springtime Theatre Tour to London” April 24th to May 1st. The trip includes a six-night stay at a first-class hotel, three theater productions (including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies”), and trips/tours of various theater landmarks.

Learn more about the Phoenix Theatre trip to London by visiting them online or contacting Beth Reynolds at 602-889-5299 or e.reynolds@phoenixtheatre.com.

Best I not attend, I suspect, because trying to get me back on a westbound plane could get ugly.

But if any of these trips are calling your name, you’d best get a jump on things right away. Travel dates are rapidly approaching and space is limited. Before too long, it’ll be too late for trip sponsors to accept any more travelers.

If you know of other Valley arts organizations coordinating trips to destinations known for spectacular arts and culture, let us know so we can help spread the word…

–Lynn

Coming up: Conversation with Ted Neeley of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Tips for enjoying the Phoenix Art Museum with children, Musings on arts organization ‘wish lists,’ Dance locals and legends