Tag Archives: Allegiance

Sondheim — student style

I’d never really considered the difficulty of singing Sondheim until I watched the second act of ASA’s current production of “Into the Woods.” I’d spent the first part of the evening enjoying a Rising Youth Theatre dress rehearsal, so all the fairytale folly of “Into the Woods” was well underway by the time I got there.

My own stellar singing career consisted of back-up vocals in bars with a bent for country western tunes while working to put myself through grad school. I thought everybody read Kant and Sartre steeped in bowls of stale peanuts, but nowadays I suppose we should be grateful to find folks reading just about anything.

Original Broadway cast recording of "Into the Woods"

If you’re fond of reading fairy tales, you might enjoy the twist on all things “happily ever after” that’s at the heart of “Into the Woods” — a musical featuring book by James Lapine plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a writer whose work I’m still exploring in the hot pink “Look, I Made a Hat.”

“Into the Woods” opened at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1986, where George Takei of “Star Trek” fame opens his new musical “Allegiance” later this year. It moved to Broadway in 1987 with Bernadette Peters in the role of “Witch” and Johanna Gleason in the role of “Baker’s Wife” (the role Amy Adams will rock during this year’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Into the Woods” from Public Theater in NYC).

The Arizona School for the Arts production, directed by Beck (she uses just a single name), was hysterical. Think funny, not frantic. The student cast in the role of Witch did an especially fine job singing Sondheim’s material. I’m hoping they’ll send a program my way so I can share the student’s name and give her proper credit for a truly solid performance.

I was less wowed by the set, built out (perhaps to house student musicians — who also did a stellar job) rather than recessed. I’d have preferred more of a deep, dark forest vibe, but that’s probably just my love affair with trees talking. And I’m about as qualified to design sets as I am to sing in front of even the most intoxicated patrons.

2006 Broadway cast recording of "Sweeney Todd"

Over in Glendale, Spotlight Youth Theatre is performing “Sweeney Todd: School Edition” featuring book by Hugh Wheeler plus music and lyrics by Sondheim. Music Theatre International notes that “Sweeney Todd” was adapted for youth performance by “working directly with Mr Sondheim to retain the dark wit and grand scope of the original work, with a few lyric and key changes to facilitate high school productions.”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is based on Christopher Bond’s take on “The String of Pearls,” believed by some to be rooted at least partially in historical events. It opened on Broadway in 1979 with a cast that included Len Carious (Sweeney Todd) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Lovett).

Some consider “Sweeney Todd” a tale of ruin and revenge — but I’ve always been more partial to its tender, rather than tenderized, side. A family torn apart. A young man pining for a girl who’s out of reach. A motherless boy seeking to protect a childless woman from harm.

Nowadays, a click of the mouse will get you Johnny Depp when you’d really rather find Sondheim. Fond as I am of Depp’s portrayal of Todd in the 2007 film, I’d be sad to see a generation familiar only with Sweeney on the big screen. Best to enjoy “Sweeney Todd” on stage but get your tickets as well for “Dark Shadows,” where we’ll all be treated to a bit of dracula meets disco as only Depp can deliver it.

Before the musical, there was this book

A final word before you head out to support all those students charged with singing Sondheim — best to leave kids younger than middle school age at home for these shows. “Into the Woods” is best appreciated by adults, though teens also love the fractured fairy tale vibe. And “Sweeney Todd” has mature themes, including murder, that your little one don’t need swimming around in their heads.

I took Lizabeth to see the Arizona Opera production of “Sweeney Todd” when she was barely in the double digits. To this day, she’s fed up any talk about the worst pies in London.

– Lynn

Note: Folks who follow theater can click here for a list of recent Drama Desk nominations, and here for news of this year’s Tony Awards ceremony (nominations will be announced May 1).

Coming up: How groovy is that?

Update: “Sweeney Todd School Edition” is also part of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s 2012-2013 season — which also includes “13,” “Disney’s the Little Mermaid Jr.,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Dear Edwina.”  Click here for details. 5/1/12

You had me at “cherry tree”

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There’s a small parking lot at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts that’s covered with yellow blossoms these days — dropped from the Palo Verde trees that bring a splash of color to the desert each spring. I’ve taken to imagining these trees are cherry blossoms, picturing them in pink instead of yellow, because I’m still learning to love the Arizona landscape — but cherry blossoms have always tugged at my heart.

I saw the season’s first cherry tree blossom inside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden earlier this month and get wistful for Washington, D.C. each time the cherry blossoms emerge. So when I learned that a new theater work titled “Sakura no Ne” (“Root of the Cherry Tree”) included footage of trees in bloom, I knew I had to see it. Folks who feel the same have just one more opportunity (April 22 at 2pm) to see the family-friendly production being performed at Theater Works in Peoria.

“Sakura no Ne” is part multi-media production, part performance art, part morality tale and part homage to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix (along with sister city Himeji in Japan). At times it has the feel of a fine work of theater for children. Other times it reads like a Japan-inspired version of “Riverdance” or “Stomp.” Everything about it is lovely, but it may need a bit more pruning as it evolves to reach wider audiences.

Children in the audience Saturday afternoon clearly loved the humor, drumming, martial arts component and digital projections. The 80-minute show also features diverse dance elements rarely scene on Valley stages. I chatted with a couple after the show, eager to see whether a storm scene filled with lightning and a fire-breathing serpent had scared their preschool-age son. “This is the first time he’s sat through an entire show,” they told me.

“Sakura no No” is the work of playwright Soji Kashiwagi (of Grateful Crane Ensemble) and music composer Scott Nagatani.  It’s directed by Dominik Rebilas. “Sakura no Ne” is produced by Yoshi Kumagai (who also serves as art director and fight choreographer) and Ken Koshio (who also serves as music director), sponsored by the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix and funded by a Sundome Performing Arts Association grant. Kumagai shared with me after the show that they’re hoping to present the work in additional Valley venues.

The show’s most dramatic element is drumming by Ken Koshio in the role of Ikazuchi (Thunder God). The cast also includes John Tang (Taro “Tama” Yamazajura), Urashima Taro, Old Man), Dale Nakagawa (Justin, Sea Turtle) and Sandy Harris (Haley, Sea Princess, Crane). Most delicate is Koshio’s title song, sung in Japanese and English with harmonica and guitar. I also enjoyed creations by Zarko Guerrero (mask and turtle outfit) and Derrick Suwaima Davis (crane feather outfit).

“Sakura no Ne” follows the adventures of two tween-age siblings — a boy rarely parted from his Nintendo and a girl attached to her cell phone. Think “I’m so bored” and “O-M-G.” They’re left one day at the Japanese Friendship Garden by parents hoping they’ll find a bit of bliss. But the pair finds something more — a renewed appreciation for nature, family and community. Even each other.

The simple storyline is punctuated by music, dance and martial arts performance. There’s traditional Japanese dance featuring Mari Kaneta (whose choreography and dance I enjoyed with daughter Lizabeth during the 1996 Arizona Opera production of “Madama Butterfly”), taiko drumming by Fushicho Daiko and Jakara, martial arts by a trio from Arizona Aikiko and dance by the ASU Japanese Student Association’s Soran Bushi Dancers. It all comes together in the service of a single message.

Only the cherry tree’s strong roots make its beautiful blossoms possible.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “Strolling in Yukata” (taking place April 28 at the Japanese Friendship Garden) and here to learn about a new musical titled “Allegiance” (which explores the World War II experiences of a Japanese-American family).

Coming up: Another tree tale, Don’t cry for me Shakespeare?

Tribble time!

We rarely exchange your typical ties and sweaters during the holiday season, but lean instead towards gifts that some might consider a bit geek-ish. I was reminded recently, after learning that something called “Star Trek Live” is headed to the Valley, of the year Lizabeth gave her dad a Tribble.

Tribbles are fictional furry creatures that first appeared in a 1967 episode of the original “Star Trek” television series. I’m told they’re gentle and do a little purring thing, but I’m less qualified than my hubby and daughter Lizabeth to address such things. I’m more of a “Tigger” kind of a gal.

Our other daughter Jennifer admits to being in my camp on this one. “I only try and learn about Star Trek so I can understand my sister,” she tells me. I’m an only child so I find this approach to sistering rather intriguing. Maybe we should both head out Sunday to see the ”Starfeet Academy” show at Mesa Arts Center.

Performers from the science meets live theater production of Star Trek Live: Starfleet Academy coming soon to Mesa

“Star Trek Live: Starfleet Academy” is described by its presenters, Mad Science Productions, as “an interactive adventure.” Think “cutting-edge special effects, audience interaction and on-screen appearances from Captain Kirk and Spock.”

School “Star Trek Live” shows are scheduled for Mon, Nov. 21 and Tues., Nov 22 – and there’s even a 69-page teacher guide available online. It’s a cross between serious science and fun activities like crossword puzzles, but my favorite piece deals with rockets (mostly because my own kids had such a great time making and launching rockets at Desert View Learning Center).

Nowadays we’re keeping an eye on what several cast members from the original “Star Trek” television series are up to. George Takei (“Sulu”) is working to bring a new musical titled “Allegiance” to the Broadway stage, planning first for a premiere and run in San Diego. Where are those darn “beam me up” machines when you need them?

Leonard Nimoy (“Spock”) is still working with that whole logical/illogical thing as he explores the vast realms of poetry and photography. Nimoy’s poetry is part of an exhibition you can enjoy at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson through Dec. 23. It’s titled “Celebrity Poets” and also pays tributes to works by Suzanne Somers, Viggo Mortensen, Leonard Cohen, Tupac Shakur and others.

The most dedicated “Star Trek” fans among us have already added dates for 2012 “Comicon” events to their calendars. For folks in Phoenix, it’s “Phoenix Comicon,” coming to the Phoenix Convention Center over Memorial Day weekend (May 24-27).

Be sure to look for me if you go — I’ll be the woman with a Tribble in tow.

– Lynn

Coming up: “Occupy Bella”

Origami & beyond

I was struck by a series of hanging paper cranes during a recent visit to Poets House in New York City. Origami is the one form of art I simply can’t pass by without pausing — perhaps because it seems the perfect blend of purposeful and playful.

There’s a similar exhibit as you enter the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, inside a foyer that also houses a giant hanging paper crane. Recently I visited the museum with my adult son Christopher, who’s been enjoying the museum with me since he was just knee-high.

We explored the museum’s ArtZone — which currently features an exhibit titled “One Thousand Paper Cranes.” Exhibit materials note that in Japan it’s believed that a wish comes true for the person who folds 1,000 paper origami cranes. 

A sign at the museum invites visitors to fold paper cranes in an effort to secure their wish for world peace — collecting them for shipment to Hiroshima, Japan — where they’ll hang in the Children’s Peace Monument.

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Admirers of Japanese and other Asian art can always find it in the Phoenix Art Museum’s permanent Asian Collection. Its offerings, which can be viewed online, include several Japanese prints and screens.

Phoenix Art Museum holds its next “First Wednesday Asian Gallery Talk” at noon on August 3. It’s free with museum admission or membership.

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix presents a “Museum Encounter” with Bobby Seigetsu Avstreih and the Japanese Shakuhachi Flute at 11:30am and 2:30pm on Aug 6. It’s free with museum admission.

Through Each Others Eyes, an organization that uses photography to promote international understanding, has a photographic exchange exhibit with Japanese photographers. It’s the 17th such exchange between photographers in sister cities Phoenix and Himeji.

The Japanese Friendship Garden (Ro Ho En) in Phoenix, which closes for the summer months, is holding an “Opening Day Celebration” on Oct 1. Their annual “Moonviewing Festival” (Ot sukimi) takes place Oct. 15.

Musical theater fans are keeping an eye on the development of “Allegiance — A New American Musical,” which follows a family touched by the internment of Japanese Americans in parts of the U.S. following the attack on Pearl Harbor. “Allegiance” is described as a work about “love, loss and heroism.”

Cast members include Lea Salonga as Gloria Suzuki, George Takei as Old Sam Omura and Telly Leung as Young Sam Omura. A private workshop was held last week in New York, and the musical will enjoy a world premiere next year at the Old Globe theatre in San Diego.

If you share my love for origami, or you have yet to appreciate its wonder, check out the PBS “Independent Lens” film titled “Between the Folds.” It features the art and science of origami by exploring the work of ten powerful paper-folders.

You can learn more about the history of origami and all sorts of paper-folding resources from PBS “Independent Lens” online. But your best bet is still buying a bunch of origami paper so you and your children can learn by doing.

– Lynn

Note: Start today if your family celebrates Christmas and you’d like to decorate your tree this year with paper cranes like those shown in one of the images above. Paper cranes and other origami or kirigami (paper cutting) art also make beautiful garlands and table decorations.

Coming up: Valley studios offering acting classes