Tag Archives: Cats

The CATS meow

I like my cats curled up on couches or stretched out on window sills. Seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber bring T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” to life in all its furry feline glory, a process he started late in 1977, is about as thrilling as sniffing a felt mouse stuffed with catnip.

But I’m taking a new look at the musical “Cats,” thanks to photos shared by Spotlight Youth Theatre of Glendale — which is performing the work through Sun, Sept 18. Enjoy these snippets of “Cats” creativity photographed by Alayne Vogel of Memory Layne Photography, which are laced with lovely bits of Andrew Lloyed Webber news and trivia…

  • Webber has composed many works you’ve likely never heard of — including “The Likes of Us,” “By Jeeves,” “The Beautiful Game,” and “The “Woman in White.” My personal favorite is “Whistle Down the Wind.”

  • Webber’s awards include seven Tonys, three Grammys, seven Oliviers, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, two International Emmys, the Praemium Imperiale, the Richard Rodgers Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and The Kennedy Center Honor.

  • “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall,” a 25th anniversary production presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, will be screened live at hundreds of North Americans movie theaters Sun, Oct 2 (including theaters in Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson). Visit www.fathomevents.com for details.

  • “The Phantom of the Opera” has grossed more than $5.6 billion worldwide — with box office revenues that “are higher than any film or stage play in history” (including “Avatar,” “Titanic,” “E.T.,” and “Star Wars”).

  • Until recently, only “By Jeeves,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “The Likes of Us,” and “Sunset Boulevard” were available on license from Webber’s “Really Useful Group.”

  • Today the BBC reports that “Really Useful Group” is starting a rollout of major musicals to education and amateur markets. These shows will include “Whistle Down the Wind” and “Starlight Express.” Versions of “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera” for UK and Irish schools are “identical to the professional productions.”

I’m told that Spotlight Youth Theatre added an extra performance of “Cats” Sat, Sept 17, at 1pm. Shows have been selling out and we certainly don’t want anyone showing their claws.

– Lynn

Note: Learn more about “Cats” and the rest of Spotlight Youth Theatre’s 2011/12 season at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org. Those interested in buying tickets to “Cats” should call Kenny Grossman at 623-521-8093. Learn about all things Andrew Lloyd Webber (including licensing rights) at www.andrewlloydwebber.com.

Coming up: More Andrew Lloyd Webber on Valley stages — plus a bunch of things that have nothing to do with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Going green in NYC

Though large bags of trash get piled throughout the city before garbage trucks can get to them, New York appears to be way ahead of Arizona in the “green” movement. Circular trash bins sit on many a street corner, but in many indoor settings, you’ll find separate containers for paper, glass and the real rubbish that can’t be recycled.

When I attended parent orientation for the incoming class at Lizabeth’s university in NYC today, the food services director spoke with genuine enthusiasm about the school’s many “sustainable” practices — buying local foods and such. More evidence that New York trumps Arizona in the green department.

Our hotel in lower Manhatten is “green” is some deliberate and unintended ways. They’ve got low water usage toilets that turn flushing into a funky form of upper arm workout, and eating utensils in the dining area made by “Tater Ware” — whose slogan reads “We’re the Solution, Not the Pollution.” Both cutlery and wrap are biodegradable. And because the hot water goes out most days, we’re saving energy by taking cold showers.

I’ve encounted another sort of green with alarming frequency here in NYC. It seems there’s a Starbucks ’round nearly every corner. For a while I had great fun photographing them all. But I’ve seen enough now that they’re starting to bore me, with one exception — the dancing cups ala Starbucks in “The Book of Mormon.”

Parks are plentiful in NYC, and I never tire of seeing them. Many feature public art and paths lined with benches. Often they’re the landmarks that help me navigate the city. And they’re never empty, except when closed up for the night. I sat in a park around midnight one evening, and had plenty of company.

But my favorite “greens” in NYC are all those lush window flowerboxes, giant potted topiary and small rectangular plots of plants that surround the trunks of many a tree in all sorts of neighborhoods. I’ve met some lovely people while photographing their gardens, and hope you’ll enjoy these images of their handiwork…

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–Lynn

Coming up: Pianos meet public parks

In the spotlight

Samantha Utpadel of Litchfield Park remembers her daughters auditioning during 2008 for the school edition of “Les Miserables” being performed by Spotlight Youth Theatre in Glendale. Both Alexandra (Ixy), now a junior music major at Willamette University in Oregon, and Sophia (Sophie), now a soon-to-be senior at Arizona School for the Arts, were cast.

Beauty and the Beast cast working on choreography

Utpadel says “the show turned out to be a very special experience in many ways.” She’d started her own college studies as a theatrical design major, and helping out with costumes, hair and make-up — plus serving as spot operator for most of the run — helped Utpadel return to her roots.

“For the girls,” she says, “it crystallized a love of performance.” Utpadel describes theater as “addictive” and notes that “things kind of went on from there.” Soon she was doing serious costume duty alongside a good friend whose son got involved thanks to Utpadel’s daughters.

“Spotlight truly is a labor of love,” shares Utpadel. “It started at a time when theatre for youth was disappearing in the Valley, and is really the result of a crazy love for theatre and the belief that kids should get the opportunity to take part in that.”

Sophie describes Spotlight Youth Theatre as “an amazing place to be.” She praises them for producing consistently “awesome” work and for “being a place where I feel I truly belong.” Here’s more from Sophie in her own words…

Backstage at Beauty and the Beast

When I first auditioned at Spotlight, I was terrified, not just by the prospect of not being cast, but by not fitting in. Would the other kids like me? Would I like them? Would there be drama? Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about any of these things. I was welcomed into the Spotlight community.

Sophie says the acceptance she’s experienced at Spotlight is a “huge part” of why she’s such a loyal fan, despite the fact that there are other youth theaters in the Valley. “I have made friends there, and even better, I have made a family.”

Doing hair and make-up backstage for Fools

Utpadel eagerly shared the 2011/12 season for Spotlight Youth Theatre with me as soon as it was released, noting that it “exemplifies” the company’s work. It’s a mix, says Utpadel, of classic and challenging materials. And it gives young actors a chance to “learn different styles of music, choreography, and scripts.”

The 2011/12 season for Spotlight Youth Theatre opens with “Cats.” Sophie recalls loving the show since she “was little” — even naming her cat “Victoria” after a white cat in the show. “I think that it will appeal to lots of people,” she says.

Rehearsing the number Luck Be a Lady

Next up is a musical double feature with a Halloween vibe — “Zombie Prom” and “Once More With Feeling” (an homage to “the musical episode of Buffy“). I suspect that my own daughter, Lizabeth, will applaud the effort. Her senior quote in the ASA yearbook is a little pearl from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Spotlight presents “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in December, then moves on to “Godspell” during January. “Godspell” holds special meaning for Sophie because it was the first show she did at ASA. Ixy also performed in “Godspell,” as well as “Runaways,” with ASA — and she’s been in two operas presented by Willamette students.

Next up is “James and the Giant Peach,” based on a book of the same title by Roald Dahl. Utpadel describes herself as “a huge fan” of the offbeat author and already seems to be imaging the outraeous set possibilities.

Bushel and a Peck from Guys and Dolls

My own favorite from the 2011/12 Spotlight Youth Theatre season is “Sweeney Todd School Edition.” I’ve seen two live performances with Lizabeth, one by the Arizona Opera and another a touring production at ASU Gammage – and enjoyed the movie with my older daughter Jennifer.

I never tire of telling Lizabeth that “Sweeney Todd” is a love story, but she disputes the claim every time. I’m hoping the youth theater version, devoid of some of the show’s bloodier elements, will make the many moments of profound love portrayed in the piece more apparent.

Spotlight Youth Theatre closes its 2011/12 season with “Annie” — the one musical people just can’t seem to get enough of. It makes for a great mother/daughter outing. Or grandmother/granddaughter outing, according to Utpadel — who recalls that “Annie” was the first show she costumed as a sophomore in high school.

I saw Spotlight Youth Theatre earn all kinds of awards at last year’s AriZoni awards ceremony. Still, it’s clear that there’s more to this story. Sure, they’re making good theater. But they’re also creating friendships, confidence and memories — all things especially worthy of the spotlight.

– Lynn

Coming up: Summer dance and theater offerings

Photos by Samantha Utpadel

Pinky’s picks

Update: Pinky has asked me to share this link to a raffle benefiting an organization called “Save the Cats Arizona” — which we learned of from our friends at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. The raffle runs through July 31, 2011.

Several community theaters recently rolled out their 2011-2012 season announcements. But I imagine my cat “Pinky” fancies the new season for Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert more than most.

Hale opens their 2011-2012 season on Sept 2 with an Agatha Christie mystery titled “The Mousetrap” — a work that now holds the distinction of being “the longest running play in the world.”

Pinky isn’t terribly concerned that a murderer may be loose in London’s Monkswell Manor. But she’d love to be on the guest list if there’s any real prospect of finding mice trapped at mealtime.

It’s a Wonderful Life,” which opens at Hale on Oct 14, might seem to hold less cat-appeal, until you recall that the work — featuring one man’s struggle with doubt and disappointment — is set in a small town readying to celebrate Christmas.

We could treat Pinky to piles of pet store treats and toys come Christmas time, but she’d still find her bliss jumping into piles of crinkled up and discarded wrapping paper — and rubbing her wet little nose up against the corners of shiny packages under a tree sporting ornaments she’s sure were placed for her swatting pleasure.

Hale follows “It’s a Wonderful Life” with “A Christmas Carol,” which opens at the Gilbert theater on Dec 1. Even Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, who takes such delight in denying comfort to the poor and downtrodden, couldn’t ignore the pitiful pleas of Pinky when she’s ready for dinner.

I imagine Pinky would eagerly curl up beside the fire with Tiny Tim, offering a gentle purr as warming as the fire’s glow — and have great fun sitting with Tiny Tim in a chair by a window overlooking bustling holiday season streets.

Hale opens “See How They Run” Dec 31, giving Valley theater-goers a chance to welcome the New Year with comedic farce and fast-paced frivolity. Pinky might not know what to make of this one — with its cockney maid, men dressed as clergymen and a whole lot of misadventures spawned by mistaken identity.

Pinky might favor a different “See How They Run” plot — perhaps something featuring plump quails bobbing their tiny heads as they cross the road, or quivering dogs terrified by cats with an inflated sense of self.

Hale notes that folks who attend their production of “42nd Street” — which opens Feb 16, 2012 — will “love seeing the underdog succeed.” But Pinky”s never pleased when the word “dog” and “success” appear in the same sentence, so this will be a harder sell.

Perhaps she’d be more receptive if we decked her out in a slick tux with tails, then gave her a tophat and cane, so she could try a little soft-shoe during songs like “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” or “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”

I’m afraid to tell Pinky about “Barefoot in the Park” — a Neil Simon comedy featuring the adventures of two newlyweds and a matchmaking mother-in-law — which opens at Hale on Feb 21, 2012. She’s perfectly fine with living the barefoot life, but might resent the “park” mention given her indoor-cat status.

Rabbits hold plenty of interest for cats, so Pinky might be thrilled to learn that a rabbit named “Harvey” is coming to Hale on April 5, 2012. But only until she learns that Harvey, the imaginary companion of Elwood P. Dowd, is more than six feet tall — and invisible.

Pinky spends plenty of time watching our own bunny, named “Rugby” — as well as a pair of lovebirds named “Taffy” and “Trixy” — who occupy pet pads near a staircase perfect for panoramic viewing of all things potentially edible.

I’ll need to have a little talk with Pinky about this next one — “To Kill a Mockingbird,” opening May 25, 2012. It might be a lot like a conversation I had with my husband recently that ended with the quip “you’re so literal.”

The classic work, based on the novel by Harper Lee, is set in the Deep South of the 1930s. It has nothing to do with killing birds — or leaving them as trophies on a “Welcome” mat outside the front door. Instead, it’s a tale of friendship and love amidst of world filled with prejudice and hate.

Hale closes its 2011-2012 season with “Bye Bye Birdie,” opening July 13, 2012 — which follows a teen singing sensation drafted into the military during the 1960s. Having used more than my fair share of “cat eats bird” fodder already, I suppose I’ll have to find a different link to all things feline.

Happily, the musical’s songs include not only “Put on a Happy Face” but also “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” — no doubt a reference to the “nine lives” of cats.

I know pets aren’t typically allowed at community theater productions, so I suppose Pinky will have to settle for nibbling on programs we bring home from Hale Centre Theatre productions.

But you can’t really blame me for conjuring images of my cat with every mention of birds, mice or bunnies. I can only imagine how the dogs living next door might react to seeing the musical “Cats.”

– Lynn

Coming up: Dance and identity

Photo: Christopher Trimble

Amazing meets A-MAH-zing

My daughter Lizabeth poses with Broadway legend Betty Buckley

Those of you who are puzzling over the title of this post clearly weren’t lucky enough to snag tickets to see the amazing Betty Buckley perform at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts last week with piano and comedic accompaniment by the “A-MAH-zing” Seth Rudetsky.

For all the time we spend with Rudetsky via our car radio and the SiriusXM Radio “On Broadway” channel, he might as well be my fourth kid. He certainly seems eccentric enough to be one of us.

Rudetsky opened last week’s show with tales of his own childhood foray into live musical theater productions like “HAIR” at an age when most kids can’t even spell four letter words. Many related to film clips projected onto a giant screen — including my personal favorite from a horror flick called “Carrie” (something folks my age saw during the waning days of drive-in movies).

Soon Rudetsky was introducing Buckley, known to many for her amazing performance in the musical “Cats,” which features the song “Memory” — a little number Buckley now calls her “signature song.” Other songs she performed that evening included “Meadowlark,” “Send in the Clowns,” and even “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” (from the bawdy “Avenue Q”).

My daughter, Lizabeth, may have been the only teen in the house that night. It seems Lady Gaga was also performing in the Valley, and while we admire her work on- and off-stage — we’re going to see if she’s got Buckley’s staying power before we go gaga for one of her gigs.

Buckley opened this Scottsdale concert (I’m told it was her third) with “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from “Sunset Boulevard.” The piece was requested by, and dedicated to, Linda and Sherman Saperstein, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary that evening and graciously stood while Buckley led the crowd in singing “Happy Anniversary to You.”

I noticed in reading my program that the concert was “presented with support from Linda and Sherman Saperstein.” I was delighted to meet Mr. Saperstein after the show, and offered my heartfelt thanks for the couple’s support of arts and culture. Without such generous souls, many of us would never get to experience a bit of the magic of Broadway in our own hometown.

The “Broadway by Request” show is a blend of beautiful vocal stylings and storytelling. Buckley drops plenty of names along the way — Stephen Sondheim, Bob Fosse and others that might take you by surprise.

Buckley’s passion for performance, and musical theater, was evident in each anecdote, as she proffered with panache her theater experiences from school days through today. Seems Buckley got her first gig from her first audition — on her first day in New York City.

But life in the theater isn’t all smooth sailing, as evidenced by her tales of an egregious agent Buckley had to do away with in short order. A single thread seemed to tie all of Buckley’s stories together. The woman never stopped knocking on doors — or pounding, frankly, if that’s what it took to land the roles of her dreams.

Buckley complimented the Scottsdale crowd for its sophistication after a few of her therapy-related revelations were accepted with warmth and good humor. Apparently some folks in the Midwest react to similar material by casting a pall over the theater. Buckley recalled the day her therapist, dismissed shortly thereafter, gave her advice we’ve all heard at one time or another (usually for free): “Get over it.”

After Buckley shared several songs featuring especially glorious belting, Rudetsky sent her offstage for “two cups of hot tea” — then took over the mic to demonstrate one of his own great passions: “Deconstructing.” He explained in detail the intricacies of Buckley’s vocal performance, then played a sample of her singing as he talked the audience through each element.

Buckley and Rudetsky (who has admired Buckley’s work since boyhood) make a powerful pair. Rudetsky caresses the keys like Buckley caresses the air — and both have genuine flair.

Lizabeth and Seth Rudetsky

Buckley and Rudetsky enjoyed a lengthy standing ovation after wrapping the show, and another after an encore featuring a single haunting song. Both graciously stayed long after the concert to autograph programs, CDs and such. We were thrilled to chat with them briefly, and I couldn’t resist the urge to solicit advice for Lizabeth as she heads off to study theater.

Buckley’s offered a single word: “Practice.” Seth had a great deal more to say (all of it good) but seemed genuinely puzzled about why, when Lizabeth rattled off the list of colleges/conservatories on her “short list” of favorites, she didn’t mention Oberlin College & Conservatory – his own alma mater. We love Rudetsky’s loyalty, and want to assure him that Oberlin tops the list of plenty of students at Arizona School for the Arts.

Now if only there was a “Seth-mobile” bumper sticker for the teen taxi that routinely blasts “Seth’s Big Fat Broadway” during all those drives between home, school and theater adventures…

– Lynn

Coming up: Bald chairs?, Fiddling around in Alaska, How hip is “HOP?”

Spoiled in Scottsdale?

Those of us who live in Scottsdale often get a bad rap for being richer or more pampered somehow than folks who live in other parts of the Valley. We actually downsized significantly when we moved to Scottsdale, and we weren’t living all that large to begin with.

Still, I often feel spoiled in the performing and visual arts department — thanks to the wealth of arts resources in our neck of the woods. Think Heard Museum North Scottsdale,  Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — and many more.

Portrait of modern dance legend Merce Cunningham (from the DNA Dance website)

Tonight I’m heading out with Lizabeth, my 17-year-old daughter, to enjoy the latest legends to hit the local scene. I’ve seen more than my fair share of legends at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Most recently, I experienced the work of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

This evening we’ll be attending “Betty Buckley: Broadway by Request” at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Buckley received her first Tony Award after performing the Broadway classic “Memory” in the musical “Cats.”

Portrait of Broadway legend Betty Buckley (from Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts website)

Other Buckley credits include “Sunset Boulevard,” “Carrie,” “Wyatt Earp” and “Tender Mercies.” Tonight she’s performing vocal selections coupled with storytelling to include backstage anecdotes.

Buckley will be accompanied at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts by musician and comedian Seth Rudetsky, who helps our family make all those trips to and from high school each day feel fun rather than frustrating — though that’s hardly his greatest claim to fame.

His piano performance has graced Broadway shows that include “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera” — two of my favorites from the pre-“Avenue Q” and “In the Heights” era.

It would appear that I’m spoiled in many ways — because my husband James was kind enough to alert me to the fact that if I leave my laptop right this minute, I might also be able to catch some of “Opera in the Park.”

It’s a free viewing of a filmed performance of “La boheme” by Arizona Opera taking place at the Scottsdale Civic Center, adjacent to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

I may be spoiled, but don’t blame Scottsdale. Unless of course you want to pin it on my husband and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. They’re guilty as charged — but it’s a good thing.

– Lynn

Note: This post describes March 26, 2011 performances that have already taken place.  Click here for information on upcoming performances at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Coming up: Art and “Asher Lev”

My fondness for “Fiddler”

Scene from "Fiddler on the Roof" (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Most folks know the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” thanks to songs like “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Tradition.”

It’s a lovely part of one of our own family traditions — enjoying touring Broadway productions, and other performing arts fare, at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

Often I take in shows with just my 17-year-old daughter, Lizabeth, herself a bit of a fiddler after a decade or so of violin study. She’s the family musical theater expert — and eagerly awaiting letters from the colleges where she recently completed B.F.A. auditions.

But seeing “Fiddler” at ASU Gammage — like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — has been a family affair.

The musical has plenty of elements that appeal to children — the rooftop fiddler, the sibling spats, the grandma “dream sequence,” the lively songs and dance sequences.

I first saw the show while parenting three young children, but this time around I’ll have the perspective of a mom with three grown children grappling with many of the issues treated in the show.

The longing to belong. The urge to break away. The pull of duty. The push of desire. The traditions shared by generations. The new paths forged by youth. The interplay of the personal with the political.

I confess to forging my own path with the song “If I Were a Rich Man” several years ago while performing with fellow parents at a talent show.

We were chaparoning a summer camp session of the Phoenix Girls Chorus, and changed up the words as an homage to artistic director Sue Marshall (who now heads the blossoming Arizona Girlchoir).

Thankfully, “If I Were Miss Sue” made its debut before the advent of YouTube and viral videos. Seems to me I did something similar with “Memory” (from the musical “Cats”) one year during a parent talent show at my children’s elementary school.

My favorite audio of the “Fiddler” variety is a recent interview with Harvey Fierstein that Lizabeth and I heard in the car one day — where we often listen to the SIRIUS XM “On Broadway” channel.

Fierstein has performed the lead role of Tevye (the father and milkman in this tale inspired by the stories of Sholom Aleichem), and eloquently shares the impact the show had on him as a young Jewish boy.

My “kids” may roll their eyes when the “Fiddler” song “Sunrise, Sunset” comes through the car radio speakers. But I know that one day, they’ll appreciate the lyrics to this and other “Fiddler” songs that capture the currents of change in family life and the world beyond.

– Lynn

Note: Watch the ASU Gammage website for the early March announcement of their 2011-2012 season — and head to ASU Gammage this week to enjoy the musical “9 to 5.”

Coming up: More musical theater with a family-friendly feel, Valley students present a series of one-act plays