Tag Archives: musical theater

Ode to the Oliviers

Scene from "Matilda the Musical" featuring characters Matilda and Mrs. Phelps (Image: Quirk Books). The show earned seven 2012 Olivier Awards.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Sunday’s Lawrence Olivier Awards in London thanks to a live online broadcast that’s got me appreciating all the modern technology I’ve typically scoffed at until now.

I was just a teen when the awards, first dubbed The Society of West End Theatre Awards, originated in 1976, but married and in graduate school when they became the Lawrence Olivier Awards in 1984.

In between, I studied for a year in Europe — but spent most trips to London exploring museums and architectural wonders rather than theater offerings. One of many oversights committed during my youth.

The awards are run by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which commissioned sculptor Harry Franchette to create the award that’s an elegant take on the young Lawrence Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937.

I was struck by several aspects of the ceremony and its broadcast. Though the SOLT’s partnership with MasterCard is evident, there were no tacky commercials or other interruptions we accept too readily as American television viewers.

Instead, breaks during various portions of the ceremony were filled with live performances — of works nominated for an audience award — on a beautiful outdoor stage surrounded by theater fans.

The BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award, voted for by the public, went to “Les Miserables” — a musical Arizona audiences can enjoy at ASU Gammage come September.

I was struck as well by the tasteful fashions worn by presenters, nominees and recipients – despite the ceremony’s lovely lack of obsession over such things. Way to rock the flats, “Matilda” girls. You’ll need those ankles for future roles.

“Matilda the Musical” led the list with ten nominations, and waltzed away with seven awards. The Royal Shakespeare Company production is based on Roald Dahl’s charming tale.

The musical’s director noted early in the ceremony that “productions are like children” — sharing that he’d still love both if one of two nominees he directed was chosen best new musical. Later, the award went to “Matilda the Musical.”

There’s a point in the musical, he explains, when Matilda pummels three times into her pillow — then looks up and shares the final bit of the story. Seems it’s “a metaphor for the healing power of imagination.”

“Matilda the Musical” director Matthew Warchus then delivered my favorite remarks of the evening — All kids have it. We all have it. Our educational system should promote it more. That was the gist of it — but there’s more.

Creative imagination, says Warchus, is the key to surviving life and improving it for all of us. It’s more important, he reflects, than science, math and testing — perhaps even literacy.

His riff made me wonder — Might more children achieve the literacy we so value if reading and writing were pressed more often into the service of creative imagination rather than the mere consumption of content?

They’re heady things, these British award shows. Words and ideas loom larger than the flashy sorts of sets and such we seem to favor for award shows on this side of the pond. Dry wit and genuine humility trump the faux and flashy.

Sunday’s ceremony included special recognition of the 60th anniversary of “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap” — which continues to enjoy the theater world’s longest continuous run.

Seems Christie grandson Matthew Prichard, who shared remarks during the presentation, was given rights to the show for his ninth birthday — but admits to feeling fonder at the time of the gift with two wheels. Prichard notes that he gives income earned on the show to lots of charities.

I learned of the Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which serves more than 12,000 students each year, during remarks from its founder — which inspired me to explore other outreach efforts like the SOLT’s own “Autism and Theatre” program.

The Society of London Theatre presented two special awards during this year’s ceremony — one to Dame Monica Mason, honoring her career with the Royal Ballet, and another to lyricist Sir Tim Rice.

Rice shared reflections on the journey of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from school show to musical theater sensation, and his reluctance to make the original “Jesus Christ Superstar” album — also noting that NYC audiences are fonder by far of current “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” revivals than NYC theater critics.

My own budding theater critic, Lizabeth, had perfectly lovely things to say about both shows — but did share that seeing Ricky Martin shake his bum during “Evita” was rather the low point of it all. I’ll have to add seeing a slew of West End theatre productions together to my bucket list.

While I adored every performance during Sunday’s Olivier Awards show, a few will likely live longest in my memory — a stunning pas de deux that should be required viewing for all those “Dance Moms” settling for sickening alternatives to actual artistry, the vocal performance of a haunting song from “Whistle Down the Wind” that I first heard when Lizabeth performed it during a Greasepaint Youtheatre fundraiser, and the lavish “Circle of Life” from the cast of “The Lion King” — which made me remember the magic of seeing the musical with Lizabeth long before her NYC theater adventures.

I’ll be more mindful of the bridge between Broadway and the West End thanks to that one magical evening I felt honored to be part of the virtual audience for the 2012 Olivier Awards. London, anyone?

– Lynn

Note: Click here to see the full list of Olivier Award winners and highlights from the ceremony — plus here to enjoy West End news reported by Broadway World.

Coming up: Musings on “Smash” and “New York 22″

The swing and I

Little did we know, when Lizabeth performed with Nick Cartell in "The King and I" more than a decade ago, that we'd one day witness his Broadway debut in "Jesus Christ Superstar," currently in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre

My daughter Lizabeth performed more than a decade ago in a Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “The King and I.” So did Nick Cartell, now a swing with the Broadway revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” currently in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre. If an actor who performs the role of Jesus, Judas or Annas (or one of ten ensemble tracks) can’t go onstage for any reason, Cartell is among those ready to run with it.

Cartell graciously invited Lizabeth and I to join him for a bite to eat before Wednesday night’s show, and we were delighted that his wife Christie joined us as well. Seems they met several years ago while living in Japan. Cartell performed for Disney in Japan for three years, and Christie quips that she was “friends with lots of the princesses.” Each shines, but together they sparkle.

Cartell graciously answered all sorts of questions between bites of burger sans bun, raw veggies and cottage cheese. Best to be buff when working on Broadway, and this show in particular. Heaven forbid the call might come to don a loincloth when you’ve more flab than abs. Not something Cartell needs to fret, but his work ethic is admirable.

Stay in shape. Continue acting training. Seize opportunities to learn more. Honor fellow performers. Be grateful for the chance to do what you love. And remember those who helped along the way. For Cartell, it’s family, friends and a pair of Arizona directors — Bobb Cooper, producing artistic director for Valley Youth Theatre and Michael Barnard, artistic director for Phoenix Theatre.

We saw a preview performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” Wednesday night after Cartell made his way from burger to backstage, and he graciously treated us to a backstage tour after the show — where it became clear just how much gets accomplished in small pockets of space. Everyone we met who had anything at all to do with the show was incredibly generous in spirit.

We can’t share a formal review because “Jesus Christ Superstar” is still in previews, but I don’t see the harm in simply telling you that we both loved it big time. I’ve seen four different productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar” since my teens, and this is my favorite by far for all sorts of reasons I’ll happily share after reviewers have a chance to see the show post-previews and give their opinions. Lizabeth is already talking about seeing the show again, but I suppose it’ll be James’ turn to tag along next time.

Cartell’s on-stage time is relatively brief, but it’s delightful all the same. His heart is clearly in it — really in it. And his smile lights up the theater as cast members take their bows. When the Arizona heat feels too much to bear, just head for the bright lights of Broadway. Cartell will surely be there.

– Lynn

Note: I’ll be sharing more of Cartell’s journey to Broadway in future posts, plus his insights for young actors on things like training and auditioning — and his thoughts about trends in Broadway theater.

Coming up: NYC museum adventures, Building a better portrait

“Smash” earns a callback

Folks who tune in to the new NBC series Smash will enjoy views of Times Square in NYC

A pair of dueling divas singing “Let me be your star.” A tough-minded producer who looks downright docile compared with her ex-in-the-making. A man concerned that Broadway is beating out baby as he begins the adoption process with his musical-making wife. An assistant credited too readily with generating the concept for a musical he’ll never shepherd to the stage. And a director who seems more creepy than creative.

It’s just another day in New York City — complete with cabs, subways, liquid power lunches and actors hoofing it as waitstaff. Also auditions full of people who’ve never heard of “audition 101″ gems like “don’t dress like the character you want to play” and “beware the director who calls you to his apartment in the wee hours.”

The characters feel complex enough to carry audience interest for the long run, and the seeds of plenty of potential plotlines have already been sewn. Emotional baggage. Intellectual property. Wardrobe misadventures. It’s all there — in one smartly-written package.

Like the best Broadway musicals, the first episode of “Smash” builds slowly towards a big finish, with lots of high points along the way. Also plenty of issues to ponder between episodes. Which ranks higher in the hierarchy of humanity — talent or kindness? When is trusting your gut a sign of fear — and when is it a sign of courage? And who’s the bigger downer — a cynical New Yorker or a defeatist Midwesterner?

“Smash” follows the journey of a small idea to the big stage – plus the lives of those whose best (and sometimes worst) efforts get it there. It’s relatable stuff for those not schooled in musical theater, but intoxicating for those who breathe to banter around words like “mix” and “belt.”

A critical question in the real world of theater gets asked within the first few minutes of the first episode — “Why isn’t anyone doing new musicals anymore?” And our first shot of the Shubert Theatre shows a marquee reading “Heaven on Earth.” The show clearly preaches to the choir, though I suspect it’ll yield plenty of conversion stories over time.

Making theater complicates life, and life complicates making theater. Such is the stuff of “Smash” — and executive producers, including Steven Spielberg, have certainly earned a callback.

– Lynn

 Note: Click here to learn more about NBC’s “Smash”

Coming up: Celebrating “Kids’ Night on Broadway”

There’s no place like home

Fun souvenirs from "The Wizard of Oz" spotted during intermission at Mesa Arts Center

There’s no place like home — but sometimes we need to be reminded. Hence the timeless appeal of stories like L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” which is being brought to life on Valley stages this week thanks to Oz Theatre Company.

The show, originally adapted for the Royal Shakespeare Company by John Kane, features music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Yarburg. “The Wizard of Oz” is the first of four shows playing in Mesa and Phoenix as part of the 2011/12 Theater League season.

I attended a Dec. 7 matinee at the Mesa Arts Center, where several families – many spanning three generations — also enjoyed the show. A pair of elementary age boys told me the show was really funny, and several girls noted that “Dorothy did a really good job.” For some, it was the black terrier “Toto” who stole the show.

This family from Scottsdale (including a camera shy grandfather) told me they loved the show

Kerri McNeill, who recently earned a B.A. in theatre performance from Wagner College, makes her national touring debut as Dorothy Gale, and does a superb job. Her Dorothy is fresh and vibrant, with strong vocals — which explains the long list of “Past and Present of Wagner on Broadway” on the school’s website.

Patrick Pevehouse (Hank/Scarecrow) attended Oklahoma City University, Brian Maxseen (Hickory/Tinman) holds “a B.A. in make-believe from NYU/Tisch” and Brent Walker (Zeke/Lion) graduated with a BFA in musical theatre from the University of Central Florida. I notice these things more now that my own daughter is pursuing a BFA in acting at Pace University in NYC.

The trio’s collective performance is enchanting, bringing real warmth and humor to the stage. Audience members of all ages rewarded them often with laughter and applause, and also seemed especially smitten with Laurie Pascal in the roles of Miss Gulch and Wicked Witch of the West.

Kelly Karcher (Auntie Em/Glinda), Bryan Miner (Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard), and Bob Pritchard (Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz) round out the very capable cast. The ensemble, which often breaks into old-school song and dance ala television variety shows of bygone days, adds real charm throughout.

Greasepaint Youtheatre actors ages 8 to 12 perform the role of Munchkin

Our own local actors, ten “Munchkins” from Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale, spend more time on stage than I’d expected — and fit right in with the rest of the cast. They’re perky, polished and professional, and I fully expect to be reviewing many of them in future touring productions. Enjoy them on Valley stages while you still can.

This production of “The Wizard of Oz” is a beautiful blend of storytelling and stagecraft for the young and young at heart. Never mind that cables are faintly visible as witches float through the air. It’s plenty magical for young audiences, as are projections that bring tornado debris, poppies and snow to life. The show features projections created by Second Home Productions, Aerographics by Flying by Foy and Special Effects by I & M Special Effects.

But I took more delight in the show’s colorful, creative costumes — plus imaginative wigs and hair props. The original set and costumes were designed by Tim McQuillen-Wright, and Bernie Ardia served as the original wig designer. Costume coordination and additional costume designs are the work of Jimm Halliday.

Head props, including tree branches that seem to grow like gravity-defiant pigtails dotted with shiny red apples, are the work of Liz Spray. Head wardrobe — no small feat in a show full of wonderfully whimsical hats, is by Jennifer Mohrman. Wigs are by Anthony Lauro. All enhance the show’s kid-friendly feel.

This Chandler family had lots of praise for the Wednesday matinee performance

After three performances at Mesa Arts Center, “The Wizard of Oz” now moves to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix for a Dec. 8-11 run. It’s another intimate venue perfect for introducing young audiences to musical theater. Take your children now, before they’re grown and moved away. Memories created at the theater together remind us for a lifetime that there’s no place like home.

– Lynn

Note: Future shows in the 2011/12 Theater League season for Mesa and Phoenix include “My Fair Lady,” “The Rat Pack is Back!” and “Rock of Ages.” Learn more at www.theaterleague.com. Folks with a special interest in projections in theater design will enjoy David Barbour’s “The Prevalence of Projections” in the Dec. 2011 issue of American Theatre magazine.

Coming up: Strolling meets sculpture, Quilting for a cause

South Park meets Broadway

Cartoon Central aired a new episode of South Park called Broadway Bro Down last week

We got some great advice in the television viewing department when our three children, now college students, were young. When in doubt, watch shows yourself before letting your children see them. The same goes for movies and other fare that might have content you’d deem inappropriate.

Parents who thought it’d be keen to watch last week’s new episode of “South Park” with their kids who love Broadway got a rude (and well-deserved) awakening if they took to the couch together without screening the content. Show creators hyped the Broadway theme, but failed to mention the other “B-word” that dominates the episode’s dialogue.

The premise of the episode is simple enough — men who take women to Broadway musicals fare better in the bedroom department. Hence the decision by South Park father Randy to take wife Sharon to New York for an entire weekend of musical theater. And more than two dozen local performances of “Wicked.”

The concept isn’t new, of course. When Broadway legend Betty Buckley was just 21-years-old, she performed one of only two female roles in the musical “1776.” She was Martha Jefferson to Ken Howard’s Thomas Jefferson, singing a piece called “He Plays the Violin.” Apparently musicians were deemed sexier than most even then. Still, the show’s creators left more to the imagination.

The “South Park” meets Broadway episode is entertaining enough, with all its scenes of popular musicals, but the addition of a mature-theme plotline dubbed “filthy” by an arts blogger for The New York Times added nothing to the episode’s charm. Instead, it left only minutes of content suitable for young viewers — and left adults craving a shower (of the solo variety) more than a show.

When Randy decides to write his own musical, for anything but artistic reasons, he lacks a certain sophistication in creating subtext — which four members of the musical theater pantheon attempt to help him rectify. Enter the four fabulously-drawn cartoon renderings of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John, Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim.

Just a single line from the episode is “LOL” funny — despite the predictability of its subject matter. The musical created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as well as Robert Lopez, gets only a brief flash of shameless promotion as the episode draws to a close. Let’s hope a future episode of “South Park” parodies the musical titled “The Book of Mormon” in all its glory.

Just be sure the kids are tucked in tighly before you watch it.

– Lynn

Note: Actor Ken Howard, president of the Screen Actors Guild, will be speaking today at Arizona State University in Tempe. Click here to read details noted in a previous post.

Coming up: Shakespeare meets conspiracy theory

From Tevye to Tintin

My daughter Lizabeth discovered, after heading to Times Square in New York to see the movie “Paranormal Activity 3” the night it opened, that there were no more tickets to be had.

It’s just as well from a mother’s perspective since there are plenty of other good films these days that won’t scare the bejeebers out of you — including the Julianne Hough dancefest called “Footloose,” a remake of the 1984 film that many of today’s parents enjoyed during their teens.

Also “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” — an intriguing documentary with special appeal for folks interested in the lives of writers, immigration history, modern Jewish identity or a work of musical theater called “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

Seems Aleihem is the writer behind the character we all know as “Tevye,” a man with several daughters who faced countless challenges to his fervent love of tradition.

Fans of Sesame Street should take note — next month’s Loft Film Fest in Tucson includes a screening of the film “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” — which offers a behind-the-scenes look at Sesame Street, the Jim Henson Workshop, and the work of puppeteer and father Kevin Clash.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I” also opens next month, though it’ll be a bit easier to find — coming to not one Arizona theater but to nearly all of them. Fans of the “Twilight” series have long had the date Nov. 18 circled, in red, on their calendars.

Legendary storyteller and filmmaker Steven Spielberg, once a student at Arcadia High School in Phoenix, has two films being released this fall — the “The Adventures of Tintin” (coming Dec. 21) and “War Horse” (coming Dec. 25). Both promise to be visual feasts that bring some of the world’s best storytelling to life.

As we all gear up for the holiday season we allow so often to become all too hectic, we should remember the power of movies to deliver us from everyday worries, to create cherished memories with family and friends, and to inspire both dreams and wonder.

– Lynn

Note: Always consult movie websites to check film ratings and age recommendations before talking children to the movies.

Coming up: Spielberg tales

It’s a pajama party!

If you’re prone to sleeping in ratty old t-shirts or skimpy little tanks, now is the time to class up your act — because Childsplay in Tempe is holding a pajama party to celebrate its 35th birthday season. I’ve already started my hunt for flannels featuring a birthday motif — and I’ve snagged a few photos of Childsplay artists wearing costumes ala pajamas to help set the mood.

Childsplay performs Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The pajama party, for “kids, parents and grandparents of all ages,” precedes a special “VIP performance” of Childsplay’s production of “Lyle the Crocodile.” A similar event with a tea party theme sold out in a hurry — so consider yourself warned on this baby.

Childsplay performs Bunnicula while showing off some snazzy pajamas

The celebration takes place Sun, Dec. 4 at Tempe Center for the Arts. The pajama party starts at 2pm and the performance follows at 4pm. Pajamas are encouraged for both party and performance. You can attend both for just $35/person.

Childsplay performs Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I’m told the pajama party features games, finger foods, face painting, pillow case decorating and a pajama parade. Also a raffle — plus a visit from Lyle the Crocodile.

Even Lyle the Crocodile will be attending the Childsplay pajama party

Broadway fans hear the word “pajamas” and immediately recall the 1954 production of a musical called “The Pajama Game,” which was based on a Richard Bissell novel titled “7-1/2 Cents” (a reference to worker demands for raises at the pajama factory where much of the musical is set).

Actor's Youth Theatre presents The Pajama Game Nov 15-19 in Mesa

“The Pajama Game,” which features book by Bissell and George Abbott and music/lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, enjoyed Broadway revivals in 1973 and 2006. The original Broadway production received a Tony Award for best musical, and the 2006 production received the Tony Award for best revival of a musical.

Kierna Conner (L) and Bjorn Eriksson star in The Pajama Game by AYT

The musical mixes love and labor disputes as Babe, who heads the workers’ grievance committee at the pajama factory, finds herself in a blossoming romance with Sid, the factory’s new superintendent. Best known songs from the musical include “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

Kierna and Bjorn (above) play characters who meet in a pajama factory

Actor’s Youth Theatre in Mesa presents “The Pajama Game” Nov. 15-19 at the Mesa Arts Center. Take care not to confuse the two pajama-related events — the folks at MAC aren’t expecting a deluge of audience members donning sleepwear.

– Lynn

Note: Actor’s Youth Theatre presents a special pajama party show with breakfast Sat, Nov. 19 at 9am. Folks who attend will pay just $10 to buy a pair of pajamas for Hope Women’s Center, which serves “vulnerable women and teen girls and their families in the East Valley.” 

Coming up: Lynn, Jenn and “Larry in Wonderland”

Photos provided by Childsplay and Chris Bowler/Actor’s Youth Theatre