Tag Archives: Next to Normal

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

Focus on forgiveness

I’m not Jewish, or much of anything else for that matter. Most days I’m satisfied with simply doing my best to be a good person. There’s plenty that needs doing in the here and now, so musings on an afterlife feel a luxury at best.

Still, I pause each year to really reflect on the meaning of a Jewish holiday called Yom Kippur, also known as the “Day of Atonement.” It’s right up there with Thanksgiving for me because forgiveness and gratitude are so essential to everyday life.

I hadn’t realized, when making plans to see Phoenix Theatre’s opening night performance of a lesser-known musical called “The Spitfire Grill,” that the themes of gratitude and forgiveness were so prevalent in the work.

“The Spitfire Grill” is peppered with characters who have imposing pasts but retreating futures. It’s set in a small, rural town that speaks authentically to the experiences of anyone who has ever lived in one. 

L to R: Jeannie Shubitz (Shelby), Trisha Hart Ditsworth (Percy), Toby Yatso (Joe) and Barbara McBain as Hannah in the Phoenix Theatre production of The Spitfire Grill

“The Spitfire Grill” has just a handful of characters — a widow who owns the grill, an ex-con who takes a job there and the law enforcement type who makes it possible. Also a town gossip and a couple whose relationship changes as the man feels his masculinity challenged by his wife’s discovery of life outside the laundry room. And a final character central to the musical’s themes of shame and loss.

The cast is a delightul mix of actors who’ve often graced the Phoenix Theatre stage (Johanna Carlisle as Effy, Rusty Ferracane as Caleb and Toby Yatso as Joe) and those making a Phoenix Theatre debut (Jason Barth as Eli and Trisha Hart Ditsworth as Percy). Barbara McBain returns to Phoenix Theatre as Hannah and Jeannie Shubitz returns as Shelby.

If you like spunky or feisty women, you’ll find them at “The Spitfire Grill.” As events unfold, one woman is forced to confront her goodness as another learns to embrace her power. Two face the loss of a child, and learn to let go of the shame they need never have carried. The men feel less transformed somehow, but that could be my chromosomes talking.

L to R: Trisha Hart Ditsworth (Percy), Barbara McBain (Hannah) and Jeannie Shubitz (Shelby) undergo profound transformation in The Spitfire Grill at Phoenix Theatre

There’s much to love about “The Spitfire Grill.” Dialogue like Percy’s “If a wound goes real deep, can the healin’ feel just as bad as what caused it?” Music, rich in strings, that leaves you just a little bit tempted to get up and square dance, two-step or do a jig. And storytelling praised by many who attended opening night as “simple” and “straightforward.”

Several of the songs, slower ballads that soar like the birds they sometimes reference, are among the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard in the world of musical theater — reminding me of other favorites like “Maybe” from “Next to Normal.” Ordering the cast album from the folks who created “The Spitfire Grill” is high on my “to do” list.

The Spitfire Grill,” directed for Phoenix Theatre by Brad Carroll, is based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff (though the film and the musical have entirely different endings). It features music by James Valcq, lyrics by Fred Alley, and book by both Valcq and Alley.

Alan Ruchs serves as musical director for this production (he’s the resident musical director at Phoenix Theatre). Mike Eddy serves as director of production and lighting designer. Robert Andrew Kovach serves as scenic designer. All perform brilliantly in making “The Spitfire Grill” at Phoenix Theatre a moving experience for theater-goers.

While “The Spitfire Grill” has been dubbed “a musical about second chances,” I’m not convinced that tagline does it justice. Plenty of people get the gift of a second chance nowadays without undergoing any real change.

“The Spitfire Grill” is more of a transformation tale — a story of family and forgiveness rooted in very real evolutions of self. A world without forgiveness for self, others and sometimes even the universe, is a miserable one indeed.

“The Spitfire Grill” is a lovely gem of a musical reminding us all to let go and let live.

– Lynn

Note: Phoenix Theatre is undergoing its own transformation, which you can learn more about or get more involved with by clicking here.

Coming up: Who’s munching who?, Before there was Zuccotti Park…

From Sondheim to South Park

South Park Elementary School Musical episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

I worried as a young parent that irreverent television shows like the animated series “South Park” on Comedy Central might serve as a sort of gateway drug to all sorts of bad behavior. I suppose it was the foul language factor that scared me the most. There’s nothing pretty about cruising the bathroom cleanser aisle of the local mommy mart with a potty-mouth child in tow.

South Park The F Word episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

Yet musicals laced with colorful language have never felt all that threatening. I didn’t even realize “Les Miserables” contained a four-letter word until I saw it, just yesterday, for the umpteenth time. My daughter, Lizabeth, has been joining me at the theater for more than half her lifetime. Most of our favorite shows are peppered with language that’s plenty spicy. Think “Spring Awakening,” “Avenue Q,” and “Next to Normal.”

South Park All About Mormons episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

As “The Book of Mormon,” a new musical with book, music and lyrics by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” co-creator Robert Lopez, creates a stir on Broadway, I suspect part of its popularity stems from the “South Park” as gateway drug factor. How lovely to have a built-in following that already rocks it in the world of cynicism and absurdity.

I’m all for the gateway drug approach, assuming we’re talking about ideas rather than injectables — but my starter drug isn’t “South Park.” It’s Sondheim. Because my love of musical theater is fueling a new appreciation of all things “South Park.” I don’t do much in the way of “appointment television.” Few series are intriguing enough to demand regular viewing. But tonight I sat glued to the latest episode of “South Park” — in which Stan, who’s celebrating his 10th birthday, gets an official diagnosis of cynicism (and makes generous use of the word I was shocked to hear just once during “Les Mis”).

South Park You're Getting Old episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

I’ll never be a fan of humor favored by adolescent boys — barf jokes, poop gags and such. But I’m eager to encounter the genius of Parker and Stone outside my frequent encounters with the CD for “The Book of Mormon” and the nifty little paperback featuring the complete book and lyrics of the musical. One day I hope to land a ticket to see the show on Broadway.

South Park Super Best Friends episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

People asked, after I chose to pursue graduate studies in religion, what I planned to do with my degree. With three years of doctoral study in the philosophy of religion in the bag, I feel uniquely equipped to experience “The Book of Mormon” in all its splendor. Whether all that Kant and Camus will help me grasp the machinations of Stan, Kyle, Eric, Kenny and Butters remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

– Lynn

Note: Click here for “The Book of Mormon” show and ticket information

Coming up: Musings on the 2011 Tony Awards®, The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

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.

One road trip is never enough

I'm already planning my next mother/daughter road trip

With my youngest heading off to college this fall, the days of mother/daughter road trips may soon be behind us.

So I’m eager to find any opportunity for a weekend getaway that will give me precious time my 17-year-old Lizabeth.

I enjoyed a road trip to San Francisco with my now 19-year-old daughter Jennifer several years ago — an experience I will always cherish.

Our trips together find us enjoying funkier fare, like hole-in-the-wall cafes with Turkish coffee or spicy offerings from India and street fairs with handcrafted wares.

I love experiencing one-on-one travel time with my children, getting to know them a bit better as they journey out of childhood and ready to travel their own road through adulthood.

Several films being featured at the festival have an Arizona connection

Come February, I’m hoping to hit some of the Sedona International Film Festival offerings with Lizabeth. By then, she’ll have finished her cross-country trips for college theater program auditions.

The 17th Annual International Sedona Film Festival takes place Feb 20-27 and features more than 145 films shown at three Sedona venues, including the Sedona Harkins 6 Luxury Cinema.

A special preview premiere screening of “Sedona: The Motion Picture” (shot in and around Sedona) will kick-off the festival one night early on Sat, Feb 19.

The film’s soundtrack features “indigenous sounds of the region” and performance by musicians from The Juilliard School.

Many of the films being shown address arts and culture

So what’s on the movie menu at this year’s festival? Foreign films from 18 countries. Seven films focused on the environment. A Lifetime Achievement Award for Jonathan Winters, and a tribute to character actor Rip Torn.

Films tackle diverse subjects — including border issues, indigenous cultures, gay and lesbian themes, war and politics, women’s issues, and individuals living with physical or mental challenges.

Also aging, animals, education, the worlds of children and many more — in categories that include animation, documentary, feature and short films.

I’m plenty intrigued just reading through the list of film titles, which include “Voodoo,” “Old People Driving,” “The Butterfly Circus,” “My Dog Tulip,” and “Arpaio’s America.”

Visit http://www.sedonafilmfestival.com to learn more about film offerings and ticket packages

Films titled “The Parking Lot Movie,” “Cast Me If You Can,” “The Desert of Forbidden Art,” “The First Grader,” “A Marine Story” and “The Man Who Knew How to Fly” also caught my eye.

Various types of passes and ticket packages are available, including a 10-ticket package for full-time students that runs just $80 (it will be available only through the box office and require a valid student I.D.). Individual film tickets will be available in February.

At this point, there’s really only one thing that could make a road trip to the Sedona International Film Festival any more enjoyable — news that Arizona schools are changing spring break to Feb 20-27.

–Lynn

Note: To learn more about film in Arizona, visit the Arizona Production Association

Coming up: Q & A with “Spring Awakening” cast members (who’ll perform a final Phoenix show at ASU Gammage  at 7pm on Fri, Jan 28)

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.

Valley actor and director ‘noises off’

Lizabeth came home from school on Thursday with an interesting “to do” list–gather info for a community service project, return borrowed books to her voice teacher, and pick a night to see “Noises Off” at Phoenix Theatre. Such is the life of a senior theater arts major.

"Noises Off" runs Aug 25-Sept 12 at Phoenix Theatre

It reminded me that “Noises Off” will open Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season this week–and that associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, who’ll appear in the fabulous farce, recently did some of his own ‘noising off’ as we discussed trends in musical theater.

“Musical theater has always reflected the temperament of the culture at hand,” observes Harper. The ’50s were a sort of golden era with a “happy, feel good focus.”

During the ’60s, “our thinking as a culture became less linear because of Vietnam.” As the ’70s ushered in new styles of popular music, Sondheim brought us the first “concept musical”–called “Company.”

"3 Redneck Tenors" runs Sept 29-Oct 17 at Phoenix Theatre

Today a good story isn’t enough, reflects Harper. A good musical must also consider “the human condition.”

“As our culture has grown up,” says Harper, “musical theater has gotten more thoughtful.”

Many of today’s musicals, such as “American Idiot,” are “used as instruments to get across a particular point of view.” Sometimes, notes Harper, the stories get a little bit boring.

"Hairspray" runs Nov 10-Dec 12 at Phoenix Theatre

Harper says he enjoyed seeing “American Idiot” in New York (“there was some amazing lighting”) although he confesses to wishing someone would just turn the music down a tad. (I hear you.)

So what of today’s musical theater landscape? “We have a little bit of everything,” reflects Harper. “Musical theater is becoming incredibly artistic because everybody is diversifying.” Think “Spring Awakening” and “[title of show].”

"No Way to Treat a Lady" runs Jan 12-30 at Phoenix Theatre

As we question ourselves more on issues like war and sexuality, we see those struggles reflected in works of musical theater. “The point of view of the underdog is more popular than it used to be,” adds Harper.

Another trend? The use of on-stage cameras, huge screens and other technology. It’s due in part, says Harper, to the growing influence of multi-media in all parts of American culture.

Musical theater is growing in popularity as it’s being developed by younger and younger artists, observes Harper.

He cites the musical “Rent” as an example–noting that it was “the first one in years that was a huge hit by an unknown.”

"Avenue Q" runs Feb 23-March 20 at Phoenix Theatre

“Now it happens all the time,” muses Harper. He describes “Avenue Q,” which Phoenix Theatre will present Feb 23-March 20 of next year, as a prime example.

Still, many seasoned musicals continue to attract new audiences. Harper recalls being struck by the incredibly long line of patrons waiting to see “The Phantom of the Opera” last time he hit New York.

“Lots of people still haven’t seen it,” notes Harper. “I don’t care if that’s all they see–because the point is that they tried it.”

I’m reminded of Lizabeth’s first trip to DC and NYC, during which fellow travelers were thrilled to see “Phantom” on Broadway while Lizabeth and a fellow student made their way to the Booth Theater to experience “Next to Normal.”

It’s all good, I suppose.

"Nine" runs April 13-May 8 at Phoenix Theatre

After all, reflects Harper, many Broadway visitors will return home to support their local community theaters.

Soon the Valley’s many theater companies (including Phoenix Theatre, Arizona’s oldest) will open their 2010-2011 seasons. They’ll offer everything from classic to contemporary, giving us all a bit of Broadway–and beyond.

To enjoy an insider’s look at Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season, and your own conversation with associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, you can enjoy “A Noises Off Tea” at The Ritz-Carlton Phoenix, featuring an exclusive opportunity to chat with Harper about his role in the comedic play “Noises Off” and more.

The event takes place at noon on Wed, Sept 1, and costs $35. Phoenix Theatre promises ‘no sardines, but a lovely English Tea.’ For reservations, call 602-468-0700.

Prepare those dialing fingers and pointed pinkies…

–Lynn

Note: You can double the fun by seeing Harper and others perform in “Noises Off” live at Phoenix Theatre and renting the 1992 film version of “Noises Off” starring Michael Caine and Carol Burnett (direction by Peter Bogdanovich). Other comedies coming soon to the Valley include “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Mesa Arts Center, Aug 27-Sept 12) and “The Kitchen Witches” (Tempe Center for the Arts, Sept 17-Oct 3).

Coming soon: Focus on fall festivals, Music and dance with William Shakespeare, “Eat Pray Love”–museum style

There’s an award for that!

A week ago Monday, protestors took to the Arizona state capitol to protest immigration-related legislation—but the governor wasn’t there to witness the gathering.

David and Sonja Faeroy Saar (center) attend 2010 Governor's Arts Awards

She was already scheduled to appear at the 28th annual Governor’s Arts Awards, held at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix—an event presented by Arizona Citizens for the Arts, the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Office of the Governor.

I spoke with a Valley artist attending the event that evening, who felt it a bit odd to be celebrating Arizona arts with the governor at a time when so many sectors of our community—including education, health care and the arts—feel ravaged by state budget cuts.

Still, it’s important to recognize the achievements of Valley artists and arts supporters. Now, more than ever, their work matters. I was especially proud that my 16-year old daughter Lizabeth was there, performing with Greasepaint Youtheatre.

She had strict orders to bring me a program and note names of the 2010 winners so I could pass the info along to you.

Dean Osborne performs at the Grand Canyon Music Festival

Here’s the happy news:

• Composer James DeMars of Tempe, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, received the Artist Award

• Preservationist Elisabeth Ruffner of Prescott, received the Individual Award

• Arts advocate Shirley Chann of Tucson, received the Shelley Arts Advocate Award

• The Grand Canyon Music Festival received the Education Award

Bank of America received the Business Award

The Drawing Studio in Tucson received the Community Award

Art for Kids Project at Webb Center

If you know of a deserving volunteer, artist, advocate, arts organization or business, there are plenty of other awards out there. Consider nominating/voting for the artists and arts lovers in your life if they’re eligible for the following…

• Arizona Central’s “Best” Poll. Vote on nominees online before tomorrow’s (April 28) deadline. Categories include art gallery, annual arts festival/event, regional arts center, theater company, live theater venue, museum, musical festival/event and more.

AriZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence. Nominations for two awards are being accepted through August 15, 2010. The “Outstanding Contribution Award” honors someone within the theater community and the “Distinguished Service Award” honors an individual, corporation or organization outside the theater community.

• Business in the Arts Awards. Nominations now being accepted for awards to be presented at the August 18, 2010 “New Artitude” event presented by Wells Fargo. Categories include large business partner, mid-size business partner, small business partner, arts organization, arts advocate, arts board member and special business volunteer.

Detour Company Theatre

Two other nifty bits of news in the arts award department…

Arizona Theatre Company’s own Latino Playwriting Award-Winner, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” by Kristoffer Diaz, was honored as a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. (The Pulitzer was awarded to “Next to Normal” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey—which will tour, beginning in November, with stops in Los Angeles and San Diego).

• Eight’s Third Annual Be More Awards™ will be announced at a May 20, 2010 luncheon and awards ceremony at Eight’s downtown Phoenix studios. Nominated arts organizations include the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts, Rosie’s House and Valley Youth Theatre (for the “Be More Creative” award recognizing achievement in arts and culture) and Detour Company Theatre (for the “Be More Encouraged” judges’ choice award).

Rosie's House Music Academy

As always, I welcome your input if there are additional resources not included here. Please let me know of other award opportunities in the comment section below so our readers will have even more ways to recognize the artists, advocates and other arts leaders in our communities. There’s only one rule around here: Be nice.

–Lynn

NEW FEATURE! Watch for “Today’s Tidbits” at the end of Monday-Thursday posts so you’ll know of arts experiences you can enjoy during the week with your family or friends. Look for weekend arts events in Friday “Stage Mom” posts. More arts and other family-friendly activities are available every day at Raising Arizona Kids’ online calendar thanks to our amazing calendar editor Mala Blomquist.

Today’s Tidbits: ASU Theatre and Film presents their “5th Annual Student Film Fest” featuring both showcase and competitive formats at 7:30pm at Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe (info at 480-965-6447 or www.theatrefilm.asu.edu) • Chandler-Gilbert Community College presents a free CGCC Community Choir and Orchestra Concert at 7pm (info at 480-732-7343) • Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe presents local author Tom Leveen with his debut teen novel “Party” at 7pm (info at www.changinghands.com) • Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts presents “Talk Cinema: Sneak Preview #7” featuring a film that “depicts the aspirations of all immigrants and the fulfillment of the American dream” followed by a moderated conversation with experts (tickets are $20; info at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org). If you have a visual or performing arts event to share, please drop me a line at rakstagemom@gmail.com. Calendar items can be submitted online.