Tag Archives: Noises Off

Review: “Oedipus for Kids!”

“Oedipus for Kids!” is one of 30 musicals in this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, but you don’t have to fly across the country to enjoy it. The Valley’s own Nearly Naked Theatre is presenting the work through Sept 10 at  The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre.

Before you go, a few things you should know. It’s adult material not suitable for children. And it’s full of all the things you’d expect in a tale of Oedipus Rex — except the gore. There’s no blood during the eye scene — just curious squirts from a pair of cleverly concealed creamer containers — although a final scene does get messy when a character takes a baklava knife in the back.

I attended the Aug 21 performance with my daughter Lizabeth, part of her informal “farewell tour” before leaving for college theater studies in NYC.  I felt torn, knowing I’d have to miss the National Youth Theatre Awards at the Herberger Theater Center that night.

“Oedipus for Kids!” is directed by Toby Yatso, one of Lizabeth’s teachers for many years at Arizona School for the Arts, and Sunday was her only real opportunity to say “thanks” and share a bit of goodbye banter. It just didn’t feel right to miss this bit of his work after all he’s meant to my daughter.

Sunday’s audience included several older teens, including ASA theater major Nicole Speth, who seemed disappointed that others weren’t catching the show’s many references to Greek mythology. Speth was delighted about putting all those studies of Greek mythology during sophomore year to good use.

Don’t send your teens if you’re convinced they’ve never experienced foul language akin to the title of a Broadway show starring Chris Rock that closed just last month. “Oedipus for Kids!” is anything but politically correct when it comes to topics like suicide and disabilities. It’s the spoofs of political correctness, Greek weddings, children’s entertainment and actors who take themselves too seriously that make this show such a killer comedy.

Still, “Oedipus for Kids!” is tame by some Nearly Naked standards. Yatso describes it as pretty typical fare in terms of content, but notes that unlike other works from this theater company, there’s no nudity. Only underwear. And simulated sex behind a rack of costumes. That’s a relief.

I’m a big admirer of Nearly Naked’s work (and that of founding artistic director Damon Dering), though I don’t really have what it takes to hit every show. In quaint parlance, I suppose I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to artistry meeting anatomy. “Oedipus for Kids!” is perfect for those of us ready to dip only our big toe into the water.

Folks who relish the risque know that this is where to find it. Still, I expect to see more Nearly Naked shows than usual this season because their five-show line-up includes a tantalizing take on “Romeo and Juliet” and the local premiere of “Spring Awakening” (a joint venture with Phoenix Theatre featuring direction by Damon and Phoenix Theatre’s Robert Kolby Harper).

“Oedipus for Kids!” features book by Gil Varod and Kimberly Patterson, lyrics by Gil Varod and music by Robert J. Saferstein (who also provides additional material). It’s published by Samuel French, which offers a summary of the work — a play within a play — on its website.

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times describes “Oedipus for Kids!” as “a spoof of children’s theater, with some truly funny songs and endearlingly loopy performances from a cast of just three.” The three are members of a fictional theater troupe specializing in performing the classics for children.

After success with the likes of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Fuzzy Duck Theatre Company decides to tackle “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles. Seems two troupe members are in the middle of a nasty divorce, and the third is an actor with “questionable methods.”

Samuel French notes that “off-stage disagreements between the cast members spill onstage.” Think “Noises Off!” with less booze and more blood. Their description also mentions “flesh wounds” and “fornication” — making it clear that this is an adults-only piece.

I’m told that the show’s two writers contacted Nearly Naked after learning they’d be mounting “Oedipus for Kids!” – offering to share updates to the work. Apparently this is the first full-scale production to feature those updates, and Varod and Patterson will attend the final Friday performance to see the result (and stay for a talkback with audience members).

The cast of Nearly Naked’s “Oedipus for Kids!” includes Johanna Carlisle (Catalina/Mommy/Jocasta/Oracle), Doug Loynd (Allistair/Lauis/Tedipus/Sphinxy) and Chad McCluskey (Evan/Oedipus). Aya Nameth, set to graduate next fall with a B.A. in theatre performance from ASU, is the Catalina understudy.

Carlisle is a veteran Valley actress whose program bio notes that her favorite role is that of mom to her son Maxx. Maxx Carlisle-King is a gifted teen actor currently appearing as “Sketch” in the Valley Youth Theatre production of “Hairspray” at the Herberger Theater Center.

Loynd’s bio recalls boyhood days in California spent acting, singing and dancing, Also sewing — which explains his skill as costume designer for Nearly Naked’s “Oedipus for Kids!” It also offers an homage of sorts to the cats he credits with “urging him to continue his passion.” More proof that the best artists owe it all to their cats.

Chad McCluskey “hails from foggy Newfoundland” and studies “Secondary Education: Chemistry” at ASU. Let’s hope some well-meaning parents won’t use McCluskey’s bio to lecture their own child with acting plans about the practicality of things like teaching degrees and “real jobs.”

McCluskey’s comedic performance in “Oedipus for Kids!” is the one to beat this season. “Oedipus for Kids!” is a gem of a show. Yatso’s directing sensibilities are perfectly matched to this work, which also features his choreography.

Musical direction by Mark 4man kicks the energy of “Oedipus for Kids!” into high gear. It helps to have songs like “A Little Complex” and “Be Kind to the Blind” to start with. And volunteers willing to join cast members on stage for a song about the plague.

But 4man’s music tracks, created at home with his keyboard according to Yatso, give the feel of a live band. Songs played before each act opens make for fantastic foreplay. As it should be for the opening of Nearly Naked’s 13th season.

– Lynn

Note: Those of you seeking Oedipus tales for younger audiences can click here.

Coming up: “Titus Andronicus” opens the Southwest Shakespeare Company season

Beyond the Bard

The Utah Shakespeare Festival includes both works by Shakespeare and works by other playwrights in each season’s selections. While in Cedar City for the festival’s summer 2011 season we saw matinee performances of three non-Shakespeare works at the Randall L. Jones Theatre, built in 1989.

The Randall L. Jones Theatre (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

The first was “The Glass Menagerie” by playwright Tennessee Williams, the tale of a mother and two grown children still living at home. It’s set in 1937 St. Louis, which might feel world’s apart were it not for the opening monologue delivered by Ben Jacoby, who performs the role of Tom Wingfield. He makes clear the parallels between then and now, including tough economic times.

Ben Jacoby as Tom Wingfield in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of The Glass Menagerie (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakepeare Festival.)

The second was “Noises Off!” by playwright Michael Frayn, who breaks the tale of actors performing in a British adult farce into three acts — showing a different perspective of how the farce “Nothing On” unfolds in each act. We see the actors, each with a host of personal and professional shortcomings, stumble through a final rehearsal and two jumbled performances (witnessing one as it unfolds backstage).

Melinda Parrett (left) as Belinda Blair, Betsy Mugavero as Poppy Norton-Taylor, Ben Livingston as Lloyd Dallas, Ally Carey as Brooke Ashton, and Jeanne Paulsen as Dotty Otley in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Noises Off!. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011.)

The third was “The Music Man,” based on a story by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey. The musical features book, music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson. It recounts the tale of a traveling con man who makes a living selling musical instruments to parents who fear their children might otherwise discover darker pursuits like playing pool.

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of The Music Man (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

In each case, the comedy was simply exquisite. It helps to start with great material, I suppose. Quinn Mattfeld, who performs the role of Garry Lejeune in “Noises Off!,” delivered one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen. I ran into Mattfeld before Friday evening’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (another comedy honed to perfection by festival actors and artistic staff) and asked about how such a fabulous bit of funny comes to be.

Quinn Mattfeld (L) as Garry Lejeune and Ally Carey as Brooke Ashton in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Noises Off! (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Mattfeld gives playwrights at least half the credit, noting that directors and actors make up the balance of the mix. True magic happens on stage when the best writing meets the best direction and acting. Other artistic elements contribute too — choreography, costumes, props, lighting, sound and such.

Laura Griffith (L) as Marian Paroo and Brian Vaughn as Harold Hill in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of The Music Man (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Each of the six productions we saw at this year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival appeared both flawless and effortless. Attention to detail is evident at every level, as is thinking beyond the boundaries of what you might imagine for any given scene or production. It’s these qualities that make each work fresh, even for those of us who have seen them performed time and time again.

– Lynn

Coming up: More Shakespeare on Valley stages, Who let the “CATS” out?, National Youth Arts Awards, Bugged out!

What’s new: Shakespeare

Christine Williams (left) as Hermia, Michael Brusasco as Lysander, Ashley Smith as Demetrius and Tiffany Scott as Helena in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2005 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Photo by Karl Hugh)

There’s a lovely assortment of Shakespeare coming to the Valley during the 2011-2012 season — thanks to the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa.

Shakespeare works they’ll be performing include “Titus Andronicus” (Sept. 8-24), “Romeo & Juliet” (Jan. 5-21) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (April 19-May 5).

True “Titus” fans, including my daughter Lizabeth (who tells me “Titus” makes Showtime’s “Dexter” look tame), can also experience the work as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season.

Other works being performed by the Southwest Shakespeare Company for 2011-2012 include “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens (Nov 26-Dec 17) and “Art” by Yasmina Reza (Mar 1-17).

Those needing a faster Shakespeare fix can enjoy “Shakespeare at the Biltmore” June 2-11 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix – featuring the SSC performing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Or head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for the following works being performed June 23-Sept 3: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Richard III,” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Utah Shakespeare Festival also presents Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” June 23-Sept 3. They’ll perform Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off!” June 23-Oct 29.

Those who head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival this fall can enjoy Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” (Sept 22-Oct 29) and Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder” (Sept 23-Oct 29).

Stay tuned to the Southwest Shakespeare Festival website to learn when single show tickets for their 2011-2012 season will be available. Season tickets are available now.

Tickets for the 2011 Utah Shakespeare Festival are already on sale, but folks who aren’t yet Festival members will have to wait until June 23 to get tickets for 2012 productions.

Ashley Smith (left) as Laertes and Emily Trask as Ophelia in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2006 production of Hamlet (Photo: Karl Hugh)

In addition to “Titus Andronicus,” the 2012 Utah Shakespeare Festival line-up includes Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Hamlet.”

Also Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” a stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a modern adaptation of Moiliere’s “Scapin,” Marie Jones’ “Stones in His Pocket,” a Tony-Award winning musical titled “The Drowsy Chaperone” and a holiday show they’ve yet to announce.

Folks who assume Shakespearean companies proffer only “doom and gloom” or “satire and silliness” are quite mistaken — as demonstrated by the diversity of offerings noted above.

If you’ve never given Shakespeare, or the fine folks who perform his works, a fair shake — maybe this is the season you should give it a shot. There’s a good chance, I think, that you’ll like them a lot.

– Lynn

Note: Paradise Valley Community College performs “Twelfth Night” directed by Eric Schoen June 17-26. Click here for details.

Coming up: “Macbeth” meets movie theater — plus, Valley high school students review “Macbeth”

Shakespeare: Made in Japan?

The Utah Shakespeare Festival recently performed a touring production of "Macbeth" for Valley students at Higley Center for the Performing Arts

I learned while attending a Shakespeare-in-the-Schools Tour of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” by the Utah Shakespeare Festival that the stilts used by the three witched in this particular production are actually “Air-Trekkers” that originated in Japan.

During a talk back after the show, cast members explained to the 1,200 students in attendance that the use of various props — from ladders to red-colored gloves — reflected the director Christopher Clark’s choice to present the piece “caravan-style” — much like it would have been performed during Shakespeare’s time.

Because there was no fake theatrical blood back then, and the use of real blood in settings like the Higley Center for the Performing Arts is frowned on, various stab wounds “gush forth” with long strips of ragged red cloth.

Low budget. High imagination. The cast noted during the talkback that this is all anyone really needs to perform the works of Shakespeare. There was no Broadway for the Bard, and his work may well be better for it.

Lizabeth and I saw the Utah Shakespeare Festival performance of “Macbeth” last summer — which had an extra layer of drama as rains drenched the outdoor theater just as curtain time approached. We ended up seeing the first act inside, and enjoyed the dark mood set by lingering clouds and rolling thunder once the audience moved back outside.

Lizabeth at one of many Utah Shakespeare Festival "Greenshows" we attended together last summer

Lizabeth first experienced Shakespeare in a summer camp workshop with Arizona’s own Childsplay, when she was still in elementary school.

Her love for Shakespeare blossomed after studying with Maren Mascarelli, a Southern Utah University graduate, at both Arizona School for the Arts and Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre.

Lizabeth has also studied Shakespeare with Randy Messersmith, who heads the theater department at Scottsdale Community College and co-founded the Southwest Shakespeare Company (located in Mesa).

Most recently, she studied Shakepeare in summer classes with the Utah Shakespeare Festival. We’re already making plans to return to the festival this summer to see diverse works ranging from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “The Music Man” and “Noises Off!”

A couple of the ten company members taking “Macbeth” on the road this season (including 7 actors in 20 roles) hail from Utah, but plenty of other states are represented. California. Pennsylvania. Iowa. New York.

The company manager for this tour, a high-energy fellow named Joshua (from Juneau), noted during introductory remarks that they’ve performed the piece 75 times so far — before a total audience of 35,000 people.

Higley was just a single stop on their 13-week (Jan to April) tour — which is part of “Shakespeare for a New Generation” — a program funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Even before the performance could begin, students greeted the company with thunderous applause usually reserved for football games. The show itself was condensed quite effectively from a 3-hour play into an 75-minute work. Applause offered after the final line was uttered and the stage went dark was equally enthusiastic.

Hopefully many of the students who attended "Macbeth" in Higley will make it to Cedar City for some of the eight shows offered between June 23 and Oct 29

The company manager kicked off the talkback by asking students to raise their hands to show which of two possible explanations of Macbeth’s heinous deeds they favored — one blaming the three witches who predict Macbeth’s rise to the throne, or another blaming his ambitious wife.

He then suggested that those who felt Macbeth was responsible for his own actions, and the horrific outcome, raise both hands. This was clearly the explanation favored by most students — though one student with each hypothesis was invited to share his or her reasoning.

The first felt the witches, having initially placed the idea in Macbeth’s head that he would one day be king, caused Macbeth to commit the murder that snowballed into so many acts of disloyalty and destruction.

The second felt Macbeth alone was responsible, because he made his own choices about how to act on the information pesented to him. The third felt the wife was responsible — because she “messed with his head” and “insulted his manhood.”

Their remarks leave no doubt that Shakespeare, though made in England and performed with ideas and implements from around the globe, is perfectly relevant in 21st century America — where struggles related to love, power and justice seem never to die.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about upcoming productions and school programs of the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa. Click here for information about The Shakespeare Society of Japan. Click here to read a CNN article with tips for helping Japan in the aftermath of today’s devastating natural disaster.

Coming up: Art adventures: Japanese Friendship Garden, “Beastly” meets “Rango”

From new to nostalgic

Valley audiences are currently enjoying one of Broadway’s newest offerings at Phoenix Theatre — the first local theater production of “Avenue Q” in Arizona.

But the 2011/2012 season just unveiled by Phoenix Theatre is all about nostalgia. Good call in terms of capturing the likely mood of Valley audiences.

They’ll open the season with “Boeing, Boeing” — a comical farce “in the tradition of” last year’s “Noises Off.” Minus the sardines and plus three flight attendant “fiancees.” Think suave architect confronted with unexpected schedule changes. I’m looking forward to watching this man sweat.

Gypsy” takes to the stage in October — which conjures images in my mind of stage mamas donning “Mama Rose” costumes and charicatures for Halloween. It’s a classic musical about an age-old struggle with the temptation to live vicariously through our children.

A Christmas Story,” based on the classic film of the same name, opens just before Thanksgiving — and follows the adventures of a young boy who has his heart set on finding one particular toy under the tree. It’s your chance to step into the world of an “all-American 1940s family.”

Marvelous Wonderettes” recounts the lives and loves of teens attending their 1958 prom. Think lipstick, cotton candy and familiar tunes from “Lollypop” to “It’s My Party!” Again, I love the dress-up possibilities.

Their next production, “Nine to Five: The Musical,” offers brushstrokes of a later decade in which accomplished women too often overshadowed by underachieving men decided they’d had enough. It’s Dolly Parton meets revenge on the chauvenist pig.

Finally, Phoenix Theatre presents “The Spitfire Grill,” a story of second chances for a young girl who revitalizes a town as she “makes a new life for herself.”

I’m especially excited about Phoenix Theatre’s choices as the mom of two daughters, for whom performance art has always provided a peek into the past lives of girls and those who have paved paths before them.

In a hurried culture, it’s good to remember while we’re speeding forward.

– Lynn

Note: Next up for Phoenix Theatre this season is the musical “Nine” — which runs April 13-May8, 2011.

Coming up: Another Christmas classic comes to the Valley next season

“Hairspray” is big fun

Shawna Quain, Chase Todd, Lillian Castillo, Antyon Le Monte and D. Scott Withers (center) of Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Big hair. Big props. Big set pieces. Big band. Big vocals. Big dance numbers. Big talent. Big message. Big fun.

You’ll find it all in Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Hairspray,” which runs through Dec 12.

I’m often drawn to particular shows for sentimental reasons. They remind me of an early childhood experience, relate somehow to a cause I support or feature folks we know as teachers or friends.

This time around it was three actors in particular.  

D. Scott Withers, who’s been with Childsplay in Tempe just a wee bit longer than I’ve been a mom, perfectly plays Edna Turnblad’s transformation from mousy to magnificent. (Though, sadly, his ironing skills appear to be lacking.)

Toby Yatso, a Phoenix Theatre artist-in-residence and member of the theater faculty at Arizona School for the Arts who plays Corny Collins, offers a performance that blends pristine attention to detail with a big, bold bundle of energy. (An observation shared with me by an astute ASA student who also attended on Saturday.) 

And Dion Johnson, who we first met a decade or so ago when Lizabeth was one of many daughters to his King in the Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “The King and I,” makes for a hilarious hat-donning and hip-thrusting Wilbur Turnblad. (With him, Edna doesn’t hear the bells — she feels them.)

I also give big marks to Antyon Le Monte, who makes his Phoenix Theatre debut as Seaweed, and Chase Todd, whose performance as Link Larkin makes you wonder whether the stork delivered him in a skinny tie and dancing shoes.

My daughter Lizabeth was thrilled to see Yolanda London make her Phoenix Theatre debut in “Hairspray” (Kamilah, Hooker, Female Ensemble). She’s another longtime favorite from Childsplay, where Lizabeth has enjoyed London’s big talent and big heart as an instructor in their Childsplay Academy.

She’s one of many women whose performances made us smile ourselves silly and tap our toes like there’s no tomorrow.

Jacqueline Rushing (Little Inez) was last seen in Mesa Encore Theatre’s “Once on This Island” and I became a fan the second I read these words in her “Hairspray” bio — “In her spare time she enjoys writing stories and inhaling books.”

Andi Watson, who plays the delightfully devious Velma Von Tussle, was last seen as Poppy in Phoenix Theatre’s “Noises Off.” Her off-stage adventures include “photography and maternity casting.” She’s also co-founder of Living Arts Studio.

Daughter Amber Von Tussle is capably played by Jacqueline Dunford, a music major at Scottsdale Community College making her professional theater debut.

Shawna Weitekamp (Penny Pingleton) is a Phoenix Theatre repeat offender (it’s a good thing) whose bio advocates the benefits of eating healthy chocolate. Perhaps she can get the folks in San Francisco to replace all those banned Happy Meal toys with candy bars.

Lillian Castillo plays trailblazing teen Tracy Turnblad in Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Audience favorites included Lillian Castillo as the spunky and single-minded Tracy Turnblad, whose insistence on racial integration on the dance floor shows that one person (often a teen) truly can change the world.

Also De Angelus Grisby (Motormouth Maybelle), whose bio includes this note to sons Roman and Elijah — “Thank you for allowing your mother to dream out loud on the stage.” Her vocal performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” left the woman sitting next to me dabbing tears away with a tissue while other audience members stood to applaud.

They didn’t wait until the show was over, which tells you just how moved they were by her soul — and the collective strength of the ensemble singing behind her. It was the finest vocal performance I’ve ever experienced in Valley theater.

The creative team is no less impressive. It includes director Michael Barnard, choreographer Robert Kolby Harper, and resident music director Alan Ruch. Michael J. Eddy, also well loved in youth theater circles, is production manager and lighting designer.

Phoenix native Katie McNamara, a graduate of Southern Utah University and one-time prop artisan with the Utah Shakespearean Festival (now the Utah Shakespeare Festival), does property design with pizzazz. The equally impressive scenic design is by Robert Andrew Kovach.

Wig designer Gerard Kelly did “Hair” on Broadway, but my one criticism of the show is that not all the coiffed cast members turned it loose during their final dance numbers — looking like they feared their hair might end up flying across the room. So ladies, let your hair down.

A few things of note in this particular musical…

References to bygone days and ways are plentiful. The more you know about Geritol, Perry Como, Ripple, Cooties, Mydol and Green Stamps — the more lines you’ll meet with laughter.

The sexual inuendo is relatively tame but there’s enough of it to satisfy those who go for such things. And “Hairspray” is a dream for one-liner lovers with quips like “I lost my man and my hair deflated in one day.”

Lillian Castillo and D. Scott Withers of Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Whether you go just for the fun of it or for the fabulous social justice vibe of this “Welcome to the ’60s” musical, you’ll find plenty of what you’re looking for.

I think it’s an especially powerful show for teens in an age of face-to-face and online bullying.

The message is simple, but timeless.

Big is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Being yourself is beautiful.

Above all, follow your dreams. Remain loyal. And keep moving forward.

– Lynn

Note: The musical “Hairspray” features book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman. Click here for Phoenix Theatre ticket information. Read yesterday’s post titled “Saturdays & serendipity” to learn more about Lynn’s “Stage Mom” adventures before and after the show.

Coming up: Art in the animal world, Pearls from “Playing for Change,” Art adventures: City of Surprise, Museum exhibit that asks “Are we that different?”

Fun with farce

I’m a relative rookie when it comes to the “farce” genre in theater — only recently enjoying my first live experience with the art thanks to Phoenix Theatre’s “Noises Off.” I hadn’t expected to enjoy the form, but now find myself becoming a bit of a farce fanatic.

Whether you’re a farce fan or merely farce-curious, this weekend presents a rare opportunity to enjoy farce at its finest — the Flaherty and Ahrens musical called “Lucky Stiff.” It’s a murder mystery based on the novel “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”

“Lucky Stiff” is being performed this weekend at Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre) in Scottsdale by students from Arizona School for the Arts (ASA).

It’s a real high school musical, directed by Toby Yatso, an artist in residence with Phoenix Theatre who leads the ASA theatre arts team.

I’ll be there all weekend in true stage mom mode — hoofing tickets and hocking candy. My daughter Lizabeth has been hush hush about the show, so I’ve had to do a bit of my own research. Here’s what I know…

It’s the work of the award-winning team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, whose other collaborations include “Seussical” and “Ragtime.” It’s got a dog, a dead body and hidden diamonds — plus a wheelchair and a heart-shaped box with surprising contents.

There’s stiff competition in Valley theater this weekend as the Herberger Theater Center reopens to reveal remarkable renovations, The Black Theatre Troupe presents the Tony Award winning August Wilson play titled “Fences” and the Broadway touring production of “Young Frankenstein” plays at ASU Gammage.

“Lucky Stiff” is recommended for ages 12 and up, so that’ll make theater-going decisions easier for parents of preschoolers to preteens. Your choices are equally appealing as Childsplay presents “A Year With Frog and Toad” at Tempe Center for the Arts and Valley Youth Theater opens their production of “Pinkalicious” (both based on children’s literature).

I narrowly missed the opportunity to see “The Ice Pirates” presented by the Dobson Drama Club at Dobson High School in Mesa this weekend. I only learned of the show when I stumbled on a flyer while Jennifer and I were looking for a “STAND Up 4 Africa” event held there on Saturday.

It looks like I’ll have other opportunities — since Dobson High School has upcoming productions that include “Friday Night Live” (Dec 17) and “The Breakfast Club” (Jan, 2011). And I do hope other schools will drop me a line to let me know their offerings.

Attending school and community theater events featuring the Valley’s many talented youth is a truly enjoyable and economical way to experience theater productions you might not encounter at other venues — and to support youth in our community who engage in positive, creative activities in the face (and farce) of so many competing and crass alternatives.

– Lynn

Note: Click here or go to Brown Paper Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com to purchase tickets to “Lucky Stiff.” For a comprehensive listing of family-friendly theater and other activities, visit the online calendar for Raising Arizona Kids magazine. Next up at Greasepaint Youtheatre is their production of “The Wiz” directed by D. Scott Withers.

Coming up: A marathon of movie reviews, Monsters among us, Getting to know you: Gammage goers

Update: Soon after posting, I learned of another comedic piece coming to a Valley stage (this one is for mature audiences). It’s a “comedic vaudeville” work titled “Romantic Fools” being presented by Chandler-Gilbert Community College Oct 14-17. For tickets call 480-732-7343 or go online. Theater Works opens “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” also a comedy, on Oct 1 at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets call 623-815-7930 or go online.