Tag Archives: Rock of Ages

Resurrecting a rock opera

The current revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a sort of fourth coming for me. I’ve seen three previous productions of the classic rock opera featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice — starting as a tween who first fell in love with the concept album, then saw a touring production of the show many years later in California.

For a time, I lived and died by the record that felt like my generation’s version of Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Listening to the double album, with its mottled dirt-colored cover and gold logo depicting a pair of angels, felt like an act of supreme rebellion. I remember opening the folded album cover atop my bed, pouring over the matching booklet and kneeling nearly prayer-like on the floor while singing along to songs like “What’s the Buzz?” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

My daughter Lizabeth, who performs this weekend in the Pace Performing Arts production of “Our Lady of 121st Street” at the Lion Theatre on NYC’s famed 42nd Street, has joined me for two national touring productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar” performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

She admits to being too young to truly understand “Jesus Christ Superstar” the first time around, but I remember thinking at the time that I wanted her to experience the music that’d meant so much to me during a similar age and stage. Some things — like Springsteen concerts and favorite Broadway musicals — are important to share with our children along the journey.

During my last trip to NYC, we saw a preview of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” directed by Des McAnuff (think “Jersey Boys“) — which has since officially opened at the Neil Simon Theatre. Lizabeth shared after the show that it was the first time she really understood the full measure of the story, based loosely on the last seven days of Jesus’ life.

Though some see blasphemy in the musical’s broad strokes, it’s clearly educating a whole new generation about geopolitical and religious issues of Jesus’ day. For kids not raised with Bible in hand, it’s as close as they may ever come to considering Jesus’ life and times — to witnessing a work within the “passion play” tradition.

Those who’ve suggested the current revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a tad over the top may have preferred tamer takes featuring Ted Neely as Jesus — but we’re not among them. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production –performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego before heading to Broadway — is bolder by far, and much better for it. I loved “The Book of Mormon,” but can’t say that I adore “Jesus Christ Superstar” any less. God has been good to Broadway of late.

I spent much of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fighting the urge to get up and dance. Nobody wants their mom to have the musical theater equivalent of a “come to Jesus” moment in public, so I settled for a swift bit of toe-tapping and a silent sing-along in my head. This resurrection of “Superstar” is fresh, fabulous and fun. No apologies needed.

The “Jesus Christ Superstar” cast includes Paul Nolan (Jesus), Josh Young (Judas), Chilina Kennedy (Mary Magdalene), Tom Hewitt (Pontius Pilate) and Bruce Dow (King Herod). Also Marcus Nance (Caiaphas) and Aaron Walpole (Annas). Nick Cartell (Jonah/Swing) grew up in Arizona, where he performed with Valley Youth Theatre, Phoenix Theatre and more. Liz tells me he’s already rocked the role of Judas in understudy mode.

The creative team includes Andrew Lloyd Webber (composer), Tim Rice (lyricist), Des McAnuff (director), Lisa Shriver (choreographer), Rick Fox (music director), Robert Brill (set design), Paul Tazewell (costume design) and Howell Binkley (lighting design). Also Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design), Sean Nieuwenhuis (video design), Daniel Levinson (fight director), Simon Fox (stunt coordinator) and John Miller (music coordinator).

It’s about time we had a “Superstar” laced with sensitivity and sass. Think sets featuring tall metal bleachers and a giant ticker counting down Jesus’ final days. Costumes in lush fabrics saturated with rich color or earthy materials muted with feminizing tones. Choreography with tent-revival fervor. And layers of glorious orchestration with a hint of folk fare. All bring modern scale to an ancient tale — making “Jesus Christ Superstar” a resurrection well worth the wait.

– Lynn

Coming up: “Rock of Ages” on Valley stages

Photos courtesy of Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Broadway Rocks!

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna in Mamma Mia! (Photo: Joan Marcus)

He’s young. He’s hip. But will conductor Joseph Young don the spandex jumpsuit to conduct a bit of music from “Mamma Mia” featured in this weekend’s “Broadway Rocks!” concerts performed by The Phoenix Symphony?

I think not — but it is fun to imagine all the fashion options knowing they’ll also be playing selections from “Rent,” “Dreamgirls,””Jersey Boys,” “Hairspray” and “Wicked.” Pointy hat, anyone?

The Phoenix Symphony performs “Broadway Rocks!” at Symphony Hall Feb. 24-26 — with a Sunday matinee for those of you who like to take the kiddos to such things but still believe in proper bedtimes.

Jackie Burns as Elpheba in Wicked (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The concerts are perfectly timed for who plan to see “Wicked” at ASU Gammage – which features favorites from “Defying Gravity” to “For Good.” Practice your “toss, toss” hair flipping now so you’re ready for the big night.

“Broadway Rocks” also includes selections from “The Wiz,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King,” “Hair,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Chess.” Even music from “Jekyll and Hyde,” which I’ve always found especially moving.

It features performance by The Phoenix Symphony Chorus as well as three vocalists — Christiane Noll, Virginia Woodruff and Doug LaBrecque. Lovely choices, but I’ll still be missing D. Scott Withers, whose campy “Edna” stylings in the Phoenix Theatre and Arkansas Repertory Theatre productions of “Hairspray” were delicious.

Van Hughes (Johny), Scott J. Campbell (Tunny) and Nicci Claspell (The Extraordinary Girl) in American Idiot (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Two touring productions of Broadway shows with a rock and roll vibe are headed our way as well. The Theater League production of “Rock of Ages” comes to two Valley venues April 10-15, and the national tour of “American Idiot” comes to ASU Gammage April 24-29.

Come fall, The Phoenix Symphony will present a concert called “Wicked Divas.” It’s being performed Sept. 28-30 as part of their 2012-13 season “Pops Series” — and feature vocalists Ali Mauzey and Nicole Parker, who’ve both performed in “Wicked.” The concert will include music from “Gypsy,” “Ragtime,” “Titanic,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Carmen” and “Wicked.”

Maybe I’ll pass them my short list of favorite Broadway men — say Mandy Patinkin and Andrew Rannells — in case they want to give equal time to a few of the guys. Or they could just make my daughter Lizabeth’s day by bringing out her favorite trio of J. Pierrepont Finches — Daniel Radcliffe, Darren Criss and Nick Jonas.

– Lynn

Note: The 2nd annual “Symphony Stroll,” presented by Phoenix Symphony Allegro, takes place Sat., Feb. 25 from 4-7pm. Click here for details.

Coming up: Art awakenings

Update: The Carolyn Eynon Singers perform “Broadway Showstoppers from Berlin, Bernstein and Sondheim,” with special guest and narrator David Barker, Feb. 24 & 25 at Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale.

2012 movie musings

Sometimes childhood memories shared with our own children come back to haunt us. I once told daughter Lizabeth about racing home after school to watch the vampire soap series “Dark Shadows.” Now that Johnny Depp is starring in a “Dark Shadows” film (May) that’ll fast forward Barnabas and clan to the 1970s, I’ll never hear the end of it.

Only rumors that Depp raced home to do the same thing will temper those wounds. Folks with a taste for vampire lore can also look forward to “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2″ (Nov) and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (June).  I haven’t read the “Twilight” series, so I’m a bit conflicted about what color to expect for the nursery.

Lizabeth likes the Lincoln meets vampire vibe, but I’m holding out for Spielberg’s “Lincoln” (Dec) starring Daniel Day Lewis. Lincoln’s life was bloody enough. I’d like to leave it at that. I’ll also be watching for “Hotel Transylvania” (Sept) with a cast that includes two comedic Adams and one crooning Miley.

Musical theater morphs into movies at least twice this year with “Rock of Ages” (June) starring Tom Cruise (watch for tidy widy jokes) and “Les Miserables” (Dec) featuring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and lots of other big names. I’d give you the rest of the list but it’d only leave you wishing I’d stopped after Jackman.

We’ll also enjoy a pair of films starring Harry Potter alums this season — “The Woman in Black” (Feb) with Daniel Radcliffe (whose performance Lizabeth loved in “How to Succeed…” on Broadway) and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (Fall) with Emma Watson. I was perfectly happy with the other films featuring a wallflower in black named “Snape.”

Two actresses who first performed right here in the Valley will be seen on the big screen this year. First, Emma Stone in “Movie 43″ (April) and “The Amazing Spiderman” (July) — which will show her acting alongside greats like Sally Field and Richard Gere. Also Jordin Sparks in “Sparkle” (Aug), alongside Whitney Houston. Best I just let that one be for the time being.

In the classic lit department, there’s “The Great Gatsby” (Dec) starring Leonardo DiCaprio — assuming he survives the 3-D version of James Cameron’s “Titanic” (April). Also “Anna Karenina” and “Great Expectations” — both slotted for fall release. Start reading now if you want to revisit the books before these babies hit your local movie theater. Folks who favor new lit can look forward to “The Hunger Games” (March) and “Life of Pi” (Dec).

Girlpower gets its due with “Brave” (June) — Pixar’s 13th film and their first to feature a female heroine. Mean girls are headed our way with two variations on the Snow White tale. First, “Mirror Mirror” (March) starring Julia Roberts as the Queen and Lily Collins as Snow White. Then “Snow White and the Huntsmen” (June), starring Charlize Theron as the Queen and Kristen Stewart as Snow White.

For more twisted fairy tale fare, check out “Jack the Giant Killer” (June) — which Lizabeth only entertained seeing after learning it’s from the same fine fellow who brought us “X-Men: First Class.” Those of you waiting on “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” need to aim your crystal balls at the year 2013. In the interim, try “The Avengers” (May).

It’s a big year for sequels, including family fare like “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (June), “Ice Age 4: Continental Drift” (July) and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” (Aug). Also “Men in Black” (May), “The Dark Knight Rises” (July) and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Dec). Lizabeth and I could never make it past the first few pages of “The Hobbit,” so I’m not holding out much hope for this one.

She’s more excited about “The Secret Adventures of Arrietty” (Feb), a Disney film based on a novel called “The Borrowers” — while I’m looking forward to “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” (March), from the folks who made “Despicable Me.” Other family fare includes a whale of a tale called “Big Miracle” (Feb) and “Disneynature: Chimpanzee” (April).

Watch for “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (May), a film about five couples expecting babies that was inspired by the famous prenatal parenting book. I’m only willing to revisit those memories because the cast includes Matthew Morrison of “Glee.” Don’t mistake “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (March) for an animated film about your toddler’s playdates.

My potpourri pile’s got some other films I’m still investigating — so stay tuned for a second installment. And drop a line to let me know what films you’re most excited about seeing.

– Lynn

Note: Film release dates are subject to change. Visit the websites for your favorite films/studios to follow their developments.

Coming up: Broadway meets community theater

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

Big MAC attack!

Sunday is your last chance to see Mesa Encore Theatre perform The Music Man, which beat out West Side Story to win the 1958 Tony Award for best musical

Knowing the 2011 Tony Awards are right around the corner, I decided to go in search of local productions of Tony Award-winning musicals. I started with shows coming to the Mesa Arts Center after getting an e-mail alert that tickets for their 2011-2012 Broadway series, which includes four shows, start at just $95.

Watch the Tony Awards on CBS this Sunday night to see who wins best musical for 2011

The series includes “Rock of Ages,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “The Rat Pack is Back” — plus “My Fair Lady,” winner of the 1957 Tony Award for best musical. The 1958 Tony Award for best musical went to “The Music Man,” which is being performed at MAC by Mesa Encore Theatre through June 12.

I’ll have to share other Tony Award winners coming to Valley stages in a later post, because I’m experiencing a bit of a”big MAC attack” at the moment. Turns out there’s a ton of good stuff happening at the Mesa Arts Center, so I’ve got MAC on the brain instead.

The Mesa Arts Center has offerings in four main areas — shows, classes, events and museum exhibits. Upcoming shows sound plenty intriguing. There’s “Retro,” “Live Love Dance!,” and even Steve Martin and his banjo buddies. Events to watch for include fall and spring “out to lunch” concert series, the Mesa Arts Festival and celebrations of Dia de los Muertos.

This girl should have signed up for music classes through Mesa Arts Center

Mesa Arts Center offers classes in visual and performing arts. Think blacksmithing for the grown-ups and ceramic “mud pups” for children. Also American tribal dance and belly dance classes. Plus “scenes for teens” acting classes and a “dance sampler” for kids who want to explore various dance options.

Exhibits opening today at MAC’s “Mesa Contemporary Arts” space — a collection of five galleries — include “Picturing Maricopa” and “Women’s Work.” Other current exhibits include “Chicanitas,” “Vermilion Remains,” and “Wood & Substance, Substance & Spirit.”

Another snappy dresser from the Mesa Encore Theatre production of The Music Man

That’s a lot of art for an admission fee of just $3.50. Kids age 7 & under are always free — and admission is free for all on Thursdays (the museum is closed on Mondays). I’m going to have to move this to the top of my “me time” to do list. My grown children would enjoy the works, but they’re already off and running in a million directions this summer. Bummer.

– Lynn

Note: The Theater League 2011-2012 Broadway series also performs at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix

Coming up: Art meets science — with a twist of creative genius

Photo credit: Sarah Rodgers and Wade Moran

Jennifer’s marching orders

THE MUSIC MAN marches onto a Mesa Arts Center stage on May 27

If you’ve ever parented a teen, you know that some days feel like an endless parade of marching orders. And you’re not the one giving them. You’re the one getting them.

So it was last week when Jennifer announced I needed to cover a certain musical theater production in one of my posts. Marching orders from Jennifer are nothing new, though typically they involve instructions for cooking or teen taxi runs.

Jennifer is about as interested in musical theater as I am in plane geometry. But she’d run into someone at ASU who got to telling her about auditions for an upcoming production of “The Music Man” — and she offered to pitch a post on the topic.

Clearly, Jennifer did a masterful job of trumpeting this tale of music meets con man — because you’re reading about it now. It wasn’t such a hard sell, really, since the work is a classic in the pantheon of American musical theater.

It even features that most quaint of characters in the digital age — a librarian who helps people find and read books the old-fashioned way. There’s a whole other post in there somewhere, but I’ll save that for another day.

“The Music Man” is being presented by Mesa Encore Theatre May 27-June 12 at the Mesa Arts Center, but folks who purchase their tickets between May 9 and May 18 can see the show for just $10 (Use the promo code “RIVERCITY” when ordering online or through the MAC box office).

Mesa Encore Theatre recently announced its 2011-2012 season — which features an eclectic mix of shows, including “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” one of my all-time favorites.

Other Mesa Encore Theatre offerings for 2011-2012 include “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” “Proof,” “A Christmas Story,” “TBA,” “Ragtime,” and “Hairspray.” I love this line-up, which feels like an overflowing buffet of all my favorite comfort foods with some spicy new dishes thrown into the mix.

Resident companies of Mesa Arts Center also include East Valley Children’s Theatre — which presents “The Adventures of Pinocchio” June 16-26. And Actor’s Youth Theatre brings “Les Miserables School Edition” to the MAC stage June 28-July 2.

Mesa is also home to Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre – which performs “Smoke on the Mountain” through May 14 and opens “Seussical” on May 18. “Seussical” is an energetic bundle of charm that features favorite Dr. Seuss characters playfully proferring pearls of wisdom for all ages.

Mesa Arts Center welcomes several touring Broadway productions each year. Upcoming Theater League shows coming to MAC include “The Wizard of Oz” (Dec 6 &7), “The Rat Pack is Back” (Jan 10 & 11, 2012), “My Fair Lady” (Jan 31 & Feb 1, 2012) and “Rock of Ages” (April 10 & 11, 2012).

Jennifer will be thrilled that I’ve shared news of “The Music Man” and other Mesa happenings, mostly because I’m now free to fix her a bowl of pasta — just the way she likes it. Though Jennifer moved from teen to young adult with her birthday in April, she still likes giving marching orders in the kitchen. And I’m still happy to take them.

– Lynn

Coming up: “Stage Mom” picks for the 2011/2012 season, Spotlight on Desert Stages, Celebrating “International Museum Day”