Tag Archives: Romeo and Juliet

Romeo, Romeo…

A scene from "Romeo and Juliet" performed in 2011 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (Photo: Karl Hugh). View their current season at http://www.bard.org.

A pair of “Romeo and Juliet” productions come to Valley stages during the 2012/13 season, so those of you who’ve enjoyed one or more of this season’s theater productions featuring star-crossed lovers ala Shakespeare can now experience its grandeur as a work of opera or ballet.

Ballet Arizona presents “Romeo and Juliet” featuring music by Sergei Prokofiev and choreography by artistic director Ib Andersen Feb. 14-17, 2013. Those of you who insist it’s far too early to think of such things should recall just how recently we seemed to be celebrating New Year’s Eve. Time moves quickly, especially in matters of the heart.

Arizona Opera presents “Roméo et Juliette,” written by Charles Gounod, Nov. 16-18. The Arizona Opera production, sung in French with English subtitles, features lyric soprano Jennifer Black of the Metropolitan Opera performing the aria “Je veux vivre.” Talk about a moment.

Love fares no better in most works of opera, which is part of their appeal for those dashed in everyday life by similar dreams and disappointments. Arizona Opera opens its 2012/13 season with another tale of tragic romance set against feuding family — performing Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” Oct. 12-14. Think Scottish moor instead of Italian piazza.

Ballet Arizona opens its 2012/13 season with “Giselle,” composed by Adolphe Adam and choreographed by Ib Andersen, Nov. 1-4. It’s one of four works being performed with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall. Others include “The Nutcracker” (music by Prokofiev, choreography by Andersen) Dec. 7-24 and “All Balanchine” May 2-5, 2013 (featuring “Serenade,” “Monumentum pro Gesualdo”/”Movements for Piano and Orchestra” and “Western Symphony”).

Ballet Arizona’s 2012/13 season also includes “Director’s Choice” — being performed March 28-31, 2013 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix — which features “Le Carnival des Animaux” by Alexai Ratmansky (an Arizona premiere), “Diversions” by Ib Andersen and “Untitled” by Alejandro Cerrudo (a world premiere).

Arizona Opera’s 2012/13 season features Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” in which passionate diva meets political dissident, being performed in Italian with English subtitles Jan. 25-27. Also Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Tavatore” (Italian with English subtitles) March 1-3. And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figero” (Italian with English subtitles) April 5-7.

No worries, by the way, if your Italian feels a bit rusty. If the rest of America can keep up with the Kardashians, you can keep up with a romance language or two. A quick click here will direct you to Arizona Opera offerings from composer bios and opera synopses to tips for first-time opera-goers — plus special programs for youth and adults.

Click here and you can explore education and outreach offerings from Ballet Arizona. Both companies, by the way, are readying for moves to new homes that’ll give them more space for both the artistic and administration elements of their work.

They’re also performing pieces to round out the 2011/12 season — including “Director’s Choice” (March 29-April 1) at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix plus “Topia” (May 2-26) at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix for Ballet Arizona — and “Aida” (March 9-11) and “Orfeo ed Euridice” (April 13-15) for Arizona Opera.

– Lynn

Note: Additional information about performance locations (including Tucson venues/dates) are available at each company’s website. Click here to learn about tonight’s special “season reveal” event at Theater Works in Peoria, and here to explore 12 works featured in the 2012/13 “Live in HD” season from the Metropolitan Opera.

Coming up: Doing time

Aria meets artwork

I spied works by students from Summit High School during a recent visit to the Arizona State Capitol. They were created in partnership with Arizona Opera’s education program, and are being exhibited through Young Arts Arizona. The exhibit is supported by the Arizona Commission on the Arts with funding from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Young Arts Arizona is a community-based organization that publicly exhibits children’s art, and has a special interest in supporting at-risk youth. They currently receive artwork from 49 schools and 31 agenices — which they exhibit throughout Tucson and the metro Phoenix area.

The Legislative Hallway Gallery at the Arizona State Capitol is one of several permanent galleries featuring Young Arts collections. Symphony Hall, Valley Youth Theatre, Cardon Children’s Medical Center and plenty of additional venues also exhibit works created through Young Arts partnerships.

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Young Arts Arizona produces more than 70 public exhibits of children’s artwork each year — some within their own Phoenix gallery, called “Purple Space,” which participates in the “First Friday” program. They’ve also got an online gallery. Many of the opera-inspired works I enjoyed at the Arizona State Capitol on Thursday had a “Phantom of the Opera” or “Madama Butterfly” theme.

The Arizona Opera production of “Madama Butterfly” runs Jan. 27-29 in Phoenix. Five-year-old Alexander King of Chandler and six-year-old Andrew Baiamonte of Phoenix will play the role of Madama Butterfly’s son “Sorrow.”

Arizona Opera recently announced its 2012/13 season — which they’ve dubbed “The Price of Passion.” It features five works that’ll be performed in both Tucson and Phoenix, including “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Romeo et Juliette,” “Tosca,” “Il Trovatore,” and “The Marriage of Figaro.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Young Arts Arizona and here to learn more about Arizona Opera.

Coming up: Student art inspired by MLK

Shakespeare meets Middle Ages

Mike Roush and Ali Rose Dachis in Southwest Shakespeare Company's Romeo & Juliet

If you’re accustomed to thinking of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as a bittersweet story of young romance gone awry, you’ll find plenty that’s new in the Southwest Shakespeare Company production of “Romeo and Juliet” being performed through Jan. 21 at the Mesa Arts Center.

The work is directed by Richard Corley of Chicago, who set “Romeo and Juliet” during the Middle Ages — before the time it was written by Shakespeare. It’s an intriguing twist for those familiar with productions morphed into modern day settings.

Before a single actor takes the stage, you’re gripped by the jarring nature of the set — the work of scenic artist Laura Johnson. Juliet’s bedroom balcony is askew. Tombs appear cast asunder. And the single stained glass window dotted with dark red circles signals you’re peering into a desecrated church.

“Churches have so many associations with things that happen in life,” says Corley. Marriage. Death. “I wanted the set to be evocative.” Corley shared his vision for the production during a post-show talkback with cast and creative team members on opening night — noting his fascination with the play’s too often overlooked apothecary scene.

It sparked Corley’s exploration of “the sense of disease and starvation” that’s an undercurrent in the play — something he punctuates with Friar John’s (Spencer Dooley) explanation that travel routes blocked off for fear of the plague prevented him from delivering the note that could have saved Romeo’s life. 

It’s tempting to assume that there’s little thrill in seeing a work already mounted many times over. But this “Romeo and Juliet” will heighten your appreciation for parts of the story you might have overlooked. Many in the audience remarked that the production gave them a greater understanding and appreciation for the language of this play. 

Mike Roush, Andres Alcala and Ali Rose Dachis in Southwest Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet

The journeys of Romeo and Juliet from childlike wonder to grown-up woe are well portrayed in this production, but I was most intrigued by their enablers – Nurse to Juliet (Janae Thomas) and Friar Laurence. Andrés Alcalá (Friar Laurence during evening performances) delivers an especially compelling performance.

The cast and creative team include both fresh faces and Valley favorites. Both Mike Roush (Romeo) and Ali Rose Dachis (Juliet) are graduates of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program.

Alcalá was recently seen in Childsplay’s “The Sun Serpent” and is directing their upcoming production of “With Two Wings.” David Barker, the Valley’s best known fight choreographer, returns for his 25th Southwest Shakespeare Company production.

Southwest Shakespeare Company will present two additional works to round out their 2011/12 season — a Yasmina Reza play titled “Art” (March 1-17) and Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” (April 19-May 5). Jared Saken serves as artistic director, and Utah Shakespearean scholar Michael Flachmann will lead a “Much Ado About Nothing” seminar on April 21.

Folks eager to support the Southwest Shakespeare Company’s education programs can attend a Feb. 25 fundraiser dubbed “Speakeasy Night” at the Wrigley Mansion — which features Dennis Rowland and his Jazz Trio, emcee Bob Sorenson and plenty of live/silent auction items.

Those needing a summer Shakespeare fix can head to Cedar City for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. And those of you eager to return to the Middle Ages can simply throw out your televisions, laptops and cell phones.

– Lynn

Note: Click here for show and ticket information (no one under the age of six will be permitted for this production). For a taste of scholarly discourse about Shakespeare and the Middle Ages, click here to read a review article written by Dermot Cavanagh for the August 2011 issue of the “Journal of the Northern Renaissance.”

Coming up: Writing tips and resources, More Shakespeare on Valley stages

Wistful for “West Side Story”

My daughter called from New York City just as I was heading out the door for opening night of “West Side Story” at ASU Gammage. The musical is set in the Upper West Side of NYC. My daughter’s living in Lower Manhattan, and she can jump on a subway and hit a Broadway show any time she wants to now. Assuming, of course, that she’s finished her homework. 

It’s her first year in the B.F.A. in acting program at Pace University. This was the first time, in a long time, that I’ve attended a show at ASU Gammage without Lizabeth– and I missed her. It was odd, after the show, to actually get in my car and drive home alone. No waiting at the stage door hoping to get cast member autographs. No late night mother/daughter “In-N-Out Burger” run. 

You can enjoy West Side Story at ASU Gammage through Sunday, Oct 2

Still, I had a great time at the show — which felt like one giant music and movement fest. Theater buffs know it as a classic piece of musical theater — the work of Arthur Laurents (book, director), Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Jerome Robbins (choreography). But it’s a “must see” for music and dance afficionados too.

“West Side Story,” originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, opened on Broadway in 1957. The revival on which this tour is based opened on Broadway in 2009 — and had 748 regular performances. Reading the cast and creative team bios for this production reveals a truly stellar team with some serious street cred. That’s not the case for every touring show, but it was evident Tuesday night.

The strength and consistency of Kyle Harris’ (Tony) performance translates into a powerful production overall. Without a top-notch Tony, it’s hard to find the story believable or compelling. Harris’ Tony feels innocent and earnest. He commands the stage with a robust yet tender vocal performance.

Ali Ewoldt’s (Maria) comedic skills were evident early on. And while many in the audience were clearly wowed by her operatic vocal performance, there were times it felt like too much of a good thing. I enjoyed Harris’ and Ewoldt’s solos more than their duets. The mix just didn’t work for me every time.

The dancing is remarkable throughout — but especially fun to watch during “Dance at the Gym” (Company), “America” (Anita, Rosalia and Shark Girls) and “The Rumble” (Company). All those dance teachers who must have harped through the years about pointing those toes deserve a slew of thank you notes.

The scenic design by James Youmans, which is perfectly lovely to begin with, grows more impressive as the show unfolds — becoming a real visual feast of line and color during “The Rumble” (Act I) and “Somewhere” (Act II). Lighting design by Howell Binkley feels a bit distracting during Act I, but is truly stunning during Act II. Think rich hues of purple and blue, and a bright white light as youth once divided begin to envision a world without hate.

Still, I could have closed my eyes throughout and been perfectly satisfied with my evening — thanks to a captivating performance by the “West Side Story” orchestra, which features music director and conductor John O’Neill plus associate conductor Paul McCaffrey. Also Daniel Bailey and Kyle Norris on keyboards, Rick Donato on drums and Michael Meza on trumpet.

Although the show is recommended for ages 13 and up, a few people did bring younger children along. The use of bad language and such is minimal in my book, but there are several sexual gestures that some parents won’t take all that kindly to. Best to follow the age recommendations unless you see the show first and then decide it’s okay to take your kids along for a second run at it.

Just pretend, if you take a teen along, that you’ve never heard any of the lingo used in the show. Hoodlum. Dame. Creep. Dig it. Daddy-o. So few of us have yet to come to terms with being on the planet long enough to see classic shows through multiple revivals.

Parents who take teens may find the show’s depiction of bigotry and bullying helpful in launching discussions about whether and how these occur today. As I drove home from “West Side Story” Tuesday night, I heard Anderson Cooper interviewing Alyssa Rodemeyer, sister of 14-year old Jamey Rodemeyer, who killed himself after being harassed about his sexuality.

Apparently she was taunted about her brother’s suicide at a recent homecoming dance, proving that some things haven’t changed all that much in the last fifty years. Ignorance and fear still breed hatred. Now, more than ever, we need people who embrace the differences that make every person precious and unique.

– Lynn

Note: Learn more about preventing suicide in LGBTQ youth at www.thetrevorproject.org.

Coming up: A playwright’s journey

A tale of teen angst

We forget sometimes that the musical “West Side Story” is a modern-day take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” — a tale of young love thwarted by feuding families and the fickleness of fate.

I tend to think big song and dance numbers set against colorful sets and costumes — which is what I expect the touring production of “West Side Story” to deliver when it hits ASU Gammage Sept 27-Oct 2.

If I snap, will the West Side Story cast jump? (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But I was reminded, after chatting recently with cast member and seasoned television actor John O’Creagh, that it also delivers a powerful portrayal of “the difficulty kids have in defining themselves.”

ASU Gammage says the show is appropriate for ages 13 and up because it “deals with adult themes: violence, murder, rape and bigotry.” It includes “bad language, sexual innuendos and racial slurs.”

“It’s a very powerful work,” says O’Creagh, who describes “West Side Story” as “a very painful show in a lot of ways.” It’s a tough look at teens in rival gangs in New York City — and the challenge of making love survive in an atmosphere of hate.

Ali Ewoldt and Kyle Harris of West Side Story (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The original production of “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957, when Americans commonly judged one another based on skin color, language and the like — something that still happens all too often today. Something else was true both then and now, according to O’Creagh. “Adolescence is a nightmare.”

The original Broadway production of “West Side Story” featured music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The script was written by Arthur Laurents, who died earlier this year at the age of 93.

O’Creagh recalls that Laurents attended many rehearsals for this touring production of the show’s 2009 Broadway revival, exploring the show’s characters with cast members who include Kyle Harris (Tony), who holds a BFA from the University of Arizona, and Ali Ewoldt (Maria), who holds a BA in psychology from Yale University.

O’Creagh describes fellow cast members as “sensible, disciplined and hard working.” Not surprising given that they’ve studied at places like The Juilliard School, performed on Broadway in shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Les Miserables,” and worked with dancers like Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp.

Please control the urge to attempt these West Side Story moves until you get home after the show (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But when did O’Creagh first catch the acting bug? While playing Stage Manager in a high school production of “Our Town” — which left him feeling he’d spent his whole life preparing to do acting. “It was comfortable,” recalls O’Creagh. “Acting felt like a good old pair of sneakers.”

So what’s his advice for youth considering the acting life? “Read everything you possibly can,” he says. “Learn everything you possibly can.” Study grammar and language too — because acting is a craft born and carried by words.

– Lynn

Note: Those who attend the Thurs, Sept 29 performance of “West Side Story” at ASU Gammage can stay after for a free talkback with cast and creative team members presented by 99.9 KEZ. Fans of “West Side Story” can also see the Actor’s Youth Theatre production which runs June 26-30, 2012 at Mesa Arts Center.

Coming up: Fall break camps with an arts twist

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

Get real: “Romeo & Juliet”

Christian Barillas (L) as Romeo and Magan Wiles as Juliet in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

We’ve seen all sorts of “Romeo & Juliet” productions through the years — including wonderful works by Ballet Arizona and Childsplay. So it was hard to imagine, going into Thursday evening’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, that the work could feel truly fresh.

It’s often said that no two theater performances, even of the same show with the same cast, are ever the same — which seems especially wise when dealing with the ways of Shakespeare. Seeing “Romeo and Juliet” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival was like seeing it for the very first time.

Christian Barillas (L) as Romeo and Magan Wiles as Juliet in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

It’s fresh, flirty and fun — which feels a bit unexpected to those who’ve never seen the play, too often viewed as singularly tragic, in the hands of David Ivers. He directs this production of “Romeo and Juliet,” and Lizabeth couldn’t wait to race off and find him after the show.

I’ve seen Lizabeth wait in long lines to meet various celebrities, but I’ve never seen her gush the way she did after seeing this production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

After the show she exclaimed “David Ivers is brilliant — that ending, oh!” Then she ran off to share her enthusiasm with Ivers himself, as well as Quinn Mattfeld, one of her instructors when she studied acting here last summer.

Melinda Parrett (L) as Lady Capulet, Quinn Mattfeld as Benvolio, and Demetra Pittman in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl High. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

“I’m probably the only person who gets star-struck at the Shakespeare festival,” she told me. But clearly other teens and young adults were enamoured with the work — laughing or turning to one another in amazement as the play unfolded.

We ran into Magan Wiles, who performs the role of Juliet in this production, as we arrived at The Grind — where select cast members offer rousing cabaret-style entertainment after Thursday evening performances on the Adams Memorial Theatre stage.

I shared with her that I’d been seated in the balcony close to quite a few teenagers, and that I’d spent part of the show scanning the theater for audience member reactions.

She was delighted to learn that young audience members reacted so favorably to the work. “That’s really where I started from,” she told me — referring to her approach to performing the role of Juliet. It’s her first season performing at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

The youth in Iver’s Verona feel refreshingly young. “The boys acted like boys,” Lizabeth told me. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but there are other Shakespeare productions out there in which the young lovers and their kinsmen and companions feel stiff and stunted.

Matt Mueller (L) as Mercutio and Ben Jacoby as Tybalt in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Here, they feel impetuous, full of energy. They don’t just fall in love, they get lovesick. They don’t just walk the streets of Verona, they jump. They don’t just talk, they shout and laugh and boisterously bemoan their fate. They feel alive — which makes all that death feel all the more tragic.

The production opens with ringing bells, then drums. With pounding feet and the scuffle of sword-fighting — masterfully done here as expected. But there’s plenty of unexpected along the way too. The final moments of “Romeo and Juliet” are gripping — the stuff that gasps, and glorious theater, are made of.

Christian Barillas as Romeo (L) and Magan Wiles as Juliet in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Despite the tragic storyline, Lizabeth and I agree that a single word best describes this production of “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s “playful.”

I so hope that Valley youth who are studying or performing the works of Shakespeare will come to Cedar City to see this production of “Romeo and Juliet.” The teens who turn their noses up at Shakespeare need to see it too.

For Shakespeare, and Ivers, understand the young among us better than most.

– Lynn

Coming up: Some serious comedy

A little stroll through SUU

Gerald R. Sherratt Library on the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City

When Lizabeth narrowed college options down to her top three choices, Southern Utah University was on the list. She first experienced SUU while traveling with fellow Arizona School for the Arts students to the Shakespeare competition for students, where she’s been both a competitor and a supporter of competing peers.

Thursday we were back on the SUU campus, taking in art exhibits featured in this year’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The little but lovely town of Cedar City, where the university and festival are located, is brimming with families and groups of teens here to enjoy the summer plays we’re also eager to experience.

One of many idyllic stretches of green on the campus of Southern Utah University

Our Thursday calendar was plenty full. Lizabeth hit The Grind coffee house while I did my minimal primping and prep for the long day ahead. I brought along a notebook with information on all the Utah Shakespeare Festival offerings, as well as other area attractions — which for me means the local library and museum.

I snagged a festival souvenir program too late in the day to realize there was a morning event, a part of the New American Playwrights Project, we really wanted to attend. Lesson learned and noted for next year’s trip to Cedar City. It’s quite literally the case that there is always something amazing going on during the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Exhibit at Southern Utah University featuring costumes, renderings and related artwork

Then we headed to SUU, where we hit the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery to explore an exhibit titled “The Costume Designer’s Art: 50 Years at the Utah Shakespeare Festival” where fun finds included a bit of “Falstaff” garb and a lavish hat from a production of “Peter Pan.” Also lots of fascinating sketches, costumes, accessories from chain mail headgear to golden jewelry and more.

This Karl Hugh photograph of the Randall J. Jones Theatre (from Winter 2006) is part of an exhibit at the SUU library

We also explored artwork at SUU’s Gerald R. Sherratt Library — including large stone sculptures at the library’s entrance and photographs of festival productions through the years displayed in the “We Are Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On” exhibit. There we saw a rare 1623 edition of Shakespeare’s plays, the torch carried during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and much more.

We have Valley actress Maren Maclean, the lovely lady on the right in this old festival photo, to thank for introducing us to the Utah Shakespeare Festival

Elsewhere we saw photos from 50 years of festival productions, including one picturing Valley actress Maren Maclean performing in Chekhov’s “The Seagull” during a festival many years ago. We have Maclean to thank for introducing us to the Utah Shakespeare Festival in the first place. You did good, Maren.

The gift shop beckoned us in with a rich selection of books, attire, toys, games, jewelry and more. An assortment of swords hangs over each of two cashier areas, and I’m guessing some young boys find this the most fascinating area in the shop.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival gift shop is brimming with unique gifts and souvenirs

As we exited, a family entered with two little girls dressed in full princess garb — complete with tulle skirts and shiny shoes. Even floral wreaths atop their precious heads. They’d just come from an exhibit of costumes, props and scenery called “Golden Dreams” (where Liz later sat on a bench with a statue of the Bard and showed me the festival’s shiny Tony Award).

Lizabeth was excited to show me the box (lower left) used in The Merchant of Venice, which is one of several productions we saw during our 2010 trip to the festival

We saw an afternoon performance of “The Glass Menagerie” in the Randall L. Jones Theatre. It’s a theater work I first fell in love with last season when it was performed quite masterfully by Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center. (ATC, by the way, has just announced a new hire in managing director Mark Cole, formerly general manager with Miami City Ballet.)

The day turned less glamourous as we headed back to our hotel for a date with the washing machine. We often wash clothes when we travel so we can get by with carry-on bags rather than dealing with baggage claim rounders. I’m losing my tolerance for such things as I get older.

The Adams Memorial Theatre in a 1973 photo by Boyd D. Redington (L) and a 2003 photo by Karl Hugh

But we had something exciting to look forward to as we waited for the agitator to stop twirling — an evening performance of “Romeo and Juliet” at the outdoor Adams Memorial Theatre. There’s simply no substitute for experiencing Shakespeare in such a setting. Night falls. Winds rustle. Crickets sing. It’s magical.

A view across the stage of the Adams Memorial Theatre, where we had amazing balcony seats for an evening performance of Romeo and Juliet

After Thursday evening performances, several company members head to The Grind, which is transformed into a cabaret theater setting, complete with stage, mics, piano and such. The event is just $10 to attend, and proceeds go to REACH — a program that helps festival actors find future employment.

Four members of the Utah Shakespeare Festival performing company, including a young trio who performed a song from the musical Annie during the Thursday cabaret

Art afficianados can get a serious art fix in this town. Watch for future posts sharing more art-related adventures in Cedar City. And check out SUU when your high schoolers start exploring college options. There’s plenty here to love.

– Lynn

Note: Learn more about the Utah Shakespeare Festival, including fun family offerings, by visiting them online at www.bard.org

Coming up: Lifetime “Dance Moms” audition — Oh no, they didn’t!

“Romeo and Juliet” on Valley stages

Megan Wiles (left) as Juliet and Christian Barillas as Romeo in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

I flew with my daughter Lizabeth to Las Vegas on Wednesday, where we snagged a rental car and made the drive to Cedar City, Utah for several days at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. We’ll be seeing three Shakespeare plays, including “Romeo & Juliet,” plus three additional works. It’s a great time to hit the festival because this is their 50th anniversary season and they’re offering a “Hot August Nights” special through August 15.

Not to worry. Neil Diamond won’t be in the house to swivel his hips in Elizabethan garb, and it really isn’t all that hot in Cedar City these days. Their highs have been mirroring our lows lately, which means we’ll be able to break out the sweaters for events after dark. I’m hoping Valley families whose children have seen or performed in Shakespeare’s works will consider a bit of Shakespearean travel before the school year is off and running.

Both youth and adults will be performing in a Theater Works production of “Romeo and Juliet” in Peoria, which opens their 2011-12 season with an Aug 19-Sept 4 run. It’s being directed by Theater Works artistic director Robyn Allen, who told me recently that the work is set in “contemporary Verona.” That’s northern Italy, not the Verona township once a part of Newark, New Jersey.

Colette D/Antona as Nurse, Meg Sprinkle as Juliet, Matt Zimmerer as Capulet and Amy Serafin as lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet at Theater Works (Photo by Bo Allen)

“The setting, costumes and sound are all contemporary,” says Allen, who feels the approach makes Shakespeare’s work more accessible. “When you can relate to the characters,” she explains, “the language comes easier.” Shakespeare experts agree that his works are better experienced aloud rather than read in silence, so anytime you can actually hear his works during live performance you’re more likely to ‘get it.’

“In Shakespeare’s day,” adds Allen, “what they wore was contemporary.” She muses that Shakespeare didn’t have his actors “running around in togas” — which is certainly true, but nonetheless fun to imagine. “I’m intrigued,” she says, “by what Shakespeare would think today.” Would he wonder, Allen wonders, why everyone was pretending they were still in long-ago time.

“There’s already poetry, and a struggle,” reflects Allen, who feels a return to Elizabethan times isn’t essential to conveying the story. Allen recalls doing “Romeo and Juliet” more than a decade ago with in inner city high school, and says the play has “lots of topics students can relate to.”

Sam Wiseman as Mercutio, Phillip Herrington as Romeo and Joseph Cannon as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet at Theater Works (Photo by Bo Allen)

Allen says “there’s been no full-scale production of Shakespeare in the West Valley for twenty years,” so she’s concerned that some kids have never experienced one of his works. She describes “Romeo and Juliet” as one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays for youth, and is delighted that their “Romeo and Juliet” ensemble includes “lots of teens.”

To those who fear that Shakepeare’s works are too difficult for youth to grasp, Allen offers the following advice: “Don’t be afraid of the words.” Allen notes that they did “three weeks of table work” to help the younger cast members really understand Shakespeare and this particular play.

For folks who feel Shakespeare has little appeal to youth, she shares this: “This play asks meaningful questions about hot topics.” Think love, loyalty, discrimination, deceit and more. I’m told an updated version of “Dallas” is headed to television, but trust me when I tell you that even the offspring of J.R. and Bobby Ewing can’t hold a candle to Shakespeare in the love, loss and lies department.

Allen notes that study guides will be available for teachers who bring their students to “Romeo and Juliet” at Theater Works. She also notes that there’s plenty of Shakespeare to go around, encouraging families to see other productions as well. “Southwest Shakespeare does fantastic work,” says Allen — who notes that she saw every production Southwest Shakespeare Company of Mesa did last season.

Southwest Shakespeare Company presents Romeo and Juliet in January 2012

Southwest Shakespeare Company performs “Romeo and Juliet” Jan 5-21, 2012. This production is set in Renaissance Italy. Desert Rose Theatre performs “Romeo and Juliet” in Scottsdale Sept. 10 and 17. I’d love to see the work set in Scottsdale, but I doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon. The Utah Shakespeare Festival production runs through Sept 3 so you should hustle if you want to take that in as well. I think it’s great fun to see multiple productions of the same work.

Remember too that the musical “West Side Story,” a modern twist on “Romeo and Juliet,” comes to ASU Gammage in late September. And that a 50th anniversary edition of the movie “West Side Story,” which won 10 Academy Awards, makes its Blu-ray debut Nov 15. “West Side Story” sets the “Romeo and Juliet” story in 1950s New York.

A touring production of West Side Story, a work based on Romeo and Juliet, opens at ASU Gammage next month (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The collector’s set from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment includes lots of “extras” including information of the film’s legacy, song-specific commentary by lyricist Stephen Sondheim, a “music machine” that “allows viewers to go straight into their favorite musical numbers,” memories, trailers and a “storyboard to film comparison montage.” Even something called “Pow! The Dances of West Side Story” featuring analyses of the film’s famous dance sequences from cast members and contemporary filmmakers, dancers and choreographers.

Check out this collector's set of the Academy Award-winning West Side Story film

Lizabeth is lucky to be heading off to college in a few weeks. No one really wants to watch me cha cha through the hallway, or hear me sing “I Feel Pretty” dressed in a dingy kitchen apron. Teens sometimes mistake these things for mere annoyances, but we middle-agers know better. How do you think all those nests get so empty to begin with?

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read the “Romeo and Juliet” study guide from Theatre Works

Coming up: From costumes to cabaret in Cedar City, Broadway casting agent meets Lifetime “Dance Moms,” Honk if you love Hans!, An affirmation tale

Shakespeare in summertime

Barbara Jo Bednarczuk as Featured Performer in The Greenshow at the 2011 Utah Shakespeare Festival. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Karl Hugh.)

When Lizabeth and I attended last year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, we pretty much played it by ear. We hit every show and plenty of other activities like the Greenshow, but didn’t give a lot of time to planning what to do when.

We’re heading to Cedar City for several days this week to take in the 50th annual Utah Shakespeare Festival, but this time I’m taking a different tack — researching their many Shakespeare-related offerings before we go. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Literary seminars. Play orientations. Backstage tours. Production seminars. Cabaret performances with festival artists. Plus six productions — three Shakespeare works and three by other playwrights.

Elijah Alexander (top) as Oberon and Kymberly Mellen as Tatiana in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Karl Hugh.)

Happily, our trip coincides with two of their many 50th season special events — “Governor’s Night at the Festival” on Aug 12 and “Bard’s Beach Bash” on Aug 13.

Pity we’ll have to fly home before the Aug 19 “Bardway Baby” show featuring festival actors performing hits from Broadway shows in a concert setting. (I wonder whether “Romeo” and “Juliet” will grace the stage with a “Maria” and “Tony” duet.)

I’m especially eager to enjoy two exhibits on the campus of Southern Utah University. One features costumes, costume renderings and other artwork related to the festival’s costume artists and technicians. Another showcases the festival’s history as documented by its company photographers.

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Karl Hugh.)

An exhibit at Cedar City Library in the Park looks at festival posters and souvenir programs through the years. An exhibit in the auditorium theatre lobby celebrates costumes, props and scenery. Additional exhibits are open at area venues, making this an especially fun year to take in the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Folks who attend the festival this month can enjoy visual arts at the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, something on my “must see” list this year. Scholars from across the country will be in Cedar City Aug 10-12 for a cross-disciplinary conference called “The Wooden O Symposium,” where they study Shakespeare through the text and performance of his plays.

If you head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on Aug 28 & 29, you can also enjoy the “Cedar City Fall Arts Festival.” Come October 8-10, students and teachers from Utah and beyond will gather for the Utah Shakespeare Festival/Southern Utah University Shakespeare Competition, something Lizabeth enjoyed while studying with Maren Mascarelli at Arizona School for the Arts.

Someday I’ll figure out a way to stay long enough to enjoy additional Utah attractions like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Dixie National Forest.

– Lynn

Coming up: Photos, reviews and fun finds from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 50th season