Tag Archives: Stage Mothers

A “Gypsy” tale

I’ll never forget a pair of shows produced many years ago by Phoenix Theatre. One was “Into the Woods,” with a cast that included D. Scott Withers as the Baker — who’s now performing in the Phoenix Theatre production of “Gypsy.” The other was “Will Rogers Follies” — a show that’s long been my own personal “one to beat” in the world of splashy musical theater fare. Sunday’s matinee of “Gypsy” gave me that “Will Rogers Follies” feeling all over again, and I loved it.

I was hoping that Lizabeth, who’s been fortunate enough to study theater with Withers and perform in a production he directed, would be able to join me for “Gypsy” — but she’s spending spring break in NYC rehearsing for a Pace University production of “Our Lady of 121st Street.” So I invited a friend, whose arts and culture creds far outweigh my own, to come along.

She loved the costumes (Cari Sue Smith). I loved the lighting (Mike Eddy). Also music direction (Alan Ruch) and scenic design (Robert Kovach). We both loved the choreography (Mollie Lajoie), and agreed that the best number in the show is “All I Need Is the Girl,” performed by Peter Marinaro (Tulsa) — whose bio should sport one additional line: The cutie pants who can dance. My line, not hers. She waxes more poetic. I just wanna rhyme.

L to R: Kathy Fitzgerald (Rose) and Jenny Hintze (Louise) in "Gypsy" at Phoenix Theatre

Three other performers delivered especially strong performances, including Withers (Herbie) and Jenny Hintze (Louise). Also Kathy Fitzgerald, who performs the role of stage mother Rose. Lizabeth and I saw her last gig — the Broadway production of “Wicked” (Madame Morrible) — where she was the perfect embodiment of misguided mean. She brings the same beautiful bite to Rose, with singing chops a bit too grand for smaller stages. Her  “Some People” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” rival renditions by several Broadway greats.

People read Rose differently depending on their own life experiences. It’s hard to justify her selfish, hard-driving ways. Still I felt the emphathy Fitzgerald hoped to convey. Rose’s own childhood was ugly, and left her wounded in ways most of us can scarcely imagine. She wanted so desperately to be together instead of alone. To scratch out her own shot at fame while helping her daughters escape the life that’d carved “victim” across her heart.

Still, Rose modeled some important coping skills for her daughters — humor, hard work and undying optimism.” I can’t help wondering how much better any of us might have fared under similar circumstances. Michael Barnard’s direction is a kaleidescope of sorts — revealing complicated facets of characters where others might settle for simple stereotypes.

L to R: Kate Shein (June) and Kathy Fitzgerald (Rose) in "Gypsy" at Phoenix Theatre

It helps when you’re working with brilliant material. “Gypsy” features book by Arthur Laurents, music by Julie Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Consider it a “musical fable” suggested by the memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, the oldest of two daughters the real-life Rose did her best to shove into show business as the craft of vaudeville was falling away to the craze of burlesque.

“Gypsy” feels especially relevant in a day and age that elevates stage mothers to reality show stardom. But there’s something more — the undercurrent of change within the theater biz itself, no less profound today than it was in Rose’s day. Consider, my friend suggested, the ways of Lady Gaga. What’s talent without terrific packaging? Once there was burlesque. Now we have branding.

Phoenix Theatre has long been the cornerstone of classic musical theater in the Valley, but it’s seamlessly transitioned in recent years to contemporary fare like last season’s “Avenue Q.” They’re presenting “Spring Awakening” with Nearly Naked Theatre in June, and opening the 2012/13 season with “Spamalot.”

This and other 2012/13 offerings were revealed in a short black and white film shown on a small screen in the theater before an orchestral medley of “Gypsy” tunes opened the show. They include “Defending the Caveman,” “S’Wonderful: The New Gershwin Musical” and “a reimagining” of “Our Town.” Also a new musical revue called “Love Makes the World Go Round” (“Gleeks” will dig it) — and a little something they can’t yet name but describe as “a menagerie of  crazies.” Don’t expect Tennessee Williams.

– Lynn

Note: The cast of “Gypsy” includes several talented young actors — another great reason to see the show. Phoenix Theatre performs “Gypsy” through April 1, and their “Cookie Theatre” production of “Charlotte’s Web” opens at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale on April 14.

Coming up: Got scripts?

Once upon a stage mom

The mother of all stage mothers, “Mama Rose,” has been portrayed by plenty of legendary actresses in stage and screen versions of the musical “Gypsy.” Ethel Merman. Angela Lansbury. Bette Midler. Patti Lupone.

When “Gypsy” opens at Phoenix Theatre next month, Kathy Fitzgerald will perform the role. I’m eager to see it after enjoying Fitzerald’s truly exceptional performance as Madame Morrible in “Wicked” on Broadway last October with my daughter Lizabeth.

Fitzgerald has also performed in “9 to 5,” “The Producers,” and “Swinging on a Star” on Broadway — plus plenty of Off-Broadway and regional theater productions.

Before moving to Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and 12-year-old daughter Hope, Fitzgerald spent seven years performing on Valley stages. So working with Michael Barnard, who’s directing “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre, is nothing new.

Phoenix Theatre presents the musical "Gypsy" March 7-April 1

“Mama Rose” is often vilified for pushing her daughters Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc into show business. But Fitzgerald says she admires her “incredible drive and passion,” noting that she “pushed and pushed her girls” hoping to give them options not open to most women during the 1920s and 1930s.

“In some ways,” reflects Fitzgerald, “I respect her stength and tenacity.” Fitzgerald notes that “Mama Rose” did everything for her girls and was, in some ways, a pioneer. “Her life,” says Fitzgerald, “was way more tragic and flawed than it’s depicted in this musical.”

Today’s best known stage moms are another story. Fitzgerald says she has a hard time understanding why the mothers of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms” put their girls through so much melodrama. Seems the pay is poor for cable shows, though plenty of scenes may live on in digital world forever.

Fitzgerald says she’d “never want to be like” the moms who star on “Dance Moms” — whose nasty neuroses and futile fights typically take place in front of their kids. Having issues is one thing. Airing them in front of your children is another. Sharing them with millions of viewers is just plain creepy.

Daughter Hope is plenty busy with her academically rigorous school, according to Fitzgerald, who adds that neither she nor her husband would let Hope do the theater thing at this point. “There’s plenty of time for that later,” quips Fitzgerald.

Her own childhood was a bit different, however. “My dad ran a theater in L.A.,” says Fitzgerland, “and my mom was pretty pushy too.” Though her own mother died when she was just 15, Fitzgerald says “she knew that I was supposed to be an actor.”

Whether you’re a stage mother (in the best or worst sense of the word), or simply someone who enjoys watching others do the stage mother thing, seeing the musical “Gypsy” is a must.

“Gypsy” debuted on Broadway in 1959 featuring book by Arthur Laurents, music by Stephen Sondheim and lyrics by Jule Styne. It was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. It’s based on a memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee.

“Gypsy” is regarded by Fitzgerald and many others as “one of the best musicals of all time.” Its best-known songs include “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” The music, says Fitzgerald, “is genius.”

– Lynn

Coming up: Trends in marketing Broadway

Don’t judge a diva by her cover

Patti Lupone's memoir makes for great Tony weekend reading

After opening a gift from my husband late last year, I exchanged a knowing glance with my daughter Lizabeth. Think smirking, and rolling our eyes. It was the one book I’d never imagined myself reading. A memoir by legendary actress Patti LuPone. We’ve always considered her more of a diva, as if that was some kind of crime.

But on the eve of the 2011 Tony Awards, I find myself turning to the memoir with a newfound admiration for LuPone, who tells her own story with fluid writing and thought — plus grace, gratitude and humor. I like it. I see a lot of LuPone in Lizabeth, though it’s unlikely she’ll appreciate my saying so before she’s braved some time with the book for herself.

LuPone enjoyed early dance and piano lessons, caught the performing bug at the tender age of four, and hated most academic study with a passion. She played cello, took the laissez-faire approach to Juilliard auditions, and counted on a small group of teachers and mentors who really “got her.”

LuPone first performed the role of Rose in Gypsy in 2006 at the Ravina Festival (Photo: Patti LuPone website)

“A Memoir” by Patti LuPone would be wise summer reading for theater students eager to learn more about the craft of acting, the path to self-discovery and the means for avoiding so much folly along the way. The book will also interest breast cancer survivors, and those of us labeled “stage mother” by self or others.

LuPone’s own mother spent much of her time driving daughter Patti and twin boys Billy and Bobby to and fro. “My mother was not a stage mother in any respect,” writes LuPone. “Mom’s life force was driving us from one lesson to the next. If she was a stage mother, it manifest itself in her pride in her three kids.”

The final three chapters of LuPone’s memoir are devoted to her time with the musical “Gypsy.” She begins as follows: “Rose Hovick–Madame Rose–is commonly stigmatized as the mother of all stage mothers, but that’s not the woman I see.”

LuPone earned a 2008 Tony Award for her Broadway performance of Rose (Photo: Patti LuPone website)

“I see a woman,” write LuPone, who loves her daughters. She’s ferociously driven, but she loves her kids.” LuPone performed the role of Louise (“Gypsy”) as a 15 year old but admits she “didn’t pay any attention to the character of Rose.”

LuPone first played Rose in 2006, and went on to sweep all sorts of 2008 theater awards — including the Tony Award for best actress — for her portrayal of Rose in “Gypsy” on Broadway. “I know,” writes LuPone, that Gypsy will remain one of if not the best experiences I’ve ever had in my career.”

She’ll bring “The Gypsy in My Soul,” a collection of story and song, to Arizona next year — Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on March 3 and UA’s Centennial Hall in Tucson on March 4.

Get your tickets now. Read the book right after. Then mark your calendar for the Phoenix Theatre production of “Gypsy” — which runs March 7-April 1, 2012. I’d love to see LuPone extend her Arizona stay long enough to enjoy opening night.

The only thing better would be having LuPone in the house on April Fool’s Day. By her own admission, LuPone can be a bit reckless. LuPone says she loves to laugh, and it’s clear from even a cursory reading of her memoir that “mischief” could have been her middle name.

– Lynn

Note: Both LuPone and Laura Benanti are nominated for a 2011 Tony Award for “best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical” for work in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

Coming up: Feeling blue, Stage meets suffragette, What a difference a move makes

Moms in musical theater

Patti LuPone as Mama Rose in Gypsy on Broadway-Photo by Joan Marcus. LuPone performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts March 3, 2012.

I got to thinking about mothers in musical theater the other day while looking forward to the return of “Mamma Mia!” to ASU Gammage this week, which my daughter Lizabeth is eager to see for a second time. Apparently watching a fictional parent prance around in bell bottoms has more appeal than living with the real thing.

Alice Ripley as Diana in Next to Normal-Photo by Joan Marcus

We’ve seen all sorts of parents portrayed on Valley, and other, stages. We saw Alice Ripley perform the role of “Diana” in “Next to Normal” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. Estelle Parsons perform the role of “Violet” in “August: Osage County” at ASU Gammage. And Rich Hebert perform the role of “Dad” in “Billy Elliot” at ASU Gammage as well.

“Mamma Mia!” follows the adventures of a young daughter, “Sophie,” readying to wed. She lives on an island with her mom, “Donna,” who isn’t quite sure which of three suitors from her own youth might be Sophie’s biological father. It’s all set to music by ABBA and it’s an especially fun show for folks who like their theater upbeat and awash with bright colors.

Madalena Alberto as Fantine in Les Mis-Photo by Michael La Poer Trench

A mother facing a more serious dilemma, the care of her young daughter in her absence, is at the heart of the next musical coming to ASU Gammage — Les Miserables. As a mom named “Fantine” who has sacrificed much for her child lay dying, an ex-convict named “Jean Valjean” vows to keep the child “Cosette” safe. It proves quite a task given his own past and stirrings of revolution in early 19th century France.

The perplexing nature of parenting seems sometimes to be the only thing fueling the future of theater craft. A quick review of shows coming to Valley stages during the 2011/12 season reveals a long list of works filled with mommy or daddy issues — some set to music, others just words.

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna and Chloe Tucker as Sophie in Mamma Mia!-Photo by Joan Marcus

Arizona Theatre Company presents the Yasmina Rez play “God of Carnage” in Tucson and Phoenix this fall. It’s the tale of two couples brought together by a playground fight between their 11-year-old sons. I’m delighted to learn that mothers and daughters aren’t always the ones under the microscope.

Phoenix Theatre performs a classic work of musical theater about stage mothering gone horribly wrong next spring. “Gypsy” is the story of “Mama Rose” and the two daughters forced to endure her insecurity and interference. That woman needs to cut the cord already.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” based on a book in which Sheri Mandell shares experiences surrounding the murder of her 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef. It’s been adapted for the stage by Todd Salovey, and reviews of other productions paint it as gut-wrenching.

While I suppose it’s tempting for some to relish all those ABBA moments without experiencing more sobering reflections on parenting, I’m looking forward to doing both.

– Lynn

Look to these nuns for some serious fun... (Photo: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts)

Note: Looking for an additional way to enjoy mother/daughter or grown-up friend time? Head to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Sat, May 21 for the “Sing-Along Sound of Music.” $12/adults, $6 children ages 3-12. Warm up & costume contest at 2pm, film and sing-along at 2:3opm. Hosted by “Sister” Patti Hannon of “Late Night Catechism.” Click here for info on costume discount available from Mardi Gras costumes in Scottsdale.

Coming up: Summer dance classes, Ode to season tickets, Seuss meets symphony, Musings on photo I.D.

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

Resumes & regrets

I was struck by RAK publisher Karen Barr’s recent “Saving the Mail” post for several reasons. First, because Barr has an uncanny ability to make the most of every single moment of life.

Driving to and from the magazine’s office, or other destinations that round out her days, would never be enough for Barr. She’s listening all the while to other storytellers, including hosts and guests of NPR talk shows, whose work is delivered through mobile means.

Read a letter, send a letter...

And second, because Barr’s post addresses the topic of saving. Not money, but memories. I’m grateful she shared the idea of saving letters written by children away at college, traveling the world and such.

It makes me want to dig a little deeper for the letters I once exchanged with my own mother while studying abroad during my senior year of college.

She was trying at the time to put a happy face on days touched by domestic violence, not wanting to let on about the pain she knew would find me on the next plane home.

Eventually my mother escaped the physical and emotional abuse, but I think she’d enourage me today to focus instead on helping my own children spread their wings.

Part of Lizabeth’s college application process was tightening the performance resume she’s long taken along to community theater auditions.

She ended up needing a detailed account of nearly every training and performance experience she’s had in theater, dance and music (including vocal work).

But alas –programs from her many years performing in works from Ballet Arizona’s “The Nutcracker” to varied plays and musical theatre productions have long been strewn here and there.

We were sentimental enough to save each one, but never clever enough to keep them in a single place. Perhaps this is to our credit, since it clearly signals we haven’t been plotting “toddlers and tiaras” moments for her from birth.

Take a pearl, give a pearl...

But it feels now like a pearl we should share with other parents whose children are involved with the arts.

Save that paperwork from “Poetry Out Loud” competitions, those registration forms from summer theater camps, those programs from music recitals.

Life in college application world would have been so much easier had we thought early on to assemble the many pieces of her performance art into a single source — perhaps a chart noting each class, teacher and performance with date/s.

The thespian festivals. The master classes. The Utah Shakepeare Festival high school competitions. The college theater courses. All should have been better documented and tucked away for future feathering of our impending “empty nest.”

We’re fond of saving all sorts of things around our house, sometimes without rhyme or reason. But if you’re the parent of a budding artist, every little bit of info is part of helping your child build the resume they will one day take into the world.

For a time, it’s about holding on. Soon enough, you’ll be learning to let go.

– Lynn

Note: College arts programs have different requirements for resumes and other application materials, so check them early and often as your child readies for the college admissions process.

Coming up: Dreaming Darwin, “Fiddler” then & now, Kiva Elementary talent show musings, Valentine’s Day gifts for arts lovers

Audition tips for young actors

Lizabeth seems to update her resume more often that the rest of us. There’s always another workshop or show to add to the mix. She keeps it at the ready, along with a current photo (just a headshot), so she’s prepared to audition at a moment’s notice.

She also keeps a fresh batch of sheet music and monologue material. These four items— performance resume, headshot, sheet music (in the correct key) and age-appropriate monologues—comprise her basic audition tool kit.

Well before heading off to an audition, Lizabeth checks the website or audition notice of the theater she’ll be auditioning for. That way she’ll know of any specific items she needs to prepare or bring along.

On days we really have our act together, Lizabeth’s audition bag gets a fresh bottle of water, a good book in case of a long wait time, and a simple snack so she’s prepared if asked to stay longer than expected.

She also takes a copy of her schedule so she has information about school and extracurricular commitments if asked to note possible scheduling conflicts with rehearsal or performance dates.

The folks doing the auditions will likely have a tentative calendar of rehearsal and show dates and times (most have just a single copy, so if you want to keep track of this info, come prepared to copy it down yourself).

It’s terribly tacky, I’m told, to tell a director after-the-fact that you can’t make a particular date and time. Compare calendars at the earliest possible opportunity, and communicate any conflicts as requested.

“Children who aren’t well prepared have more stress and get nervous,” observes Bobb Cooper, producing artistic director for Valley Youth Theatre. Give your child time and support to gather, learn and practice needed materials ahead of time.

Cooper notes that youth who audition “should know the material for the show.” If you’re not familiar with a piece before you audition, be sure and do your homework after the fact if you get a call back from the theater company. Read the play. Listen to the cast recording. (Actually, Bobb referred to the cast “album”—leaving me with a certain nostalgia and an uncontrollable urge to pull out my Jesus Christ Superstar vinyl.)

Before taking your child to an audition, make sure that he or she really wants to be there. “I’ve seen some children with no desire to audition who were there because of their parents,” reflects Cooper. One time a child broke down in tears during an audition. “I really don’t like to audition but my father made me do it,” the young boy confided to Cooper.

“What about stage mothers,” I asked Cooper. He admits that he’s met a few moms who seemed to be “living vicariously” through their kids. “But most parents are really there for their kids—running them all over town, supporting their dreams.” Cooper says he admires them tremendously.

Some parents are disappointed when their children don’t land lead roles. Cooper encourages parents to “trust the people that are doing the auditions.” Remember too that there are many roles to fill, and all are important. “Not every child can be Annie,” says Cooper. (Picture for a moment a stage filled with about two dozen frizzy redheads walking their dogs, and you’ll appreciate this maxim all the more.)

Lizabeth and I have seen some very talented young dancers get terribly disappointed when they didn’t get the role of Clara or the Prince in the Nutcracker ballet. More often than not, we observed, a parent had focused on the lead role while devaluing all the others.

I’m not opposed to encouraging children to reach for the stars. But not every star can be the sun, and the sky would lose much of its shimmer were all the other stars to disappear. (Beware the attitudes you model for your children, for they too often follow in our footsteps.)

Just what does Cooper look for during auditions? Someone willing to take risks. Someone who’ll come out of their shell. Someone who’ll delve into the material rather than just reading it. Someone who’ll understand what they’re saying and be able to communicate it to another person they are reading with.

“Use your time wisely,” Lizabeth suggests. If a director asks you to look over or learn part of a script or song, don’t get distracted by chit chat or texting back and forth with friends. Stay focused. Do the prep.

I wondered, in talking with Cooper, whether some kids just seem to have more natural ability than others. “There are some children who just absolutely get it,” reflects Cooper. “They connect with the material and know how to make it real.”

Still, says Cooper, every child can hone his or her skills. Cooper feels that acting classes are important, likening them to a “continual rehearsal process.” Acting classes “help you discover you” and that’s what will help with the acting.

Cooper graciously shares that there are numerous theater companies in the Valley that offer quality classes for children and teens. So far Lizabeth has studied with Childsplay, Greasepaint Youtheatre and Phoenix Theatre—but there are many more, including Valley Youth Theatre. (Now is the time to check websites for winter break, spring break and summer classes—which can fill up quickly!)

Beware of ‘star-maker’ type operations, cautions Cooper. “They’re poppycock!” Also beware of costly headshots that may be so fancy they fail to capture your child’s real look and personality. “Don’t spend a fortune on photos or resumes,” says Cooper.

Especially when children are young, he observes, they change really often—so there’s no point in shooting your wad on photos that will quickly become outdated. Their main purpose, says Cooper, is to help directors remember the children they have seen after they’ve gone.

Auditioning is like riding a bike. The more a child does it, the better he or she becomes. And like a great bike ride, the journey is every bit as fascinating as the final destination. Help your child develop the tools and skills he or she will need to approach auditions with confidence and professionalism. Then stand back and let them shine. They might be cast, they might not be cast…

Either way, it’s an adventure to be celebrated!

–Lynn

Coming soon: Reflections on ‘theater folk’ and remembering beloved actor Scott Jeffers