Tag Archives: Stephen Sondheim

South Park meets Broadway

Cartoon Central aired a new episode of South Park called Broadway Bro Down last week

We got some great advice in the television viewing department when our three children, now college students, were young. When in doubt, watch shows yourself before letting your children see them. The same goes for movies and other fare that might have content you’d deem inappropriate.

Parents who thought it’d be keen to watch last week’s new episode of “South Park” with their kids who love Broadway got a rude (and well-deserved) awakening if they took to the couch together without screening the content. Show creators hyped the Broadway theme, but failed to mention the other “B-word” that dominates the episode’s dialogue.

The premise of the episode is simple enough — men who take women to Broadway musicals fare better in the bedroom department. Hence the decision by South Park father Randy to take wife Sharon to New York for an entire weekend of musical theater. And more than two dozen local performances of “Wicked.”

The concept isn’t new, of course. When Broadway legend Betty Buckley was just 21-years-old, she performed one of only two female roles in the musical “1776.” She was Martha Jefferson to Ken Howard’s Thomas Jefferson, singing a piece called “He Plays the Violin.” Apparently musicians were deemed sexier than most even then. Still, the show’s creators left more to the imagination.

The “South Park” meets Broadway episode is entertaining enough, with all its scenes of popular musicals, but the addition of a mature-theme plotline dubbed “filthy” by an arts blogger for The New York Times added nothing to the episode’s charm. Instead, it left only minutes of content suitable for young viewers — and left adults craving a shower (of the solo variety) more than a show.

When Randy decides to write his own musical, for anything but artistic reasons, he lacks a certain sophistication in creating subtext — which four members of the musical theater pantheon attempt to help him rectify. Enter the four fabulously-drawn cartoon renderings of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John, Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim.

Just a single line from the episode is “LOL” funny — despite the predictability of its subject matter. The musical created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as well as Robert Lopez, gets only a brief flash of shameless promotion as the episode draws to a close. Let’s hope a future episode of “South Park” parodies the musical titled “The Book of Mormon” in all its glory.

Just be sure the kids are tucked in tighly before you watch it.

– Lynn

Note: Actor Ken Howard, president of the Screen Actors Guild, will be speaking today at Arizona State University in Tempe. Click here to read details noted in a previous post.

Coming up: Shakespeare meets conspiracy theory

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

In good company

The musical Company comes to six Arizona movie theaters this month

I wasn’t in New York City during April of this year. But neither, I suspect, were most of you — so I’m in good company. Turns out we all missed an April 7-9 run of the concert version of the musical “Company,” performed with the New York Philharmonic in the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

But a special performance of the concert was recorded live, and it’s headed to select movie theaters starting June 15 thanks to a Screenvision, New York Philharmonic, Ellen M. Krass Productions partnership. Six Arizona theaters will be showing the concert at 7:30pm on Wed, June 15.

Screenvision lists them as Gateway 12 Imax in Mesa, Chandler Fashion 20, Arrowhead Fountains 18 in Peoria, Scottsdale 14 in Phoenix, Tucson Spectrum 18 and Surprise Pointe 14. Tickets are available online at www.screenvision.com.

Fond as I am of experiencing musical theater on stage, I’ve found that seeing it on the big screen makes for a mighty fine alternative. We’ve seen “Rent” and “Memphis” this way, and the 25th anniversary “Les Miserables” concert too.

I remember marveling at the mom and daughter who shared a blanket while watching the “Les Miserables” concert together at a Mesa movie theater. Something tells me fuzzy blankets and popcorn aren’t embraced quite that readily on the “Great White Way.”

Though “Company” isn’t anywhere near the top of Lizabeth’s “all time favorite musicals” list, I hope she’ll tag along to see it with me. “Company” opened on Broadway in 1970, and was nominated in 1971 for 14 musicals (a record at the time). It won six — including best musical.

It’s one of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s earliest full-scale musicals. There are 15 of them (so far) — including “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods.” Sondheim wrote lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”

Major songs in “Company” include “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Another Hundred People” and “Being Alive.” The 2006 Broadway revival of “Company” won the 2007 Tony Award® for “Best Revival of a Musical.” It was taped for the PBS “Great Performances” series, a little gem you can now enjoy on DVD.

The staged concert production of “Company” that’s headed to movie theaters features all sorts of “television and stage heavyweights.” Think Stephen Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone and Katie Finneran — and plenty more. Click here to enjoy rehearsal photos and here to read a related article from The New York Times.

Those of you who’ve yet to experience the joys of eating, drinking and breathing musical theater might feel ill equipped to recount the premise of “Company.” But it’s easy to follow. Think five couples and a bachelor friend living in NYC. And read Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” if you want to delve deeper.

You can click here for a bit of background from PBS, and here for a delightfully brief but comprehensive look at “Company” (and Sondheim) from New York Philharmonic program notes.

The April 2011 “Company” concert played to a full house that’s much larger than your average movie theater. So don’t delay in getting tickets to enjoy this classic work of musical theater. Feel free to bring your blanket along. Something tells me you’ll be in good company.

– Lynn

Note: This post is part of a “Countdown to the Tony Awards®” series that will run through Sun, June 12, when the 2011 Tony Awards® will be broadcast on CBS.

Coming up: Touring productions of Tony Award® winning shows coming to Arizona during the 2011/12 season

Fun with frogs

The first thing I notice each time I hit the Phoenix Zoo is a large frog sculpture just outside the entry walkway, near an area for visitor drop-off and pick-up. He seems a happy sort, and always helps me feel welcome.

I got frogs on the brain after reviewing April events listed in the online calendar for Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

In the “On stage” section, I spied “The Frogs” — a “musical comedy adaptation  by Stephen Sondheim from an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes.” The piece runs through Sun, April 10 at Grand Canyon University’s Ethington Theatre in Phoenix.

In the “On exhibit” section I found something called “Once Upon a Time…Fairy Tales, Frogs & Fables.” It’s “an opportunity to explore some of the world’s favorite stories” through imaginative characters and sets, dress-up, puppet theater and more — running through May 29 at the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa.

Alas, I learned too late that children could make frog puppets, and learn about the life cycle of frogs, at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix April 1-3. But I’m including a photo of some of their fine work to inspire your own frog follies at home — which could also include old-fashioned games, like leapfrog, that help kids stay fit.

But happily, I’m way ahead of the game for the third annual “Save the Frogs Day” — being celebrated April 29, 2011 by those with a special fondness for frogs and other amphibians. Some will even be rallying at the U.S. Capitol for more frog-friendly legislation.

The organization that specializes in amphibian conservation, called “Save the Frogs,” is currently holding several frog-related contests as part of “Save the Frogs Day.” Think poetry and art contests –plus a “build a frog pond” contest (open to schools and homeowners).

If you’re keen on wearing your frogs loud and proud, you can shop the “Save the Frogs” website for necessities like pro-frog clothing, bumber stickers, tote bags, wristbands and more.

There’s also plenty of frog-related fare at the Phoenix Zoo gift shop. Think T-shirts, books, plush toys and more.

“It’s Not Easy Being Green,” laments Sesame Street’s “Kermit the Frog” in the song of a same name. But maybe if we all work together, the world’s most celebrated frog will soon be singing a different tune.

– Lynn

Coming up: Children’s theater meets classic storybooks, Down to the final two

Gifts of art

James told me a proper "Stage Mom" needs a Broadway Cares tote bag

The arts were front and center as we celebrated Christmas this year. Everyone got books — and mine included Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat.” There were Broadway Cares T-shirts, totes and such – all in support of Equity Fights AIDS.

My son Christopher gave me a nifty camera that’ll fit in my pocket or purse for those times I find myself unexpectedly at the scene of an arts adventure — whether a street fair, a gallery collection, a museum exhibit or a student performance.

Jennifer made me a lovely piece of original art — an homage of sorts to my “Stage Mom” blog. It’s a twist on an IOU for a notebook she’s putting together with copies of each of my nearly 500 posts.

Since so many of my art musings double as miniature memoirs, I want to be sure my children have them to read once I’m farther along in the circle of life.

The Sondheim, of course, was a gift from Lizabeth — who is enjoying her last Christmas living at home before heading off to college in the fall.

This gift spent plenty of time in others' hands before I got to really enjoy it

I called that one before I even unwrapped the box, since the book has a rather distinctive size and shape — and since I’d just seen a Sondheim appearance on “The Colbert Report.”

I held the wrapped book up to my forehead a la Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” from “The Tonight Show” of so many years ago — predicting that it contained Stephen Sondheim.

The Carnac bit went over the heads of everyone in the room except my hubby and his parents as Lizabeth assured me that she had not, in fact, stuffed Sondheim into the package. Alas.

My in-laws gave me a lovely piece of garden art and other treasures — including a tote bag from the National Audubon Society, which I dearly love because it pictures two owls. My mother collected owls for many years and they remind me of her still. (Figurines, not live birds.)

Apparently friends and family prefer that I write about art rather than making it myself. No fingerpaints. No canvas. No clay. It would be enough for them, I suppose, if I could master the art of taking a really good photo.

A very special friend thought to hunt down a book I adore but haven’t been able to locate in town – “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11.” That darling child caught on video snubbing a book he got from Santa has much to learn.

Several of the gifts we exchanged, like this 2010 Tony T-shirt, support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

I have much to be grateful for this holiday season — including the opportunity to experience the riches of art, music, theater and dance in a world where so many people don’t even have a roof over their heads or food to feed their families.

If you’ve been especially moved by an arts experience in your community, consider giving something of yourself to assure that Arizona arts and culture remain vibrant for future generations.

A financial gift before the end of the year. A regular committment of volunteer service during the New Year. A resolution to spend more time enjoying the arts with friends and family.

With all the arts have given us, now is the perfect time of year to give back…

– Lynn

Note: To learn more about the arts scene in Arizona and ways you can get involved, visit the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts and the Arizona Humanities Council.

Coming up: Stage Mom’s “Best of Broadway” quotes, Music & memories, Outdoor concert fun

Books & beyond

This new book will appeal to fans of musical theater

Mall it if you must, but I’m hitting the bookstores instead. Places like Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe feel more like community gathering places than retail shopping spaces.

Bring your holiday shopping list along, but be prepared to enjoy much more than their extensive collection of books and gift items.

Author visits and book signings are a frequent occurence at Changing Hands — and feature local as well as nationally-renowned authors. Some write for adults, others for children and teens.

A lovey selection for young music and cat lovers

My own personal favorite is fellow Arizona parent Amy Silverman — mom of two daughters, managing editor of Phoenix New Times and half of a dynamic “Mothers Who Write” duo offering writing workshops.

Silverman presents “Holidaze: How to Write About the Happiest Time of the Year,” at Changing Hands Bookstore on Tues, Dec 2.

For poetry lovers, Changing Hands offers “First Friday Poetry,” “Poetry Roundtable” and other events. There’s plenty for photographers too.

One of several Twyla Tharp titles for creative types

My fellow magazine readers will find an eclectic selection of titles for folks of all ages and interests — including many you won’t find at more traditional book stores or magazine stands.

“Workshop for Toddlers” with Ramie Manch on Mon, Dec 6, mixes toddler/parent together time with strategies for using puzzles to enhance academic and social skills.

Changing Hands has a charming children’s area full of colorful books, toys, puzzles, craft kits, stuffed animals, puppets and more.

Teen events include writing workshops, author visits and much more. Teens love the Changing Hands vibe, and will have a great time exploring Hoodlums Music & Movies right next door.

Gift idea for art managers and leaders

If music is your thing, check out the “East Valley Music School Concert” Sat, Dec 4. If stories rock your world, you’ll find plenty of storytimes at Changing Hands. They’ve even got opportunities to learn a bit of Spanish.

Changing Hands has diverse holiday offerings — commemorating Hannukah, Winter Solstice, Christmas and more. They also host local artisans on a regular basis so you can enjoy even more holiday gift ideas.

While reviewing their December calendar (I’m on their e-mail list to receive info on author series, workshops and community events), I stumbled on sign language, physics, wildlife, volunteerism and more.

One of many titles on my holiday reading list

Books are just a bit of the bounty you’ll find at Changing Hands Bookstore. Go. Listen. Read. Create. Meet. Explore.

– Lynn

Note: Changing Hands Bookstore, like Raising Arizona Kids Magazine, is a member of Local First Arizona. Click here to learn about local businesses that appreciate your support during the holiday season and beyond.

Coming up: Art adventures–Arizona Science Center

“Little Red Riding Hood” lives!

Never fear, my dears… 

Contrary to what you may have read in yesterday’s post, “Little Red Riding Hood” is alive and well. She’ll soon appear on a West Valley stage for Theater Works’ “Into the Woods” opening in August. 

I find this thrilling for many reasons, not the least of which is my eagerness to feature images of other characters from fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm

“Into the Woods” is a creative take on the famed brothers’ fables in musical theater form–complete with music and lyrics by contemporary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, proud recipient of oodles of Tony Awards.

“Into the Woods” features the intertwined adventures of beloved characters such as Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame) and many more.

The work “explores both the whimsy of wishing and the darker side of the forest.” It’s fun for all ages because it can be enjoyed, and interpreted, on so many levels. I find something new each time I see it. 

Fun-loving theater goers needn’t wait until August to get their fix… 

If your child is still searching for the right summer camp fit, consider the four remaining camps offered by Youth Works, which include: 

“Enchanted Forest” for ages 4-6. Three sessions: June 28-July 2, July 5-9, Aug 2-6. All 9am-noon. $150/session. 

“Build a Play Workshop” for ages 7 to high school. July 5-9, 9am-4pm, $150. 

“Honk! Junior The Musical” for ages 7 to high school. July 12-30, 9am-4pm, $450. 

“Monster Mash Inside Out Techie Workshop.” Aug 2-6, 9am-4pm, $150. 

If you’re a fan of cabaret-style entertainment, mark your calendar for two Theater Works cabarets taking place this summer.

Their “On The Air!” cabaret, being performed July 16-20, features a “live broadcast” over the fictional oldies station “KDOG.” Theater goers will enjoy 18 chart toppers originally sung by Connie Francis, Bobby Darin, The Platters, The Drifters, Elvis Presley and more—plus comedy routines including a reprise of Abbott & Costello’s famed “Who’s on First.”

Their Aug 13-15 cabaret theme has yet to be announced—so stay tuned to www.theaterworks.org for further details. Theater Works cabarets are presented at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts and include entertainment and appetizers for $29. Wine is available at additional cost, though this is hardly a concern of the “sippy cup” crowd. 

By now you may have surmised something noted by Theater Works executive director Jack Lytle, one of several eloquent speakers featured in a recent video from the City of Peoria…

“We have something,” says Lytle, “for everyone.” 

–Lynn 

Note: Theater Works has just announced that there are still scholarship opportunities for summer campers, and that discounts apply when your child attends more than one camp or you enroll siblings in their summer camps. Get details by visiting the Theater Works website or calling Robyn Allen at 623-815-1791, ext. 103. Also note that Theater Works recently posted a job opportunity in their youth theater program—details also available online.

Coming up: Summer movie reviews, Spotlight on CONDER/dance, Weekend arts picks

Fun FAQs: “Into the Woods” earned three Tony Awards in 1987–”Best Score” for Stephen Sondheim, “Best Book” for James Lapine and “Best Actress in a Musical” for Joanna Gleason (“Baker’s Wife”). Bernadette Peters, “The Witch” in both the 1987 Broadway premiere and the 1997 Broadway revival, will star at the Dec 4, 2010 ARTrageous event at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.