Tag Archives: Tempe

Musings on “Les Mis” at the movies

Our daughter, Lizabeth, has grown up at the crossroads of classic and contemporary Broadway — appreciating everything from Les Miserables and Chorus Line to In the Heights and Into the Woods.

We spent Wednesday night at the Riverview Cinemark Mesa 16

Wednesday night we did one of our favorite musicals together — Mesa-style, as the Cinemark Mesa 16 theater presented a special event for a single-evening of musical theater magic.

We saw the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert – presented by Cameron Mackintosh in association with Universal Pictures.

We last enjoyed his work at ASU Gammage, where we saw the Disney and Cameron Mackintosh production of Mary Poppins – a surprisingly spectacular telling of a story I once considered merely fair rather than fabulous.

We expected a full crowd for Wednesday’s movie event, arriving more than an hour before showtime. Turns out that only a mom and daughter duo snuggled under a blue fleece blanket dotted with multi-color snowflakes beat us to it, claiming the front and center seats I so often covet.

We used the extra time to explore the Mesa Riverview – a retail center you may know only by its most visible tenant – Bass Pro Shops (a nifty place when you’re shopping for the campers and fisherfolk in your life).

They’ve a good selection of restaurants and shops you won’t find in many other places.

There’s a Scout Shop for all things Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and an indoor pool inside one of three sites for Hubbard Family Swim School (their outdoor pool in Phoenix is a longtime favorite among Valley swimmers both casual and competitive).

Our favorite that night was Yodipity Yogurt, which sports ten yogurt flavors and dozens of possible toppings it’s hard to find elsewhere. We sat coloring pictures at a long counter where guests can string up their artwork using metal clips along a wire washline of sorts.

In a spacious courtyard outside the cinema entrance, there’s a fountain with an artistic flair — plus oodles of pristine white benches what make for some serious relaxation on a fair-weather afternoon or evening.

The Cinemark in Mesa also presents The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD events

We were pleased to find the theater nearly full when we returned, though rather dismayed by the gentleman who’d settled into the seat clearly sporting Lizabeth’s “Wild Things” sweat jacket. Happily, she asserted herself and reclaimed the spot she’d chosen early on.

The evening was special for several reasons, including the relative rarity of our time alone together outside the confines of dirty dishes or looming deadlines. Also the theater’s spectacular sound sytem that left me feeling each cast, chorus and orchestra member was right there with us in Mesa.

And the opportunity to see Nick Jonas, viewed by too many as a mere pop idol, return to his Broadway roots with such a mature performance in the role of Marius (Jonas played Gavroche in Les Mis on Broadway, but these aren’t his only theater credits). 

I must say, however, that there was nothing lovely about the lip-flapping and laughter of the the three teen girls seated behind us during the Les Mis concert presentation.

It’s all good and fine to get all tingly when Marius kisses Cosette, but I like Liz’s advice on this one: Just keep it to yourself. Listen, appreciate and respect the work.

Shows this spectacular don’t happen by accident — and it was Victor Hugo, not Nick Jonas, who first gave us Les Miserables. More history, ladies. Less heart throb — please.

Les Mis is one of those rare shows we can never get enough of. The concert performance we saw that evening in Mesa will soon be available on DVD.

No fan of Les Mis should pass up the chance to experience it, preferably on a big screen surrounded by fellow Les Mis aficionados.

For those eager to experience Les Mis live for the first or umpteenth time, Valley venues present at least two opportunities in the current season.

Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria presents the school edition of Les Mis April 15-May 1, 2011 — giving me a whole new appreciation for tax day. (A change from the originally scheduled run.)

The Broadway touring production of Les Mis comes to ASU Gammage July 7-12, 2011. I loved it there the first time and I expect to love it again.

The June timing couldn’t be better for those of us gift shopping for graduating seniors, June birthday babies, romantic occassions like first dates or anniversary celebrations and such.

I guess Lizabeth won’t be too terribly surprised with her 18th birthday gift…

– Lynn

Note: When you think movie theaters, think St. Mary’s Food Bank — which will be accepting frozen turkey and non-perishable food donations  as well as cash donations at select Harkins Theatres and other sites on “2010 Super Saturday” — Sat, Nov 20. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: The year in arts

Storytellers grace Arizona stages

The fine folks at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe tell me I’ll have to wait a few more weeks before reading the never-before-released autobiography (or at least the first volume) from one of my favorite storytellers — Mark Twain.

But Valley fans of the fine art of storytelling will be enjoying two contemporary storytellers during the next several days as John Lithgow and Bill Harley hit Valley venues.

John Lithgow performs in Scottsdale Thursday and Friday night

Renaissance man John Lithgow, veteran artist of many mediums – from theater, film and television to writing and musical performance — shares “Stories by Heart” for two nights at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Lithgow considers storytelling “the unacknowledged tie that binds humanity.” “Stories by Heart” takes place Thurs, Oct 21, at 7:30pm and Fri, Oct 22, at 8pm. Go. Relish. Acknowledge.

You may not think of yourself as an aficionado of the art of storytelling, but consider for a moment that storytelling is all around us. Ads. Tweets. Musical theater. News. All variations on storytelling, for better or worse.

Bill Harley performs songs and stories “portraying contemporary American life with a slight off-center bent” at the Musical Instrument Museum on Sun, Oct 24, at 2pm.

Bill Harley performs in Phoenix Sunday

The musician, storyteller, author and playwright will share family-friendly fare with audiences at the MIM’s Music Theater — which routinely features performances by musicians from around the globe.

I spoke by phone with Harley not too long ago, and will share a bit of our conversation in a future post.

Harley’s recent works include a book titled “Between Home and School” (available Nov 1) and a CD titled “The Best Candy in the Whole World.”

We aren’t only listeners. We’re storytellers too. Especially in the words we share with our children each and ever day.

I’d like to get better at it. I’d like to feel part of the larger storytelling community. I think time spent with Lithgow and Harley will jump-start my journey.

How about you?

–Lynn

Note: Local resources for storytelling and creative writing include the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College and the ASU Young Writers Program,

Coming up: Upcoming Arizona premieres, Getting to know Tetra Quartet, Local First and the arts

“Beauty and the Beast”

Liz Shivener as Belle and Justin Glaser as Beast (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” opened to a packed house Tuesday night at ASU Gammage in Tempe, where the crowd was a mix of grown-ups, teens and kids (including boys in lopsided neckties and girls in pint-size princess garb).

I sat between my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth and a delightful middle schooler named Amanda, who chatted with me about the many summers she’s enjoyed theater camp at Mesa Community College.

I ran into other college students we know after the show, who made a point of suggesting I review “The Taming of the Shrew” (at Mesa Community College Theatre Outback later this fall) and “Sugar” (currently on stage at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Mesa).

Their directors would be proud — and I’m becoming a prime candidate for cloning.

Everyone I spoke with enjoyed Tuesday night’s performance of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”– despite a few sound glitches that seemed to strike whenever Nathaniel Hackmann (Gaston) had a particularly funny line.

Merritt David James as Lumiere (Photo: Joan Marcus)

We spoke with Hackmann and other cast members after the show, who were very gracious about doing the whole photo and autograph thing with fans old enough to stay up that late.

A mere 10 seconds or so into Hackmann’s first bit on stage, it felt like Elvis had just entered the building. There’s all that fawning by “ga-ga for Gaston” groupies — but also Hackmann’s own very real charisma.

Justin Glaser (Beast), Liz Shrivener (Belle) and Hackmann each delivered strong performances, engaging audience members of all ages. The rest of the cast was lovely, but no one performer really outshined the others.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” — presented here by NETworks — is over the top and grandiose in many ways.

Think Disney meets opera…meets Caesars Palace…meets Hee Haw…meets Cirque du Soleil. It’s all good, mind you, but there’s an awful lot going on.

Puppetry. Acrobatics. Strobe lights. Streamers. Pom poms in Sun Devil red and gold.

It seemed to take the audience a while to give themselves permission to really roll with it, but by the opening of Act II there was no stopping the laughter.

Liz Shivener and the cast of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a lavish production that’ll renew your faith in love and the goodness within each of us — even those who seem reluctant to reveal it.

–Lynn

Note: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is being performed at ASU Gammage through Oct 24. When you attend, leave plenty of time for parking and getting seated.

Coming up: Art adventures in Queen Creek

Weekend of new beginnings

Center Dance Ensemble performs "The Snow Queen" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

I’ve been enjoying Center Dance Ensemble works for more than a decade. If dance companies were shoes, they’d be a cross between my favorite well-worn pair and my shiniest new pair. Both make me smile.

For years they’ve treated Valley audiences to Frances Cohen Smith’s “The Snow Queen” at the Herberger Theater Center. It’s based on a delightful Hans Christian Andersen tale and has terrific appeal to both children and adults.

But this weekend, you can enjoy a performance titled “New Beginnings.” It features the premiere of a new work by Center Dance Ensemble as well as new performances by several guest artists.

It’s being held through Sat, Oct 16 at the newly-renovated Herberger Theater Center, so those of you who’ve been waiting for an excuse to check it out now have one (actually, there are several).

Center Dance Ensemble performs New Beginnings this weekend (Photo: Tim Fuller)

Other weekend happenings in the Valley (and yes, weekends start on Friday for stage moms) include the following:

Goof & Giggle. Fri, Oct 15 at 10am. Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Features a fun class for 1-3 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include dance, song, exploring musical instruments and movement.

Tot Art. Fri, Oct 15 at 10:30am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features artmaking for 2-5 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include painting, sculpture and collage.

Artful Tales. Fri, Oct 15 at 11am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features an interactive storytime followed by art activities based on the theme of the featured book.

Comprised Voices. Sun, Oct 17 at 4pm. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Features symphonic music by Musica Nova.

International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival. Madcap Theaters in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features indie, retro and other horror and science fiction titles in this 6th annual event. (It’s not for the kiddos, but parents enjoy the arts too.)

ASU presents 26 Miles this weekend

26 Miles. Lyceum Theatre at ASU in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features a coming-of-age “dramedy” about a Cuban American teen who explores her identity while on a road trip with her estranged mother. Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes wrote the book for the Broadway musical “In The Heights.” (One for parents to enjoy with their older teens, perhaps?)

Cars and Guitars. Through Sat, Oct 16. Tempe Center for the Arts. Features exhibit of some mighty fancy guitars, cars and cool retro finds (including old storybook art). I had a great time exploring this one the day I saw Childsplay’s “A Year With Frog and Toad” at the same venue. (The cars/guitars exhibit makes a cool father/son outing.)

This weekend is your last chance to see this new work by James E. Garcia

The Eagle & The Serpent: A History of Mexico Abridged. Through Sun, Oct 17. Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in Phoenix. Features New Carpa Theater Company presenting seven actors in 50 roles recreating the history of Mexico from 30,000 B.C. to the present “in 90 minutes or less.”

Romantic Fools. Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features vaudeville-style comedy “examining love, lust, dating, and romance.” (Also for grown-ups only due to mature content.)

Watch for a second post Friday featuring weekend (and upcoming) theater by youth and for youth.

Ridiculous rulers. Bumbling bears. Colorful cupcakes. They’ve got it all.

–Lynn

Note: Please check details for all events before attending since prices vary, tickets may have limited availability and such.

Coming up: Making art in Mesa, Stage moms changing the world, Playwriting perspectives

Broadway tackles family matters

Rogelio Douglas, Jr. and Arielle Jacobs

Actress Arielle Jacobs, who performs the role of “Nina” in the touring production of “In the Heights” opening tonight at ASU Gammage, probably has a lot to say about Arizona’s immigration debate. 

Her maternal grandfather, originally from the Philippines, petitioned for 17 years before receiving United States citizenship—moving to America with his wife and three children in 1965.

But we didn’t talk politics when we spoke. Instead, we chatted about her early experiences with arts and academics, and the message she hopes “In the Heights” will bring to Valley families. 

Jacobs’ first formal arts training was ballet lessons at the age of three, something she’s certain must have been her idea because her parents “never forced anything on me.” 

When Jacobs tired of ballet, she explored other forms of dance including jazz, tap and flamenco. As a child, she’d “get bored after six months” and want to try something new. 

It was fine with her folks, recalls Jacobs, as long as she gave whatever she was doing her very best. “They had very high expectations for me.” 

Jacobs admits to holding herself by the same high standards, and to having some very big dreams.

"In the Heights" Full Tour Company

“I wanted to be like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston,” she quips. “I was really in love with them back in the day.” 

At the age of seven, Jacobs started voice lessons. 

Jacobs did some community theater in the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, including a stint as a Cratchit kid in a local production of “A Christmas Carol” at the age of 10. 

She also took some theater classes and attended theater-related camps. 

When asked about her decision to pursue a theater career, Jacobs offers a surprising response: “I didn’t really make a decision as much as it was made for me.” 

Elise Santoro and Arielle Jacobs

Jacobs graduated from high school with a 4.2 grade point average after taking AP classes, noting that her first love was biology and environmental studies. 

During the college admissions process, Jacobs focused on science programs—with just one exception. She applied to New York University and was admitted to their music theatre program. 

She originated the role of “Gabrielle” in the national tour of Disney’s “High School Musical,” so many of us have already enjoyed her work on the ASU Gammage stage. 

Jacobs sees plenty of parallels between her own life and that of character “Nina Rosario”–a high-achieving woman reticent to ask for help or support in times of stress or struggle. (She’d fit right in with the many RAK staffers who self-identify as ‘creative but compulsive.’)

Natalie Toro and Daniel Bolero

Every Valley theater-goer I know has had “In the Heights” on their ‘must-see’ list forever, but for the uninitiated Jacobs offers the following insight…

“Not all Broadway musicals are like ‘Showboat’ or ‘Carousel.’ “

Jacobs hopes that “In the Heights,” which features Latin, hip-hop, soul and rap music, will introduce musical theater to people who might not explore it otherwise. 

“In the Heights” has a take-away message perhaps most powerful to parents. “One of the deepest themes in this show,” reflects Jacob, “is healing family riffs.” 

“Parenting,” share Jacobs, “can be harmful or supportive and loving.” 

“In the Heights” is a thoughtful yet joyful exploration of ways parents and children wrestle with making choices, claiming power and finding genuine sources of self-worth. 

I’m eager to take the journey… 

–Lynn 

Kyle Beltran

Note: “In the Heights” earned 2008 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations—making it a delight to theater, music and dance aficionados alike. It features music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who traces the work’s “first incarnation” to his sophomore year at Wesleyan University), and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. “In the Heights” will be performed June 15-20 at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Weekend matinees will feature Miranda reprising the role of “Usnavi” which he originated on Broadway. Saturday’s afternoon performance includes a talk-back with Miranda for audience members after the show.  

Coming up: Summer arts offerings from local community colleges, Desert dance delights, More new season announcements, Focus on “Free Arts of Arizona”

Photos by Joan Marcus (2009) courtesy of ASU Gammage

Update: Lizabeth and I saw the show Tuesday night. There were some cast changes, so we didn’t get to see Jacobs perform, but the cast we saw was quite remarkable and received an enthusiastic standing ovation from a very-close-to-full house. Visit www.asugammage.com for reviews by “Gammage Goers,” Valley Broadway enthusiasts who share written and videotaped comments after seeing ASU Gammage Broadway series shows.

Before there was CSI…

There’s a humble hangout in Phoenix that I’ve taken for granted through the years. It’s smack dab in the middle of two other places where I’ve spent plenty of time—a hip little joint called Mama Java’s and the School of Ballet Arizona.

But the Book Gallery caught my eye recently when I noticed a display of Sherlock Holmes stories in the window, reminding me that ASU’s School of Theatre and Film will bring playwright Suzan Zeder’s “The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes” to Galvin Playhouse  on the Tempe campus April 16-May 2. (Attend the April 24 matinee to enjoy a Q & A with Zeder.)

I’m eager to see the production for several reasons, including the exceptionally high quality of other performances I’ve seen at this venue. Knowing the scenic designer is Todd Hulet, Lizabeth’s production studies teacher at Arizona School for the Arts, also ups the intrigue quotient.

Zeder’s bio for the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin describes the professor as “one of the nation’s leading playwrights for family audiences.” ASU’s Herberger Institute notes that the play is “suitable for youth” but equally appealing to “mystery lovers of all ages.”

“At its heart,” reflects Zeder, “is a sometimes terrible, sometimes tender, always tentative relationship between creator and creation.” Characters in the play include not only detective Sherlock Holmes, faithful sidekick Dr. Watson and evil nemesis Dr. Moriarty—but also author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his daughter Mary.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read much of Doyle’s work, though my husband James confesses to spending more than a few hours with Sherlock Holmes during high school. I get the feeling the play, featuring “lots of twists and turns that vex and puzzle Holmes,” will appeal to both Holmes aficionados and Holmes amateurs alike.

Sherlock Holmes hits Tempe Friday (Photo: Tim Trumble for ASU)

I mentioned to Jennifer, my ASU “Sun Devil” daughter, that I was eager to learn more about the adventures of the fictional detective. She shared with me that she’d just come from a history class in which Sherlock Holmes was mentioned—and soon had me pondering how superficial the stark line so many of us draw between history and science might be.

Seems the field of criminal anthropology took some disturbing turns in the late 19th century, especially with the work of Caesar Lombroso, who aligned criminal tendencies with particular physical traits. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print with the publication of “Study in Scarlet” in 1887.

I’m always fascinated by the historical context of great playwrights’ work, and decided to do a bit of digging into what else occurred that year in European and American history. Turns out 1887 is the year Anne Sullivan began teaching a young Helen Keller as well as the year the U.S. secured rights to Pearl Harbor.

It was the year of several important patents (to A. Miles for the elevator and Emile Berliner for the Gramophone) and the year that Charles Dickens traveled to NYC for his first public reading in America. These tidbits leave me all the more eager to see Zeder’s twist on Sherlock’s sleuthing. (Don’t even get me started on Doyle’s fascinating childhood.)

The Herberger Institute has developed a nifty study guide of manageable size for parents, teachers or youth eager to learn more before or after seeing the production. It begins by answering the question: “Who is Sherlock Holmes and why is he important today?” It also includes several activities and additional resources.

I’m hoping this production will be playful anecdote to the myriad of mysteries still surrounding the American teen—like why some credit CSI with inventing forensics and why others favor analyses ala “tweet” over steady observation and deductive reasoning.

Alas, no work of art can solve the many mysteries of parenting…

–Lynn

Note: Yesterday Jennifer introduced me to another great place to find used books, videos, CDs and more–it’s the ARC Thrift Shop (tucked away in a strip mall at Mill and Southern in Tempe), which has been “enriching and empowering the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities since 1965.” Most paperbacks are just 25 cents and we came home with a suitcase full–literally–for just $6 thanks to their Wednesday ‘half-off for students’ special!

Coming up: Details about the School of Theatre and Film’s 2010-2011 season, as well as the 2010-2011 Broadway Across America season soon to be announced by ASU Gammage. Also look for reviews of SCC’s “The Diviners” and Childsplay’s “Tomato Plant Girl.”

Too good to be Q?

My neighbors must think it odd. Every day after I take my mail from the mailbox, I stop in my tracks to see what’s arrived. I probably did the same thing umpteen years ago, hoping Donny Osmond would actually reply to some of my fan mail. He never did, and so I’ve moved on. (Davy Jones and Bo Donaldson were no better.)

Nowadays I watch for announcements of upcoming music, dance and theater performances. I learned that lesson the hard way, seeing a poster of the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” featuring Osmond hanging on a wall of the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix only after it had come and gone.

I did a curbside happy dance when I opened a humble looking envelope from Phoenix Theatre the other day. It announced their 2010-2011 season—something not even posted on their website yet. Better yet—they told me I could share it with our readers right away, even though a certain show (a Tony Award winner for best new musical) won’t be ‘official’ until March.

I had an inkling a couple of months ago when a Phoenix Theatre 2010/2011 season survey hit my virtual mailbox—something I received because I’m on their e-list, the modern day version of a mailing list used to send news via e-mail instead of snail mail. The survey, something they’ve done for years, invites patrons to vote on possible shows for the coming season.

The surveys were also available in the programs patrons received when attending Phoenix Theatre productions earlier in the current season, and each survey included a place for respondents to provide their name and such (so stuffing the survey box wasn’t a problem).

Patrons were asked to select two choices in each of four categories, with combined results weighing heavily in the decision making process when it came time for artistic director Michael Barnard and his team at Phoenix Theatre to decide on the 2010-2011 season.

What would you have selected from the following options?

Large musicals: Hairspray, Nine, Damn Yankees, The Drowsy Chaperone, My Favorite Year, Annie, La Cage Aux Folles or The Mystery of Edwin Drood? Mid-season musicals: Avenue Q, Iron Curtain, Hats! The Musical, Working or Wildest? Intimate musicals/revues: The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Big Bang, No Way to Treat a Lady, Twisted TV or Pump Boys and Dinettes? Comedies: Unnecessary Farce, Noises Off, Boeing Boeing or The Wallace and Ladmo Show?

The survey also asked patrons which type of programming they enjoy seeing most at Phoenix Theatre—offering four choices to choose from: new Broadway musicals, classic Broadway musicals, comedies and world premiere musicals. The trend, according to Phoenix Theatre marketing director Brian Kunnari, is towards newer Broadway musicals rather than Broadway classics.

Hence the upcoming season will feature the following:

• “No Way to Treat a Lady”

• “Hairspray”

• “3 Redneck Tenors”

• “Noises Off”

• “Nine”

There’s also a little something almost too good to be true—something, I’m told, involving a Q.

I suspect there will be a happy dance or two Friday evening, Feb. 26th, when Phoenix Theatre takes to the Madison Event Center in downtown Phoenix for its “Phoenix Theatre LIVE” event featuring “song, dance, comedy, cocktails and supper club dining.”

If you’re free, you may want to don your “studio audience glam” and join the fun. Visit www.phoenixtheatre.com ASAP for details and ticket info.

If an evening with Phoenix Theatre sounds fun, imagine joining artistic director Michael Barnard in London this spring for “400 years of theatre in one week.” The deadline to register for this baby is drawing nigh, so check out the details right away if you might want to take part in this April 24th to May 1st adventure.

There’s a trip brochure at the Phoenix Theatre website, or you can contact Beth Reynolds at the theater for more information (602-889-5299 or e.reynolds@phoenixtheatre.com).

Travelers will enjoy three theatre productions, including “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “Phantom of the Opera”—and excursions to sites every theater buff dreams of seeing (Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Globe Theatre and more).

Today, I fear, will bring a rather uneventful trip to the mailbox. Unless there’s news of a Valley stop for a national tour of “Next to Normal,” nothing’s likely to rival my excitement over all things Q…

–Lynn

Note: The “Broadway Across America” national touring production of “Avenue Q” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe March 4th-9th. I’m attending opening night so look for a review of the show soon after. Better yet, find me and say “hello” at the show!

Update: It’s official! Phoenix Theatre’s 2010-2011 season includes “Avenue Q.” To enjoy adult puppet theater in the meantime, check out the adult puppet slams presented by Great Arizona Puppet Theater in Phoenix (www.azpuppets.org).