Tag Archives: Theatre Outback

Toga time?

Don’t be alarmed if you see students parading around in their togas near Theatre Outback, a performing arts venue at Mesa Community College, this weekend — or next.

They’re likely cast members from a mature-theme piece of musical theater called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which combines situations depicted in 2,000 year-old-plays by Plautus with vaudevillian comedy of more modern times.

Mesa Community College opens their production of "Forum" tonight

It’s being performed by MCC’s music department Oct. 20-29. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was originally produced on Broadway by Harold S. Prince. The classic piece of musical theater meets farce features book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Seems a slave has been promised freedom in exchange for winning a young woman’s hand for his master — but nothing goes quite as planned. Along the way, audience members enjoy songs like “Comedy Tonight,” “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” and “That Dirty Old Man.” You can take the teens, but leave younger ones at home.

The MCC production includes a cast of 18, many of whom have a long list of credits. The program lists Sue Anne Lucius as producer, Jere Van Patten as director and Cathy Hauan as music director/conductor. Also two choreographers — Frank Cava and Jennifer Cava.

The cast of MCC's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"

The original Broadway production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” — which opened in 1962 – earned several Tony Awards, including best musical and best book. Broadway revivals were staged in 1972 and 1976. There’s also a 1962 musical film version featuring the original Broadway star, Zero Mostel, know to many as Tevye in the original “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is performed infrequently in the Valley, so Sondheim fans and students of musical theater should seize this opportunity to experience the work. Sondheim served as lyricist for both “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” He’s earned an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Also several Grammy Awards and Tony Awards.

Sondheim was both composer and lyricist for the musicals “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods” and more. Even those who fail to fawn over all things Sondheim should appreciate his contributions to the great American art form we call musical theater.

The cast of "Forum" presented by the music department at Mesa Community College

If you’ve never seen “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” attending the MCC production sounds like a fun way to up your musical theater I.Q. Just promise me you’ll leave toga time to the professionals.

– Lynn

Note: The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards solicit nominations each year from the general public and notable public figures, providing the opportunity to submit stories about teachers and professors who made a significant difference in their lives. Click here for details.

Coming up: Tevye tales, Fun finds at the Arizona Humanities Festival

From Lilly to Wiley

I should have taken a cot along to Tempe Center for the Arts on Sunday. I was there to see Childsplay’s production of “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” — and I’m returning this evening for the AriZoni Awards ceremony.

The ceremony features both a youth and adult portion. Though Childsplay performs for children, it’s not a youth theater — so I’ll be listening for their awards during the grown-up portion of the evening.

Several Childsplay artists act and direct throughout the community, so I’m accustomed to watching for them in both Childsplay productions and works by other companies.

Childsplay associate artist Debra K. Stevens, who performs the role of “Mom” in “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse,” has been with the company since 1982 — but she’s directing a show that opens this week at Mesa Community College.

Mesa Community College presents Wiley and the Hairy Man later this week

It’s “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” a work performed (along with David Saar’s
“The Big Yellow Boat”) during Childsplay’s 1993-1994 season. My own theater baby Lizabeth was born in 1993. This is the first year I’ve attended the AriZoni Awards without her, and she’ll be missed.

When Childsplay performed “Wiley and the Hairy Man” it garnered all sorts of AriZoni Award nominations — best director and choreographer for Michael Barnard (artistic director for Phoenix Theatre), best actor for D. Scott Withers and more.

I’m hoping to see “Wiley and the Hairy Man” when it’s performed at MCC’s Theatre Outback Fri, Sept 23 (10 am and 7:30pm) or Sat, Sept 24 (2pm). They’re performing an original adaptation by Justin Taylor.

Mesa Community College describes “Wiley and the Hairy Man” as the gripping story of a young boy trying to overcome his greatest fear. It’s set in the swamps of the south, where Wiley prepares to confront the creature who took his father away. MCC notes that the work is heavily influenced by Gullah culture.

“Gullah culture” is a broad descriptor for the traditions, skills and beliefs brought to this country by enslaved Africans — many of whom, according to a 2003 PBS broadcast on the topic, came ashore along the coast of Southern Carolina.

The play is an intriguing gateway to conversations about cultural preservation and assimilation. A 2001 piece picked up by National Geographic notes that similar issues have faced “American Indians, Cajuns in Louisiana and highlanders in Appalachia.”

Mesa Community College plans school tours of the production for October and November. Also coming this fall is “Next Fall,” being presented by Actors Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center Oct 28-Nov 13.

Stevens performs the role of “Arlene” in the Geoffrey Nauffts work, which explores the collision of ideas wrought by an actual collision. If you want to find fascinating theater in the Valley, just start at Childsplay.

Then see where their fine actors lead you…

– Lynn

Note: You’ll find Childsplay at www.childsplayaz.org, Mesa Community College at www.mesacc.edu, Tempe Center for the Arts at www.tempe.gov/tca, Actors Theatre at www.atphx.org and the AriZoni Awards at www.arizoniawards.com.

Coming up: Highlights from the 2011 AriZoni Awards ceremony, “Mixing It Up” in Tempe, Chinese arts and culture

Pardon my Pygmalion

Here’s a little something for those of you seeking just the right name for your baby boy: Pygmalion. The word, which has Greek origins, means “King of Cyprus” — which rather reminds me of Sara Bareilles’ “King of Anything.”

For others, the name Pygmalion conjures thoughts of playwright George Bernard Shaw – whose play titled “Pygmalion” references a Greek myth recounted by Ovid in which a sculptor who loathes women falls in love with his own statue of a beautiful woman.

Most know a later version of this story — the one told in the 1956 musical “My Fair Lady,” which is based on Shaw’s 1912 work. It’s the tale of a commoner, Eliza Doolittle, who undergoes a phonetics makeover at the hands of professor Henry Higgins.

Theater League brings “My Fair Lady” to two Valley stages this season — Mesa Arts Center Jan 31-Feb 1, 2012 and the Orpheum in Phoenix Feb 16-19, 2012. It features book, music and lyrics by Lerner and Loewe. Think “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

In his preface to “Pygmalion,” Shaw disparages the language skills of his peers. “The English,” Shaw writes, “have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it.”

I suspect the Irish playwright, who lived from 1856 to 1950, would have plenty to say about most states deciding to drop cursive writing from the school curriculum. Blogging might take a beating as well.

Mesa Community College presents “Pygmalion” Jan 27-Feb 4, 2012 at Theatre Outback, located on the MCC campus. It’s one of four theater works in their “Theatre Arts and Film 2011-2012 Mainstage Season” — which includes some truly fascinating fare.

Those of you eager to experience Shaw’s work have another option as Desert Rose Theatre performs “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” July 21-30 at St. Daniel the Prophet Catholic Church in Scottsdale. Each 7:30pm show is preceeded by a 7pm “pre-show chat” and followed by a “fun Q & A with the actors.”

Desert Rose offers this summary of the play: William Shakespeare is out on the town to meet his Dark Lady, the woman who inspired his sonnets. But a sleepwalking figure interupts his tryst. Who is this new, mysterious and fascinating woman with regal bearing? Could she end up his new muse?

Tickets for “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” are just $10, and the fine folks at Brown Paper Tickets note a minimum age of 8 to attend. This production features Chris Michael Dennis, Diane Senffner, Kristina Rogers and Dave Edmunds.

George Bernard Shaw received the 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature, and you can learn more about his work by visiting the Nobel Prize website. The Nobel Committee is currently reviewing productions nominated for the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.

If you’re having twins, by the way, consider coupling the names Pygmalion and Hamlet. I owe that suggestion to my daughter Jennifer, though I think it might be a better choice for a pair of puppies you call “Pyg” and “Ham.”

– Lynn

Coming up: What would Robin Hood do?

Art meets community college

Head to SCC Wednesday for a film documenting the voyage of German Jews aboard a ship that no one wanted

Looking for low-cost or no-cost dance, music and theater productions? Fond of supporting the creativity of local students and those who teach them? Eager to experience art or film you won’t see elsewhere?

Then check out these offerings coming soon to Valley community colleges.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College presents…

“Get a Life” — an original CGCC production that “explores all the little things in life that drive us crazy from the cradle through the golden years.” March 24-27.

“14″ — a play by Jose Casas that’s “based on interviews with Arizonans and their various different attitudes towards the contemporary issues of undocumented immigration.” Performed by Teatro Bravo April 1 & 2.

Mesa Community College presents…

“Student Art Show” — featuring diverse works of visual art. April 11-21.

“Almost Maine” — a play by John Cariani about residents of a “remote, mythical town” in which “residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways.” April 22-30.

Paradise Valley Community College presents…

“Rumors” — a play by Neil Simon that recounts the adventures of four upper class couples embarrased by unexpected circumstances. April 9-17.

“Spring Dance Collection 2011″ — a “compilation of dance works” choreographed by dance and adjunct faculty. Includes modern dance, jazz, ballet, hip hop, ballroom and other forms of dance. April 29 & 30.

Scottsdale Community College presents…

“Voyage of the St. Louis” — a documentary film that’s part of the SCC and Anti-Defamation League “The Many Faces of Hate” film series. It recounts the journey of 937 German Jews denied haven in 1939 by “every country in the Americas.” March 23.

Unique plays coming soon to Valley community colleges include SCC performances of works by Eugene Ionesco (Photo: Laura Durant)

“The Bald Chairs” — two one-act plays by Eugene Ionesco, both “from the school of drama known as the Theatre of the Absurd, a genre that often includes irony, slapstick humor and word play.”  March 31-April 9.

Each of these community colleges – as well as other community colleges in the greater Phoenix metro area — list art, dance, film, music and theater events online.

With just a little legwork, you can uncover a multitude of low-cost and no-cost events to enjoy with family and friends while supporting the budding artists in our midst.

– Lynn

Note: Our state universities — ASU, NAU and UA — also offer a wealth of visual and performance art open to the public. So stay tuned to their online calendars as well.

Coming up: More free and discounted arts events

Tough choices

I’ve faced some tough choices lately…

What to pack for a theater trip to San Diego. Whether to try the pepperoni pizza or the rosemary chicken during my first trip to the new cafeteria at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

These are choices plenty of folks never have the luxury of facing, and I feel grateful for them. Last weekend’s tough choices involved Valley theater productions.

Lizabeth and I hoped to get to “No Way to Treat a Lady” at Phoenix Theatre (we heard the leads were phenomenal), “Unstoppable Me!” performed by Cookie Company at Scottsdale’s Greasepaint Youtheatre (we love the casting) and “THIS” — being performed by Actors Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center.

Artwork by Anthony Ulinski

A friend we met for coffee at “Urban Beans” in midtown Phoenix no doubt meant to be helpful when reminding us that “Devil Boys from Beyond” is also on tap these days, but the choice there was a bit easier to make.

“Watching naked men or supporting women playwrights?,” I mused. “THIS,” written by Melissa James Gibson, won out — and Lizabeth ended up going the next day while I took Jennifer, my 19-year-old, to lunch at Chili’s near ASU.

Seems each time I’m there I remind my children that Chili’s was a favorite haunt when I was pregnant. “So,” asked Jennifer, “does this mean I will be getting a new baby brother or sister?” Another not so tough choice. I have a cat.

Lizabeth was quite fond of “THIS” and I hope to share some of her thoughts on the show in a future post. But for now I find myself pondering the weekend ahead, which offers another dizzying array of options in the arts and culture department.

There’s a film called “nomadak tx” playing at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix on Sat, Feb 5, at 2:30pm — which profiles musicians who play an instrument built for two, only to discover it’s a meeting point between both two beings and two cultures.

There’s “The Crucible” — directed by Childsplay’s Debra K. Stevens — being performed Feb 3-5 at Mesa Community College’s Theatre Outback. Every student reads “The Crucible” in school, making this a fun and educational choice.

Lizabeth worked on “The Crucible” during a weeklong Childsplay workshop with Stevens and playwright Dwayne Hartford, which truly enriched her perspective on the Arthur Miller play she was already very familiar with and fond of. 

And yes — it is time already to begin making tough choices about spring break and summer camps. Hence the RAK Camp Fair coming up later this month. If you wait too long to choose, the choice will be made for you as the best camps fill up early on.

I should mention that we faced another tough choice last weekend during our first exploration of “Bards Books” — located next to our latest coffee grind find. Whether to buy all the treasures we found on the spot or wait until we could bring in some no longer needed titles for trade. We chose immediate gratification.

Our latest tough choice was simply whether to get flu shots in the left or right arm. Thank goodness we got that over with, because we’ve got bigger and better choices to make this weekend. And we’re grateful for each and every one.

– Lynn

Note: It’s an especially busy time for theater companies presenting shows for youth, all of whom need your support to continue their good works. Please visit the RAK calendar online to see your many choices of family-friendly performance art in the Valley this month.

Coming up: SCC theatre students hit the road, Pondering 5oo posts

Got glee?

Fond as I am of watching the FOX television series “Glee,” I’m a bigger fan of Valley kids who “do the glee” in real time.

Those snappy numbers and catchy tunes don’t come to life quite as quickly off-screen, according to Valley actor and Mesa Community College (MCC) student Tyler Pounds.

Still, they’re every bit as fun — and have much to offer in terms of fostering creativity, teamwork and self-expression.

If your child is game for a bit of glee, consider a spring break camp with plenty of acting, singing and dancing.

Your choices include the “Spring Glee Camp” at Chandler Center for the Performing Arts — which runs March 21-25 and features “professional coaching in all aspects of musical theatre” by Kristen Drathman.

The camp runs 9am to noon that week, is designed for campers ages 8 & up, and takes place at the Chandler Center for the Performing Arts.

Drathman describes the camp as “a wonderful motivator and social outlet to get kids off the couch and doing something artistic, athletic and fun for the break.”

“Musical theater,” she told me, “works the body as well as the mind.”

Then Drathman added this quip: “Singing and dancing all morning…I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that!”

Turns out Drathman also gets to spend many of her evenings singing and dancing because she performs regularly on Valley stages — though she’s currently performing for more of a matinee crowd as the “Yellow Dog” in Childsplay’s “Go, Dog. Go!” at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Other options include the “Musical Theatre Glee Camp” being presented March 14-18 by an organization that’s fairly new to the Valley — Scottsdale Glee.

Camp hours are 9am to noon, but afternoon sessions focused on music appreciation and exploration are available at additional cost.

Scottsdale Glee instructors include Christine Kyhn, Nola Enge and Lisa Fogel. The camp (as well as other Scottsdale Glee programs) takes place at Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ in Phoenix — which is also home to one of the Valley’s “parent cooperative” preschools.

It’s just a hop, skip and jump away from Arcadia Music Academy, which is housed at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church — where my daughter Lizabeth first studied violin with Cynthia Baker.

Chandler Center for the Arts and Scottsdale Glee also offer summer options with a glee theme, plus other activities and opportunities for children interested in the arts.

As a mom whose children have missed far too many summer opportunities because of lingering too long over the oodles of choices out there, I offer three pieces of advice.

First, start asking around now. Second, attend the Raising Arizona Kids magazine camp fair next month. Third, get your child registered before popular programs like “Camp Broadway” at ASU Gammage are full.

While Pounds and others correctly note that characters on the television show “Glee” are often stereotyped to the extreme, I’m convinced that musical theater in real life does more to break down barriers than build dividing walls between students.

– Lynn

Note: Pounds is one of several students who’ll perform in the Arizona State University Lyric Opera Theatre Student Workshop production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” — which runs Jan 28-Feb 6. He’ll also be performing the role of “William Barfee,” as will William Marquez, in “The 39th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” being presented by MCC’s Act I Musical Productions March 3-12. Both contain mature content not suitable for children — so enjoy them with a friend, then take the kids to see a puppet show.

Coming up: More summer theater camps, Art in the round, Film festival meets Arizona politics, Art and healing, Talkback time: “Spring Awakening” at ASU Gammage, Valley students create art to commemorate “No Name-Calling Week”

Got GLEE? Send me a digital photo (or photos) of your Glee club or camp in action and it might be featured in a future post spotlighting Glee groups in the Valley. Please send by Fri, Feb 4 to rakstagemom@gmail.com.