Tag Archives: West Side Story

Another glimpse at “Glee”

Cheerleaders get a glimpse of a new foreign exchange student on Glee

During the first season of the FOX television series “Glee,” I watched every week with my youngest daughter Lizabeth, then a junior theater major at a Phoenix school for the arts. She’s been a fan of the show throughout, despite the fact that “Glee” lost me during the second season after storylines left me feeling like “House” had a tighter grip on reality.

But I decided to give “Glee” another shot this year, recording (and eventually watching) a recent episode titled “Pot of Gold” — a reference to the Irish heritage of a new character named Rory Flanagan who croons Kermit the Frog‘s “Bein’ Green” while remoaning the bullying he experiences each day. Damian McGinty got the “Rory” gig after winning a competition titled “The Glee Project.” He’s less fascinating by far than the new “House” character Dr. Chi Park, but gets more solos.

I’m giving “Glee” another chance this season, despite some shortcomings it’s hard to shake — the miraculous appearance of costumes without the people who design and build them, props like “Lucky Charms” that fuel faulty notions of nutrition, bizarre boundary issues between birth parents and adopted children, and songs that seem to glorify risky behaviors.

Assuming that “Pot of Gold” was more than a flash in the pan, the third season of “Glee” promises to be an art advocate’s dream — complete with dialogue and plotlines addressing sexy topics like school budgets and political engagement. When the school’s cheer coach rallies for cuts to arts funding as part of her campaign for Congress, a blue-collar “Glee” parent gathers arts support from local businesses and decides to throw his own wrench into the ring.

The school’s production of “West Side Story” is saved and a fierce storyline is born. I’m expecting future episodes to further illucidate issues at the core of arts funding for students — the tanglible academic and career benefits of arts training, the value of funding arts to the same extent as athletics, the role of arts in creating engaged citizens who vote and volunteer in their communities.

It’s easy to pick on the media when we think they’ve gotten it wrong, but more productive perhaps to notice and praise the times they get it right. I’ll be paying careful attention to “Glee” this season, hoping they’ll continue giving voice to the arts at a time when far too many seek to silence it altogether.

– Lynn

Note:  Click here to learn more about arts advocacy in Arizona, and here for information on Disney’s “The Muppets” being released on Nov. 23. For information on “The Glee Project” (including auditions), click here. To learn more about McGinty’s “Celtic Thunder” gig, click here. And click here for information on Irish arts and culture right here in the Valley.

Coming up: A “Star Trek” tale, Fun with animal art, “Dance dad” takes on “Dance Moms”

Update: “Glee” fans might want to keep an eye on the Facebook page for Actors Theatre of Phoenix, where details about an upcoming auction featuring several “Glee” items (including a signed script and a signed cast photo) will be posted in coming days.

Chicano studies — with a twist

The ASU Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film presents Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez at the Lyceum Theatre on the Tempe campus through Oct. 22

I made plans to see “Zoot Suit” at Arizona State University after learning that a young woman my daughter Jennifer went to grade school with would be performing in the play.

Kaleena Newman performs the roles of Newsboy and Zooter in the production that runs through Oct. 22 at ASU’s Lyceum Theatre. After chatting with Newman on campus one day, Jennifer decided to tag along with me to see the show.

The other lure was Andrés Alcalá, an associate artist with Childsplay who directs “Zoot Suit” for ASU’s School of Theatre and Film. I’m convinced that following the fine folks of Childsplay is the surest way to find fab theater in the Valley.

Jennifer studies cultural anthropology and has long been fascinated by events surrounding World War II. “Zoot Suit” by playwright Luis Valdez is set in 1940s Los Angeles, and it makes one point abundantly clear: As one war raged abroad, another raged at home. It was a war against racism — and it’s yet to be won.

The theme of fear fueled by prejudice and the press is still relevant today (Photo: Rod Amez as Henry Reyna)

Close to home we see it in anti-immigration legislation and calls for educators in Tucson to end a long tradition of teaching Chicano studies. In “Zoot Suit,” we witness a gross miscarriage of justice as Chicano youth are arrested and jailed for a crime they didn’t commit — in part because of fear fueled by a fashion statement.

The work reflects something every good student of WWII history knows — that prejudice against those of Japanese, Jewish or African American heritage was also rampant. Be forewarned, if you take younger family members to see “Zoot Suit,” that they’ll hear not only plenty of cursing but also a single use of the “N-word.”

The Broadway production of “Zoot Suit” ran for just 41 performances in 1979. Edward James Olmos, Dexter’s newest nemesis on the Showtime television series, performed the role of narrator El Pachuco on both stage and screen. The 1982 film version of “Zoot Suit” featured Tyne Daly, seen recently in “Master Class” on Broadway, as activist Alice Bloomfield.

ASU’s production of “Zoot Suit” features Nathan Delatorre as El Pachuco and Rod Amez as Henry Reyna, a young man accused of murder the night before he’s set to report for military duty. The cast of 21 delivers a strong ensemble performance that’s powerful evidence of the university’s stellar theater program.

Every element of this production is strong — especially direction by Andrés Alcalá, choreography by Adrian Hernandez, scenic design by Alayne Levine, costume design by Connie Furr-Soloman and lighting design by Anthony Jannuzzi. Infusing masterful media design by Boyd Branch transforms the production into something truly exceptional and rare.

“Zoot Suit” feels a bit like “West Side Story” — minus the vocal numbers, plus a heavy dose of politics. It’s an entertaining work of social justice theater, but its dialogue too often spoon-feeds the audience. Of course, a spoon would have come in handy after the show as Jennifer treated me to gloriously gooey pretzels from Mellow Mushroom on Mill Avenue.

I’ve long enjoyed outings to ASU Gammage for touring Broadway productions with my youngest daughter Lizabeth, often followed by In–N-Out Burger runs. But having Jennifer join me for an ASU theater production followed by pretzels dripping in honey made for an exciting new twist.

– Lynn

Note: “Zoot Suit,” which opens the 2011-12 Arizona Centennial Season for ASU’s MainStage productions, is part of the CALA Festival. Click here to learn about additional MainStage offerings, and here for more information on the festival. Click here to explore New Carpa Theater, which “focuses on Latino and multicultural theater works.”

Coming up: Going green on Broadway, Dora explores downtown Phoenix

Wistful for “West Side Story”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lynn

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

Coming up: A playwright’s journey

A tale of teen angst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lynn

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

Coming up: Fall break camps with an arts twist

One morning at MIM

I headed out to the Musical Instrument Museum Thursday morning for the media sneak peek of a photographic exhibit titled “The Power of Music.” My son Christopher, a fellow MIM fan and keeper of the family’s best camera, tagged along.

The Power of Music exhibit features photography and more

The traveling exhibit features not only photos, but also rare musical instruments and videos of music enjoyed during earlier times. The exhibit spans 1860-1915. You can enjoy it at the MIM Sept 24-Nov 27 — something to keep in mind as relatives who visit for Thanksgiving are sitting stuffed and silent on your sofa.

This MIM Cafe spread looked lovely until reporters dived in

If you hit the MIM for Halloween, be sure and stop by the MIM Cafe. After sampling tasty pizza, cookies and prickly pear cream soda on Thursday, we chatted with their chef — who seems to find inspiration in both music and the macabre.

Last year’s Halloween offerings included “Mummy Meatloaf” with a global twist and “Silence of the Lambs” ala “local AZ.” Reading last year’s Halloween sandwich menu was like browsing through a theater program from Ron May or Damon Dering. Scary. But scary good.

Once we’d explored “The Power of Music” and given a hearty thumbs up to executive chef Edward T. Farrow (only his mom gets to shorten the first name), we explored the rest of the two-story museum – including geographical galleries that group instruments by region and country of origin.

You can travel the world in one morning at the MIM

We especially enjoyed our time in the artist gallery, which “features instruments, video concert footage, photographs and other special items linked to world-renowned musicians and music innovators.”

Our fun finds included this 1945 G.I. Piano from Steinway and Sons

Our favorites included an olive green “G.I. Piano” and a “Leonard Bernstein” exhibit complete with “West Side Story” elements (which reminded me that “West Side Story” opens next week at ASU Gammage in Tempe).

Some exhibits hold special interest for theater and film buffs

It looks like several new exhibits are under development. Country music fans can soon enjoy space devoted to Toby Keith and Buck Owens. Also coming soon are artifacts from Stevie Nicks, Roy Orbison and John Denver. Elvis is already in the building.

This section of the MIM is like a blank canvas awaiting the brush

Still no Bruce Springsteen gear (just a small image tucked away on a wall in the rock and roll section of the museum) — so I had to settle for buying a Springsteen 2012 wall calendar in the museum shop.

The MIM Museum Shop is full of fun holiday shopping finds

The museum store is its own multicultural marvel. We spent part of the morning just exploring all the books, music, toys, attire, jewelry and other fare. Winter holidays will soon be upon us and the MIM museum store has lots of unique offerings, many quite reasonably priced.

If your family might enjoy a bit of morning time at the MIM, consider a visit this weekend. There’s a 10am children’s workshop Sat, Sept 24 — “How to Play the Bones and Harmonica” with Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout.

The pair offers an “Illustrated Lecture and Musical Demonstration” Sun, Sept 25 at 11am. Fine print about pricing and such (plus afternoon offerings this weekend) is available online at www.themim.org.

Musicians from Tony Bennett to Carlos Santana offer rave MIM reviews

We always enjoy our mornings at the MIM. The museum features giant windows that let the glorious sun shine in. The museum coffee shop brews a mean espresso best enjoyed while reading quotes from famous musicians painted along one wall. And the galleries offer an ever-changing selection of all things musical to delight our senses. One morning at the MIM can create a lifetime of memories.

– Lynn

Note: Our favorite photos were identified as follows — Ladies’ orchestra or glee club; Hispanic man and woman playing banjo; Salvation Army musicians; Twins with banjo and wooden flute; and Theresa Vaughn, actress, with five string banjo (she looks like my lovely daughter Liz). Checking out the hair and clothes in the photos is nearly as much fun as spying all the old-timey (a phrase borrowed from my Blue Bike Kids Show buddies) instruments.

Coming up: Film and theater reviews — think “Sparrow” from Stray Cat Theatre, “West Side Story” from ASU Gammage and “Footloose” on the big screen.

Resume tips for young actors

During a recent episode of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms,” lead dance instructor Abby Lee Miller of Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh invited a Broadway casting agent to her studio.

The agent held individual auditions with young “Dance Moms” cast members, inviting them to sing as well as dance. He also attended a showcase performance meant to spotlight student talents. (Never mind the solo by a mom with misguided mojo.)

While preparing dancers for the experience, Miller explained that three things are needed for auditions — a resume, a headshot and talent. But details were sorely lacking, perhaps because there’s little drama in offering sound resume advice.

A lovely headshot of Maren Maclean photographed by Larry Stone

So I turned to Valley director, actor, coach and instructor Maren Maclean for thoughts on a few of the finer points. Whether your child performs in theater, music or dance, you’ll want to keep track (from the beginning) of training and performance experiences.

It’s hard to construct a complete and accurate resume if you haven’t kept track of the data. Saving programs in a single location is your best bet on this one, and you should start with that very first show (even if it’s just a summer camp show for family and friends).

We went many years without compiling information about our daughter Lizabeth’s music, dance and theater experiences — making the process of crafting her first acting resume more tedious than it might have been otherwise.

When it came to time to finesse the finer points (and to choose the best head shot), we called on Maclean — who does private coaching — for expert advice. For those of you just now putting those resumes together, Maclean shares the following tips:

Tip #1: “Never lie, trust me.”

“Don’t make up the names of theatres to hide that it really was your high school production. Be proud of the high school credit and give credit where credit is due. The theatre world is too small and we talk too much.”

Tip #2: “Take lots of classes.”

‘Take lots of classes and add the details to the ‘training’ portion of your resume. Every class is important and the instructor is a direct facet to your profession[al] theatre network!”

Tip #3: “A one page resume means a one page resume.”

“Don’t go back more than 8-10 years. List pertinent info and learn to let go. It’s hard but a 12 year old credit that you are so proud of can be listed on your website, not on the third page of your five page resume.”

Maclean’s own resume is posted online, so you can visit her website to see a sample. Young actors seeking to polish their auditioning skills have several options. Valley director, actor and teacher Toby Yatso once told me that the best way for Lizabeth to boost her audition skills was to audition. In many ways, it’s about learning by doing.

Joe Kremer and Maren Maclean in a 2010 Phoenix Theatre production of Noises Off! (Photo by Laura Durant)

But there are plenty of places to study and practice auditioning — including acting studios and theater companies. Also private acting coaches who can offer one-on-one instruction and notes.

Recently I read through the 2011-12 class listings for Voices, a music and arts studio in Scottsdale. Their offerings include “Audition Techniques” for 9-12 year olds and “Auditioning Skills” for 13-18 years olds.

If your teen is auditioning for college theater programs, snag those audition requirements early. He’ll want plenty of time to select, learn and polish both monologues and musical selections, which may vary by college or conservatory.

Above all, model calm and collected behavior for your child. Even the super-talented young “Dance Moms” cast members buckled under the pressure after seeing both teacher and parents in nervous-wreck mode.

Your child’s first resumes and early auditions won’t be perfect. But trust your child to live and learn a bit of it on his own. Surround your child with supportive teachers and mentors, and do some of your own letting go.

– Lynn

Note: Plenty of actors post their resumes online too, making it easy to check out what sorts of formats and such are out there. Click here to see the resume for Kyle Harris, who holds a BFA in acting from the University of Arizona. Harris performs the role of Tony in a touring production of “West Side Story” coming to ASU Gammage next month.

Coming up: Finding audition opportunities for children and teens, Fall Glee camp, Tea parties without politics, Dance and disabilities

“Romeo and Juliet” on Valley stages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest Shakespeare Company presents Romeo and Juliet in January 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lynn

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

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

Ode to ensembles

This Ballet Arizona photo of their 2009 production of The Nutcracker shows just how beautiful a work can be when it features a rich ensemble cast

Looking back on Lizabeth’s School of Ballet Arizona days, I recall that many of the young students she trained alongside of aspired to perform the role of “Clara” in “The Nutcracker.” For some, being cast in anything short of a lead part was tremendously disappointing. For a few, it felt like abject failure.

I was always amazed by the dance students who decided to turn down roles other than those they’d been hoping to perform. I was a “dance mom” at the School of Ballet Arizona for nearly a dedade, and spent many a holiday season volunteering with young dancers at Symphony Hall — so I speak from experience on this one.

Dancers who performed the roles like angel, toy soldier or Mother Ginger’s child had every bit as much fun backstage as those who performed the role of “Clara” or the “Prince.” They had lots of time with friends, the experience of waiting in the wings for their turn to dance and the thrill of performing for a packed house.

Lizabeth never expressed disappointment that she wasn’t cast as “Clara” — I think because I’ve long sent the message that every role counts. Parents who taught their children that “Clara” was the singular role to aspire to ended up with teary-eyed ballerinas who sometimes turned down other roles for which they were wonderfully suited.

The ensemble of Peter Pan at Musical Theatre of Anthem -- which is one of ten shows nominated this year for a best youth musical AriZoni Award

I’m not against setting high goals and expectations, but I’m not sure stage parents do justice to their children when they set them up for failure by insisting that only lead roles really matter. Or by spending lots of time trying to drive or second guess casting decisions.

I always taught Lizabeth that directors cast based on the best fit. I love lots of shoes at the mall, but I can’t wear them all. A shoe can be perfectly beautiful and special, but still not come home with me. If I need a high heel, a kitten heel simply won’t do — though frankly, I’m a bigger fan of flip flops and flats.

Not being chosen for a particular role does not mean you aren’t good enough. It does not mean that a director does not like you. It just means you’re not the best fit for the part — sometimes literally, when pre-existing costumes have to be factored into the decision making process.

I spoke recently with three young actors from Fountain Hills Community Theater, and asked their thoughts on the benefit of playing ensemble roles. Andrey Lull noted that there are some shows in which the ensemble is quite significant, singing or dancing for most of the production.

Picture “West Side Story” with only Tony and Maria, but no “Sharks” or “Jets.” Or productions of “South Pacific” and “Mamma Mia!” devoid of dancing and singing sailors. Even Joseph in his technicolor dreamcoat isn’t all that compelling without all those folks who back him up.

Tyler Maxson stars in the Mesa Encore Theatre production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opening at MAC on Aug 5 (Photo by Sarah Rodgers)

Ryan Smith shared that being an ensemble member is a great way to get your bearing on stage, and to improve skills — like staying focused — that are essential for playing the lead. And Natalie Kilker said something I’ve heard Lizabeth say on other occasions. That ensemble members sometimes have the most fun because they have varied dance and musical numbers, and often get to portray more than one character in a single show.

Lizabeth and I are big believers in standing for all cast members if we feel a show has earned a standing ovation. Why would I wait for “Annie” before standing to applaud if the whole show was magic? It’s rare, I think, that a lead performer is singularly grand separate and apart from the other actors sharing the stage. Never mind that I could watch Andrew Rannells of “The Book of Mormon” sing “I Believe” over and over again on an otherwise empty stage and leave feeling perfectly satisfied.

Acting companies are teams. They’re families. Everyone in your family matters, and so does everyone who makes a show happen — including every single cast, creative and technical team member. To teach your child anything less is to set her up for disappointment — and to deprive her of the many joys ensemble work often brings.

– Lynn

Note: Click here for audition details for Ib Andersen’s “The Nutcracker” being performed by Ballet Arizona at Symphony Hall Dec. 9-24, 2011

Coming up: Celebrating the 50th annual Utah Shakespeare Festival

New season “sneak peeks”

Families can enjoy a taste of Broadway in Arizona this month as ASU Gammage in Tempe presents their 2011-2012 season preview event Mon, July 25 at 7:30pm. The event features a free “sneak peek” at the upcoming season — which includes classics like “West Side Story” and “South Pacific” plus newer works like ‘Million Dollar Quartet” and “American Idiot.”

ASU Gammage promises pre-event family activities in the ASU Gammage lobby, special guest appearances and free dessert after the preview event. The preview event will be your first opportunity to purchase mini-package subscriptions if you’d like to attend only some of the shows in this season’s line-up.

Tempe Center for the Arts presents their “TCA Fall Arts Kick-off” Fri, Aug 19 from 6-8pm. It features live music, artist demonstrations, gallery tours and more. Fall season information and special advance ticket pricing will be available.

Popular TCA programs include the Lakeshore Jazz Series, Performance With a View, Poetry in April, Songwriters’ Showcase, Sonoran Chamber Music Series, Tempe Symphony Orchestra and Walk-in Wednesday Open Mic Night.

Several “partner groups” perform at the TCA — including A Ludwig Dance Theatre, Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts, Arizona Wind Symphony, Childsplay, CONDER/dance, Desert Dance Theatre, Tempe Community Chorus, Tempe Live! Theater and Tempe Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

The last “sneak peek” event I attended was presented by Mesa Arts Center, which has a lovely complement of founding resident companies including Ballet Etudes, East Valley Children’s Theater, Mesa Encore Theater, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Sonoran Desert Chorale, Southwest Shakespeare Company, Symphony of the Southwest and Xico Inc.

I had a great time gathering information about diverse programs, meeting fascinating artists and chatting with fellow art lovers. The next MAC preview event is a three-day “Season Kick-Off Festival” taking place Sept 9-11.

Keep an eye on Valley venues like Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts because many hold fall or spring “preview” events that offer a taste of their dance, music and theater menus. Who doesn’t love a free nibble now and then?

– Lynn

Note: A “Fall for the Arts Festival” presented by Arizona Broadway Theatre and Leadership West Oct 8 from 10am-4pm will feature live performance by various arts groups, creative activities for children and more.

Coming up: Introducing kids to classical music, Disney musicals on Valley stages, Art promoting peace

Touring shows with a Tony Awards® twist

Jackie Burns performing the role of Elphaba in Wicked (Photo by Joan Marcus)

In a perfect world, we could simply hop the light rail (or Elphaba’s broom) and hitch a ride to NYC for the latest and greatest Broadway productions.

Thankfully, there’s a plan B — attending touring productions of Broadway shows at three Valley venues during the 2011/12 season.

Theater League’s “Broadway Series” includes four shows that’ll be performed at both Mesa Arts Center and the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix

My Fair Lady,” coming to Arizona Jan 31-Feb 19, 2012, earned six Tony Awards® (including best musical) in 1957 and one in 1976 (for best actor in a musical).

The “Broadway in Your Backyard” series at ASU Gammage in Tempe features seven shows. ASU Gammage also presents three special engagements, including “Wicked” — a musical that earned three Tony Awards® in 2004 (best actress in a musical for Idina Menzel, costumer designer and scenic designer).

Other Tony Award® winners coming to ASU Gammage include “West Side Story,” “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific,” “Green Day’s American Idiot,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” and “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Kyle Harris and Ali Ewolt performing in West Side Story (Photo by Joan Marcus)

West Side Story” earned two Tony Awards® in 1958 — one for best choreographer (Jerome Robbins) and another for best scenic designer. The revival earned a 2009 Tony Award® for best actress in a musical. The touring production of “West Side Story” opens the 2011-12 Broadway season at ASU Gammage on Sept 27.

The touring production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” comes to ASU Gammage Jan 10-15, 2012. The revival earned four 2008 Tony Awards® — for best revival (musical), actor, lighting design and director.

The original “South Pacific” earned nine 1950 Tony Awards®, including best musical, actor (musical), actress (musical), score, libretto and director. Also best supporting or featured actor (musical), supporting or featured actress (musical) and producers (musical).

Green Day’s American Idiot” — which earned two 2010 Tony Awards®, for scenic design (musical) and lighting design (musical) — takes to the ASU Gammage stage April 24-29, 20102.

La Cage Au Folles” earned six Tony Awards®, including best musical, in 1984. Also actor (musical), book (musical), director (musical), score and costume designer. One revival earned 2005 Tony Awards® for best revival (musical) and choreographer.

Douglas Hodge earned the 2010 Tony Award for best actor in a musical (Photo by Uli Weber)

The most recent revival received three 2010 Tony Awards® — for best musical and director. Also best actor (for Douglas Hodge). The touring production comes to ASU Gammage May 15-20, 2012.

Million Dollar Quartet” rounds out the 2011-12 “Broadway in Your Backyard” series at ASU Gammage June 5-10, 2012. It earned a 2010 Tony Award® for best actor in a featured role (musical).

I hadn’t imagined, while watching last year’s broadcast of the 2010 Tony Awards®, that I’d be able to enjoy touring productions of three winning musicals right here in the Valley so soon thereafter.

But I’m thrilled that’s the case, and even more excited now to watch the 2011 Tony Awards® ceremony knowing that several of the shows being honored this year may soon find their way to Arizona.

– Lynn

Note: ASU Gammage is sponsoring a Tony Awards® contest, with a very nifty prize for the winner. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: A conversation with Arizona’s only Tony Awards® voter