Tag Archives: Youth Theatre

The CATS meow

I like my cats curled up on couches or stretched out on window sills. Seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber bring T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” to life in all its furry feline glory, a process he started late in 1977, is about as thrilling as sniffing a felt mouse stuffed with catnip.

But I’m taking a new look at the musical “Cats,” thanks to photos shared by Spotlight Youth Theatre of Glendale — which is performing the work through Sun, Sept 18. Enjoy these snippets of “Cats” creativity photographed by Alayne Vogel of Memory Layne Photography, which are laced with lovely bits of Andrew Lloyed Webber news and trivia…

  • Webber has composed many works you’ve likely never heard of — including “The Likes of Us,” “By Jeeves,” “The Beautiful Game,” and “The “Woman in White.” My personal favorite is “Whistle Down the Wind.”

  • Webber’s awards include seven Tonys, three Grammys, seven Oliviers, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, two International Emmys, the Praemium Imperiale, the Richard Rodgers Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and The Kennedy Center Honor.

  • “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall,” a 25th anniversary production presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, will be screened live at hundreds of North Americans movie theaters Sun, Oct 2 (including theaters in Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson). Visit www.fathomevents.com for details.

  • “The Phantom of the Opera” has grossed more than $5.6 billion worldwide — with box office revenues that “are higher than any film or stage play in history” (including “Avatar,” “Titanic,” “E.T.,” and “Star Wars”).

  • Until recently, only “By Jeeves,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “The Likes of Us,” and “Sunset Boulevard” were available on license from Webber’s “Really Useful Group.”

  • Today the BBC reports that “Really Useful Group” is starting a rollout of major musicals to education and amateur markets. These shows will include “Whistle Down the Wind” and “Starlight Express.” Versions of “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera” for UK and Irish schools are “identical to the professional productions.”

I’m told that Spotlight Youth Theatre added an extra performance of “Cats” Sat, Sept 17, at 1pm. Shows have been selling out and we certainly don’t want anyone showing their claws.

– Lynn

Note: Learn more about “Cats” and the rest of Spotlight Youth Theatre’s 2011/12 season at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org. Those interested in buying tickets to “Cats” should call Kenny Grossman at 623-521-8093. Learn about all things Andrew Lloyd Webber (including licensing rights) at www.andrewlloydwebber.com.

Coming up: More Andrew Lloyd Webber on Valley stages — plus a bunch of things that have nothing to do with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Home sweet theater

After learning of a recent “community day” at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, I decided to head over and check it out myself.

I found dozens of volunteers sorting props on the back lot, building sets for upcoming productions and painting all sorts of candy images on black walls inside Cullity Hall, where Desert Stages opens their production of “Willy Wonka, Jr.” on Fri, May 20.

They even let me sit in as energetic children and teens peforming in “Willy Wonka, Jr.” packed into another performance space to practice various songs from the show.

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In keeping with the “Willy Wonka, Jr.” theme, Desert Stages Theatre presents their “Golden Ticket Gala” May 14 at the Scottsdale Hilton Resort. They’re also plenty busy with another show, “The Miracle Worker,” which runs through May 29.

As kids and grown-ups participating in last Saturday’s rehearsals and work day gathered around mid-day to share pizza and perky conversation, it was clear that these families truly relish their time together.

– Lynn

Note: Desert Stages Theatre has just announced that tickets for the “Golden Ticket Gala” can still be purchased through today, so act quickly if you want to be part of this evening featuring dinner, dancing, a silent auction and more. Tickets for adults or children are $60 each. Click here for details.

Coming up: Art by children at St. Joseph’s Hospital

I am what I am

As events unfolded last Sunday, I couldn’t help repeating the chorus of a song called “I Am What I Am” over and over again in my head. From the Broadway musical “La Cage aux Folles,” the song is a sort of anthem to self-acceptance.

Ironic considering my failure to execute my one big goal for the day — attending an Arizona Jewish Theatre Company production called “My Name is Asher Lev” — which tackles the topics of identity and self-acceptance.

Because it was to be my third theater outing of the weekend, I felt even guiltier than usual about leaving my husband behind to care for more mundane tasks like paying bills and caring for pets.

I assuaged my guilt by attempting to squeeze in just one more load of laundry before leaving for the afternoon. That’s where it all started to go horribly wrong. Turns out I had just enough time to make the show, but I breezed right past the final turn that would take me to my destination.

I was distracted, I suspect, by the song that was playing on the SiriusXM Radio “On Broadway” channel at the time. It was “Bring Him Home” from the musical “Les Miserables” — which has always reminded me of my 21-year-old son in poignant ways that only my husband and I fully understand.

When I got to the John Paul Theatre on the campus of Phoenix College in Glendale, where the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company performs, it was about ten minutes past showtime. And to their credit, they’d started the show on time — with a nearly packed house that would make it hard for me to find a seat without being disruptive.

So I snagged a program, information of their upcoming “Curtain Call” youth theatre production of “A Rockin’ Tale of Snow White,” and their “Summer Theatre Day Camps.” I hoped to find a little coffee joint nearby where I could review the program or read one of the daily papers I keep in my car for just such occasions.

When in doubt, follow this advice from a Cafe Press bumper sticker

I drove away, planning to return two hours later for a post-show talk back with Janet Arnold, Layne Racowsky and the show’s three cast members.

And I remembered that I’d been meaning to get to the historic district in Glendale to check out local arts offerings and photograph a bit of local flavor.

I found the flavor I was looking for at a coffee joint called “A Shot of Java” — which has a rare blend of cozy charm and quirkiness that makes it especially appealing. I stumbled on this little gem after parking nearby to photograph a sign that caught my eye because of its “Mad Hatter” motif.

I asked for directions to local museums. We used to have a bead museum, they told me, but it just shut down. “I know,” I said — vowing to photograph it anyway as a reminder of what can happen when we take local repositories of arts and culture for granted.

I used the time I’d allotted for “My Name is Asher Lev” to explore the City of Glendale further — and I’ll be sharing more about my fun finds in a future “Art Adventures: Historic Glendale” post complete with photos of plenty of signs.

My kids often tease me about my fondness for taking pictures of signs, but I felt somewhat vindicated as I watched a story about an artist with a similar affliction on the “CBS Sunday Morning” program earlier in the day.

I returned for the “My Name is Asher Lev” talk back, and discovered that audience members included students taught by one of the show’s actors. Their questions, and those of others who actually managed to see the play, were enlightening — and will be included in a future post that I’ll publish before the show’s final weekend performances (it runs through April 3).

My final stop of the day was a coffee shop I frequented when my daughter Lizabeth trained with the School of Ballet Arizona. Sitting at one of the outside tables was a friend I first met while Christopher attended New Way Academy in Scottsdale. I sat to catch up a bit before heading home to make dinner, asking how she’d spent her day.

Turns out she was lucky enough to catch one of the many productions I just didn’t have time to take in — the Ballet Arizona performance of “Modern Masters.” She described each of the three pieces they performed in beautiful and exquisite detail — leading me to wonder whether she might be a budding arts critic, or interested perhaps in writing a guest blog about a future dance performance.

Tonight I was planning to attend opening night of “Fiddler on the Roof” at ASU Gammage – a piece that feels especially poignant as James and I ready to send our youngest daughter off to college in the fall. But I knew better than to leave late in the hopes of making it in time. Once again, my plate is full with family responsibilities.

Still, I’ll be taking time out later this evening to write a post about the show — which I saw performed at ASU Gammage many years ago. It was a different production, but the story in all its grandeur does not change — and it’s one that all parents can relate to and learn from.

“Fiddler on the Roof” runs through this weekend at ASU Gammage, and if you’re not going tonight, there’s still time for you to learn from my mistakes. Get through all that work you brought home now. Make the kids use paper plates, and tell your family you’re boycotting laundry.

It rarely seems to work for me. But I never give up trying.

After all, I am what I am…

– Lynn

Note: My “Art Adventures: Historic Glendale” will post just in time for you to get a taste of the city’s historic district before it holds a free event titled “Artworks First Saturdays” from 10am-4pm on Sat, April 3. Watch for musings on “Family and Fiddler” tomorrow (Wed, March 30).

Coming up: New season announcements!, A new “Women of Broadway” series hits the Valley

From jungle to farm

Greasepaint Youtheatre presents "Disney's Jungle Book" in March

Most Valley residents associate Scottsdale with art shows, upscale malls or shops selling souvenirs of the Southwest.

So families may be pleasantly surprised to discover the farm and jungle fare coming soon to Scottsdale stages.

Longtime supporters of Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale recall the many talents of founder Gerry Cullity, who died in 2005, but whose work lives on in so many of the company’s works.

Gerry and Laurie Cullity came to Arizona (during the ’90s) from the East Coast, where they’d been active with the Barn Theatre in New Jersey.

So it’s no surprise that Gerry Cullity’s many adaptations of children’s stories for the stage include a musical production of “Charlotte’s Web.”

The show (directed by Laurie Cullity) opened Feb 18 and runs through March 20. Desert Stages describes it as “a musical hoe-down” and “spirited country gospel musical.”

Cullity notes that her husband’s fondness for the E.B. White tale of Wilbur and Charlotte (plus a gossipy goose, a gloomy sheep and a grouchy rat) stems from its “great message of friendship.”

Scottsdale is also home to Greasepaint Youtheatre, which has long performed at the venue formerly know as Stagebrush Theatre (once home to the now defunct Scottsdale Community Players).

The venue also features Cookie Company productions presented by Phoenix Theatre (their production of “Charlotte’s Web” runs March 25-April 3) — so there are plenty of family-friendly offerings in this neck of the woods.

But it’s the jungle, not the woods, that families will be enjoying at Greasepaint Theatre next month as Greasepaint Youtheatre presents “Disney’s Jungle Book” (directed by Scott Storr) March 4-13.

Greasepaint describes the show — which features familiar characters like Mowgli, Baloo and King Louie — as “jumpin’ with jazz,” noting that it’s “specially adapted from the beloved film.”

Given their relative proximity, it’s easy to make a full day of taking in both shows — spending time in between enjoying the many art galleries, restaurants and shops of downtown Scottsdale (known to us old-timers as “Old Town”).

– Lynn

Note: Find more information on Valley performing arts with a family focus in monthly print and daily online editions of Raising Arizona Kids magazine

Coming up: A modern dance legacy

Cat calls

When "Stage Cat" Pinky snaps, "Stage Mom" Lynn Trimble jumps

We’re constantly amazed by the diversity of calls our cat, Pinky, seems to share depending on her needs or wants.

The “feed me” call. The “water would be nice” call. The “drop everything” call reserved for formal notifications that your highness wishes to have her litter box cleaned.

Had Pinky read the audition notice for “Puss ‘n’ Boots” I’d no doubt be driving her in a pink cat limo to and from every performance this month at Mesa Arts Center.

“Puss ‘n’ Boots,” written by Steph DeFerie, is being performed by East Valley Children’s Theatre through Feb 27.

DeFerie’s adaptation of the classic tale earned her first place in EVCT’s 2010 “Aspiring Playwrights Contest.” I’m sure Pinky would approve.

Many cat caretakers (cats refuse to be owned) suspect their felines are nearly smart enough to read and write — if only they’d redirected all that energy they spend chasing rubber bands and snoozing on piles of fresh laundry.

Pinky ponders the history of cats in arts and culture

Still, the 2011 EVCT “Aspiring Playwrights Contest” is open only to writers of the human variety.

Just make sure the time spent crafting your musical or play doesn’t interfere with feline pampering time.

Submissions for the 2011 contest are due no later than March 15. Have your cat click here if you’d like more specific information, including submission guidelines.

Fans of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” can see the work performed April 8-May 11 at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale and June 15-29 at the Marroney Theatre on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson.

Fond as I am of Williams’ work, I suspect Pinky will let me park the limo for these puppies. It’s unlikely she’ll want to trade her cushy denim beanbag chair for a hot tin anything.

She’s more likely to hit the Hamilton Prep production of “Seussical Junior” being performed March 2 and 3 in Chandler, since she never misses an opportunity to sport a funky hat.

Whatever your cat’s fancy, you can support local arts and culture by attending these shows. Just coordinate with the cat first to be sure you’re only gone during nap time.

– Lynn 

Note: If your Arizona school or theater company is presenting something with a feline twist, please comment below to let fellow cat lovers know.

Coming up: Valley students balance arts and academics, The dance of motherhood, Talented students of Kiva Elementary, Musings on “Ten Chimneys,” A week of firsts

Photos: Christopher Trimble

Fun with fruit

This post features the cartoon art of Lilly Fluger from http://www.lillyarts.com

I don’t get out to Peoria for Theater Works productions nearly as often as I’d like to because it feels too far a drive for those of us who get overwhelmed by guilt enjoying more than ten minutes of down time.

Those who live in the Northwest Valley are fortunate to have this theater company so close to home. Parents in other parts of the Valley who are free of my many hang-ups (which is most of you) will find it well worth the drive.

Theater Works performs at the modestly-sized but perfectly polished Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, as does their youth theater company Youth Works.

Upcoming shows include “Chicago” (Theater Works), “Footloose” (Youth Works) and “Winnie the Pooh” (Youth Works). Theater Works also offers workshops, camps and various special events throughout the season.

I attended the opening performance of “James and the Giant Peach” last weekend. It’s being performed through Feb 20 in the venue’s small “black box” theater.

I love intimate venues for works performed for children, because audience members are close to the action — making it easier for little ones to stay attentive and really feel a part of the show.

Children love watching other young people perform, and the audience for Saturday’s matinee clearly enjoyed the show.

The story takes place in and around a giant peach-shaped set piece — which turns fairly often as lights go down and scene changes occur. It’s simple but well-suited to the tale.

I enjoyed the lighting — especially the use of black lights as glow-in-the-dark fish accompanied James and his friends on an oceanic adventure.

I also loved the costumes. Dresses with rich-looking fabrics for the comical pair of aunts who pick on James nearly non-stop. Headgear for the earthworm who helps to save the day when sharks cross paths with the floating peach.

Even fun tights and funky hats. Thumbs up as well for hair and make-up design. It’s clear that all involved are thrilled to be playing with the “steam punk” vibe.

Part of the show’s charm comes late in the second act (there’s one intermission) when James and his crew invite audience members to come up and feel the giant peach. This is fun wth fruit at its finest. Sit in the front row if you’re game.

There’s a benefit to sitting in the back rows as well, which seem to allow for easier viewing of a small screen over the performance area (there is no raised stage for this production). The screen features puppetry mirroring much of the action of the play.

It’s clearly a talented cast — which includes two pairs of siblings (one homeschooled). Some are longtime Youth Works actors, while others are making their first appearance on stage.

It’s always refreshing to find a cast that combines actors with various backgrounds and experience levels. Based on what I saw of the cast after the show, it’s a caring and cohesive bunch — something that’s ever so important for children just venturing into the performing arts.

Outside of Theater Works, these kids are involved in all sorts of things — including the Junior Thespian Society, choral performance, Irish step dancing, student council and much more.

“James and the Giant Peach,” adapted by David Wood, is based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. The Theater Works production is directed by Chris Hamby.

Read the book. See the play. Then encourage your children to create their own giant adventures. And just this once, let them play with their fruit.

– Lynn

Note: Visit www.lillyarts.com to enjoy more work by artist Lilly Fluger

Coming up: Channeling J-Lo?, In the doghouse, Tales of a ten year old, Lucky #13?

From peach to poodle

I headed out Saturday to see the opening performance of “James and the Giant Peach” at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. It’s being presented by Theater Works’ Youth Works through Feb 20 — and it’s a truly charming take on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name.

I ran into a fellow stage mom at the box office, who told me to “take a lot of pictures of the aunts.” A lovely idea but impossible because my camera is in NYC for a week with my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth.

Zane Reisert (Old Green Grasshopper) and Evan Arganbright (James)

After the show, I hung around to chat with cast and family members — including a young actor named Evan Arganbright who performed the role of “James.”

He reminds me of Lizabeth during her early years with Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale.

For a time, it’s all about the cute factor — and Arganbright has it.

I’ll share a bit more of his story, and a review of “James and the Giant Peach” in a future post.

On my way home, I got a call from my 21-year-old son, Christopher, who finished a volunteer gig early and was waiting for the teen taxi.

I picked him up and we headed to Tempe to get my 19-year-old daughter Jennifer, an ASU student who still heads home on weekends for laundry, tech support and life’s little essentials like Dr Pepper.

We got to Tempe just before 4pm — and a lightbulb went off. I dropped Christopher off at a burger joint and headed back to the Tempe Center for the Arts, where Childsplay is performing “Go, Dog. Go!” (based on the book by P.D. Eastman) at 1pm and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays through March 6.

Scene from a former Childsplay production of "Go, Dog. Go!"

I got to TCA in the nick of time, and took a seat near one of three houses (the dog house) that anchor the set.

“Go, Dog. Go!” is performed “theater in the round” style, so preschoolers were seated all around the circular floor-level performance area.

They were giggling nearly non-stop, as were more than a few of the grown-ups sitting in rows behind them.

Both “James and the Giant Peach” and “Go, Dog. Go!” are performed in relatively small spaces — and even feature somewhat similar lighting for scenes with a starlit sky. One is done with a giant set piece (a rotating peach) in the center of the space, while the other features three houses around the perimeter of the performance area.

Each production puts a unique spin on things. The “James and the Giant Peach” set includes a screen showing puppetry mirroring the action of the play. The “Go, Dog. Go!” set extends to the theater’s first balcony — where a character named Hattie (sporting some serious pink) glides along while asking, “Do you like my hat?”

I had to duck out during the “Go, Dog. Go!” intermission to take care of some things for my own kids, but stopped on the way to admire the books, CDs and even pink poodle purse at the Childsplay display tables on the way out.

I’ll share more about the performance, and the educational lobby display, in a future post. I expect to see the show again with Lizabeth once she’s done with college audition travels.

It’s just as well, I suppose, that I got called away early. I fear my own uproarious laughter, more like snorting really, was a bit too much for the more subdued grown-ups in the audience — though someone from Childsplay did laud my “setting a good example” for those less inclined to let go and let dog.

Before scurrying out of the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts, I was lured by visions of glass in the venue’s dedicated exhibit space — stumbling first on a trio of works by Angela Cazel Jahn, co-founder and former artistic director for the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.

Today she’s part of the “eye lounge” artist collective in downtown Phoenix. Cazel Jahn also is a dedicated stage mom, in the most positive sense of the word, and I hope to share more of her story in a future post as well.

TCA's exhibit of glass art features several intriguing mixed-media works

The current TCA Gallery exhibit also features works coupling glass with neon, metal and other intriguing materials.

The exhibit space is modest in size with a very intimate feel–making it a perfect introduction for children to the world of art exhibits and museums.

My final stop before getting Jennifer and going home was a longtime Mill Avenue haunt called “The Shoe Mill” — where we found a rugged but stylish pair of black leather boots that we photographed via cell phone for Lizabeth. How odd, I thought, that a teen surrounded by NYC shopping options might find the finest boots back home in Tempe.

Eventually the three of us made our way home, happy to be off our feet and out of the cold (by Arizona standards) weather. Soon the washing machine was humming and we were waiting word from Lizabeth about her first day of auditions.

But that’s a story for another day — and it’s her story, not mine, to tell.

The little girl who once would have joined me for a day of peaches and poodles is making her own way in the world of theater, and I couldn’t be more proud of her hard work, talent and passion for the craft.

– Lynn

Note: Lizabeth has studied with each of the actors performing in Childsplay’s “Go, Dog. Go!” — which makes watching them perform even more meaningful as a mom. Click here to learn about Childsplay summer classes. Click here to learn about Theater Works summer camps. Click here to learn about “Glee” camp with “Yellow Dog” actor Kristen Drathman. Finally, click here to learn about the 2011 RAK Camp Fair featuring diverse camp options for Valley children and teens.

Coming up: Valley teachers talk theater

Alice (and Phoebe) in Wonderland

Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix presents "Alice in Wonderland" in downtown Phoenix

Lizabeth came downstairs one morning after watching a movie she’d rented online. She was eager to tell me about this tale of a family living with a young girl who is “different” — and who becomes involved with the world of theater.

The film, a 2008 ThinkFilm production, is titled “Phoebe in Wonderland.” It’s made the film festival rounds and earned accolades including a Heartland “Truly Moving Picture Award.”

It reminded me that our own Valley Youth Theatre, whose alumni include Emma Stone (recent nominee for a “best actress” Golden Globe Award), will perform “Alice in Wonderland” Feb 4-20 at the VYT theater in downtown Phoenix. Update: Show extended through Feb 27.

I was delighted to see familiar youth on the cast list, including Nathan Naimark (Footman/Executioner) — whose mom Dana Wolfe Naimark was the subject of a recent “Stage Mom” post.

While the young Naimark is readying for opening night, his mother — the head of Children’s Action Alliance — is contending with budget cuts that impact Arizona children in all sorts of ways.

I suspect she’ll be experiencing a few of her own “Tweedledee” and “Tweedledum” moments in the coming weeks and months.

But back to the fabulous cast of VYT’s “Alice in Wonderland” — which includes Maddy Rathbun (Alice), Alex Acosta (Mad Hatter), and Lindsey Brown (Queen of Hearts).

Couple VYT's non-musical "Alice in Wonderland" with a tea party, arts & crafts or puppet play

Were my girls a decade or so younger, I’d be working to put together an “Alice in Wonderland” weekend of sorts — having friends over to explore the Lewis Carroll tale via movies, books, puppet theater and the live VYT performance (which is a non-musical).

Kids can get some serious arts and crafts projects out of “Alice in Wonderland” characters and themes — objects changing size, roses painted different colors, playing cards that come to life.

Even a tea party at home, in the park or a charming Valley venue — such as the Teeter House at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix — would be fun.

I suspect that the sets and costumes for VYT’s “Alice in Wonderland” will inspire hours of imaginative play. And who knows, your own son or daughter might discover that live theater is most wonderful wonderland of all.

– Lynn

Note: Heartland Truly Moving Movies is a non-profit organization whose work includes an annual film competition for works by high school students. Entries for the 2011 Heartland High School Film Competition are being accepted through June 1, 2011. Those who enter before April 15 pay no submission fee, and will be considered for a scholarship to attend “Prodigy Camp.”

Coming up: Other youth theater works coming to Valley stages, Arizona Girlchoir offerings, Musings on art and rock ‘n’ roll, Nuclear weapons take center stage, Summer camp meets glee club

“The Wiz” launches Greasepaint season

I did things a bit differently this weekend — I went to see shows I’ve never been terribly fond of. “The Wiz” (being performed by Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale) and another I’ll reveal in a later post.

I had to do it. I’d never seen either show before — but was convinced that I hated them. It’s a lousy approach to take, whether you’re dealing with unfamiliar people or unfamiliar art.

Greasepaint Youtheatre’s opening night of “The Wiz” was a classy affair –complete with a small, elegant silent auction and fancy finger food from candy corn cookies to chocolate-dipped strawberries.

It’s hard to sit on your hands during “The Wiz.” Once the synthesizer hits a steady beat, patrons start clapping and tapping away. But I poised my pen and prepared for the worst.

I was disappointed. My “shows I love to hate” list just got shorter, and I have the cast, crew and creative team of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “The Wiz” to blame.

I still can’t get those “Ease on down the road” lyrics out of my head — but now they are blissfully accompanied by images of whimsical sets, creative costumes and vibrant vocals.

What color were Dorothy’s slippers in the 1900 book “The Wonderful World of Oz” by Frank L. Baum? You’ll find out when you see “The Wiz.”

A few of the hightlights: Any time Asijah Adolph (Dorothy) opened her mouth to sing (she’s a triple threat and she’ll sing to packed arenas one day). Katie Cook’s (Glinda) singing and genuine sparkle (you also can see her in Mesa High School’s “Joseph”). And several spectacular dance numbers choreographed by Laurie Trygg– featuring everything from soft shoe to tumbling.

In the serious acting chops category, Orly Schlesinger (Evillene) was the stand out. Bransen Gates (Tin Man) and Rhetta Mykeal (Addaperle) also delivered especially strong performances. I’ll have to give Paul Thompson (The Wiz) higher marks for his monologue work than his musical stylings, due in part to a persnickety mic.

“The Wiz” — as performed by Greasepaint Youtheatre with direction by D. Scott Withers — seems a perfect blend of Cookie Company and Childsplay. I trust all three will consider this high praise.

Most of the audience members were between early elementary school and “it’s none of your bleeping business” age — and all laughed heartily throughout. Don’t go if your little darlings can’t handle a mild swear word every now and then (which means, of course, that you will also need to burn your many remote controls).

Those who know me well won’t be at all surprised with my disgust for words like “schizophrenaphobia” — used in this show to disparage one of the characters in a manner that no advocate for those with cancer or autism would (or should) ever tolerate. It does garner laughs, as does the show’s one “fat” joke.

So does the bit of Lady Gaga banter used to summon the flying monkeys. And Scarecrow’s sloppy stabs at standing.  And Lion’s passion for those peculiar poppies.

Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “The Wiz” is a playful show that resonates with a powerful message. Ease on down the road. Believe in yourself. Embrace even your hang-ups. But never let go of your sparkly shoes.

– Lynn 

Note: This Halloween emerald green is the new orange. Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale, an affiliate of Phoenix Theatre, performs “The Wiz” through Oct 31. Click here for show and ticketing information. When you go, be sure to welcome Maureen Dias-Watson, Greasepaint’s new producing director.

Coming up: Women playwrights and Arizona stages, The fine art of graduation gifts, Once upon a piano recital, Stop the “Glee” bashing!

World travels and hometown wonders

I was quite the world traveler during my college and early adult years (my children are probably wondering how dinosaurs managed to coexist with airplanes). I enjoyed much of Europe (including Scandinavia and the British Isles), China, Hong Kong and Israel. (Students were cautioned against making the trip to Egypt at that time, and I’ve always regretted following that advice.)

While studying to prepare for my week in Israel, I was especially struck by the story of Judah Maccabee, the Jewish hero whose victory is commemorated each year during Chanukah. Maccabee successfully led the second century B.C.E. Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrians and rededicated the temple desecrated by their oppressors.

Chanukah is an eight day festival of lights, celebrating one day’s worth of pure oil lasting eight days during this rededication of the Jewish Second Temple. The story of the Maccabees is recounted in an ancient text known as The First Book of Maccabees—one of many sources I studied during my doctoral studies in the philosophy of religion.

As part of my doctoral work, I was expected to read Hebrew, Greek, German and French with proficiency. My children wouldn’t find this all that fun (Jennifer might), so I’m glad there are other ways for them to get a glimpse of diverse cultures and traditions. For many of us, the theater is infinitely more enjoyable than the textbook. So here’s a family-friendly way to introduce your children to the Chanukah story, or help them enjoy a familiar story with a bit of a twist…

Curtain Call Youth Theatre, affiliated with Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, presents Mac Abee: Ace Detective on Saturday, Dec. 12th (at 7pm) and Sunday, Dec. 13th (at 2pm) at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College. “The play is a new tale for Chanukah,” says Janet Arnold, producing director for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. “It’s written and directed by Curtain Call director Layne Racowsky.”

The show tells the tale of the fictional Mac Abee’s quest for the missing lead candle (shamash) in the Chanukah menorah. Arnold describes it as “a fanciful play with music performed by 23 young actors from around the Valley.” Racowsky says the show is “lively and fun” and “helps to give some insight into the holiday of Chanukah.”

Curtain Call will offer items for sale before and after each show and the company’s teen improve troupe, All Rights Reserved, will perform at 1:45pm prior to Sunday’s show. Chanukah begins at sundown on December 11th this year, so this gives you an opportunity to find special gifts during the eight day celebration.

“We love being able to present a show that helps to represent diversity,” reflects Racowsky. I was raised to celebrate a multitude of holidays, showing respect for many religious traditions and the people who celebrate them. My children enjoy doing the same. (Just this evening Jennifer shared with me her excitement about attending a Chanukah event at ASU yesterday.)

Opportunities to learn about holidays other than Christmas—including Chanukah, Ead, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice and more—are rare indeed. Whatever your faith or world view, I encourage you to seize them. Tolerance is no longer enough. We need genuine understanding, appreciation and respect. We need acceptance—in words and in deeds.

I chatted the other day with Robert C. Booker, executive director for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, who shared that he’d recently attended an event celebrating Diwali, an important Hindu festival also known in India as the Festival of Lights. It’s a holiday Jennifer and I have enjoyed together—both at a festival in downtown Phoenix and at a Hindu Temple in Scottsdale.

“The arts,” reflects Booker, “have a way of helping us understand each other’s culture.” Next time you feel like theater (or music or dance) is a mere frivolity, consider the rich opportunities it offers for exploring—even embracing—diverse cultures and traditions.

In a world growing simultaneously smaller and larger in so many ways, the arts open doors to people and places we might otherwise never know.

It’s the next best thing to world travel…


Note: All Rights Reserved will perform at 7pm on Sunday, Dec. 6th, at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale. Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information, call 602-264-0402.

Also: Curtain Call Youth Theatre, the education arm of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company established in 1989, is offering several winter camp workshops this month. Classes are held from 9am to 4pm at Temple Chai in Phoenix (dates vary by workshop; each runs three days and costs $125). Topics include Music of the Decades (a musical theatre workshop taught by Miciah Dodge), Brush up your Shakespeare (taught by Julie Cotton), Character Creation (also taught by Cotton) and Audition Techniques (taught by Layne Racowsky). Call 602-264-0402 to register or learn more.