Tag Archives: American Idiot

Anthem to angst

Scene from the touring production of "American Idiot" (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

I was steeped in angst as a teen. Still, the angst in “Green Day’s American Idiot” feels a tad over the top. I attended the opening night performance at ASU Gammage, then called my daughter Lizabeth on the drive home to compare notes because she saw the show some time ago on Broadway.

“You’ve never had that kind of angst,” she told me. “That’s true,” I replied, “I’ve never shot heroine.” I’m old enough now that I don’t even remember whether “shoot” is the right word for it. Parents eager to take their kids to “American Idiot” take note — it’s full of foul language, simulated sex and drug use, and other mature themes like suicide. Not necessarily a reason not to see it, just something to know before you go.

There aren’t a lot of musicals out there with the “American Idiot” vibe, so it’s an important notch to have in your theater belt. Expect lots of loud music and pounding movement, and brush up on the lyrics before you go since they’re hard to fathom on some of the ensemble numbers. Or just wing it — it’s plenty possible to get the gist of the show without understanding every word.

Kids leave home. Some try drink and drugs. Some enlist in the military. Some have sex, and some have babies. Some get jobs, but lament their 9 to 5 existence. All are bored, and none find fulfillment. Kids return home. Some with war wounds. Some with track marks. Some with broken hearts. One even admits near the end of the musical that his mother was right — though my daughter says she never heard that line. There’s much in “American Idiot” that reads differently depending on your age and A.Q. (angst quotient).

My own favorite scenes take the noise down a notch with soulful solos accompanied by acoustic guitar. Without these interludes, the high volume existential head banging takes on a surprising sameness — as if you’re watching a game of show and tell, but realize before too long that everyone’s brought the same thing to share.

I was thankful I had Lizabeth to translate, since I’d have mistaken all those hoodies in “Know Your Enemy” for a nod to America’s most visible arrest of late without her assuring me that they were there on Broadway too. She also made sense of my least favorite scene — featuring a slick general surrounded by dancing girls in sparkling shift dresses. I was fonder by far of the show’s choreography, thinking how much thinner I’d be if there was an “American Idiot” workout. But we agreed the aerial work was wonderful.

It’s hip these days to include digital projections in theater works, but “American Idiot” still does it best with a backdrop dotted with television-like screens and digital images of cityscapes and such rolling across it. The musical opens with three main set pieces — a sofa, a recliner and a bed built for two. Along the way there’s a tower that’s transformed into transportation, a shifting set of tall metal stairs (complete with cellist underneath them), a shopping cart that gets hoisted skyward and a row of beds for wounded warriors whose IVs drop from overhead.

When one of the show’s characters quips that “nobody seems to agree on anything these days,” you wonder how they knew all those years ago to channel events of the current election cycle. Though “American Idiot” explores the lives of youth, it’s safe to say nowadays that idiots exist at every age and stage. It’s just that musical versions of midlife crises aren’t nearly as much fun.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “American Idiot” and other ASU Gammage offerings (and be sure you stay until the curtain call ends, or you’ll miss a little something that’s worth waiting for).

Coming up: Hangin’ with Haring

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Resurrecting a rock opera

The current revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a sort of fourth coming for me. I’ve seen three previous productions of the classic rock opera featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice — starting as a tween who first fell in love with the concept album, then saw a touring production of the show many years later in California.

For a time, I lived and died by the record that felt like my generation’s version of Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Listening to the double album, with its mottled dirt-colored cover and gold logo depicting a pair of angels, felt like an act of supreme rebellion. I remember opening the folded album cover atop my bed, pouring over the matching booklet and kneeling nearly prayer-like on the floor while singing along to songs like “What’s the Buzz?” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

My daughter Lizabeth, who performs this weekend in the Pace Performing Arts production of “Our Lady of 121st Street” at the Lion Theatre on NYC’s famed 42nd Street, has joined me for two national touring productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar” performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

She admits to being too young to truly understand “Jesus Christ Superstar” the first time around, but I remember thinking at the time that I wanted her to experience the music that’d meant so much to me during a similar age and stage. Some things — like Springsteen concerts and favorite Broadway musicals — are important to share with our children along the journey.

During my last trip to NYC, we saw a preview of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” directed by Des McAnuff (think “Jersey Boys“) — which has since officially opened at the Neil Simon Theatre. Lizabeth shared after the show that it was the first time she really understood the full measure of the story, based loosely on the last seven days of Jesus’ life.

Though some see blasphemy in the musical’s broad strokes, it’s clearly educating a whole new generation about geopolitical and religious issues of Jesus’ day. For kids not raised with Bible in hand, it’s as close as they may ever come to considering Jesus’ life and times — to witnessing a work within the “passion play” tradition.

Those who’ve suggested the current revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a tad over the top may have preferred tamer takes featuring Ted Neely as Jesus — but we’re not among them. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production –performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego before heading to Broadway — is bolder by far, and much better for it. I loved “The Book of Mormon,” but can’t say that I adore “Jesus Christ Superstar” any less. God has been good to Broadway of late.

I spent much of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fighting the urge to get up and dance. Nobody wants their mom to have the musical theater equivalent of a “come to Jesus” moment in public, so I settled for a swift bit of toe-tapping and a silent sing-along in my head. This resurrection of “Superstar” is fresh, fabulous and fun. No apologies needed.

The “Jesus Christ Superstar” cast includes Paul Nolan (Jesus), Josh Young (Judas), Chilina Kennedy (Mary Magdalene), Tom Hewitt (Pontius Pilate) and Bruce Dow (King Herod). Also Marcus Nance (Caiaphas) and Aaron Walpole (Annas). Nick Cartell (Jonah/Swing) grew up in Arizona, where he performed with Valley Youth Theatre, Phoenix Theatre and more. Liz tells me he’s already rocked the role of Judas in understudy mode.

The creative team includes Andrew Lloyd Webber (composer), Tim Rice (lyricist), Des McAnuff (director), Lisa Shriver (choreographer), Rick Fox (music director), Robert Brill (set design), Paul Tazewell (costume design) and Howell Binkley (lighting design). Also Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design), Sean Nieuwenhuis (video design), Daniel Levinson (fight director), Simon Fox (stunt coordinator) and John Miller (music coordinator).

It’s about time we had a “Superstar” laced with sensitivity and sass. Think sets featuring tall metal bleachers and a giant ticker counting down Jesus’ final days. Costumes in lush fabrics saturated with rich color or earthy materials muted with feminizing tones. Choreography with tent-revival fervor. And layers of glorious orchestration with a hint of folk fare. All bring modern scale to an ancient tale — making “Jesus Christ Superstar” a resurrection well worth the wait.

— Lynn

Coming up: “Rock of Ages” on Valley stages

Photos courtesy of Boneau/Bryan-Brown

What’s the buzz?

Cast of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

I enjoyed an amazing evening of Broadway trends in action during a preview performance earlier this month of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” revival that opened last week at the Neil Simon Theatre in NYC. Digital projections, folk flavor added to the pop/rock score and more.

All things Victor Hamburger with ASU Gammage in Tempe alerted me to during a recent call to talk trends on Broadway. Turns out ASU Gammage is one of the country’s biggest markets for touring Broadway productions. Also professional home to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and recipient of a 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Award.

ASU Gammage will unveil its 2012/13 Broadway Across America season next week, so we’ll all get the chance to see trends translated into action. Audience engagement via social media and other means is one of the industry’s hottest trends, according to Hamburger. So folks who follow ASU Gammage are among the first to get the scoop — and enjoy opportunites to offer feedback.

Hamburger says they always work to provide a balance of shows that’ll appeal to folks with different tastes. Some prefer revivals, others prefer newer works. Some like nostalgia, others like the here and now. Some favor mature fare, others favor family fare. So I suppose the best season has a little something for everyone.

Steve Kazee and the cast of "Once," which recently opened on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Simply looking at the Broadway landscape, you might surmise that topics your parents always told you to avoid at the dinner table make for the best subject matter. Religion, sex and sometimes even politics. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of several works that factors God into the mix. Think “Godspell,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Sister Act” and such. Going retro, with shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” seems to be a safe bet too. God is groovy, but dance is divine.

Bringing movies to stage is another biggie these days, according to Hamburger (although “biggie” isn’t really a part of his vocabulary). Think “Once,” “Ghost,” and “Flashdance.” Seems they help introduce audiences fond of the big screen to stories told on stage. I was skeptical until I started reading reviews of “Once” that landed it high on my list of shows to see during future trips to NYC.

Casting artists dubbed celebrities is also on the rise — as evidenced by the current cast list of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which includes Nick Jonas as J. Pierrepont Finch, Beau Bridges as J.B. Bigley and Anderson Cooper as Narrator. Jonas started out on Broadway, but that’s not the case for others who’ve finessed Finch — including Daniel Radcliffe and Darren Criss, both of whom my daughter Lizabeth loved in the role. Snagging tix to see Jonas is high on her wish list these days.

Touring production of "Green Day's American Idiot" coming to ASU Gammage in April (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Lizabeth lives in NYC, where she most recently saw “Evita” with fellow students at Pace University, and sometimes sees things well before they make their way to Arizona. I’m eager to see “Green Day’s American Idiot,” the next Broadway touring production coming to ASU Gammage, so I can compare notes with Lizabeth — who has seen it performed on Broadway.

I started taking Lizabeth to touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage when she was just a little girl. Over the years we’ve enjoyed everything from “Annie” and “August: Osage County” to “In the Heights” and “Avenue Q” together. It’s all good in our book — because whatever the buzz on Broadway, sharing mother/daughter time at the theater never gets old.

— Lynn

Coming up: Exploring the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The fine art of cowboys, In good company

Broadway Rocks!

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna in Mamma Mia! (Photo: Joan Marcus)

He’s young. He’s hip. But will conductor Joseph Young don the spandex jumpsuit to conduct a bit of music from “Mamma Mia” featured in this weekend’s “Broadway Rocks!” concerts performed by The Phoenix Symphony?

I think not — but it is fun to imagine all the fashion options knowing they’ll also be playing selections from “Rent,” “Dreamgirls,””Jersey Boys,” “Hairspray” and “Wicked.” Pointy hat, anyone?

The Phoenix Symphony performs “Broadway Rocks!” at Symphony Hall Feb. 24-26 — with a Sunday matinee for those of you who like to take the kiddos to such things but still believe in proper bedtimes.

Jackie Burns as Elpheba in Wicked (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The concerts are perfectly timed for who plan to see “Wicked” at ASU Gammage — which features favorites from “Defying Gravity” to “For Good.” Practice your “toss, toss” hair flipping now so you’re ready for the big night.

“Broadway Rocks” also includes selections from “The Wiz,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King,” “Hair,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Chess.” Even music from “Jekyll and Hyde,” which I’ve always found especially moving.

It features performance by The Phoenix Symphony Chorus as well as three vocalists — Christiane Noll, Virginia Woodruff and Doug LaBrecque. Lovely choices, but I’ll still be missing D. Scott Withers, whose campy “Edna” stylings in the Phoenix Theatre and Arkansas Repertory Theatre productions of “Hairspray” were delicious.

Van Hughes (Johny), Scott J. Campbell (Tunny) and Nicci Claspell (The Extraordinary Girl) in American Idiot (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Two touring productions of Broadway shows with a rock and roll vibe are headed our way as well. The Theater League production of “Rock of Ages” comes to two Valley venues April 10-15, and the national tour of “American Idiot” comes to ASU Gammage April 24-29.

Come fall, The Phoenix Symphony will present a concert called “Wicked Divas.” It’s being performed Sept. 28-30 as part of their 2012-13 season “Pops Series” — and feature vocalists Ali Mauzey and Nicole Parker, who’ve both performed in “Wicked.” The concert will include music from “Gypsy,” “Ragtime,” “Titanic,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Carmen” and “Wicked.”

Maybe I’ll pass them my short list of favorite Broadway men — say Mandy Patinkin and Andrew Rannells — in case they want to give equal time to a few of the guys. Or they could just make my daughter Lizabeth’s day by bringing out her favorite trio of J. Pierrepont Finches — Daniel Radcliffe, Darren Criss and Nick Jonas.

— Lynn

Note: The 2nd annual “Symphony Stroll,” presented by Phoenix Symphony Allegro, takes place Sat., Feb. 25 from 4-7pm. Click here for details.

Coming up: Art awakenings

Update: The Carolyn Eynon Singers perform “Broadway Showstoppers from Berlin, Bernstein and Sondheim,” with special guest and narrator David Barker, Feb. 24 & 25 at Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale.

Another night with “South Pacific”

South Pacific runs through Jan. 15 at ASU Gammage

It’s been more than fifty years since my mother-in-law saw a revival of “South Pacific” at the New York City Center. Neither my husband James nor his sister Julie had been born yet. And the work, which raises themes of racism, was much closer in time to everyday clashes between Americans taking different sides on race-related issues.

The musical, which is based on a 1947 James Michener novel titled “Tales of the South Pacific,” premiered in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama the following year. A “South Pacific” film was released in 1958, which Glenna also enjoyed. But she wasn’t in the house for the “South Pacific” concert held at Carnegie Hall in 2005. That production starred Reba McEntire as Nellie and Brian Stokes Mitchell as Emile.

My daughter, Lizabeth, has long been a Broadway buff — and I think we may have watched the Tony Awards with James’ parents in 2008, the year a revival of “South Pacific” earned seven Tony Awards, including best musical revival. The ceremony that year included a cast performance of three songs from the show — “Nothing Like a Dame,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “A Wonderful Guy.”

The 2008 revival played at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, where I saw “War Horse” with Lizabeth just last year. Its opening cast included Kelli O’Hara as Nellie, Paulo Szot as Emile and Matthew Morrison (now known to tweens as Mr. Schuester on FOX’s “Glee“) as Lt. Cable.

I first saw a live production of “South Pacific” with Lizabeth many years ago, during an earlier tour that included ASU Gammage in Tempe. The current tour of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific,” recommended for ages 8 and up, is being performed at ASU Gammage through Sun, Jan. 15.

Marcelo Guzzo (Emile) and Katie Reid (Nellie)

Both Glenna and Tom attended the opening night performance, so I asked Glenna to share a few thoughts about the show. With so many lawyers in the family, I wasn’t surprised by her description of the sets as “effective.” And though she felt some of the acting was a bit stiff, Glenna shared that she really enjoyed the music.

I suspected as much knowing that Emile is played by Marcelo Guzzo, who has a long list of opera credits. Glenna shared that Cathy Foy-Mahi’s performance as Bloody Mary was “really good.” She’s a Hawaiian actress whose stage credits include “Les Miserables” (Mdme. Thenardier) and television credits include ABC’s “Lost” and CBS’s “Hawaii 5-0.”

Folks who attend tonight’s performance can stay after the show for “TalkBack Thursday” with 99.9 KEZ — enjoying insights from cast and crew members. Families who prefer afternoon to evening performances have both Saturday and Sunday matinees to choose from.

When you attend, watch for 7-year-old Cole Bullock from New Jersey, who makes his professional theater production debut in the role of Jerome. Also 8-year-old Hannah Isabel Bautista, from San Francisco, who plays Bloody Mary’s assistant. Kids love seeing other children perform on stage.

Glenna tells me they’ve already got tickets for the Feb. 15-March 11 run of “Wicked” at ASU Gammage, but confessed that she’ll need to do a bit of homework before attending. I have a friend, Alan Handelsman, who can help with that. He’s seen “Wicked” eleven times in seven cities — and he’s written a guest post for the “Stage Mom” blog that’ll  go up later this month.

— Lynn

Note: Other shows coming to ASU Gammage this season include “Green Day’s American Idiot,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” and “Million Dollar Quartet.” Click here for details.

Coming up: Rock & roll — for a cause

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