Tag Archives: Annie

The power of a smile

Finale of "Wonderland" featuring Dance Theater West students (Photo: Harrison Hurwitz)

I remember seeing lots of smiles when my young daughters (now in college) trained at Dance Theater West — on the faces of students, parents and teachers. Even their teen dancers, who always struck me as more collaborative than competitive. It’s something too often taken for granted or undervalued by parents who consider dance a solely individual enterprise in which having perfect technique is all that truly matters.

In reality, very few of the little girls and boys who study dance go on to careers in anything even remotely related. Long after the finer points of leaps and turns once mastered fade away, the person who executed them is still there. As are memories of experiences both in the studio and backstage. So watch for smiles as you’re looking for summer dance programs for your children — considering the intangibles being modeled and taught.

I smiled after learning that the Summer Dance 2012 program at Dance Theater West includes three musical theater workshops, remembering my daughter Jennifer’s final performance for one of their workshops with a “Les Miserables” theme. This year’s themes are “Chicago” (June 11-5), “Mary Poppins” (June 18-22) and “South Pacific” (June 25-29).

Kendall Brauer, Zebrina Tull and Emily Byler making DTW proud during the recent Scottsdale Arts Festival (Photo: Karen Travis)

These musical theater workshops include ballet, character dance, tap, jazz, singing, sign language and acting for ages 10 through teens. Workshops meet Mon-Thurs (10am-2:30pm) and times for Thurs/Fri performances are TBA. Each workshop is $200 (a $25 deposit is required with registration).

A ballet intensive for ages 11 through teens who’ve had at least two years ballet training takes place June 4-8 with an “Aladdin” theme. It features classical, lyrical, character and pointe (optional). The ballet intensive meets Mon-Thurs 10am-2:30pm — and there’ll be a final performance on Friday. The cost is $200 and a $25 deposit is required.

Dance Theater West also offers several summer dance options for children ages six to nine,” including “Kids on Broadway” — which features songs from kid-friendly musicals including “Annie,”  “Oliver,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and more. This baby meets June 4-8 from 10am to noon with a final performance at 11am on Fri, June 8. The cost is $125.

“Once Opon a Mattress” for the ages six to nine set includes musical numbers from a Broadway musical based on the tale of “The Princess and the Pea.” Dance inspired by peas sounds a lot more fun than actually eating the darn things. This session takes place June 11-15 from 10am to noon, and the final performance is scheduled for 11am on Fri, June 15. It’s also $125.

“Creating a Musical” for ages six to nine takes place June 18-22 from 10am to noon. After each child picks a favorite musical, they’ll create a collective revue featuring monologues inspired by each musical’s history or fun facts — and participants will get to try their hand at group choreography. This session takes place June 18-22 from 10am to noon, with a final performance at 11am on Fri, June 22. Yup, this puppy is $125 too.

I suppose I should mention a final reason to smile here. While your little darlings are off dancing, you can enjoy a few of your own creative pursuits.

— Lynn

Note: Aftercare from noon-2pm is available for dancers in the 10am-noon sessions for six to nine year olds. It’s $15/day or $50 for all four days. Fans of “Once Upon a Mattress” will be pleased to learn that it’s being performed this month by Starlight Community Theater in North Phoenix.

Coming up: Justice tales, Art meets women’s wellness, Dance classes for grown-ups, Playing in the dirt

Update: This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that Karen Travis does not, in fact, leap about in a pink tutu and funky socks.4/2/12

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Arts & culture — festival style

Valley Youth Theatre (pictured above, performing Annie) is scheduled to perform at 4:05pm during Saturday's Herberger Theater Center Festival of the Arts

I’m heading out Saturday to enjoy the Herberger Theater Center “Festival of the Arts,” a one-day festival in Phoenix featuring music, dance, theater, visual art and film. It takes place from 1-5pm, which means I have plenty of time to coffee and catch up on other things ahead of time.

The festival is $5 (free for those under 12), but I’m taking a little extra cash along too so food vendors can feel the love. Think hots dogs, gourmet tacos and more. I’ll be visiting vendor booths, enjoying performances both indoor and out, and exploring the work of more than a dozen featured artists.

Folks who attend with children can enjoy the festival’s “Kids Zone,” featuring various art and science activities, demonstrations, play areas and more. Think Free Arts of Arizona and the Arizona Science Center. Even the APS Clowns are joining the fun.

The Arizona Jewish Theatre Company All Rights Reserved teen improv troupe is scheduled to perform at 2:55pm on Saturday at the Festival of the Arts

It looks like there will be about two dozen vendor booths, where you can meet all sorts of artists and those who love them. Theater groups doing the booth thing include Arizona Broadway Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Arizona Theatre Company, Grand Canyon University, the Scottsdale Community College Theatre Arts Program and Spotlight Youth Theatre.

I love the fact that several hail from parts other than downtown Phoenix so you can get a feel for the true breadth and depth of Valley art offerings. This is a great way to chat with folks who offer programs for children and gather information about their camps and such. (Yes, you should also watch for the 2012 Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Camp Fair.)

The Arizona Girl Choir is one of several arts organizations who will have a booth at Saturday's Herberger Theater Center Festival of the Arts

Dance groups joining the vendor booth fun include Arizona Youth Ballet, Center Dance Ensemble and Scorpius Dance Theatre. Music will be well represented too — thanks to the Phoenix Boys Choir and Arizona Girl Choir. Also keep an eye out for various art studios and others who offer family-friendly fare (like bobbles for wayward hair).

Several of the folks noted above will also perform at some point during the event on one of the Herberger Theater Center’s many stages. As will plenty of other groups — the Dance Shoppe Performance Company, EPIK Dance Company, Grand Canyon University Dance Ensemble, Theater Works and more.

An outdoor stage will feature music by the Bald Cactus Brass Band, Chicks with Picks and Take Cover! Porangui and String Serenade will perform inside Bob’s Spot, a lovely lounge adjacent to the Herberger Theater Center’s upstairs art gallery.

Performers who participate in the Herberger’s “Lunch Time Theater” series will also be on hand to entertain you. Think New Carpa Theater, Grey Matters Productions, Annie Moscow and Friendly People Productions. Sounds a bit like a smorgasbord, only sexier somehow.

Theater Works is scheduled to perform a scene and song from The King and I at 2:20pm during the Herberger Theater Center's Festival of the Arts

Film shorts run a little later than other festival offerings, starting at 4pm on The Kax Stage and wrapping up at 6pm. They’ll be introduced by emcee Ricky Faust, who will facililate Q & A sessions between films.

If critical body parts don’t give out (for me this means feet and knees), I might also hit the Rainbow Festival taking place Oct 1 & 2 from 10am-6pm at historic Heritage Square. It’s a “free admission street fair that celebrates the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.” The event features “an international food court, artists, vendors and entertainment.”

If your city or town is offering festival-style fare with arts and culture flair, please comment below to let our readers know.

— Lynn

Note: The “Arizona Humanities Festival: Stories of Us” takes place Sat, Oct 22 from 10am-6pm at Civic Space Park in Phoenix. The festival features storytelling, children’s activities, author readings, dance performances, live music and film screenings. Info at www.azhumanities.org.

Coming up: Festivals featuring multicultural fare

Photos from organization Facebook pages

Cinderella tales

Ballet Etudes performing Cinderella (Photos by Ron Sill of Pixelcraft Photography)

I came across a picture of my daughter Lizabeth next to a giant “Cinderella” poster a while back as we sat on the living room couch trolling through boxes of family photos. She was wearing a long pink floral dress and clutching a mouse we’d purchased as a show souvenir. She must have been about eight years old at the time.

We’ve seen several productions of “Cinderella” through the years. I’ve got another photo of Lizabeth sporting a pink “Cinderella” T-shirt from a long ago VYT production at the Herberger Theater Center — though none of Lizabeth’s friends will believe she’s ever worn pink without seeing these pictures for themselves.

Dancers from Ballet Etudes performing Cinderella in Chandler

Like the musical “Annie,” it’s got a story we just never seem to tire of, despite objections to its “a girl needs a prince to be happy” vibe. Maybe it’s all those singing birds and sewing animals.

Valley families can enjoy the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre production of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” in Mesa through Sat, Aug 6. The theater is offering special pricing for Thursday night performances of “Cinderella.” All seats for all ages are $18, and that price includes both dinner and the show.

Cinderella is a favorite with Ballet Etudes audiences

Part of the fun of seeing so many productions of “Cinderella” has been watching Lizabeth’s reactions to the show at various ages and stages. Even families who see the Broadway Palm production will enjoy revisiting the work when Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale presents “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” in March of 2012. Children can enjoy a tea party with “Cinderella” cast members before each Greasepaint matinee.

Ballet Arizona is taking the tale of “Cinderella” to a whole new level with their world premiere production this October at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Their “Cinderella,” choreographed by Ib Andersen, will feature the music of Sergei Prokofiev performed by the Phoenix Symphony. It’s part of their 2011-2012 “Fairytale Season,” which also includes “The Sleeping Beauty.”

The Ballet Etudes production of Cinderella returns to Chandler in May

Ballet Etudes performs “Cinderella” at Chandler Center for the Arts in May of 2012. Their production has long been an audience favorite, and I suspect they can even tie the “Cinderella” theme into the “ballerina birthday parties” offered at their Gilbert studio.

The Cinderella Affair gathers prom gowns for girls who aren't able to buy one of their own

If your children feel they’ve outgrown “Cinderella,” perhaps they’re old enough to help with “The Cinderella Affair,” an all-volunteer project in the East Valley that helps to make proms affordable and memorable for Phoenix area juniors and seniors by collecting and distributing gently-used formalwear.

Not everyone is born wearing glass slippers.

— Lynn

Note: All Ballet Etudes photos in this post taken by Ron Sill of Pixelcraft Photography. Click here to read a companion post featuring more fairy tales coming to Valley stages.

Coming up: Finding film in unexpected places, Arizona artwalks, Arizona actors meet NYC fringe, Who let the “Wolves” out?

Annie tales

More “Annie”–Hooray! Please see update at the bottom of this post… 

Lately I’ve had the musical “Annie” on the brain. My daughter Lizabeth began interning with Childsplay in Tempe on Monday — working with Childsplay professionals during a week-long summer camp with an “Annie” theme.

Friday afternoon Childsplay campers will perform a condensed version of “Annie” for family and friends. “Annie” is the first in a series of shows featured in the 2011 Childsplay Summer Academy “musical theatre marathon.” 

Come Friday evening, Valley Youth Theatre will open their June 10-26 run of “Annie” at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. Ten-year-old Jada Jo Warner (pictured above) will perform the role of “Annie.” You can click here to enjoy an interview with Warner from the Herberger’s video blog.

Valley Youth Theatre performs Annie June 10-26 at the Herberger Theater Center

Warner shared, when I spoke with her on Friday, that she’d love to have a career on Broadway. VYT alumni who’ve gone on to enjoy performing arts careers include Emma Stone, Chelsea Kane, Jordin Sparks and others.

But Warner, who has a big sister studying music therapy at NYU, says she might also like to teach special needs children. “My brother is blind,” Warner told me — and he’s an inspiration.

Jessie Pauley, Skye Bowen, Jada Jo Warner and Jahnay Pearson in Annie with VYT

Warner is the middle child of Kurt and Brenda Warner, and told me her six siblings range in age from 5 to 22. The youngest sibs are twins, and must make for a fun audience when Warner works her way singing and dancing through the house.

“Annie” is Warner’s fourth show with Valley Youth Theatre. Warner says she’s also been an Oompa Loompa in “Willy Wonka,” a butterfly in “Pinkalicious” and a racoon in “Winnie the Pooh.”

Megan Mahoney, Joshua McWhortor and Karol Cooper in Annie with VYT

I asked Warner, who studies voice with Kelli James, what she’d sung during “Annie” auditions. “I knew I had to sing a really belty song,” recalls Warner, “because Annie belts.” She chose “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from the musical “Funny Girl.” 

Warner says the audition panel was “surprised” when she hit the highest notes. She cheerfully recounts being invited to subsequent call backs with fewer and fewer people there to read and sing. Warner says the other two “Annie” finalists, both good friends of hers, were cast as orphans.

Bobb Cooper, Jada Jo Warner and other cast members from Annie with VYT

I’m told there’s an open audition next week in New York City for a future production of “Annie” — a show that never seems to go out of style. I sent Warner a link to related information, imagining how fun it would be to see local talent in a new production of the show.

1977 poster for Annie on Broadway

“Annie” earned the 1977 Tony Award for best musical — and plenty of other Tony Awards too — for best actress, book, choreographer, costume designer, scenic designer and score.

The cast of Valley Youth Theatre’s “Annie” will wrap this Sunday’s 2pm performance just in time to race home and catch the 2011 Tony Awards on CBS. Perhaps years from now, they’ll be the ones accepting the awards.

— Lynn

Note: Turns out there’s an online audition process for a future production of “Funny Girl” out there too. “Fanny Brice” wannabees can click here to learn more. NEW: Click here for profiles of girls who auditioned for “Annie” (from The New York Times).

Coming up: “Strange Bedfellows” in Scottsdale, Road trip: Utah Shakespeare Festival, Women’s work

Photo credit: Kristin Rathbun Photography

Update: Thanks to Queen Creek Community Theatre for alerting me to their June 24, 25 & 27 performances of “Annie” at the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are available online at www.qcpac.com or by calling 480-987-SHOW (7469).

The Queen Creek Performing Arts Center is located at 22149 E. Ocotillo Rd. in Queen Creek.

In the spotlight

Samantha Utpadel of Litchfield Park remembers her daughters auditioning during 2008 for the school edition of “Les Miserables” being performed by Spotlight Youth Theatre in Glendale. Both Alexandra (Ixy), now a junior music major at Willamette University in Oregon, and Sophia (Sophie), now a soon-to-be senior at Arizona School for the Arts, were cast.

Beauty and the Beast cast working on choreography

Utpadel says “the show turned out to be a very special experience in many ways.” She’d started her own college studies as a theatrical design major, and helping out with costumes, hair and make-up — plus serving as spot operator for most of the run — helped Utpadel return to her roots.

“For the girls,” she says, “it crystallized a love of performance.” Utpadel describes theater as “addictive” and notes that “things kind of went on from there.” Soon she was doing serious costume duty alongside a good friend whose son got involved thanks to Utpadel’s daughters.

“Spotlight truly is a labor of love,” shares Utpadel. “It started at a time when theatre for youth was disappearing in the Valley, and is really the result of a crazy love for theatre and the belief that kids should get the opportunity to take part in that.”

Sophie describes Spotlight Youth Theatre as “an amazing place to be.” She praises them for producing consistently “awesome” work and for “being a place where I feel I truly belong.” Here’s more from Sophie in her own words…

Backstage at Beauty and the Beast

When I first auditioned at Spotlight, I was terrified, not just by the prospect of not being cast, but by not fitting in. Would the other kids like me? Would I like them? Would there be drama? Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about any of these things. I was welcomed into the Spotlight community.

Sophie says the acceptance she’s experienced at Spotlight is a “huge part” of why she’s such a loyal fan, despite the fact that there are other youth theaters in the Valley. “I have made friends there, and even better, I have made a family.”

Doing hair and make-up backstage for Fools

Utpadel eagerly shared the 2011/12 season for Spotlight Youth Theatre with me as soon as it was released, noting that it “exemplifies” the company’s work. It’s a mix, says Utpadel, of classic and challenging materials. And it gives young actors a chance to “learn different styles of music, choreography, and scripts.”

The 2011/12 season for Spotlight Youth Theatre opens with “Cats.” Sophie recalls loving the show since she “was little” — even naming her cat “Victoria” after a white cat in the show. “I think that it will appeal to lots of people,” she says.

Rehearsing the number Luck Be a Lady

Next up is a musical double feature with a Halloween vibe — “Zombie Prom” and “Once More With Feeling” (an homage to “the musical episode of Buffy“). I suspect that my own daughter, Lizabeth, will applaud the effort. Her senior quote in the ASA yearbook is a little pearl from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Spotlight presents “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in December, then moves on to “Godspell” during January. “Godspell” holds special meaning for Sophie because it was the first show she did at ASA. Ixy also performed in “Godspell,” as well as “Runaways,” with ASA — and she’s been in two operas presented by Willamette students.

Next up is “James and the Giant Peach,” based on a book of the same title by Roald Dahl. Utpadel describes herself as “a huge fan” of the offbeat author and already seems to be imaging the outraeous set possibilities.

Bushel and a Peck from Guys and Dolls

My own favorite from the 2011/12 Spotlight Youth Theatre season is “Sweeney Todd School Edition.” I’ve seen two live performances with Lizabeth, one by the Arizona Opera and another a touring production at ASU Gammage — and enjoyed the movie with my older daughter Jennifer.

I never tire of telling Lizabeth that “Sweeney Todd” is a love story, but she disputes the claim every time. I’m hoping the youth theater version, devoid of some of the show’s bloodier elements, will make the many moments of profound love portrayed in the piece more apparent.

Spotlight Youth Theatre closes its 2011/12 season with “Annie” — the one musical people just can’t seem to get enough of. It makes for a great mother/daughter outing. Or grandmother/granddaughter outing, according to Utpadel — who recalls that “Annie” was the first show she costumed as a sophomore in high school.

I saw Spotlight Youth Theatre earn all kinds of awards at last year’s AriZoni awards ceremony. Still, it’s clear that there’s more to this story. Sure, they’re making good theater. But they’re also creating friendships, confidence and memories — all things especially worthy of the spotlight.

— Lynn

Coming up: Summer dance and theater offerings

Photos by Samantha Utpadel

Anthem tales

I met a 12-year-old named Sarah Miller, and her mother Ruth, during intermission for Tuesday night’s performance of “Mamma Mia!” at ASU Gammage

I was delighted to learn that Sarah has performed in several community theater productions in Anthem, where she lives and plans to attend The Caepe School come fall.

I spoke with Sarah by phone Wednesday evening, after she’d finished a dance class with Dynamic Motion Dance Academy in Anthem — where she studies jazz, musical theater and tap. She’s also trained in ballet and hip hop.

I spotted Sarah in the huge “Mamma Mia!” crowd thanks to her powder blue t-shirt with a large “Mamma Mia!” logo. Although Sarah told me she loves the show, she was most eager to talk about her hometown theaters — Starlight Community Theater and Musical Theatre of Anthem.

Sarah has performed in several Starlight Community Theater productions — including “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella,” plus her very favorite piece of musical theater — “Annie.” Sarah’s last “Starlight” role was “Tweedle Dum” in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Both Starlight and MTA of Anthem feature performances by and for youth

She’s excited about Starlight’s 2011/12 season, which includes “Willy Wonka,” “Miracle of 34th Street – The Musical,” “Fame!,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Rapunzel,” and “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Playwright and director Jim Gradillas, artistic director for Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria, will be heading the “Rapunzel” production. Sarah praises Gradillas for working directly with each actor, for being a master at motivating kids to do their best, and for using games and other strategies to keep theater time fresh and fun.

So far Sarah has performed in just a single Musical Theatre of Anthem production — “The Wizard of Oz.” But she hopes to perform in more MTA shows down the road.

The 2011/12 lineup for Musical Theatre of Anthem includes “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.,” “13,” “Willy Wonka, Jr.,” “Seussical, Jr.,” and “Annie.” Sarah describes it as “a good selection” but already knows at least one show will conflict with other plans for the coming year.

Sarah is especially excited about auditioning for “Annie.” While she’d love to play the lead, Sarah told me that young actors have the best chance of getting major roles when they indicate a genuine willingness to accept any part they’re offered.

When I asked Sarah for additional audition tips for children and teens, she happily shared quite a few of them. Be present. Don’t act nervous. Make eye contact. Be easygoing. And most of all, don’t be fake. “Act like yourself,” suggests Sarah.

The approach seems to be working for Sarah, who shared that she’s already recording her singing and working with a producer at Island Def Jam Recordings.

She’d love to break into the music business or land an acting gig with Disney or Nickelodeon. She even shared this link to her performance of “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Whatever the future holds for Sarah, it’s clear that her time on Anthem stages is serving her well — and that the memories she’s making right here in the Valley will last a lifetime.

— Lynn

Note: Visit the websites for Musical Theatre of Anthem and Starlight Community Theater to learn about current productions and summer programs. And watch for a photo of Sarah coming soon…

Coming up: Transformers — opera style, New plays — festival style

Update: An open call audition for the roles of Annie and the orphans in a new Broadway production of “Annie” is taking place June 12 for girls ages 6-12. Click here for details.

Desperately seeking dogs

In a desperate attempt to ready our cat “Pinky” for upcoming auditions at Valley Youth Theatre, my daughter Lizabeth tried in vain to get the feisty feline to sit on command this morning. Attempts to train “Pinky” to answer to the name “Sandy” — the name of the dog in the musical theater classic “Annie” — were equally futile.

Madison Kerth & Mikey performed in a touring production of ANNIE at ASU Gammage in Tempe (Photo: Phil Martin, 2009)

Perhaps we should send “Pinky” up the street to the local dog park with a pawful of posters publicizing tomorrow’s auditions. “Sandy” hopefuls should be at Valley Youth Theatre Wed, May 11 at 3:30pm. I’m told no headshots or resume are needed.

The original “Sandy” was a stray beige terrier mix. I suppose that means “Bonnie” — constant companion of RAK calendar and directories editor Mala Blomquist — is out of the running. Pity because she’s better than most of us at taking direction.

Maybe VYT should try a humorous tack, substituting a “Sandy” of another sort as Annie’s newfound friend for their June 10-26 production of “Annie” at the Herberger Theater Center. Perhaps the syrupy-sweet “Sandy” who falls for “Danny” in the musical “Grease.”

Or they could run with an idea my daughter Jennifer suggested — turning to local animal rescue organizations for help with finding the perfect mutt, then partnering with them to spread the word about animal health and wellness.

VYT has long facilitated the collection of animals of another sort — helping Chandler teen Dennis Fries gather stuffed animals for hospitalized children as part of his “Operation Noah” program. Maybe the perfect terrier is actually a soft, cuddly toy.

For all the roles she’s performed through the years — mostly with Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale and Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix — Lizabeth is still known to many for those beautiful barks she bellowed during the ASA production of “Lucky Stiff.”

If all else fails, I suppose VYT could recruit her to don some sort of “Sandy” suit — though I think they’d have better luck training “Pinky” to sing “Tomorrow.”

— Lynn

Note: Auditioners of the human variety (mostly ages 13 +) can try out for VYT’s production of “Hairspray” — either Fri, May 13 at 3:30pm or Sat, May 14 at 9:30am. Click here for comprehensive information on Valley auditions from Durant Communications.

Coming up: Arizona art adventures