Tag Archives: Arizona premiere

All Through the Night

I listened all through the day for coverage of Thursday’s United States Holocaust Remembrance Day, but heard not a peep after watching the official ceremony at the U.S. Capitol broadcast online. It’s starting to feel like people pay more attention to tornado warnings than alerts to rising storms of a more sinister nature.

Seems we’re living a startling disconnect these days from events preceding the Holocaust, overlooking glaring similarities popping up all around us in contemporary culture. Shirley Lauro’s “All Through the Night,” being performed by Theater Works in Peoria through May 13, makes it clear that the Holocaust didn’t happen overnight.

Theater Works in Peoria presents "All Through the Night" through May 13

The play imagines life for several German women, none of them Jewish, as events surrounding the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich take place. They’re in high school, a time when feeling like the “other” is already plenty painful, when hatred of the different escalates to demonic proportions.

Imagine Nazi Germany as the backdrop for every major milestone in your young adult life. Dating. Career. Marriage. Children. Caring for aging parents. Imagine loving someone your government wants to exterminate. Or losing a disabled child to a state bent on brutal experimentation.

“All Through the Night” is a brilliant bit of playwriting that elicits genuine empathy rather than settling for mere sentimentality. And the Theater Works production, an Arizona premiere directed by Richard Powers Hardt, is beautifully done. You’ll feel, while watching it, like you’re right there alongside these women. And you’ll leave with a greater sense of the insidious nature of evil.

It’s easy to assume that we’d never allow such horrors to take place if set into similar circumstances. “All Through the Night” makes clear the complexity of each woman’s challenges and choices, giving pause to playgoers who’ve perhaps lost touch with their own moral compass. Anyone mature enough to see the film “Bully” should see this play as well. Hitler was a bully surrounded by bystanders.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to order a copy of the play from publisher Samuel French, and here to enjoy a piece about reading plays from The New York Times 

Coming up: School editions of mature content musicals, Zooming in on “Zero,” The New York Children’s Theater Festival


I ♥ freckles!

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It’s easy to love freckles — especially the ones that grace my hubby and three children, mostly Jennifer. So I was sad to miss Friday’s opening of “Freckleface Strawberry” at Valley Youth Theatre when it looked like another one of my kiddos might need a swift trip to the doctor. Turns out all could wait until the morning — but word came too late for me to join all the freckles and fun down at VYT in Phoenix, though I suspect it was happy news for the lucky person who snagged my seat.

Kimiko Glenn, who originated the role of “Emily” in the NYC production of “Freckleface Strawberry,” was in the house for Friday night’s opening (the show’s premiere outside NYC) — and will be on hand Saturday as well, doing a free post-show Q & A for those with tickets to the 3:30pm show. She’s one of many youth who trained and performed with VYT before making it on stage/or screen — but that’s a tale I’ll tell another day.

VYT’s production of “Freckleface Strawberry” features a fine mix of new and seasoned VYT actors, whose program bios make for a fascinating read. VYT first-timer include Jessica Arnold (Mother) of Ironwood High School, Lacey Bookspan (Freckleface) of Veritas Preparatory Academy and Carly Makani Copp (Jane) of Marshall Ranch Elementary School — all boasting plenty of Valley theater credits with shows from “Les Miserables School Edition” and “Seussical, Jr.” to “Cats” and “Hairspray.”

ASA students E.J. Dohring (Danny) and Bransen Gates (Jake) also have a long string of credits. Dohring’s done “Alice in Wonderland” and “13” with VYT, “Oliver” with Broadway Palm and “Les Miserables” with Phoenix Theatre. Also “The Producers” at the famed Stagedoor Manor performing arts summer camp. “Freckleface Strawberry” is Gates’ ninth show with VYT, but he’s also done “Godspell” at Spotlight Youth Theatre, “Spring Awakening” with ACAA and “The Wiz” at Greasepaint Youtheatre (that one earned him an AriZoni Award).

Ally Lansdowne (Ballet Girl) attends Orangewood Elementary, where she’s active in chorus, drama and the National Junior Honor Society. She’s performed roles with especially fun names — like Jennyanydots in “Cats,” Toffee in “Zombie Prom” and Bird in “Pinkalicious.” Megan Mahoney (Emily) attends and directs show choir for Chaparral High School — doing piano, music and voice lessons in her spare time. She’s performed with VYT, Desert Foothills and Musical Theatre of Anthem.

Rhetta Mykeal (Teacher) is a freshman at MCC who’s done several shows with VYT, enjoys playing the piano and plans a career in acting — while Devin Sanders (Harry), a Mountain Ridge High School student with several VYT credits, looks forward to a career in orthodontics. If you see a kid with singing braces someday, they might be a Sanders masterpiece.

Naturally I’d expect his braces to feature songs from the musical “Freckleface Strawberry.” Think “Freckle Mafia Song,” “Kid in the Mask,” “Creative Mind Rap” or “Be Yourself.” All were inspired by children’s books authored by actress Julianne Moore and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. The musical was conceived for the stage by Rose Caiola.

Gary Kupper and Caiola wrote the book (parts not sung) for the musical, while Kupper wrote both music and lyrics. The VYT production of “Freckleface Strawberry” is directed by Bobb Cooper, the company’s producing artistic director. Mark Fearey is musical director and Katie Casy is choreographer.

Other team freckle members include Karol Cooper (costume designer), Sarah Trieckel (scenic designer) and D.J. Selmeyer (lighting designer). Production stage manager is Kristian Rarig and sound design is by Clearwing Productions. VYT is presenting this baby by special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).

I’m disappointed about missing Friday’s show for all sorts of reasons, including the very real chance that I missed a playful producing artistic director sporting a face full of freckles. Red pigtails would have been a bit over the top. Though who could really blame him? Freckles just have that effect on people.

— Lynn

Note: Our own adorable freckleface, Jennifer, turns 21 this month and while I suspect she’s a tad too old now for a “Freckleface Strawberry” party — I’d run with the theme if she was a bit younger. So keep that in mind if your child is celebrating a birthday during the “Freckleface Strawberry” run (through April 22). Hitting a show with friends makes for fun, easy and affordable birthday fare.

Coming up: Tarzan of the desert?, Beware the barber

Update: The VYT production of “Freckleface Strawberry,” which got rave reviews while I was away in NYC, has extended its run through April 29 “due to popular demand.” Way to rock the freckles, VYT!

If shows were freckles

Headshot for Bobb Cooper of VYT

If shows were freckles, Bobb Cooper would have 105 of them. That’s the number of shows he’s produced at the helm of Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix. “Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical,” being performed by VYT April 6-22, will be #106. It’ll be the 67th show he’s directed for the company, where he serves as producing artistic director.

Seems there’s a bit of a statistician in the VYT fold, who recently shared with me that production #100 was last season’s “Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Nobody wants to have 1oo of those. If Cooper continues his average of directing four shows per season, he’ll reach the 100 milestone in VYT directing credits come 2020.

Bobb Cooper, 2008

I first met Cooper when my daughters auditioned for the 1998/99 VYT production of “The Sound of Music” back in their “Tower Plaza” days. I’ll have to ask my “math meets musical theater” friend which number to assign that baby. They weren’t cast but I took some still-treasured photos of the girls in braided pigtails that day, and we went on to enjoy plenty of VYT shows together.

They’ve been through more than a few hairstyles during the decade or so since, which left me wondering how Cooper’s coiffure might have morphed during the same span of time. Anyone who’s ever looked back at an old grade school photo knows how hairstyles change over time, so I felt compelled to ask VYT for pictures of both shows — and Cooper — through the years.

Cooper does The Wiz for a VYTal event

Those of you digging “The Wiz” vibe will be delighted to learn that VYT will close its 2011/12 season by performing “The Wiz” June 8-24 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. Folks who missed VYT’s production of “Annie” at the Herberger Theater Center last season missed a rare opportunity to see Cooper rocking the bald vibe as Daddy Warbucks.

I’m eagerly awaiting news of VYT’s 2012/13 season for all sorts of reasons. I’m not ashamed to admit that another year of amazing hairdos, mostly the onstage variety, is one of them. Stay tuned at www.vyt.com.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on VYT spring break and summer camps, here to purchase “Freckleface Strawberry” tickets and here to buy tix for “The Wiz” (on sale next month) via the Herberger Theater Center box office. Looks like “The Sound of Music” was the 13th show directed and 20th show produced by Cooper for VYT.

Coming up: Art ala keychain?, Skateboard musings, More fun with freckles

Of pirates, maps & treasure

Enjoy Dora the Explorer LIVE! through Nov. 6 at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix

Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix is presenting the Arizona premiere of a kid-friendly musical called “Dora the Explorer LIVE! Dora’s Pirate Adventure” through Nov. 6. It’s based on Nickelodeon character Dora the Explorer and her faithful pals, including a boy named Diego and a monkey named Boots.

VYT music director Mark Fearey opened a Sunday matinee by inviting young audience members to sit “criss cross applesauce” on the floor in front of the stage. They happily obliged, many waving pirate adventure flags as Fearey offered child-friendly tips on theater etiquette.

The show features upbeat music, adorable critters well-animated by the actors who portray them, a delightful dose of Spanish and all sorts of audience interaction. Children get to sing along, dance along and even help Dora with a bit of old-fashioned problem-solving.

Characters travel through the theater several times during the show to engage young audience members, offering high fives and such to wide-eyed children with beaming smiles. They’ve no idea that the show doubles as a learning tool full of the repetition and sequencing so critical to things like reading and arithmetic.

This kid-friendly musical features lots of interaction with audience members

Dora’s Pirate Adventure” is full of feel-good messages and important life lessons too. Stop and think before you act. Friends can overcome challenges by working together. Life’s more fun when no one gets excluded. My only quibble with the work is the missed opportunities for adding a “please” or “thank you” here and there.

Youth theater productions can sometimes be hit or miss in the talent department, but these cast members are talented across the board. Sophia Deyden’s “Dora” is effervescent. Deyden’s high energy, which never wanes, is infectious.

The set for “Dora’s Pirate Adventure” is simple in the very best way possible. It’s colorful and well-crafted but doesn’t distract from the story. The costumes are equally adorable and polished, the music and choreography shine, and it’s clear that director Bobb Cooper has worked to finesse each detail.

The first act of “Dora’s Pirate Adventure” ran just 30 minutes and was followed by a 20-minute break before the second act. That’s important for the preschool set, who need time to hit the potty, get a drink and marvel at the wonder of “Dora” with all their friends.

After most shows at VYT, cast members do a meet and greet with audience members in the theater’s lobby. For the performance I attended, VYT had cast members sit on the edge of the stage instead — signing autographs, posing for pictures and talking with young fans about their favorite parts of the show.

Parents seeking unique and affordable play date or birthday party options will find it in “Dora’s Pirate Adventure.” You can even buy goodies like Dora plush characters and T-shirts at the show, meaning you don’t have to make an extra trip to find party favors. Let Dora do the exploring. You can just show up and be the hero.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for ticket information and to learn more about future auditions and shows at VYT. Click here for “Dora the Explorer” activities from Nickelodeon designed to help children develop in four areas — language, social/emotional, math and physical/wellness.

Coming up: Fun photos from my “Dora the Explorer” adventure at VYT

Recipe for revenge


Actors in the dark play Titus Andronicus enjoy lighter moments while rehearsing at the Southwest Shakespeare Company studio in Mesa

Start with one melodramatic nymphomaniac and one well-meaning warrior. Add two offspring — one pristine, another psychotic. Then a few more siblings, and a couple of suitors, from different points along the naughty to nice continuum. Mix in a noble choice with life altering consequences. Finish with generous helpings of rape, mayhem and murder. First simmer, then broil. You’ve got “Titus Andronicus,” Shakespeare’s recipe for revenge.

In modern-day parlance, I suppose “Titus Andronicus” is a sort of “Shakespeare meets SVU.” Or “Sweeney Todd” without the soundtrack. It’s the tale of a good man who snaps — not once, but twice — after his daughter’s violent assault. A downward spiral once harmless grows heinous, then unimaginably evil. But with a surprising montage of humorous moments along the way.

You can enjoy a taste of “Titus” through Sept 24. It’s being performed by Southwest Shakespeare Company at the Mesa Arts Center — inside an intimate theater just right for a work of this intensity. The audience is seated along the two longer sides of a rectangular platform where actors perform at eye level. This violence, though not depicted with traditional blood and gore props, is very much in your face.

The platform touches a single wall, where a collection of swords and masks hang above a simple bench. There’s space off the other end of the platform, near the audience entryway — where some of the action occurs. Folks in the front row on either side of the stage must beware. Accidentally thrust out a foot and Titus could be toast.

Titus is played by Randy Messersmith, head of the theater arts department at Scottsdale Community College, who had me worried early on with his evenly-paced words and movement. Just as Justine Hartley, who plays Goth queen Tamora, took me aback with her diva-like depiction of grief in the opening scene.

Randy Messersmith (kneeling), pictured here during rehearsals with Jesse James Kamps (L) and director David Barker. Messersmith has since lost his shirt and his locks.

But they’re each laying those first bricks in the foundation of a story that needs room to grow. Without all that weeping and gnashing of teeth, it’s hard to envision one woman wreaking so much havoc. And all that civility and calm Messersmith brings to Titus as a triumphant warrior is what makes his demise as defeated father truly tragic.

Part of the intrigue in watching Shakespeare’s work is seeing his characters’ true colors unfold. It’s especially true in “Titus,” where the turn of events leads to truly chilling consequences that might have felt entirely out of proportion in a pre-9/11 world. But we’ve seen more than once just this century alone what can happen when a single soul feels agrieved.

I thought often during “Titus” of my husband and his tender relationship to our daughters, wondering how far he might go in the face of the unfathomable. Dawn Rochelle Tucker, who plays Titus’ daughter Lavinia, transforms the play from an abstract piece of theater to a compelling tale every parent can relate to.

Dawn Rochelle Tucker (L) rehearses with Jesse James Kamps, who plays compassionate brother to a sister mocked and mutilated

Many familiar with Shakespeare would advise the uninitiated to start somewhere else, just about anywhere else, in exploring Shakespeare’s canon. There’s a reason Southwest Shakespeare Company is performing it only now, as the opener for its 18th season.

But this particular production, brilliantly directed and staged by David Barker, is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare. Weighing in at a lean 90 minutes (about two hours counting intermission), it shaves a good hour off the time it takes to enjoy a typical serving of Shakespeare. The plotline is easy to follow for those who don’t have the luxury of brushing up their Shakespeare before attending.

I have mixed feelings about recommending this work for teens. Barker’s vision is beautifully executed — a “must see” in many ways for serious students of the theater. His use of color, shadow and actor-generated sound effects is breathtaking. The costumes, props and lighting prove that less can be more — even, and especially, in a world so obsessed with a constant barrage of stimulation serving no higher purpose. 

I was struck, when first taking my seat, by a row of simple objects that hang or stand along one wall in the theater, just feet from some audience members. A long, tangled rope. Two pairs of tall rods. Several masks and a single white sheet — at first a death cloth, then a royal’s robe.

Producing artistic director Jared Sakren (R) talks with cast members about mask work

All are transformed — often with large black lights mounted high and low along each corner of the stage — into a true feast for the senses. It’s rare to leave a work of theater feeling you’ve just experienced a masterful exhibit of visual arts, but “Titus” makes that impression.

On the other hand, the actions wrought by revenge are hard to stomach. I don’t know that “Titus” is the best choice for teens struggling with serious emotional issues of a much higher magnitude than worrying over what to wear to the prom. But it is a convincing morality tale for a day and age when one act of bullying can too easily escalate into an endless stream of aggression. In most cases, parents and teachers should see “Titus” for themselves before taking younger audiences.

Oediupus had his mommy. Sweeney his lovely wife. And Titus his beloved daughter. But the differences are stark. We never see Sweeney Todd before his decline into revenge ala razor mode. The musical opens long after he’s lost his wife and daughter. In “Titus” we see both the “before” and “after” of a man who opts for sword instead of scissors but brings a similar fate to those around him.

Yet Shakespeare, like Sondheim, also delivers a man who’s just plain evil from the get-go. For Sondheim, it’s Judge Turpin, the man who kidnaps Todd’s fragile wife and daughter. For Shakespeare it’s a Moor named Aaron, who faces death by gleefully confessing his regret for having not murdered many more.

Jeffrey Lamar’s performance as Aaron gives us a glimmer of hope, as he begs for the life of his infant son, that even the most wretched man might have a soul. Still, his final scene left me wanting to run right out and do a Childsplay chaser. Leave the kids at home if you’re going to see “Titus” this weekend, but buy a set of tickets to “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” too.

Titus will leave you wanting more time with your children and the balance of a story with a much lighter touch.

— Lynn

Note: Learn more about Southwest Shakespeare Company, headed by producing artistic director Jared Sakren, at www.swshakespeare.org. “Titus Andronicus” features costume design by Lois K. Myers, lighting design by Daniel Davisson and scenic design by Karen Siefried. All photos by stage manager Kati Long (thanks to her nifty iPhone) and courtesy of Southwest Shakespeare Company. Production photos are available on the company’s Facebook page.

Coming up: From thespian to med student

Ballet meets fairy tale

Jillian Barrell and Russell Clarke, Cinderella, Ballet Arizona (Photo: Tim Fuller)

Fairy tales come in all sorts of forms these days. Storybooks. Online activities. Animated movies. Too often the most exciting way to experience fairy tales — through live performance art — is overlooked.

But Arizona families will have several opportunities to see fairy tales come to life on Valley stages next season. The 2011-2012 season for Ballet Arizona includes the world premiere of “Cinderella” choreographed by Ib Andersen, as well as Andersen’s “The Sleeping Beauty.”

Ballet is a magical art for the young at heart — who are so easily swept away by ethereal costumes, glistening sets and enchanted storytelling. If you’ve yet to introduce your children to the grandeur and grace of ballet, the coming Ballet Arizona season presents a perfect opportunity.

Another ballet especially well-suited to children, of course, is Ib Andersen’s “The Nutcracker.” Like “Cinderella” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” it’s best enjoyed after reading the story together as a family.

Let your children experience the story of “The Nutcracker” in their own imaginations first — then introduce them to the wonder of imaginings unfolding on stage in “bigger than life” settings.

Ballet connoisseurs will be thrilled to learn that the 2011-2012 Ballet Arizona season also includes “Director’s Choice” — featuring “In the Night” choreographed by Jerome Robbins, “Suenos” choreographed by Ib Andersen and “Paquita” choreographed by Olga Evreinoff and Marius Petipa.

“Director’s Choice” is the only work of the season Ballet Arizona will perform at the intimate Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix, and the one production that will not feature music by The Phoenix Symphony.

Closing the Ballet Arizona 2011-2012 season will be “All Balanchine” featuring three Balanchine works — “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” “Episodes” (an Arizona premiere) and “Rubies.”

Ballet Arizona has dubbed 2011-2012 their “Fairytale Season.” We never really outgrow our fascination with fairy tales, and time spent with Ballet Arizona is a beautiful way for grown-ups to get a fairy tale fix.

— Lynn

Note: The Ballet Arizona box office is currently accepting renewal and new subscriptions (including, for the first time, Thursday night subscriptions). Current subscribers must renew before April 11, 2011 to keep their current seats next season.

Coming up: More new season offerings, Stage Mom reviews “Fiddler on the Roof” at ASU Gammage, Accepted at several colleges/conservatories — tips for finding the best fit

Get a Q!

When the morning news turned too vitriolic last week, I knew just who to turn to — Elmo. The furry little puppet with the ever-happy face never fails to cheer.

But I’ll be enjoying puppets of another sort today as Lizabeth and I head out to see Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Avenue Q” — a Broadway musical with mature content and “full puppet nudity” you might not want to share with your little ones.

There are tons of competing activities out there this weekend — from the Scottsdale Arts Festival to the Ostrich Festival in Chandler. I’m making my choice about what to hit based on where the teen taxi takes me.

Lizabeth has a volunteer gig with “QSpeak” this afternoon, so I’ll be taking her there before heading out for a few art adventures of my own. Then we’ll meet back at Phoenix Theatre for the matinee performance of “Avenue Q.”

I’ll need to be quick, however, because there are quite a few things I’m eager to experience — including today’s “Devoured” event at the Phoenix Art Museum, just a short stroll from Phoenix Theatre.

Then I’m off to enjoy the quaint and quiet grounds of the Japanese Friendship Garden, where I’ll take some photos to share with you later as I preview their upcoming events — including the “Children’s Day Kite Festival” and “Zen Garden Music and Art Festival.”

Next I’ll experience some quintessential Irish fare at the Arizona Irish Festival, also taking place downtown. Think Irish food, music, dance and all-around merriment — plus another opportunity to whip out my camera.

If I haven’t yet inspired you to get out and enjoy the Arizona sunshine, perhaps you’ll find something else that strikes your fancy by browsing through today’s family-friendly events listed in the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

I suppose I should quit now and get on with my plans — quixotic though they may be. I certainly don’t want to quibble with my teenage daughter over whether or not the teen taxi will be running on time today.

— Lynn

Note: I came home with lots of photos, some of which are included in a slide show at the end of this post (“Avenue Q” logo courtesy of Phoenix Theatre). Watch for another post coming soon with some of the many adorable children who attended this year’s Arizona Irish Festival — as well as a future post with more highlights from the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Coming up: Charlie Sheen “is only for now”

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