Tag Archives: Arizona School for the Arts

Sondheim — student style

I’d never really considered the difficulty of singing Sondheim until I watched the second act of ASA’s current production of “Into the Woods.” I’d spent the first part of the evening enjoying a Rising Youth Theatre dress rehearsal, so all the fairytale folly of “Into the Woods” was well underway by the time I got there.

My own stellar singing career consisted of back-up vocals in bars with a bent for country western tunes while working to put myself through grad school. I thought everybody read Kant and Sartre steeped in bowls of stale peanuts, but nowadays I suppose we should be grateful to find folks reading just about anything.

Original Broadway cast recording of "Into the Woods"

If you’re fond of reading fairy tales, you might enjoy the twist on all things “happily ever after” that’s at the heart of “Into the Woods” — a musical featuring book by James Lapine plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a writer whose work I’m still exploring in the hot pink “Look, I Made a Hat.”

“Into the Woods” opened at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1986, where George Takei of “Star Trek” fame opens his new musical “Allegiance” later this year. It moved to Broadway in 1987 with Bernadette Peters in the role of “Witch” and Johanna Gleason in the role of “Baker’s Wife” (the role Amy Adams will rock during this year’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Into the Woods” from Public Theater in NYC).

The Arizona School for the Arts production, directed by Beck (she uses just a single name), was hysterical. Think funny, not frantic. The student cast in the role of Witch did an especially fine job singing Sondheim’s material. I’m hoping they’ll send a program my way so I can share the student’s name and give her proper credit for a truly solid performance.

I was less wowed by the set, built out (perhaps to house student musicians — who also did a stellar job) rather than recessed. I’d have preferred more of a deep, dark forest vibe, but that’s probably just my love affair with trees talking. And I’m about as qualified to design sets as I am to sing in front of even the most intoxicated patrons.

2006 Broadway cast recording of "Sweeney Todd"

Over in Glendale, Spotlight Youth Theatre is performing “Sweeney Todd: School Edition” featuring book by Hugh Wheeler plus music and lyrics by Sondheim. Music Theatre International notes that “Sweeney Todd” was adapted for youth performance by “working directly with Mr Sondheim to retain the dark wit and grand scope of the original work, with a few lyric and key changes to facilitate high school productions.”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is based on Christopher Bond’s take on “The String of Pearls,” believed by some to be rooted at least partially in historical events. It opened on Broadway in 1979 with a cast that included Len Carious (Sweeney Todd) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Lovett).

Some consider “Sweeney Todd” a tale of ruin and revenge — but I’ve always been more partial to its tender, rather than tenderized, side. A family torn apart. A young man pining for a girl who’s out of reach. A motherless boy seeking to protect a childless woman from harm.

Nowadays, a click of the mouse will get you Johnny Depp when you’d really rather find Sondheim. Fond as I am of Depp’s portrayal of Todd in the 2007 film, I’d be sad to see a generation familiar only with Sweeney on the big screen. Best to enjoy “Sweeney Todd” on stage but get your tickets as well for “Dark Shadows,” where we’ll all be treated to a bit of dracula meets disco as only Depp can deliver it.

Before the musical, there was this book

A final word before you head out to support all those students charged with singing Sondheim — best to leave kids younger than middle school age at home for these shows. “Into the Woods” is best appreciated by adults, though teens also love the fractured fairy tale vibe. And “Sweeney Todd” has mature themes, including murder, that your little one don’t need swimming around in their heads.

I took Lizabeth to see the Arizona Opera production of “Sweeney Todd” when she was barely in the double digits. To this day, she’s fed up any talk about the worst pies in London.

— Lynn

Note: Folks who follow theater can click here for a list of recent Drama Desk nominations, and here for news of this year’s Tony Awards ceremony (nominations will be announced May 1).

Coming up: How groovy is that?

Update: “Sweeney Todd School Edition” is also part of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s 2012-2013 season — which also includes “13,” “Disney’s the Little Mermaid Jr.,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Dear Edwina.”  Click here for details. 5/1/12

Cactus meets creativity

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Artist Ed Mell, who most recently designed the Arizona Centennial Postage Stamp, was named Artist of the Year and ASU Gammage Executive Director Colleen Jennings-Roggensack and Museum of Northern Arizona Director Robert Breunig shared the Individual Award at tonight’s 31st annual Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards at the Herberger Theater Center.

Several additional awards were presented as well, all after remarks by Governor Jan Brewer and others who spoke in unison about the importance of arts to Arizona’s economy, quality of life, education landscape and more. Here’s the rundown:

Arts in Education-Individual Award: Beth Lessard, Tempe, former chair of the Arizona State University Department of Dance

Arts in Education-Organization Award: Arizona School for the Arts

Community Award: Arizona Cowboy Poet Gathering, Prescott

Business Award: JP Morgan Chase

Arts advocate and leader Darryl Dobras of Tucson received the 2012 Shelley Award for advancing the arts through strategic and innovative work in creating or supporting public policy beneficial to the arts in Arizona.

SRP was the Presenting Sponsor of the 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards. Other sponsors for the event included Boeing, Arts Entertainment Sponsor; Resolution Copper Mining, Commemorative Program Sponsor; Southwest Ambulance, Artist Award Sponsor; and Herberger Theater Center, Venue Sponsor. Nicely done, one and all.

Honorees received specially created awards reflecting Arizona’s beauty and diversity — by Arizona artists Joe Ray of Scottsdale, Fausto Fernandez of Phoenix, George Gaines-Averbeck of  Flagstaff, Gennaro Garcia of Ahwatukee, Judith Walsh of Oracle, Catherine Nash of Tucson, Emily Costello of Superior and Julius Forzano of Scottsdale.

Nearly 500 arts supporters, advocates, business leaders and elected officials attended the annual event — which featured entertainment by Desert Dance and Friends (think percussion a la Samsonite), Childsplay, (think rap meets American history) and the Bad Cactus Brass Band (think Arizona with a twist of New Orleans). Also a silent auction beforehand and swanky dessert reception after. Think dainty little red velvet whoopie pies, coconut cupcakes and such.

More than 80 individuals, artists, businesses, arts education programs and community programs from about two dozen communities around the state were nominated for this year’s awards.

Here’s the scoop on 2012 honorees, provided by the fine folks who present the Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards…

Ed Mell. Born and raised in Phoenix, Mell has been a working artist in Arizona for more than 40 years. His work elevates the public profile of arts in the state through his unique blend of cubist forms that capture Arizona landscapes and depicts the brilliance of the Arizona sky. Mell left a prestigious career as an art director and illustrator in New York to accept a teaching position on the Hopi reservation in 1970 that reconnected him with the land he loved and that set his artistic course. He has produced oils, print series and bronze sculptures and has donated his work to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, the Arizona Cancer Society, to name only a few. His works are found in major public and private collections. Mell’s painting of Cathedral Rock in Sedona was selected as the artwork for the first-class stamp commemorating Arizona’s centennial this year.

Robert Breunig, Flagstaff. When Robert Breunig arrived as director in late 2003, the Museum of Northern Arizona was in imminent danger of closing. The museum had lost its American Association of Museums accreditation and its severe financial condition required that 20 items its collection be sold to pay for operating expenses and cover the deficit. Since those dark days, Dr. Breunig has guided the museum back on a path of financial stability and organizational credibility. The museum collection has grown to 3,200 fine art pieces and 15,000 ethnographic objects and its cultural anthropology collection totals 225,000 artifacts and research collections from 28,000 sites representing 12,000 years of native occupation. Before taking on the responsibilities at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Breunig had served as director of the Desert Botanical Garden from 1984 to 1995 and was deputy director at chief curator at the Heard Museum from 1982 to 1985.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, Tempe. Colleen Jennings-Roggensack has been presenting the performing arts for 33 years and will celebrate her 20th anniversary as Executive Director for ASU Gammage and Assistant Vice President for Cultural Affairs in June. Her leadership and her mission at ASU has been to “Connect Communities” by enabling patrons, artists and the entire community to discover new avenues of intercultural communication through the arts. Under her leadership, the Broadway series has grown into one of the top touring markets in the nation producing an annual economic impact of $40 million in the Valley. Jennings-Roggensack was nominated by President Clinton and served on the National Council on the Arts from 1994 to 1997. Since 2007, she has served on The Broadway League’s Board of Governors and she is Arizona’s only Tony Award voter.

Beth Lessard, Tempe. The chair of the ASU Dance Department from 1977 to 1993 and professor until her retirement in 1999, Dr. Lessard elevated the dual degree path for dancers interested in both teaching and creating and performing dance. Under her guidance, the Arizona Dance Education Organization was formed to provide resources, scholarships and educational support for Arizona teachers and schools to provide quality dance curriculum.  She also established the artist-in-residence program at ASU to bring national dance artists and companies to Tempe to teach, collaborate and perform with students and faculty.

Arizona School for the Arts. ASA is a high-achieving school for students who want to work with professional artists as part of the core school experience. Now in its 16th year, students and the non-profit college preparatory/performing arts school spend their mornings immersed in core academic studies and their afternoons in the performing arts. The Arizona School for the Arts has been recognized by the US Department of Education, the state of Arizona Department of Education and the Kennedy Center.

Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, Prescott. The Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, the oldest in Arizona, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August to support its mission to educate, promote and preserve cowboy poetry, music and western heritage culture and history. The Gathering not only provides entertainment, but an opportunity for poets and bearers of cowboy oral traditions to assemble in a spirit of mutual appreciation and support and to strengthen ties with the ranching community and general public. In recent years, the organization has brought poetry into fourth-grade classrooms in the Prescott area to introduce students to poetry, the ranching heritage of Yavapai County and the music of the cowboy.

JP Morgan Chase Bank. JP Morgan Chase strives to increase community access to rich cultural resources that foster creativity, promote self-expression, celebrate diversity and strengthen the environment. An active supporter of the arts for more than 20 years, the company’s recent funding of Arizona Theatre Company offset expenses of producing a statewide education program connected to ATC’s America Plays! Celebrating Great American Stories Initiative. JP Morgan Chase also has been a consistent supporter of Childsplay, Ballet Arizona, Phoenix Symphony, Alliance for Audience and the Desert Botanical Garden, to name only a few.

The Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards are presented by the Office of the Governor, Arizona Citizens for the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. It’s lovely when cactus meets creativity.

— Lynn

Coming up: Celebrating National Poetry Month, Broadway trends

What’s the word?

WORD artists Betsy BretHarte and Mary Kay Zeeb outside the @Central Gallery at Burton Barr Public Library in Phoenix, where their exhibit runs through March 26

The word is L-O-V-E, according to Phoenix artists Betsy BretHarte and Mary Kay Zeeb, whose “WORD” exhibit at the Burton Barr Central Library runs through Mon, March 26. It’s a collection of black and white photos featuring all sorts of folks spelling the word “love.” There’s one photo per letter for each person pictured, and the library’s @Central Gallery is home to around three dozen sets of these babies for just another couple of days.

I stumbled on the exhibit several weeks ago while exploring other library fare, and did a double take when reading the artists’ statement accompanying the works — because I’ve known Zeeb for years, as one of Lizabeth’s teachers at Arizona School for the Arts. Turns out Zeeb is leaving ASA for pursuits in the healing arts after this semester. BretHarte teaches at New School for the Arts and Academics in Tempe.

Betsy BretHarte and Mary Kay Zeeb give me an "L"

BretHarte and Zeeb, who call the Coronado neighborhood of Phoenix home, met me at the gallery Thursday afternoon to share a bit about their journey into the world of “WORD.” The first four photos in their collection, which includes many more than the library gallery can hold, were taken by BretHarte in 2006 and feature her mother. As we chatted on Thursday, they eagerly showed me other sets depicting special people in their lives.

Betsy BretHarte and Mary Kay Zeeb give me an "O"

Still, most of their subjects are folks they’ve encountered along the way. Seems BretHarte often sports a camera, and Zeeb has the pair’s best people skills — so together they’ve developed the habit of asking those they meet while walking, bike riding and such to pose for their lovely work in progress. Most of the photos were taken outdoors, like the picture up top snapped just outside the gallery. You’ll see snippets of their work, and the reflection of a tree they both admired as we spoke, in the background.

I turned BretHarte and Zeeb loose with my primitive little point and shoot number, inviting them to snap one another’s picture in whatever way they saw fit. They headed straight outdoors, to a little seating area just off the gallery — where they ultimately decided they’d prefer a picture together. I was happy to do the honors, though it felt a bit like fiddling in front of Itzhak Perlman despite their gracious demeanor.

Betsy BretHarte and Mary Kay Zeeb give me a "V"

Once “WORD” leaves the library, it’ll need a new home. An art gallery would be lovely, they tell me — though BretHarte and Zeeb are keen on community spaces like the library that allow people to stumble on the work and feel the joy of finding something unexpected. They’re fondest of the photos taken closest to home, but lit up when I mentioned a note I’d read in a journal filled with comments from gallery visitors.

Betsy BretHarte and Mary Kay Zeeb give me an "E"

Apparently someone has already pictured them going global, which hardly seems a stretch. The photography is exceptional. The subject matter is endless. And the artists are true adventurers. I suspect there’s just a single word standing between these women and the wider world. It’s “funding” — and I fervently hope they meet a great deal of it one day. With every person they photograph, BretHarte and Zeeb get one face closer to capturing the beautiful diversity of humanity.

— Lynn

Note: To learn more about the @Central Gallery at the Burton Barr Public Library, e-mail iris.huey@phoenix.gov or call 602-262-6157. You can contact the artists at bbretharte@yahoo.com or marykhaos@hotmail.com.

Coming up: Nine young poets

Young actor shares audition tips

By guest blogger Aaron Zweiback

Being a young actor myself, I know how stressful it can be to audition. Sometimes you aren’t sure what to perform, sometimes you get nervous and don’t do your best, and sometimes the competition just seems too talented. That is why I am writing this article: to teach aspiring young actors how to navigate the audition process, and to give them some useful tips.

The first step to auditioning effectively is to be aware of the calendar for upcoming shows. A website that I have found very helpful is durantcom.com, which shows the auditions that are occurring locally. If you have any friends who are also into theatre, make sure to stay in touch with them and share information. Also, make sure you are familiar with the current “season” that is going on at certain theatres that interest you, so you will know what shows will be featuring kids’ roles.

Lto R: Sam Primack (Ralphie) and Aaron Zweiback (Flick) in "A Christmas Story" at Phoenix Theatre

Another important rule to live by that will help you tremendously on your path to a successful career is to always have a monologue and song “in your back pocket” (memorized). This way, you can be completely prepared and ready for an audition if you make an impulsive choice to try for a role but don’t have much time to prepare.

Frequently learn new songs and monologues, because some directors will get bored if you audition for their theatre with the same material more than once. It can be hard to read the minds of directors, because some hate it when you sing a song from the show you are auditioning for, but others don’t seem to mind. You should definitely think about the mood of the piece you are auditioning with, and see if it matches the mood of the show or the character you are hoping to play.

Now, if you are going to try to pursue acting, you must have the essential “tools” for the auditioning process: a photograph of you from the shoulders up (a “headshot”) and resumé (also called a “CV”) are almost always required. You can pay a professional photographer to make you look legit, ask a family member or friend to take some pictures and print them at Costco or a camera store, or even use a school photo that would appeal to a casting director.

Make sure your headshot is recent, so that you don’t show up looking completely different from the picture you are submitting. As for a resumé, simply type up all of the shows you have been a part of and the roles you have played, as well as the years and the theatres in which you performed them.

I have noticed that many young actors worry that they have no experience and therefore nothing to offer. If you feel this way, you can launch your career by attending workshops and camps, and by auditioning for as many theatres and directors as you can. Most of the professionals in town know each other, and they actually encourage actors to learn from their colleagues in different programs. I myself have performed on the main stage and/or participated in summer workshops at Phoenix Theatre, The Phoenix Symphony, Valley Youth Theatre, Childsplay, Desert Stages, and Paradise Valley Community College.

I have also watched my friends act in plays and musicals at Spotlight Youth Theatre, Greasepaint, Arizona State University, and Nearly Naked Theatre, and I hope one day to have an opportunity to perform in those venues as well. It is also tremendously productive to work with a singing, acting, or dancing coach. Choreographers like Molly Lajoie and Katie Casey have given me dozens of new dance steps that I can use on stage, and singing coach Toby Yatso has been hugely important in helping my voice mature.

L to R: Aaron Zweiback (Flick) and Sam Primack (Ralphie) in "A Christmas Story" at Phoenix Theatre

Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind when auditioning is always to keep a positive attitude, regardless of whether you win that part you’ve always craved. Casting a show is a matching process: if you don’t get a role, it does not mean that you did a bad job at the audition or that you have no talent! It simply means that the director didn’t feel you fit the part as well as someone else did, which is something you can’t control.

And if you “only” get cast in an ensemble role and feel discouraged that you didn’t get a bigger part, instead you can celebrate that you were accepted into the show at all. That old saying really is true: “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

I hope these tips have been helpful and that you will use them the next time you audition. I’ll see you at the theatre!

Note: Both Zweiback and Primack are currently performing in “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre and Zweiback shared with me that they’ve been cast in “The Color of Stars” with Childsplay. Zweiback attends Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, and is also performing in The Phoenix Symphony’s “Green Eggs and Ham.”

Coming up: Art meets architecture, A journey home, Gaga for dance

Once upon a theater camp

Aaron Zweiback performs in Green Eggs & Ham with The Phoenix Symphony on St. Patrick's Day

I was reminded while reading Mala Blomquist’s post this morning that spring break camps will soon be upon us, and was busy trolling for camps with an arts and culture twist when interrupted by a call from 12-year-old actor and ASA student Aaron Zweiback, whose theater teachers include Xanthia Walker.

I first met Zweiback last summer when my daughter Lizabeth, who now studies acting in NYC, was a teacher assistant with Childsplay Academy in Tempe. She’d invited me to see the final performance of a summer workshop with a “Hairspray” theme. Zweiback was one of several campers performing snippets of the musical for family and friends — and his Edna a la bathrobe was a hoot. He’s also done theater camps with Phoenix Theatre.

I ran into Zweiback after a recent Valley Youth Theatre performance of “Charlotte’s Web” — during which he rocked the rat role — and put fist to ear with the typical “call me” sign after chatting with his dad. In a rather spooky coincidence, I’d been wondering earlier this morning whether he’d ever have time to actually pick up a phone.

Today was the day, and the call couldn’t have been better timed. Turns out Zweiback is performing in several shows I’ll be seeing in coming days and weeks. I learned yesterday that I’ll need a little snip to a torn part of my left knee, but decided to postpone all things arthroscopy for another two weeks in order to keep my review calendar mostly intact.

Aaron Zweiback recently performed in Charlotte's Web at Valley Youth Theatre

So life looks like this for me and my knee: See Zweiback and others perform in “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre this weekend, limp my way through a trip to visit Lizabeth over spring break, then catch a returning flight in the wee hours that gets me home just in time to hit another Zweiback gig — The Phoenix Symphony performing “Green Eggs and Ham.” Then squeeze in the surgery thing (with a doc who took his kids to see a friend from the Valley perform in “Grease” on Broadway a few years ago). I’m told the wait won’t worsen what ails me.

Turns out “Green Eggs and Ham” includes all sorts of amazing folks from Valley stages. ASA teacher and renowned Valley actor Toby Yatso, with whom both Lizabeth and Zweiback have studied voice, is narrating the story. Zweiback does his “boy soprano” thing as “Sam I Am” and shared that the theatrical piece of the concert is being blocked, choreographed and directed by Bobb Cooper, VYT’s producing artistic director.

There’s another Sam in Zweiback’s life as well — an actor named Sam Primack whose little mittens I once guarded with care as backstage mom for a Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “Oliver.” He and Zweiback were in “A Christmas Story” at Phoenix Theatre earlier this season, and both are cast in Childsplay’s world premiere production of Dwayne Hartford’s “The Color of Stars.”

Sam Primack poses with a VYT fan after performing in Charlotte's Web

After Zweiback shared a bit about auditioning for all these shows, I invited him to write a guest blog with audition tips for young actors — and he graciously agreed. It takes a generous spirit to share one’s own “secrets to success” and Zweiback certainly has one. I fully expect to see him performing on Broadway stages one day, and hope he’ll also keep an eye out for opportunities to audition for roles in works by William Shakespeare where his intellect and gift for comedy would shine.

If the ticket fairies are working in my favor, I’ll be able to enjoy the work of another Valley-trained actor while in NYC next week. Nick Cartell, who has performed with VYT, Phoenix Theatre and other Arizona companies makes his Broadway debut this month in a revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Katie Czajkowksi and Aaron Zweiback after a Childsplay summer camp performance based on the musical Hairspray

I’m also looking forward to the Homestead Playhouse production of “Holes,” being performed at Copper Ridge School in Scottsdale March 28-30, because another young performer I met after the Childsplay “Hairspray” camp performance landed the warden role. Katie’s mom, Deb Czajkowski, recently got in touch to share the happy news — and her thoughts on the many benefits of theater for youth.

I hope those of you still wondering what your children or teens might enjoy doing over spring break will do a little theater camp legwork. One day, perhaps, you’ll get to turn to your child and share the old theater adage for good luck — “Break a leg!” Just try to keep your own body parts intact in the meantime…

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read Mala Blomquist’s post on spring break camps and here to learn about all sorts of summer camps. Find additional spring break camps at Voices Studio, Creative Stages Youth Theatre and Mesa Arts Center (if you’ve got one, send me the scoop at rakstagemom@gmail.com).

Coming up: Spring break NYC-style, Hometown boy makes Broadway debut

A hidden treasure

For years I’ve driven past a small building near downtown Phoenix, never giving any thought to what might be inside. I was always on another mission — getting Lizabeth to classes at Arizona School for the Arts or making a book run at the Burton Barr Central Library.

The building was undergoing significant renovations, but I was more focused on the many changes taking place at ASA — which was transitioning at the time from using space inside a church to readying its own buildings nearby.

Now that Lizabeth has graduated, I’m eager to revisit the area so I can explore both the new ASA facilties and the other site I’d ignored all those years while rushing around in teen taxi mode. Turns out it’s the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, which houses the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society is “dedicated to preserving local Jewish history, promoting awareness of our state’s diverse history, and making local history accessible to all” — and notes that their facility is “open to all people.” Their newly renovated home is actually a 90-year-old landmark historic building.

The Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center houses a museum gallery, which currently features an Arizona centennial exhibit titled “New Frontiers: Jewish Pioneers in the Arizona Territory.” The centennial exhibit runs through Feb., 2012. Folks who visit the center’s website can enjoy an online gallery, and read about future exhibit plans.

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society offers two curriculum packets tied to the centennial exhibit — one for 4th grade students (tied to standards in Arizona history) and another for junior high school students (tied to standards in Arizona history and westward expansion). Lessons feature primary sources, including documents, photographs and more.

As Arizona continues to grapple with diversity-related issues, it’s important to remember the diversity of early settlers who built our state — including the many Jews whose work in mining, agriculture, commerce and other fields was integral to settling the American West.

— Lynn

Coming up: Family circus, Jewish film festivals

Once upon a concert

“Guess what Lizabeth is doing this evening?” My husband greeted me with the question after I got home from a day spent at the Arizona Humanities Festival in downtown Phoenix. Earlier in the week, our youngest daughter lamented being bored. “She lives in Manhattan,” James mused at the time, “and she can’t find anything to do.”

Of course, there’s always something happening in New York City. The trick is making it in Manhattan on a college student’s budget, and Lizabeth has long been mindful of the fact that money doesn’t grow on trees. She called home while I was out to ask about getting tickets for the nosebleed section of a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Lizabeth called home after the concert too, eager to talk with us about her adventure. This was about 10:30pm our time, one of many clues that Lizabeth is adapting to life in the “city that never sleeps.”

She’d jumped a subway to make the trek from her university near the World Trade Center to the 59th Street/Columbus Street station – putting her near Columbus Circle, where big names in protest music had performed “We Shall Overcome” for “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators just a day before.

When I mentioned Pete Seeger’s participation in the march to Columbus Circle, Lizabeth noted that she’d seen Seeger-related materials while exploring some exhibits before taking her seat for the show. Seems one of Seeger’s most famous solo concerts took place at Carnegie Hall exactly thirty years to the day before Lizabeth, our youngest, was born.

Her favorite finds at the Rose Museum and Archive included a baton used by conductor Leonard Bernstein, a scarf worn by dancer Isadora Duncan and eyeglasses worn by singer Ella Fitzgerald. Also a signed photo of George Gershwin, a record signed by Judy Garland, a program signed by Luciano Pavarotti and a program signed by all four Beatles. 

Liz was thrilled to meet Audra McDonald in NYC

Lizabeth was at Carnegie Hall that evening to hear Audra McDonald, who’ll perform the role of Bess in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” which begins previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Dec. 17. Somehow we’d missed her performance at last year’s “ARTrageous” event at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

I love talking with Lizabeth after she’s experienced a performance. She observes and describes them with what I’ve always considered a writer’s eye, though it’s clearly part of the acting craft as well – something Lizabeth is studying at Pace University. She started by telling me about McDonald’s stunning midnight blue gown, and shared that catching her first glimpse of McDonald on stage brought tears to her eyes.

Lizabeth started voice lessons several years ago, studying first with Toby Yatso — one of her beloved theater teachers at Arizona School for the Arts. He’d encouraged her to listen to McDonald’s recordings, and shared his love along the way for all things Audra. The majesty of her first Carnegie Hall experience left Lizabeth remembering Yatso, one of many teachers who helped her make all those dreams of studying acting in New York a reality.

Lizabeth stayed after the show for an hour or so, waiting by the stage door to tell McDonald how much she enjoyed the performance — eager to tell her about Yatso’s devotion to her work and the way she’d felt moved by that evening’s performance.

But a group of women, “groupies” in a not-so-lovely sense of the word, pushed their way past others waiting patiently in line — only to position themselves directly in front of the stage door, “practically jumping on McDonald” as she exited with her young daughter after the show.

Lizabeth was hoping to chat briefly with McDonald, but decided by the time they met, that keeping it brief would be best. She asked for two autographs — one for Yatso and another for herself — and accepted when McDonald graciously offered to pose with her for a photo. Lizabeth told me she thought it better to let McDonald’s daughter get home to bed than to keep her any longer.

Lizabeth thanked McDonald for making time to meet and greet the folks who’d come to hear her sing that evening, then hopped a subway back to her dorm — where foot blisters from all that NYC walking got bandaged as a proud mama relished telephone time with a daughter making all kinds of strides in the world.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to enjoy a recent NPR interview with Audra McDonald, here to read a review of the concert written by Stephen Holden of The New York Times and here to visit McDonald’s Facebook page. Click here to learn more about this year’s “ARTrageous” event in Scottsdale.

Coming up: Local stage offerings from Shakespeare to Disney