Tag Archives: AriZoni Award

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!

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Storytelling takes flight

Alyson Marie Maloney soars as Emily Book in Stray Cat Theatre's production of The Sparrow (Photo: John Groseclose)

Storytelling took flight Friday night as Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe opened its 10th season with “The Sparrow,” a work conceived by Nathan Allen and co-written with Chris Mathews and Jake Minton.

It’s directed by Stray Cat Theatre’s founding artistic director Ron May, recently honored with an Arizoni Award for directing last season’s “Learn to be Latina.” He opened the evening by previewing the rest of this season’s shows — “Milk, Milk Lemonade” by Joshua Conkel, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” by Stephen Adly Guirgis and “Heddatron” by Elizabeth Meriwether.

That last one promises a mix of housewife, playwright and robots. May has perfected the fine art of selecting a season — and casting the right people for each role. “The Sparrow” features Alyson Marie Mahoney as Emily Book, the sole survivor of a school bus that somehow collides with a train.

In a day and age of lavish, big budget productions that expect little of their viewers, Stray Cat Theatre knows that less can be more. Robert Kolby Harper, associate artistic director with Phoenix Theatre, praises May’s “minimalist” approach to “The Sparrow” — noting its elegance as an homage to imagination.

Rather than elaborate sets with frequent changes that can distract audience members from the heart of a story, May pumps life into “The Sparrow” with a simple dollhouse, tall red rectangles signifying student lockers and a bevy of chairs — plus a little something we all remember from high school biology but never expected to see doing the disco.

Damon Dering, artistic director for Nearly Naked Theatre in Phoenix, notes that May’s production has a “real Chicago feel.” The play originated at The House Theatre in Chicago, and May’s own Chicago roots have clearly taken flight at the little Tempe theater where he’s feathering the nest with a “$10 for 10th” campaign that’ll help future seasons soar.

This production’s Chicago connections include Andréa Morales, who portrays high school uberachiever Jenny. Morales performed for several years with Childsplay in Tempe before heading to the Windy City, where she’s a company member with Halcyon Theatre and artistic associate with Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

The cast of Stray Cat Theatre's The Sparrow gives a stirring ensemble performance (Photo: John Groseclose)

I hit opening night for “The Sparrow” with my daughter Jennifer, an ASU student who usually ranks attending live theater productions right up there with cleaning out the litter box. But she was eager to see “The Sparrow” after learning that the cast includes a couple of actors she knows from ASU and Arizona School for the Arts.

I spoke with one of them, Joshua Sherrill, after the show. He practically waxed poetic about the show’s deeper meaning. We all experience pain, he told me, but it’s how we come through it that defines who we are. In “The Sparrow,” it’s parents who are grieving.

The parents’ pain, and the grief of a community losing its innocence, are signaled by actors carrying framed photos of children and pastoral rural scenes. No need to wheel trees and plains in and out of view. We get it from the moment the show first spreads its wings — thanks in part to simple but dramatic lighting and music, mostly strings, that mix sweet melodies with sad, somber sounds.

Much of “The Sparrow” centers around small town high school life. Think cheerleaders and football fervor. Wrist corsages and awkward prom moments. Teacher crushes and overhead projectors. The latter makes for nifty shadow effects on a screen also used to show footage of the school bus crash at the heart of the play. The film clips are especially compelling when mixed with sound effects signaling trains careening down the tracks.

You'll have to decide whether Emily Book's strange powers are really beyond her control (Pictured: Alyson Marie Maloney, Photo: John Groseclose)

“The Sparrow” is perfectly enjoyable as a story free from existential elaboration. Theater goers who prefer to let trains be trains will be satiated by this show. But those seeking deeper symbolism can find it in a speeding train that could be the powerful imaginings of a young child or the repressed feelings of a teacher at once tender and treacherous.

It’s the collision of love and loss that gives “The Sparrow” its poignancy and power. The naysayers of a decade ago who told Ron May that starting Stray Cat Theatre could lead to a train wreck were right. But little did they know just how high it would soar.

— Lynn

Note: “The Sparrow” is best for mature teen and adult audiences. To learn more about the show, which runs through Oct 8, visit www.straycattheatre.org. I’m told the fabulous cookies enjoyed by folks who lingered after the show for a 10th season celebration came from Angelica Howland, proprietor of Scrumptious Angel cookies. I’ll update this post with her website once it’s up and running. Baking first, technology second. I like her style. Hooray! You can now click here to find the cookie website!

Coming up: Show me your Sondheim!, Mystery takes center stage

HONK! against hate

Back in the hippie heyday, bumpers stickers starting with “Honk if you…” were all the rage. Honk if you love Jesus. Honk if you’re horny. I prefer the more modern takes. Honk if you ♥ librarians. Honk if you love peace and quiet. Think about honking if you love conceptual art.

If Brenda Goodenberger of Glendale had her way, they’d all read “Honk if you hate hate.” Goodenberger is a mother of nine, grandmother of three and longtime theater professional making her directing debut with “Honk! Jr.” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria.

L to R: Kira Kadel (Cat), Marshall Scott (Ugly) and Ashley Sneddon (Ida) in Honk! Jr. at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria (Photo: Steve Salik)

“Honk! Jr.” is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” — a tale Goodenberger embraces “given the startling statistics of bullying in the modern world.” She touts the show’s timeless message: “It’s who we are on the inside that truly matters!”

“As an artist,” says Goodenberger, “I have spent my entire life being a little different than many of my peers, and I have always been a loud supporter of equality for all peoples regardless of race, gender, class, religion or sexual orientation.”

“Honk! Jr.” is an adpatation of the musical “Honk!” featuring music by George Stiles and book/lyrics by Anthony Drewe. “Honk!” earned the British Olivier Award in 2000 for best musical, beating out both “Mamma Mia!” and “The Lion King.”

The Creative Stages Youth Theatre production includes a cast of 43 youth ages 7-16. CSYT is headed by artistic director Jim Gradillas, who worked several years ago with Theater Works, also in the West Valley.

Cast of Honk! Jr. at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria

I’ll never forget the AriZoni Awards ceremony at the Herberger Theater Center the year Gradillas’ supporters did a bit too much of their own “honking” each time his name was mentioned on stage.

Those of you attending this year’s AriZoni Awards ceremony Monday night at the Tempe Center for the Arts might want to tone this down a bit for the benefit of those with smaller or humbler cheering sections.

As I wrote this post, a press release from Theater Works came across my virtual desk — noting their production of the “King and I” opening Fri, Sept 23. It’s another work with an “anti-hate” theme — one I often conjure when politicians do their “America is the center of the universe” dance.

The King looks rather foolish during “The King and I” when he unfurls a flag depicting his beloved Siam as a giant country when it’s really rather small. Sometimes theater is more effective than other means at conveying such things.

Still, “Honk! Jr.” is more than a morality tale. It’s also awfully good fun, with songs like “A Poultry Tale,” “Play With Your Food,” and “Warts and All.” You can see “Honk! Jr.” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre through Sun, Sept 25. Tickets are available online at www.csyt.org.

“The family that does plays together,” quips Goodenberger, “stays together.” She and husband Ken have a “blended family” of children ages seven to 28. Many share the couple’s fondness for performing.

I like to think that theater works wonders for families in the audience too. So drive on over to Peoria for a bit of theater time with your children — and let them give a little honk along the way.

— Lynn

Note: Program notes for CSYT’s “Honk! Jr.” include two anti-bullying websites — www.stopbullying.gov and www.thetrevorproject.org. Learn more about the Goodenberger family at www.goodenberger.com. Find Creative Stages Youth Theatre at www.csyt.org and Theater Works at www.theaterworks.org. Both theaters are located in Peoria.

Coming up: Spotlight on the 2011 AriZoni Awards (visit www.arizoniawards.com for info on the Sept 19 ceremonies)