Tag Archives: arts collaboration

Laugh your brass off!

Something tells me I’ll be laughing my brass off this weekend when The Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre present a joint production of “The Music Man” at Phoenix Symphony Hall.

Original poster for "The Music Man" on Broadway

“The Music Man,” featuring book, music and lyric by Meredith Wilson, is a charming musical fit for the whole family that follows the shenanigans of a traveling saleman who sells musical instruments and claims he can train students to play them using only the “think system.” (Does this work for homework or housework?)

I’ve seen countless productions of “The Music Man” — but this will be my first time hearing a symphony perform songs like “(Ya Got) Trouble,” “Seventy-six Trombones” and “Shipoopi” as part of a “semi-staged co-production.”

“The Music Man” opened on Broadway in 1957, winning five Tony Awards including “Best Musical.” The original cast recording won the 1958 Grammy Award for “Best Original Cast Album.” Its original Broadway run lasted for 1,375 performances.

"The Music Man" is a popular school production

It’s a classic piece of musical theater, an art form that originated right here in the United States of America, and this weekend presents a rare opportunity for families to enjoy a live performance presented by some of the Valley’s most gifted actors and musicians.

I’ve been enjoying musical theater and symphonic music with my children for well over a decade now — and my favorite productions have always been those that inspire us to explore our own identities and the world around us long after the curtain has drawn to a close.

Families who see “The Music Man” this weekend will have plenty to talk and wonder about together. How have brass instruments evolved through the years? Are there perils to having too much idle time? How are the roles of librarians changing in society? Should a friend ever refuse to keep another friend’s confidences? How do modern day con men lure and manipulate others?

“The Music Man” is based on a story by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey that features the fictional “River City” inspired by Wilson’s hometown of Mason City, Iowa. Today tourists still visit “The Music Man Square” to see both Wilson’s boyhood home and the museum that honors his best-known work.

"The Music Man" has both original and revival cast recordings

Wilson was born in Mason City in 1902, and grew up in a family that often sang together as mom Rosalie, a music teacher, played the piano. He moved to New York to study music at age 17, eventually playing with the John Philip Sousa band (think marches and patriotic tunes) and the New York Philharmonic.

He began conducting and composing in his late 20s, taking more than five years to write “The Music Man.” How lovely that it continues to be performed and appreciated today. And better still that it’s the perfect excuse to simply laugh your brass off.

If hearing The Phoenix Symphony perform “Seventy-six Trombones” leaves you longing for more brass, you’ll have plenty of options. Who knew there’s actually an online trombone journal or an international trombone association?

Resources closer to home include our local community colleges and state universities — which often present musical performances that are free and open to the public. You can hit Paradise Valley Community College on Sept 17 to enjoy a faculty jazz quintet concert.

Playbill from a revival of "The Music Man'

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix features instruments from seven geographical regions — including modern and historical brass instruments. I’m a bit partial to the Germany exhibit because so many of the instruments have names that give me a good giggle.

If brass is your baby, mark at least the following two MIM Music Theater concerts on your calendar. First, the free Sept 29 (10:30am) performance by hornist John Ericson and pianist Yi-Wan Liao — with works performed on a variety of period horns. Second, the Oct 30 concert by “The Chestnut Brass Company” — a quintet that performs on modern and historical brass instruments.

Next year you can enjoy “The Music Man” presented by a partnership of Copperstar Repertory Company, Higley Community Education and the Higley Center for the Performing Arts. It’ll run Feb 18-26 (take your sweetheart to hear “‘Till There Was You”). Presenters praise the musical for affirming “the value and joy of music while communicating the importance of honesty and responsibility.”

But for now, just roll with the “laugh your brass off” riff.


Note: “The Music Man” is the first performance of The Phoenix Symphony’s 2010-2011 Family Series — which also features “Enchanted Fairytales” including the children’s opera “Brundibar” and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” as well as “Orchestra from Planet X” with the Magic Circle Mime Company. Thanks to support from Target Corporation, “patrons receive one free child subscription with each adult series subscription purchased.”

Coming up: All that brass, Theater fun with animals, Spotlight on storytelling, Poetry perspectives, Literacy & the arts (click here to read a great post written to honor today’s celebration of International Literacy Day)

Trivia time: Can you name at least one other musical nominated for “Best Musical” at the 1958 Tony Awards? Can you name at least one of the actors who performed the role of young Winthrop Paroo in either a stage or movie version of “The Music Man?” Comment below if you know — or get the answers in a future post…


Lemons from lemonade

Earlier this year, a non-profit known as the Metro Phoenix Partnership for Arts and Culture decided to cease operations. But not before assuring with its main funders, the Flinn Foundation and the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust–that remaining monies would be put to good use.

The Flinn Emergency Fund for Arts Organizations made one-time grants totalling $500,000 to 21 arts and culture organizations. Grant amounts were based on each nonprofit’s annual operating budget, and designated “unrestricted” so recipients have freedom in deciding how to use the funds.

The Flinn Foundation Emergency Arts Grants, announced in April, went to several types of organizations noted below:

Museums: Arizona Science Center, Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum
Dance: Ballet Arizona
Music: Arizona Opera, Phoenix Boys Choir, Phoenix Chorale, The Phoenix Symphony, Symphony of the Southwest
Theater: Actors Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Arizona Theatre Company, Black Theatre Troupe, Childsplay, Phoenix Theatre, Theater Works
Visual Arts: Xico, Inc. (featuring the work of Latino and Native American artists)
Other: Herberger Theater Center, Scottsdale Cultural Council, West Valley Arts Council

The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust anounced 11 awards totalling $1.2 million through its Arts Restructuring and Transformation (ART) Fund on August 11. Recipients were chosen from among the 37 previous Piper arts and culture grantees invited to apply.

Funded organizations/projects include the following:

Museums: Desert Botanical Garden (for website improvements), Heard Museum (to expand retail space, add bookstore and coffeeshop), Phoenix Art Museum (to develop a center for film)
Dance: Ballet Arizona (to establish a community school of dance)
Music: Arizona Opera (for construction of theater, education wing and artists space), Phoenix Conservatory of Music (to promote a strategic alliance with Ear Candy), The Phoenix Symphony (to restructure marketing and development functions)
Theater: Arizona Theatre Company/Actors Theatre of Phoenix (to explore a strategic alliance), Childsplay (for increased patron participation and expanded technology), Theater Works (for arts storage and rental facility)
Other: Chandler Cultural Center (for youth training in arts and arts administration)

Stay tuned to the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and Flinn Foundation websites for details on an upcoming four-day town hall they’ll be co-sponsoring during April 2011. The four-day conference will focus on the impact of arts and culture on Arizona’s economy.


Note: Stay abreast of various grant opportunities by tuning into websites for the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts.

Coming up: Finding films in unexpected places

Don’t push my buttons!

Pushing buttons…

It’s a common occurrence when the “teen taxi” is in service.

Sometimes it’s the emotional kind, but usually it’s just the radio that’s in play. I push the ‘70s button, Christopher pushes the ‘80s button, Jennifer pushes the country/western button and Lizabeth pushes the Broadway button.

'50s crooner Eddie Fisher

We get a ‘50s station thanks to Sirius XM, but it’s never had its own button. James and I are at the back of the “Boomers,” born in the ‘60s after the heyday of soda jerks and juke boxes.

So it surprised me when I actually got chills listening to the cast of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s The Sound of Plaid” perform the show’s final number, “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”

The show—an Arizona premiere of “The Sound of Plaid: The New Glee Club Version of Forever Plaid”—features mostly music popularized in the ‘50s. Think “Lady of Spain” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.”

I attended the Saturday matinee at Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre) in Scottsdale, which was also enjoyed by youth from a variety of non-profit organizations—including Free Arts of Arizona, Chrysalis and Girl Scouts.

Collaboration is a many splendored thing, and Phoenix Theatre does it so well.

I never met a mic I didn't like

I’m also rather partial to their take on all things plaid. If ever there was a show with the potential to be a monotonous “one note”—this has to be it. I’m more of a spandex and disco ball kind of a gal, so I really didn’t expect to find this show all that enchanting.

Contemporary crooner Michael Buble

But they had me with the very first notes out of the tuxedo-clad quartet that opened the show (all looking a bit like Michael Buble brandishing braces)—which follows the performance of a high school glee club who’ve come back to earth after perishing in a 1964 crash with another school bus.

Students on the other fictional bus, en route to watch the Beatles’ debut on the Ed Sullivan show, survived—but that’s the last we hear of them. They haven’t got the power of the plaid.

I loved the show’s many references to all things nostalgic. The club sang a round rather than a rap. They pined over LPs instead of iPods. They used words more common many decades ago—uranium, Korea, harmonic convergence—even “Holy cannoli!”

Ed Sullivan & the "Fab Four"

The show featured especially strong vocals, with plenty of stunning solos and heartfelt harmonies. I’d have to give the best overall performance award to Ryan Kitkowski, an Arcadia High School sophomore who plays Jinx with true comedic flair.

I was also impressed by the balance of various creative elements—the live music (piano, bass and drums), the simple but sophisticated scenic design, the polished costumes and the playful props.

The youngest trio of cast members—including 2nd grader Alex Kirby (Gladys), 3rd grader Sam Primack (Lionel) and 4th grader Madeline Bates (Irene)–were both capable and cute. Madeline is the youngest of three Bates siblings in the show, and the cast member I’d pick for “most likely to make it big as a dancer” one day.

The Andrew Sisters

As always, the Greasepaint Theatre lobby was transformed into a world reflecting the cultural context of the show. Patrons enjoyed clips of songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrew Sisters on a tiny black and white television. And yup, they even managed to dig up an old record player.

Exhibits featured photos and descriptions of cultural icons like American Bandstand—and true American idols like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Big Mama Thornton and Bing Crosby. A mock recording studio with stand-up mic and “On the Air” sign made a great setting for snapping souvenir photos.

“The Sound of Plaid” makes for a refreshing afternoon or evening of theater for all ages (recommended for 5 & up). If you want to treat the grandparents in your life to some quality time with the grandkids, get them tickets to see this show.

Dick Clark

Or if you want your child to see the polished, but not plastic, performance of a real live “glee club”—this is the show for you. Long before 3-D televisions invade our family rooms and kitchens, we’ll have plenty of live performance art to transport young imaginations to new dimensions.

But don’t get me started. The tragedy of television time taking over theater time is one of my hot buttons…


Patsy Cline

Note: If, like my daughter Jennifer, the radio button you’re most fond of pushing is for country/western tunes, don’t miss the presentation of “Always…Patsy Cline” coming to Phoenix Theatre on May 19. It’s a touching glimpse into the world of singer Patsy Cline, whose life was cut tragically short by a plane crash in 1963 when she was just 30 years old.

Coming up: Spotlight on summer theater camps, including those offered by Phoenix Theatre, Childsplay, Valley Youth Theatre and more. If your child has had a positive experience with a Valley theater camp (or you’ve seen another youth theater production you’d like to recommend), feel free to comment below to let our readers know.

“Arts in Crisis” tour hits Arizona

I felt like I was on the set with James Lipton of Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio” yesterday as I faced two empty leather chairs on the stage at Phoenix Theatre.

The seats were for Robert Booker, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and Michael Kaiser, president of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Kaiser explained that the afternoon—an hour and a half spent with Valley artists and arts advocates—was his 49th stop on a 69-city tour dubbed “Arts in Crisis.” He’d just come from a similar “community conversation” hosted by the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Kaiser was introduced by Rod Castillo, president of the Arizona Alliance for Arts and Education, a member of the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network.

Booker asked Kaiser several questions, many addressing how arts organizations can remain vibrant and healthy amidst challenging economic times. Local artists and arts administrators took turns asking questions at a designated microphone.

It was a rare opportunity to interact with the man renowned for his “turnaround” work with arts organizations including the Royal Opera House, American Ballet Theatre and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation.

At Booker’s behest, Kaiser shared 10 tips featured in the latest of four books he’s authored—“The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations”—published in 2008.

These days, Kaiser’s admitted pet project is the “Any Given Child” initiative, which “seeks to bring access, balance, and equity to each child’s arts education.”

So what was the take-away message from all this?

That “you can’t save your way to health.”

The key to thriving in tough economic times may be more about mission than money.

In most cases, says Kaiser, it’s a mistake to focus on cutting back on show quality or quantity. Likewise, there’s little benefit to merely adding more performances, even for popular shows.

Don’t concentrate on doing less. Dream about ways you can begin to do more.

It’s tempting to think fundraising first and production quality second. Don’t.

The winning combo is simply this: high quality projects and consistently sound marketing.

“Arts organizations don’t work in a vacuum,” quips Kaiser. If you’re not delivering new works, taking risks and offering material that’s interesting and exciting, patrons will play elsewhere.

Forget about simply filling slots—searching for material to plug into holidays or other times of the year. Think big. Be bold.

For everything you do, ask yourself this question: “How can I make this project big, excellent and transformative?”

Don’t assume you’ll need big bucks to get big ideas rolling. Don’t assume everything has to happen right away. Invest more time in planning, collaboration and engaging others who share your dreams.

Never undervalue the work you do as an artist, insists Kaiser. “The work we do is important,” he says, “not extraneous or superfluous.”

Kaiser recalls his decision to reopen the Kennedy Center the day after 9/11—a tragedy that took place while his staff was meeting in a room overlooking the Pentagon.

Though some artists worried the move might seem disrespectful, Kaiser held fast to his belief that “people need us now more than ever.”

Every performance was full, he shares, because people wanted a diversion from the 24/7 news cycle.

“They wanted to be inspired,” he says. After seeing the worst of humanity, they longed to be reminded of the best.

That’s the ongoing gift of artists and their art to our communities…

Embrace it.


Photos (from top to bottom): Page from original art print calendar by Mesa Arts Center; Cool Kids campers at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts; Childsplay production of “Tomato Plant Girl;” Visions Gallery at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (photo credit: Michael Lundgren); “The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes” from ASU’s School of Theatre and Film; Musica Dolca

Note: I’ll tuck away my notes from Monday’s “Arts in Crisis” gathering so I can share more of Kaiser’s insights in future posts. To enjoy more of his work and wisdom, visit artsmanager.org. Learn about additional opportunities to create, cultivate and support the arts in Arizona—and to participate in shaping Arizona arts and culture—by visiting azarts.gov and signing up for arts commission e-newsletters.

Coming up: Conversation with “No Child” playwright and actress Nilaja Sun, whose one woman show presented by Actors Theatre comes to Herberger Center for the Arts later this month