Tag Archives: Auditions

Another Tony Awards adventure

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack (R) and daughter Kelsey on the ASU Gammage stage. Photo by Dan Friedman.

Arizona’s only Tony Awards voter, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, flew to NYC this morning to enjoy festivities leading up to Sunday’s Tony Awards ceremony taking place at the Beacon Theatre with host Neil Patrick Harrris.  Jennings-Roggensack is executive director for ASU Gammage in Tempe, which presents touring Broadway productions through “Broadway Across America.”

Tuesday was opening night for “Million Dollar Quartet” at ASU Gammage, which blends historical fiction with the music and larger-than-life personalities of Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye), Carl Perkins (Lee Ferris), Johnny Cash (Derek Keeling) and Elvis Presley (Cody Slaughter). Also Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant), whose Dec. 4, 1956 gathering at Sun Records in Memphis inspired the work.

Tuesday’s audience seemed to favor Cash tunes, but it’s Lewis’ bad-boy shenanigans that bring this story to life. I was most taken with the show’s technical elements and actors’ exquisite command of all things movement. Seven of the eight cast members play instruments, so audience members enjoy piano and guitar licks along with riffs on harmonica, bass and drums. Two jumbo speakers on either side of the stage delivered the best sound I’ve experienced in two decades of Gammage-going.

The 2012/2013 ASU Gammage season opens with “Anything Goes.” Folks who watched last year’s Tony Awards ceremony saw Tony-winner Sutton Foster and the “Anything Goes” cast sing and tap the show’s title number, plus performances from two other shows coming to ASU Gammage next season — “Sister Act” and “Memphis.”

I’ve been taking Lizabeth to ASU Gammage for Broadway shows and other offerings for more than a decade, but now that she attends college in NYC, she also gets to enjoy plenty of shows on Broadway. So far she’s seen eight of this year’s Tony Award nominees, and I can tell she has a soft spot for “Once” — a musical we hope to enjoy together during my next trip to NYC. “Peter and the Starcatcher” is another one of her favorites, hailed like “Once” for its breathtaking simplicity and storytelling.

This is the eighth year that “Gammage supporters and advocates” are joining Jennings-Roggensack for a special “Broadway Adventure” and the Tony Awards ceremony. While Arizona viewers watch the Tony Awards Sunday night on CBS (click here for details), team Gammage will have some folks inside the Beacon Theatre and others inside the Tony Awards VIP section in Times Square, where the ceremony is being broadcast on the Sony JumboTron.

Other items on the ASU Gammage itinerary include lunching with folks from “The Book of Mormon,” getting backstage peeks at Tony-nominated shows, mixing historical perspectives with a walk along the “Great White Way” and meeting with stars, directors and set designers of shows from the current and future ASU Gammage season. Also donning gowns and tuxes for the post-Tony Awards gala at The Plaza Hotel.

“In the wee hours of the morning,” says Jennings-Roggensack, “I will slip away to join the casts of the best musical, best play and best revival at their celebratory after-parties.” Still, she says “the best part of all this is that we are already planning on these Tony Award-winning shows making their way to the Gammage stage.”

— Lynn

Note: Watch for an article about Roggensack and daughter Kelsey in the July 2012 issue of Raising Arizona KidsClick here for Tony Awards t-shirts and other offerings for folks eager to rock the Tony Awards vibe. And click here to learn about this month’s “Million Dollar Quartet” auditions in Las Vegas, L.A. and Austin.

Coming up: Fun with outdoor concerts, Art meets solstice


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

“Smash” earns a callback

Folks who tune in to the new NBC series Smash will enjoy views of Times Square in NYC

A pair of dueling divas singing “Let me be your star.” A tough-minded producer who looks downright docile compared with her ex-in-the-making. A man concerned that Broadway is beating out baby as he begins the adoption process with his musical-making wife. An assistant credited too readily with generating the concept for a musical he’ll never shepherd to the stage. And a director who seems more creepy than creative.

It’s just another day in New York City — complete with cabs, subways, liquid power lunches and actors hoofing it as waitstaff. Also auditions full of people who’ve never heard of “audition 101” gems like “don’t dress like the character you want to play” and “beware the director who calls you to his apartment in the wee hours.”

The characters feel complex enough to carry audience interest for the long run, and the seeds of plenty of potential plotlines have already been sewn. Emotional baggage. Intellectual property. Wardrobe misadventures. It’s all there — in one smartly-written package.

Like the best Broadway musicals, the first episode of “Smash” builds slowly towards a big finish, with lots of high points along the way. Also plenty of issues to ponder between episodes. Which ranks higher in the hierarchy of humanity — talent or kindness? When is trusting your gut a sign of fear — and when is it a sign of courage? And who’s the bigger downer — a cynical New Yorker or a defeatist Midwesterner?

“Smash” follows the journey of a small idea to the big stage — plus the lives of those whose best (and sometimes worst) efforts get it there. It’s relatable stuff for those not schooled in musical theater, but intoxicating for those who breathe to banter around words like “mix” and “belt.”

A critical question in the real world of theater gets asked within the first few minutes of the first episode — “Why isn’t anyone doing new musicals anymore?” And our first shot of the Shubert Theatre shows a marquee reading “Heaven on Earth.” The show clearly preaches to the choir, though I suspect it’ll yield plenty of conversion stories over time.

Making theater complicates life, and life complicates making theater. Such is the stuff of “Smash” — and executive producers, including Steven Spielberg, have certainly earned a callback.

— Lynn

 Note: Click here to learn more about NBC’s “Smash”

Coming up: Celebrating “Kids’ Night on Broadway”

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade auditions

Some of the kids who audition at ASU Gammage this Saturday might get to enjoy workshops, performing and sightseeing in New York City this November

I’ve got NYC on my heart and mind today as Hurricane Irene threatens to head up the East Coast, possibly affecting some of my favorite sites in New York City — the beautiful Battery Park waterfront, Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan and more.

Folks enjoying their weekday lunch hour along a waterway in Battery Park

But I’m also thinking ahead. More than 3 million people are expected to line the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route in NYC on Nov 24, and your child could be among those performing for the crowds. Macy’s expects another 50 million people to watch the 85th anniversary parade on NBC.

Auditions for this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are being held by the national Camp Broadway organization this Sat, Aug 27 at 9am at ASU Gammage. It’s an open call dance audition but no dance experience, headshot or resume is required — meaning any child who will be 12-16 at the time of the parade who might like to participate can try out.

Camp Broadway will be casting 120 children and teens from across the country (there are about ten auditions total) to perform an original number titled “There’s No Place Like Here” at the parade. They’ll be performing on and near a Zhu Zhu theme float — which will feature a performance by a “mystery teen pop star.” Tempe is stop number one for these auditions.

Those chosen will participate in a special Camp Broadway experience that includes six days of music, movement rehearsals and workshops — plus on-site rehearsals at Herald Square under the direction of Tony Parise, artistic director for Camp Broadway at the national level.

Parise will teach a dance combination on Saturday as part of the audition process. Auditions will be conducted in groups, and participants are expected to dress for dance. Think comfortable clothes and soft rubber-soled shoes. Sandals, flip-flops and hard-sole dress shoes are a no-no.

There are no time slots for auditioners, and the length of the audition process will depend on the number of kids who take part. Camp Broadway estimates that it could be a two to three hour process, but urges families to prepare for longer or shorter hours. Be sure you arrive at the audition no later than 9am.

I’m happy to report that the experience sounds a good deal more enjoyable than dancing with Abby Lee Miller at the Pittsburgh studio where Lifetime television films portions of its new “Dance Moms” reality series.

Those selected to dance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will pay an $895 program fee to participate. While in NYC, they’ll receive Camp Broadway giveaways — and they’ll even get to keep their parade costume. Participants also pay associated costs like travel, housing and such.

Perhaps some of the parade performers will get inspired to study one day at places like the Juilliard School in New York City

While in NYC, dancers will not only prepare for their parade performance, but enjoy time with dance captains from various Broadway shows — who will teach them actual choreography from these shows. Parise notes that there will also be time for sightseeing, since some rehearsals last just half a day.

While in NYC, parade performers will spot taxis sporting ads for all sorts of Broadway shows -- and maybe feel inspired to perform on Broadway one day

Those with an interest in all things Broadway might want to mark their calendars for next year’s Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage taking place Jun 4-8. Campers will see a touring production of the Tony Award-winning musical “Million Dollar Quartet” and meet the show’s cast.

Participants from Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage in 2007

Come Saturday, I’ll have a heavy heart for those along the East Coast who might be experiencing or bracing for the storm. Especially folks at places like the 9/11 Memorial Preview Center and Poets House, which I so enjoyed visiting during my last trip to NYC.

But I’m glad to have something positive to think on as well — all those dancing feet and smiling faces as Camp Broadway gives oodles of young dancers at ASU Gammage a chance to live their own NYC dreams at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read about special Macy’s discounts available through Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale

Coming up: Saturday event featuring family-friendly comedy

Review: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of A Midsummer Night/s Dream (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Shakespeare had something entirely different in mind when coining the title “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” For me, the words conjure memories of midsummer nights spent with my daughter Lizabeth at the Utah Shakespeare Festival — where everything feels a bit ethereal and dreamlike.

Recently we saw a Utah Shakespeare Festival performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by festival founder Fred C. Adams. “Midsummer” is being performed through Sept 3 in the open-air Tudor-style Adams Shakespearean Theatre, which is named for festival benefactor Grace Adams Tanner and her parents.

At the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, majestic meets moonlight. Evening performances start just before dusk so stars light the night sky overhead as second acts unfold. The setting is especially magical for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

A giant set piece with three layers of lush green leaves provide a backdrop for much of the play, but also serves as a hiding place for fairies and other mischief-makers. It’s lit at times with long streams of blue, green or yellow lights — sometimes all three.

Those who’ve strolled through the real thing know that forests can be lovely and lush, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival set design for “Midsummer” conveys such a feel — as do elaborate fabric florals in shades that mirror the finest gelato flavors.

Many of the performances were quite delightful — especially those of Elijah Alexander (Theseus, a duke and Oberon, a fairy king), Kymberly Mellen (Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons and Titania, a fairy queen) and Ben Charles (Puck, or Robin Goodfellow).

The four fickle lovers whose affections wane or worsen as fairies interfere with mortal couplings are hilarious. They’re played by Matt Mueller (Lysander), AJ Smithey (Demetrius), Betsy Mugavero (Hermia) and Bri Sudia (Helena). Those who’ve experienced unrequited love or unabashed obsession will surely see a bit of themselves in Shakespeare’s work.

I was most charmed by the youngest cast members– who perfectly embody the playfulness of “Midsummer.” Nicholas Denhalter and Britton Jeffery Gardner (Oberon’s Imps) and Brookie Mellen (Changling Child) gave polished performances, as did Kailey Gilbert (Peasblossom), Georgianna Arnell (Cobweb), Ellie Mellen (Moth) and Eliza Allen (Mustardseed).

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is among the best-loved of Shakespeare’s comedies, yet it has never been one of our favorites. Complex and multi-layered, productions of the play can go wrong in so many ways. Seeing this performance increased our appreciation for everything that can go right.

— Lynn

Note: Scottsdale Community College performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (directed by Randy Messersmith) Oct 20, 21, 22, 28 and 29. Auditions (by appointment only) will be held Aug 30 & 31.

Coming up: Review of “Noises Off!” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival

Update: Click here for details about a television broadcast of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Aug 29.

Here a choir, there a choir…

Members of the Phoenix Boys Choir perform a tour preview concert this Sunday

Here a choir. There a choir. Everywhere a choir, choir. You get the feeling the Phoenix Boys Choir is single-handedly working to make it happen. They’ve been around since 1947, and boast about 150 members (ages 7-14) today.

The Phoenix Boys Choir presents a 2011-12 “Thursday Concert Series” starting Oct 6 — featuring “mini-concerts” to include “new works, sneak peeks at special repertoire and audience favorites.”

This Sunday, May 22, they’ll perform a “Tour Concert Preview” at Steele Indian School Park’s Memorial Hall in Phoenix. On June 2, 32 choir members leave for an Eastern European tour of 13 cities in seven countries.

They’ve even got a “Neighborhood Training Choir Program,” established in 2003, to broaden the choir’s outreach and diversity.

The Phoenix Girls Chorus opens its 2011/12 season in July

Phoenix is also home to the Phoenix Girls Chorus, established in 1981. Their 2011-12 season starts in July, and interested parents of girls in grades 2-11 can call now for audition information.

Recently the Phoenix Girls Chorus welcomed a new artistic director — Danya Tiller. Former artistic director Sue Kenly Marshall now heads the Arizona GirlChoir, which presents their “Spring Concert” Thurs, May 26 at Chaparral Christian Church in Scottsdale.

The Arizona GirlChoir works with girls ages 6 1/2 to 16, and also has a choir for women ages 16-30.

The Phoenix Children’s Chorus, an arts program of the City of Phoenix, includes both boys and girls. Interested youth entering grades 2-12 can audition Tues, June 7.

The Phoenix Children's Chorus offers music training and performance for Valley boys and girls

Other Valley cities offer choral programs as well, and you can find all sorts of arts-related opportunities for youth by checking the arts & culture section of city websites.

The Chandler Children’s Choir is offering a “Born to Perform Musical Summer Camp” for youth eager to learn “singing, acting, performing, and choreography techniques in both small and large group settings.”

The choir notes that “the camp is open to all youth ages 6-16 whether they are in our regular season or not.” It runs June 13-17, culminating in two Friday performances — one for parents and another, singing the national anthem, at Chase Field.

If time spent singing in the shower or behind the wheel of your car has yet to convince you of all that making music has to offer, consider recent research extolling music’s many virtues.

There's nothing more beautiful than children's voices

Northwestern University just released a study linking certain types of music experience across the lifespan to specific improvements in hearing and memory.

And a group called “Choral America” cites several benefits to choral music participation — noting that adults who are chorus members are “remarkably good citizens” and that children in who sing in a chorus “have academic success and valuable life skills.”

It’s always been enough for me to simply sing around the house once and a while without being clawed by the cat or shunned by my children. But for those of you wanting a richer musical experience for your family, choral participation has plenty of rewards.

— Lynn

Coming up: Youth asked for “Picture I.D.,” Mom and daughter share the spotlight, A stroll down the Scottsdale ArtWalk, Finding “Frida”

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