Tag Archives: Best Musical

Tony watching

Jim Parsons (L) and Kristin Chenoweth announcing the 2012 Tony Award nominees. Photo courtesy of ASU Gammage.

Watching the Tony Awards ceremony is a longstanding tradition at our house, and our daughter Lizabeth was especially excited about viewing this year’s awards after seeing eight of the shows nominated for one or more 2012 Tony Awards.

I’m fondest of the acceptance speeches, which so often include odes to parents, spouses, partners and kids. Remarks by Audra McDonald topped my list this year. McDonald assured her daughter that although winning the award made it a very special night, the more important day was Feb. 14, 2001 — the day Zoe was born.

Lizabeth once recounted meeting McDonald after attending one of her shows. She was eager to ask her a few questions, but noted that McDonald’s daughter was with her and decided to let the opportunity pass — figuring she’d want to get home at a decent hour on a school night.

When a pair of gentlemen accepted an award for “Newsies,” one offered a simple “Look mom, a Tony!” And Paloma Young, winner for best costume design of a play for her work on “Peter and the Starcatcher,” thanked her father for giving her “way too much adventure for one little girl.”

John Tiffany, winner of a Tony Award for best direction of a musical for his work on “Once,” thanked his family for giving him the gift of music. Another director, Mike Nichols, recalled being at the Beacon Theatre as a child. Nichols won a Tony Award for best direction of a play for his work on “Death of a Salesman.” Seems the site of this year’s ceremony was once his neighborhood movie theater.

Christian Borle, known to many for rocking the Tom Levitt role on the television series “Smash,” earned the Tony Award for best performance of an actor in a featured role in a play for his work on “Peter and the Starcatcher.” His remarks shared thanks for “making my mom so happy.”

James Corden, who won the Tony Award for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play, thanks his “baby mama” and future wife for teaching him to say “us” instead of “I” and “we” instead of “me.” And Nina Arianda, winner of a Tony Award for best performance of an actress in a leading role in a play for her work in “Venus in Fur,” was ever so cherubic after Christopher Plummer handed her the award. “You sir,” she told him, “were my first crush.”

Most moving were remarks by Steve Kazee of “Once,” winner of a Tony Award for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical. Kazee lost his mother to cancer this past Easter, and shared something he recalls her saying — “Stand up and show them whose little boy you are.”

While most folks in Arizona were watching such moments on TV, others were enjoying the Tony Awards ceremony in New York. ASU Gammage organized a June 7-10 trip to NYC, with the option of staying an extra night to see the Tony Awards at the theater or in VIP seating in Times Square.

While in NYC, the ASU Gammage folks spent three evenings seeing shows and had several meals with Broadway professionals. Saturday’s itinerary included time with cast members from “The Book of Mormon,” “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and music types from both “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon.”

They also spent time with both the president and vice president of Disney Theatricals Group — and I’m hoping all involved resisted the urge to break into a rousing chorus from “Newsies” or “Beauty and the Beast.” The latter is a “special engagement” for the 2012-13 season at ASU Gammage.

In addition, they toured several parts of NYC — a “renaissance” portion of 42nd Street, the Art Nouveau-style New Amsterdam Theatre (where presidents Obama and Clinton appeared just last week), parts of the NYC subway system, the 9/11 Memorial and Manhattan’s financial district. I’ve experienced them all, and was happy this time around to be tucked under a quilt sitting on the couch next to Lizabeth.

Now that she’s attending college in NYC, annual traditions like watching the Tony Awards on television are bittersweet reminders of the fact that she’ll soon be creating her own traditions far from the nest that nurtured her love for Broadway.

— Lynn

Note: The 2012 Tony Award winning play, “Clybourne Park,” is part of Arizona Theatre Company’s 2012-13 season — click here for details.

Coming up: Go “Jimmy” Go, “Les Mis” meets movie theater, Reimagining “Stage Mom”

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings.

Musings on “The Book of Mormon”

The Book of Mormon sign on the Eugene O'Neill Theatre marquee in New York

My first love was a Mormon. His name was Donny Osmond, and though I never met him, I loved everything about him — from his bright purple socks to his pearly white smile. 

Shades of The Lion King as Elders Price (Andrew Rannells) and Cunningham (Josh Gad) arrive in northern African for their Mormon mission (Photo: Joan Marcus)

My latest love is a musical called “The Book of Mormon,” which I saw at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway while visiting NYC last month. I stalked the tickets online and by phone day and night until a single seat popped up for the week of my visit.

“The Book of Mormon” stars Josh Gad (Elder Cunningham) and Andrew Rannells (Elder Price) — plus Nikki M. James (Nabalungi), winner of the 2011 Tony Award for best performance by an actress in a featured role (musical). Also Rory O’Malley (Elder McKinley) and Michael Potts (Mafala Hatimbi).

Crowds gathering before a recent performance of The Book of Mormon on Broadway

I sat in a center seat of the seventh row in the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, a small venue jammed packed with people who’d been clever enough to buy tickets before the reviews made headlines, paid dearly for tickets via the secondary market, or gotten lucky in the daily ticket raffle or standing room only line.

To my left was an actor well-known to “Law & Order” viewers, who was perfectly charming until I stepped on his feet making a run for my seat. A father and his teenage son, also visiting from out of state, sat to my right — and shared that they’ve long been fans of the television series “South Park.”

“The Book of Mormon” is the brainchild of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone — who wrote the musical’s book, music and lyrics after meeting one night when Parker and Stone (creators of “South Park”) went to see “Avenue Q” (which Lopez co-wrote and conceived).

This doorbell that marks the Eugene O'Neill Theatre stage door is part of the show's impressive marketing campaign

His bio in “The Book of Mormon” playbill notes that “Lopez sang in church choirs throughout college and always suspected he’d return to sacred music.” Parker and Trey are best known for the profane. The show’s playbill notes that “It has been a long-time dream of Parker’s to write a musical for Broadway.”

The “South Park” duo hails from Colorado — Parker from Conifer and Stone from Littleton, a Denver suburb best known to some as the site of Columbine High School, where a tragic school shooting took place in 1999. If you’ve seen “South Park” or “Avenue Q,” you know what you’re getting into with “The Book of Mormon.”

Josh Gad and other cast members signed autographs after the show last Wednesday night

Apparently, at least one person in the audience came unprepared. Folks who waited in the autograph line after the show told me they’d heard a women protesting the show’s crude content — saying something like “You just don’t use the F-word on Broadway.” True enough for a time, but that time has clearly passed. And the “F-word” is mild compared to some of the show’s other language.

A truer test of this trio’s musical theater muster might be creating a show with less offensive fare. I’d have taken just as much pleasure from “The Book of Mormon” story were it told without colorful gestures, language and props — though it was clear from the steady hum of the audience that they were thrilled with every minute of it.

Andrew Rannells lights up the stage, and more than a few hearts, with his sparking smile and spectacular talent

“The Book of Mormon” pokes fun at American culture. The opening scene, which features a set full of signs for retail and fast food giants like Walmart, registers a high score on the mock-o-meter. The bright-eyed character with a pristine white smile, Elder Price, longs to live in a Disney-created paradise he simply calls “Orlando.”

The mock-o-meter also registers jabs at Americans who romanticize Africa — including obvious hits to “The Lion King” and celebrities who champion causes in other countries ala “We Are the World.” Changing the world, it seems, is easier than changing oneself. And here be the rub: For all its offense, this musical speaks the truth. The greater your ability to laugh at yourself, the less it hurts.

Tony Award winner Nikki M. James greets fans after a recent performance of The Book of Mormon

If an actual mock-o-meter existed, the needle would spin wildly out of control during depictions of the Mormon religion, known more formally as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While Utah has the country’s highest population of Mormons, I’m told that Mesa — home to a beautiful temple and visitors center –ranks second.

The Mormon church has been relatively quiet, wisely I think, in their objections to portrayals of their faith in “The Book of Mormon.” The musical conveys all sorts of stereotypes about the religion’s founders, tenets and followers — but still manages to capture the earnestness of a people who desperately want to do right by God and each other.

“The Book of Mormon” is a powerful reminder of the ease with which we make assumptions. That God favors us over others. That others see us the way we see ourselves. That the afterlife trumps the everyday. That easy is good, and good is easy.

Nikki M. James, Andrew Rannells, Josh Gad and the cast of The Book of Mormon (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The show drew thunderous applause and a lengthy standing ovation. I didn’t want the experience to end, and was delighted when cast members shared in the audience afterglow by signing autographs and talking with fans. They’re a gracious bunch who seem genuinely grateful for their own “The Book of Mormon” experiences and those of us who travel from far and wide to see the show.

This sign reminds theater-goers that Mormons are more than musical theater fodder

Before jumping on the subway back to our hotel in lower Manhattan, I veered in and out of the crowds taking in all the noise and neon of Times Square. I stopped at Starbucks (which also registers on “The Book of Mormon” mock-o-meter), looking up at nearby signs while I waited for my drink.

I spied a giant sign featuring dozens of diverse faces and the words “I’m a Mormon” next to the mormons.org website. A fitting reminder that judging a person based on religious (or secular) beliefs might make for an outrageously funny piece of theater. But it’s never a good idea in real life.

— Lynn

Note: “The Book of Mormon” won the 2011 Tony Award for best musical, as well as several other awards

Coming up: Lynn & Liz see “War Horse” at Lincoln Center

Big MAC attack!

Sunday is your last chance to see Mesa Encore Theatre perform The Music Man, which beat out West Side Story to win the 1958 Tony Award for best musical

Knowing the 2011 Tony Awards are right around the corner, I decided to go in search of local productions of Tony Award-winning musicals. I started with shows coming to the Mesa Arts Center after getting an e-mail alert that tickets for their 2011-2012 Broadway series, which includes four shows, start at just $95.

Watch the Tony Awards on CBS this Sunday night to see who wins best musical for 2011

The series includes “Rock of Ages,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “The Rat Pack is Back” — plus “My Fair Lady,” winner of the 1957 Tony Award for best musical. The 1958 Tony Award for best musical went to “The Music Man,” which is being performed at MAC by Mesa Encore Theatre through June 12.

I’ll have to share other Tony Award winners coming to Valley stages in a later post, because I’m experiencing a bit of a”big MAC attack” at the moment. Turns out there’s a ton of good stuff happening at the Mesa Arts Center, so I’ve got MAC on the brain instead.

The Mesa Arts Center has offerings in four main areas — shows, classes, events and museum exhibits. Upcoming shows sound plenty intriguing. There’s “Retro,” “Live Love Dance!,” and even Steve Martin and his banjo buddies. Events to watch for include fall and spring “out to lunch” concert series, the Mesa Arts Festival and celebrations of Dia de los Muertos.

This girl should have signed up for music classes through Mesa Arts Center

Mesa Arts Center offers classes in visual and performing arts. Think blacksmithing for the grown-ups and ceramic “mud pups” for children. Also American tribal dance and belly dance classes. Plus “scenes for teens” acting classes and a “dance sampler” for kids who want to explore various dance options.

Exhibits opening today at MAC’s “Mesa Contemporary Arts” space — a collection of five galleries — include “Picturing Maricopa” and “Women’s Work.” Other current exhibits include “Chicanitas,” “Vermilion Remains,” and “Wood & Substance, Substance & Spirit.”

Another snappy dresser from the Mesa Encore Theatre production of The Music Man

That’s a lot of art for an admission fee of just $3.50. Kids age 7 & under are always free — and admission is free for all on Thursdays (the museum is closed on Mondays). I’m going to have to move this to the top of my “me time” to do list. My grown children would enjoy the works, but they’re already off and running in a million directions this summer. Bummer.

— Lynn

Note: The Theater League 2011-2012 Broadway series also performs at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix

Coming up: Art meets science — with a twist of creative genius

Photo credit: Sarah Rodgers and Wade Moran

Annie tales

More “Annie”–Hooray! Please see update at the bottom of this post… 

Lately I’ve had the musical “Annie” on the brain. My daughter Lizabeth began interning with Childsplay in Tempe on Monday — working with Childsplay professionals during a week-long summer camp with an “Annie” theme.

Friday afternoon Childsplay campers will perform a condensed version of “Annie” for family and friends. “Annie” is the first in a series of shows featured in the 2011 Childsplay Summer Academy “musical theatre marathon.” 

Come Friday evening, Valley Youth Theatre will open their June 10-26 run of “Annie” at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. Ten-year-old Jada Jo Warner (pictured above) will perform the role of “Annie.” You can click here to enjoy an interview with Warner from the Herberger’s video blog.

Valley Youth Theatre performs Annie June 10-26 at the Herberger Theater Center

Warner shared, when I spoke with her on Friday, that she’d love to have a career on Broadway. VYT alumni who’ve gone on to enjoy performing arts careers include Emma Stone, Chelsea Kane, Jordin Sparks and others.

But Warner, who has a big sister studying music therapy at NYU, says she might also like to teach special needs children. “My brother is blind,” Warner told me — and he’s an inspiration.

Jessie Pauley, Skye Bowen, Jada Jo Warner and Jahnay Pearson in Annie with VYT

Warner is the middle child of Kurt and Brenda Warner, and told me her six siblings range in age from 5 to 22. The youngest sibs are twins, and must make for a fun audience when Warner works her way singing and dancing through the house.

“Annie” is Warner’s fourth show with Valley Youth Theatre. Warner says she’s also been an Oompa Loompa in “Willy Wonka,” a butterfly in “Pinkalicious” and a racoon in “Winnie the Pooh.”

Megan Mahoney, Joshua McWhortor and Karol Cooper in Annie with VYT

I asked Warner, who studies voice with Kelli James, what she’d sung during “Annie” auditions. “I knew I had to sing a really belty song,” recalls Warner, “because Annie belts.” She chose “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from the musical “Funny Girl.” 

Warner says the audition panel was “surprised” when she hit the highest notes. She cheerfully recounts being invited to subsequent call backs with fewer and fewer people there to read and sing. Warner says the other two “Annie” finalists, both good friends of hers, were cast as orphans.

Bobb Cooper, Jada Jo Warner and other cast members from Annie with VYT

I’m told there’s an open audition next week in New York City for a future production of “Annie” — a show that never seems to go out of style. I sent Warner a link to related information, imagining how fun it would be to see local talent in a new production of the show.

1977 poster for Annie on Broadway

“Annie” earned the 1977 Tony Award for best musical — and plenty of other Tony Awards too — for best actress, book, choreographer, costume designer, scenic designer and score.

The cast of Valley Youth Theatre’s “Annie” will wrap this Sunday’s 2pm performance just in time to race home and catch the 2011 Tony Awards on CBS. Perhaps years from now, they’ll be the ones accepting the awards.

— Lynn

Note: Turns out there’s an online audition process for a future production of “Funny Girl” out there too. “Fanny Brice” wannabees can click here to learn more. NEW: Click here for profiles of girls who auditioned for “Annie” (from The New York Times).

Coming up: “Strange Bedfellows” in Scottsdale, Road trip: Utah Shakespeare Festival, Women’s work

Photo credit: Kristin Rathbun Photography

Update: Thanks to Queen Creek Community Theatre for alerting me to their June 24, 25 & 27 performances of “Annie” at the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are available online at www.qcpac.com or by calling 480-987-SHOW (7469).

The Queen Creek Performing Arts Center is located at 22149 E. Ocotillo Rd. in Queen Creek.

Musings on “The Book of Mormon”

I headed out with my daughter Lizabeth Tuesday evening for opening night of “Les Miserables” at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

It’d been 24 hours since my last “Les Mis” fix — enjoyed Monday night thanks to another PBS broadcast of the 25th anniversary concert.

One can never have enough “Les Miserables” — as evidenced by the tear-strewn faces and standing ovation in Tuesday night’s packed house.

I feel the same way about a new musical titled “The Book of Mormon,” which I’ve adored since I first learned of its existence — long before it shot to the top of every critic’s list and became the toughest ticket to land on Broadway. We pre-ordered the CD, a birthday gift for Lizabeth, and I’m working my way through the complete book and lyrics for the show now.

By the time we snag tickets to the show, I’ll have memorized it a million times over. For now, the best I can do is experience it vicariously through Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and Arizona’s sole Tony Awards® voter. We chatted about the show by phone on Monday as she readied for a busy week of business in New York City.

I started by asking whether she’s a big fan of “South Park” despite suspecting her time for television viewing is nearly nil. “I have a 20-year-old daughter,” she reminded me. Seems she felt a bit saddened after Isaac Hayes left the show — reportedly a reaction to an episode about his religion, Scientology.

But she sounds like a serious convert to “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway — which features book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez. Parker and Stone created “South Park” and Lopez is best known to many for his work on the musical “Avenue Q.” Parker serves as the show’s co-director, along with Casey Nicholaw (also its choreographer).

“The Book of Mormon” is nominated for 14 Tony Awards®, and Jennings-Roggensack expects it’ll “walk away” with ten awards. “There’s no way ‘The Book of Mormon’ isn’t going to win best musical,” she says. So I asked her why. “It’s a really well-crafted musical,” shares Jennings-Roggensack — describing it as “a musical on steroids.”

“Both directors did an amazing job,” shares Jennings-Roggensack. She’s also wowed by the show’s impressive dance numbers, describing the first two numbers in “The Book of Mormon” as “Disney-esque.” Still, the musical contains some seriously explicit material, so parents need to check age-restrictions and recommendations before attending.

The youngest of my three children — all shielded from “South Park” with the best of intentions — turns 18 on Wednesday. So we have lots of time to make up for in the explicit lyrics department, and I’ll share more thoughts in tomorrow’s post on my own journey “from Sondheim to South Park.”

So what does the popularity of “The Book of Mormon” signal for the wider world of musical theater? “There’s a lot of different territory for new musicals,” reflects Jennings-Roggensack. She’s seeing “a growing focus on new works” with “less emphasis on the re-creation of existing musicals.”

Jennings-Roggensack hails the “big multiracial cast” of “The Book of Mormon” — reminding theater goers that there’s more to the storyline than the lives of two young Mormon missionaries. Their travels take them to Uganda, and “there’s the whole issue of Uganda and Africans — and the delicateness of that whole topic.”

Lizabeth’s great fear is that the original cast will leave the show before we get to see it. Our one chance for a while will be the last week of June, when we’re there for college orientation. But even single tickets are hard to come by for shows before August, and I’m pretty sure James would frown on me staying in NYC that long.

Conversations with “The Book of Mormon” cast members during a Tony Awards®-related luncheon presented by MTV Networks lead Jennings-Roggensack to believe that they’re committed to staying with the show at least through the end of the year. She even suggested that Josh Gad (Elder Cunningham) — nominated for a best actor Tony Award® — seems open to joining the show on the road.

But how likely, really, is an Arizona stop for such a controversial show? Arizona is second only to Utah in number of Mormon citizens, obesrves Jennings-Roggensack. Still, she thinks “The Book of Mormon” could succeed here — assuming enough community outreach took place ahead of time.

When “Angels in America,” a controversial work set during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, was touring the country, it enjoyed a well-received run at ASU Gammage — after Jennings-Roggensack and her colleagues had 68 different conversations with community groups sensitive to some of its content.

The more folks know about “The Book of Mormon,” the less concerned they may be, suggests Jennings-Roggensack. Though she describes the musical as “wickedly funny” and “very irreverant,” she says that “in the end it’s all about faith, finding your faith and faith sustaining you.”

— Lynn

Note: While Lizabeth celebrates her 18th birthday on Wednesday, the character “Stan” from “South Park” will be celebrating his 10th birthday. Tune in to Comedy Central for the new “South Park” episode titled “You’re Getting Old,” which promises to “change everything” for Stan and the South Park gang.

Coming up: From Sondheim to South Park

One singular sensation

A Chorus Line won the Tony Award® for best musical in 1976

I spoke Monday morning with Arizona’s sole Tony Awards® voter, a singular sensation in her own right when it comes to Arizona arts and culture.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and assistant vice president for cultural affairs at Arizona State University, is in New York this week and will be attending Sunday’s Tony Awards® ceremony at the Beacon Theatre on Broadway.

The Tony Awards® venue changed this year, says Jennings-Roggensack, because Cirque du Soliel inked a five year contract for the award show’s former home.

She notes that the theater is located in the area of Spanish Harlem and hopes the streets will be bustling with eager onlookers, adding to the festive nature of theater’s most important night.

The smaller theater means seats aren’t available for the general public. Still, I’d love to be there — if only to see Jennings-Roggensack negotiate the evening wearing the four inch heels daughter Kelsey told her were a must with the low-back white sequin gown she’s selected for the evening. I’m told there’s also a gown with purple sequins in the mix.

Tune to CBS Sunday night to watch the 2011 Tony Awards® ceremony

While others are busy predicting this year’s winners, Jennings-Roggensack has her hands full seeing those last few shows she’ll have to vote on before this Friday at 5pm.

She flew into New York on Sunday, saw “Baby It’s You” that night and has “Anything Goes” tickets for Thursday evening.

She’ll be attending the Tony Awards® with Michael Reed, senior director of cultural participation and programming at ASU Gammage — who works with Jennings-Roggensack to select and secure touring productions for each ASU Gammage season.

I ran into Reed and his family during this year’s Arizona School for the Arts “Showcase” at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix, but didn’t yet have Tony Awards® fashion on the brain, so I can’t speak to this element of his NYC experience.

Personally, I’d like to see all the men sporting white dress shirts and skinny black ties ala “The Book of Mormon,” this year’s most nominated show. But it’s unlikely.

It’s a treat to chat with Jennings-Roggensack each year as the Tony Awards® ceremony draws near — because she’s a walking Broadway encyclopedia who never loses her zeal for the art form or her enthusiasm for the artists and others who make it all come to life.

She’s got a pretty good idea of who’ll walk away with the best musical award, but describes the best play competition as “a real horse race.”

I’ll be seeing “War Horse,” one of four shows nominated for best play, when I’m in NYC with Lizabeth later this month. And spending lots of time in line with folks entering raffles for “The Book of Mormon” tickets. But talking with Jennings-Roggensack makes me want to see it all.

The Book of Mormon is this year's most nominated show, with 14 nominations including best musical

Jennings-Roggensack expects Bobby Cannavale to win the Tony Award® for best actor in a play for his performance in “The Motherf**er with the Hat” and says Sutton Foster, nominated for best actress in a musical for her role in “Anything Goes,” is on her way to becoming “Broadway royalty.”

She describes the cast of “The Normal Heart” as “stunning” — praising Joe Mantello’s work as both actor and director, and calling Ellen Barkin’s performance “wonderful.” Barkin is nominated for best featured actress in a play. Jennings-Roggensack describes “Arcadia,” also nominated for best play, as “cerebral.” Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing lies in the mind of the beholder.

Jennings-Roggensack says she was “surprised — in a good way” by John Leguizamo’s performance in his one-man play, and was pleased to see the work attracting “a very multiracial, multicultural audience.”

And she’s surprised that Robin Williams wasn’t nominated for his performance in the play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” She describes Mark Rylance, nominated for best actor in a play for his work in “Jerusalem” as “the next Olivier.”

“I’ve been watching the Tony Awards® since I was a baby,” says Jennings-Roggensack. “It was a big deal at our house.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the 2011 Tony Awards® — including FAQs about who gets to vote, when the ceremony is being broadcast in your area, and how you can get tickets to see nominated and winning shows on Broadway.

Coming up: More pearls from Colleen Jennings-Roggensack — including her musings on “The Book of Mormon” and insights into Broadway trends

“Memphis” meets movie theater

Alert: Click here to learn how you can help victims of flooding in the Memphis area.

Lizabeth and I are heading to a Broadway musical Thursday night — not in the theater district in NYC, but right here in the Valley — as Fathom Events presents a filmed performance of “Memphis” at several AMC movie theaters.

Memphis” was nominated for eight 2010 Tony Awards, and won four of them. It beat out “American Idiot,” “Fela!” and “Million Dollar Quartet” for the 2010 Tony Award for “Best Musical.”

You wouldn’t have expected as much had you read an early review of “Memphis” by theater critic Charles Isherwood of The New York Times — who described it in an Oct 20, 2009 review as “the Michael Bolton of Broadway musicals.”

Isherwood decribes the musical as “slick but formulaic entertainment,” but that hardly dampens my interest. If anything, it ups the intrigue factor — already quite high because the music for “Memphis” comes from Bon Jovi pianist David Bryan.

“Memphis” explores issues of sex, race and rock & roll in 1950s America. Seems a white high school dropout stumbles into a black nightclub and wows the crowds with his powerful piano licks — then hits plenty of highs and lows before landing a DJ gig that appears his true calling. Falling for a black singer doesn’t make his life any easier.

The club where character Huey Calhoun first finds his bliss is located on Beale Street, an actual music row located in Memphis, Tennessee — where something called the “Beale Street Music Festival” takes April 29-May 1 this year.

I suppose those who get really inspired when “Memphis” meets the movies on Thursday night can hop a plane and live a bit of Memphis in real life this weekend. Other fab events on the Memphis horizon include a May 2-8 “International Salute to Belgium” and a May 12-14 “World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest.”

Memphis has influenced or been home to plenty of famous actors — from Dixie Carter and Justin Timberlake to Kathy Bates and Morgan Freeman. Also musicians Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis (depicted in the musical “Million Dollar Quartet“).

As every loyal Elvis fan knows, Memphis is home to Presley’s “Graceland.” Tennessee museums include the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, the Memphis Zoo and the Children’s Museum of Memphis.

I have a feeling I’ll want to jump on a plane bound for Tennessee come Friday morning. Thankfully, I’ve got lots of reasons to stick around — including tickets to see the Arizona School for the Arts performance of “Triangle” and the Actors Theatre performance of “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

Come to think of it, perhaps the good folks of Memphis ought to think about coming here to enjoy a bit of Arizona arts and culture…

— Lynn

Note: “Memphis” is also being shown at Cinemark Mesa 16 (home to performances from the Metropolitan Opera in NYC and other special events).

Coming up: Like everyone else…

Update: We had a great time attending “Memphis” at a Mesa movie theater Thursday night. The movie theater venue lets viewers see actors up close, enjoy behind the scenes happenings and watch interviews with cast/creative team members that they can’t experience during live theater performance. I liked the musical as a story of the difference one person, or a small group of people, can make — but Lizabeth and I agree we’d enjoy it more as a concert or play rather than a piece of musical theater. You still have the weekend to see “Memphis” in select movie theaters. It’s perfect for those who enjoy rock and soul, those interested in the history of the civil rights movement, those who appreciate the marriage of history and music, those who like a lot of dance with their Broadway, and those who want to see what happened when Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan got inspired to write music that might help us all like each other more than we hate each other.