Tag Archives: best play

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.

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Neanderthals making nice?

Cast of Arizona Theatre Company production of God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

There’s a point in the play “God of Carnage” where things take a decided turn, but making it that far into the Arizona Theatre Company production, which I saw on opening night, took some doing. I found myself thinking, “I can’t take any more of these plays about people whining on pristine sofas.”

Soon slurs, swearing and something best left unnamed before the uninitiated start spewing forth — and the story develops at a quickening pace. Still, theater afficianonado Alan Handelsman, who was part of the first class of ASU Gammage Goer reviewers, felt “there was something missing” in the opening night performance.

Handelsman and his wife Anita saw the play a couple of years ago in New York City, and he’s got a clear preference for the NYC version’s vibe — feeling it had more “energy, commitment, rhythm, flow, surprise, pacing, abandon, arc and continuity.” Even simple prop choices, he recalls, gave the NYC production “a much greater sense of impending danger.”

Clockwise: Joey Parsons, Bob Sorenson, Amy Resnick and Benjamin Evett in the ATC production of God of Carnage

The Arizona Theatre Company production was good, says Handelsman, but not great. Despite being surrounded at the Herberger Theater Center by people laughing loud and proud, I’m afraid I have to concur. “God of Carnage” felt a bit of a letdown — perhaps because I went into it expecting so much. “God of Carnage” won the 2009 Tony Award for best play.

Other people whose opinions I respect felt differently. I saw Frances Smith Cohen, artistic director for Center Dance Ensemble, and her daughter Rachel Cohen in the theater foyer after the show, and both praised its artistry. Rachel loved “the writing and directing” and Frances “the contrast in characters.” My own theater baby Lizabeth, who has studied dance with both, would likely take their side.

We talked via “Skype” after I got home from the theater Saturday night, and Lizabeth was shocked when I shared my tepid response to the show. She saw “God of Carnage” in Chicago last year while touring colleges with my husband James. Both remember it being fabulously funny.

Lizabeth described it as “well written and well acted” — and shared that she loved watching the different characters evolve during the course of the story. Seems she was amused by just how “quickly the adults became the children.”

“God of Carnage” centers on two couples’ attempts at a civilized conversation after their sons spar on a playground. “You just don’t expect it to go as far as it does,” reflects Lizabeth. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen dad laugh that much,” she recalls. “He totally let loose.”

“Maybe.” she says, “it was his way of letting off steam after all the things that happened when we were little.” Seems she’s observed that the things we sometimes took too much to heart as young parents now fall into more perspective. “You used to take it all so seriously,” she told me. “You guys have learned to let go since then.”

The journey from kindergarden to college does effect profound changes. But the parents in “God of Carnage” have survived only grade school, and the perils of middle school are proving a bit more daunting. After meeting to discuss one boy’s use of a stick and another’s missing teeth, they demonstrate that words are perhaps the worst weapons of all.

The parents who seem so perfectly civilized to begin with soon dissolve into shreiking narcissism and nihilism, something that feels more believable once alcohol enters the picture. I hate to think any of us could trade “nice” for “Neanderthal” so quickly in its absence.

Handelsman, a highly-trained hypnotherapist, says the play reveals “how many different layers humans live in” — showing “the difference between the person we show, and the person we are, and the person we may be afraid we are.” Confronted with the final image in this production, we realize that humans haven’t evolved nearly as far as they imagine.

— Lynn

Note: This original production, directed by Rick Lombardo, is a co-production of Arizona Theatre Company and San Jose Repertory Theatre (which performs it next spring). Yasmina Reza has teamed with Roman Polanski to write the screenplay for a movie titled “Carnage,” directed by Polanski and scheduled for mid-December release. It stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. Click here to learn about another opportunity to see the play performed live. Please note that “God of Carnage” contains “mature content.”

Coming up: Advice for young filmmakers, Handelsman shares his “Wicked” ways, Holiday shopping “arts and culture” style, The fine “Art” of Yasmina Reza

Photos: Tim Fuller for Arizona Theatre Company

Once upon a witch hunt

“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller is widely read by high school students, and the most fortunate among them have the opportunity to bring the tale to life on stage.

The Marcos de Niza Theatre production (directed by Patrick McChesney) opened Wed, Nov. 16, at the MdN Auditorium in Tempe — and runs through Sat., Nov. 19. 

 Program notes describe “The Crucible” as  “a dark drama about a terrible period in American history… the Salem witch trials” — and offer a summary of the story that goes something like this:

A small group of Puritan teenage girls in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts are caught dancing and conjuring love potions to catch young men. The girls invent stories about Satan invading their bodies, forcing them to take part in certain rites.

The play’s main characters include a young farmer named John Proctor and his wife. Also a young servant girl whose infatuation with the farmer leads her to accuse the wife of witchcraft.

Greedy preachers and landowners complicate the situation and hysteria soon spreads as “good people of pious nature and responsible temper begin condemning other good people to the gallows.”

Proctor brings the servant girl to court, hoping she’ll admit her lie so his wife will be saved. Instead, “the monstrous course of bigotry and deceit turns all accusations to him and ultimately sentences him to death.” 

The program notes that Miller wrote “The Crucible” as a social commentary on McCarthy-era “witch hunts” against so-called communists during the 1950s. It’s a profound and perpetually popular work because, sadly, we seem always to divide ourselves into the hunters and the hunted.

“The Crucible” received the 1953 Tony Award for best play, and feels no less relavant today — especially in the hands of our youth. They know better than most just how rapidly rumors spread, and can help us all embrace our own power to prevent and stop them.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to watch the school’s YouTube promo for “The Crucuble.” Upcoming events at Marcos de Niza include a fall dance show (Dec. 2), an orchestra concert (Feb. 22), a spring musical (“All Shook Up” March 7-10), a band pops concert (May 9) and more. Check their website for details.

Coming up: Thespian tales, More fun with “I-Spy” photos, The fine art of recycling, School shows & budget woes

Spielberg tales

I lived with my mother by the ocean for many years — first in Alaska, later in Hawaii and California’s Bay Area. She found the beach infinitely more appealing than the water itself, due in large measure to the movie that introduced us to the work of Steven Spielberg. It was “Jaws,” released in 1975.

I vividly recall the afternoon we hit the theater to see “Jaws” together — though saying we actually “saw” the film is a bit of a stretch. We spent most of the movie huddled together trying to hold back our screams. It’s one of the few things I remember actually experiencing with my mom at that age. I was on the cusp of a difficult phase and convinced she was the barrier to all my bliss.

I lost my mother to cancer more than a decade ago, but plenty of things still call her to mind. Even the 1982 Spielberg film titled “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” I remember her watching “E.T.” often once it was released on video tape, and getting especially teary-eyed during the “phone home” scene — perhaps because her only child was off at college and readying to wed when the movie first opened.

Among films directed by Spielberg, my own early favorites include “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”– released in 1977. My three children enjoyed a “close encounter” of sorts with Spielberg and his family one day after we watched them pile out of a minivan and file up the pathway to a neighbor’s front door.

Apparently the little gingerbread-like house we once owned on a quiet Arcadia street was right across from the home Spielberg lived in while attending Arcadia High School. When our children simply couldn’t contain their excitement, James walked them dutifully across the street to say hello to the man whose movies they found simply enchanting.

Millions of us grew up with Spielberg’s own unique spin on storytelling, from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) to “Jurassic Park” (1993) — and beyond. Another generation can now do the same, thanks to two films being released in late December.

“The Adventures of Tintin,” based on a beloved comic strip by a Belgian who used the pen name Hergé, is directed by Spielberg — and opens in American movie theaters on Dec. 21. It’s a bit of history meets mystery featuring “Billy Elliot” actor Jamie Bell as “the young reporter whose love of a good story thrusts him into a world of high adventure.”

“War Horse,” a Spielberg-directed film scheduled to open in the U.S. on Dec. 25, is a love story of sorts — between a boy and a beloved horse sent with soldiers into battle during World War I. It’s based on the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo and the 2011 Tony Award winner for best play.

I saw “War Horse” performed earlier this year at Lincoln Center, with my youngest daughter Lizabeth. We held each other and got teary-eyed throughout, moved by the power and beauty of the story we’re now eager to enjoy together on the big screen.

Lizabeth is a freshman studying acting at Pace University in New York City, living on a dedicated “film floor” inside one of the school’s dorms — where students routinely gather to watch and discuss a diverse selection of films. She’ll get to attend tapings of the Bravo television series “Inside the Actors Studio” featuring James Lipton.

The show — which features interviews with famous folks from the crafts of theater, television and film — is taped at Pace University, home to the Actors Studio Drama School (which offers the M.F.A. in acting, directing and playwriting).

Still, I know nothing will ever match Lizabeth’s excitement at running across the street in bare feet to meet the Mr. Spielberg she considers not only a legendary filmmaker, but also — quite simply — a very gracious man.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “The Adventures of Tintin” and here to learn more about “War Horse.” To enjoy a Michael Cieply piece titled “What Makes Spielberg Jump?” from The New York Times, click here.

Coming up: Mask-maker musings, Tales from a fourth world, A leaf of faith?

“War Horse” at Lincoln Center

War Horse is currently playing at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center in NYC

I went into “War Horse” knowing only that it had won five 2011 Tony Awards, including “best play” — and that it featured lifesize horse puppets so spectacular that their creators, the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town, South Africa, received a special Tony Award for their work.

I knew it was a majestic tale of horses taken into war, but I knew nothing more. Turns out it’s also the story of a family’s dire financial woes, a father’s battle with alcohol and pride, a mother’s tough but tender heart and a young boy’s struggle to right the wrongs of everyone around him.

The opening scene of “War Horse” is breathtaking — as is much of the action that follows. Throughout the play, a young woman sings with haunting beauty, often accompanied by lone fiddle and accordian players.

Crowds begin to gather for the June 30, 2011 performance of War Horse at Lincoln Center

What looks like a torn piece of ivory linen paper with charred edges hangs where there should be a sky. Sepia-tone images and words are sometimes projected onto it, often revealing the date and country as the story moves from Great Britain to battles beyond.

A rendering of artwork used in War Horse scenic design

Long, flexible poles are swung in a circular motion over audience members seated near the stage. Bird puppets are suspended from them. Soon a plump goose puppet at the end of a long rod is pushed around the stage by a puppeteer donning a knit cap with a ball on top. Scavenger birds appear in later scenes as war casualties mount.

Our first glimpse of a horse puppet comes when a young version of “Joey” — and his three puppeteers  — take the stage. The foal is being auctioned off, and a poor farmer beats the town bigwig with an outrageous bid. They get the foal, but risk losing their home. The mother puts her teenage son in charge of the horse, hoping the animal will earn its keep pulling the family plough.

Soon the horse is grown, and a larger puppet becomes “Joey.” It’s clear that the horse is a hunter with finely tuned instincts and strength to match his beauty. Still, the father bets the bigwig he can teach the horse to plough the fields, and wins from him the price of the horse when his son makes it happen. He’s promised his son that if the horse wins the bet, “Joey” is his to keep forever.

When World War I brings the call for soldiers and the horses they’ll need to ride into battle, the father can’t resist an offer to sell his son’s beloved “Joey” for a large sum of sorely needed cash. He breaks his promise to his son, who is still too young to enlist and accompany his horse into war.

The rest of the play recounts the young man’s attempts to find and save his “Joey,” raising questions along the way about whether man or animal is really the “beast” — and showing with remarkable realism the impact that new technologies like machine guns had on more traditional means of combat.

One of several Rae Smith drawings for War Horse on exhibit inside the Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont Theater

“War Horse” is a sensitive look at the horrors of war. It considers the ways we betray or stay loyal to ourselves and to others, leaving room for love and hope (and the light-hearted comedy of a noisy goose) to shine through.

Walking with my daughter Lizabeth after the show, I wondered how any other work of theater could ever hold such power and grace. Works like “War Horse” are precious and rare.

If you can’t see the play, you can still embrace the story by reading the Michael Morpurgo novel that inspired it. He’s written more than 100 children’s books, including several dealing with animals and war.

Lizabeth came home with a T-shirt from the War Horse souvenir stand at the Vivian Beaumont Theater

And you can see Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” film when it’s released later this year. In the meantime, read the “Lincoln Center Theater Review” online to enjoy a collection of articles related to the play.

You’ll discover a bit about the people who brought the play, which debuted several years ago in London, to life — including a man who turned to horses when his own father became abusive.

You’ll find fascinating horse lore, learn about the evolution of warfare and read about the reaction of a modern-day soldier to finding a furry little puppy in the field.

“War Horse” is an unforgettable tale of love and loss. I’m so grateful to have witnessed it.

— Lynn

Note: “War Horse” is a production of the National Theatre of Great Britain. It was adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. It opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on April 15, 2011.

Coming up: Images from the 9/11 Memorial Preview Center in NYC

Update: Click here to read a beautiful essay composed by writer Michael Morpurgo as a reflection on the recent tragedy in Norway.

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