Tag Archives: Billy Elliot

Tintin tales

Tintin-related titles I discovered during a recent trip to the Book Gallery in Mesa

While I’d heard that the new movie “The Adventures of Tintin” was based on comic book adventures created by 20th century Belgian artist George Remi under the pen name Hergé, I hadn’t seen any of his work until stumbling a few weeks ago on a pair of related titles at the Book Gallery’s Mesa location.

I was apprehensive about seeing “The Adventures of Tintin” after hearing that it’s a mystery meets action adventure film. I’m not particularly fond of either genre, mostly because I’m bad at following clues and even worse at enduring vicarious chaos.

But I was pleasantly surprised that the tender little package, wrapped in mustardy yellow and equivalent shades of blue and red, is a rare blend of mystery and action adventure with old-fashioned storytelling. A charming opening sequence featuring old-fashioned typewriter keys pounding out Tintin’s boyish bravado hastened my conversion.

“The Adventures of Tintin” feels first and foremost like the simple tale of a curious young boy named Tintin and his loyal pup Snowy, but it’s also the tale of Captain Haddock, a man left alone in the world to face his family’s unfinished business. Through his journey, we’re reminded of the power of personal choice — and the value of holding tight to a puppy when seas get rough.

Haddock delivers the most obvious messages of the movie, which always feel organic rather than contrived, and never interrupt the pace of the  chase. When you hit a wall, break through it. Don’t glorify giving up by labeling it “realism.” And know that what you think of youself influences your vibe with others.

Plenty of synapses fired while watching “The Adventures of Tintin,” but I couldn’t always make the connections. Several action sequences, bits of music and other elements felt vaguely familiar, in a nostalgic way, but often I was caught up in the next moment before realizing the intended reference. There’s an extra layer in “The Adventures of Tintin” for folks with lots of film and music experience.

Parents should know that “The Adventures of Tintin” (rated PG) has several scenes featuring fist fights, sword battles and rapid exchanges of gunfire. Also fire, explosions and such — all well-integrated into the story and none particularly frightening for elementary age kids and up because only animated characters take the hit. 

“The Adventures of Tintin” is full of tools young adventurers can relate to — magnifiying glasses, flashlights, maps and more. When Tintin can’t find what he’s looking for, he asks questions, hits the local library or doggedly hunts down missing clues.

Adults too reliant on four letters will discover new options as frustrated characters belt out alternatives like “Great snakes!” or “Thundering typhoons!” And literature lovers will revel in long strings of Shakespearean-like insults shared by pirates, bumbling detectives and a pickpocket who explains “I’m not a bad person, I’m a kleptomaniac.”

I saw “The Adventures of Tintin” with my college-age son, who shared his thoughts about the movie as we walked back to the car. “It reminded me,” he said, “of how I was as a little boy.” Not to worry, Christopher. That unsatiable curiosity is still there. And life with you will always be an adventure.

— Lynn

Note: “Tintin” is Jamie Bell, known to Broadway fans for his performance in the film version of “Billy Elliot.” The film is directed by Steven Spielberg and features music by composer John Williams. It’s rated PG.

Coming up: Once upon a “War Horse”


Artists battle AIDS

I was delighted to stumble onto two panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt while attending Thursday’s “Empty Bowl” event at Scottsdale Community College. These portions of the quilt are being exhibited through Dec. 2 in a foyer just outside the SCC cafeteria.

A representative of the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS was on hand the afternoon I stopped by, and talked with various students and staff who stopped by to see the quilt and watch the multimedia presentaion featuring AIDS-related facts and statistics.

The following photos show just a few of the quilt panels and educational slides I saw while visiting the World AIDS Day 2011 exhibit at SCC.

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Those of you eager to explore some of the ways artists have tackled the topics of HIV and AIDS can visit the online gallery for “Art for AIDS,” which benefits the University of California San Francisco AIDS Health Project.

Broadway fans can support efforts to treat and eradicate HIV/AIDS by doing their holiday shopping with “Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.” Online offerings include all sort of show-related fare. Think holiday ornaments, tote bags, books, music, Playbill® items, clothing, jewelry and more — lots more. Even “dancers responding to AIDS” items.

Folks lucky enough to be in NYC early next week can attend the 23rd annual “Gypsy of the Year” event, which is “the culmination of six weeks of intensive fundraising by Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring companies.”

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS notes that “it’s also a sensational display of the most talented singers and dancers in the chorus of shows.” These are the folks affectionately referred to as “gypsies.”

Each show is being hosted by Broadway personality Seth Rudetsky, beloved by many for his many radio and live performance gigs. My daughter was thrilled to meet Rudetsky and Betty Buckley after their Scottsdale concert last year, and recently raved about her first stint in the Sirius XM “Seth Speaks” audience.

Awards will be presented to the top Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraisers, with special recognition going to the musical “Billy Elliot,” which closes in early January, and has raised more than $1 million for the cause during its three year run. I saw “Billy Elliot” with Lizabeth and fellow Pace University families during my last trip to NYC, and it’s truly spectacular.

If you’ve yet to help the cause of fighting HIV/AIDS and helping those affected by it, now is the time to get involved — whether via Broadway or on your own block.

— Lynn

Coming up: We’re off to see the Wizard…

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?

The power of the page

A copy of Anne Frank's diary on exhibit in Amsterdam (Photo: Heather on her travels)

I hit the newly-relocated Anne Frank Center during my most recent trip to New York City, where director of education Maureen McNeil was kind enough to take a break from settling in so we could talk a bit about the center’s work.

Something McNeil said that morning struck me as especially profound. She spoke of the power of the blank page, describing it as “the great equalizer.” Nazis thought they had all the power during WWII, but Anne Frank had a pen.

Frank was powerful too, as are young people today who wield the pen to explore and express their feelings – about themselves and the world around them. I shared her observation with a 3rd grader named Sofia after we met during an Occupy Wall Street march from Zuccotti Park to Wall Street.

I try, at every opportunity, to encourage young people to write – partly because I’ve witnessed my own children wrestle with thinking their writing isn’t good enough when nothing could be farther from the truth.

After seeing “Billy Elliot The Musical” on Broadway with Lizabeth one night, we headed across the street to join folks who’d attended opening night of “The Mountaintop” – a play that imagines events of the last night of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life.

There we met a mother and son, and got to chatting about the show. I asked the boy, just 12 years old, whether he enjoyed writing – and got a mixed reply. I meet a lot of children that age who love creative writing but find their passion for the pen dampened by the rigors of academic writing.

I invited him to write a review of “The Mountaintop” for our readers, and hope he’ll decide to follow up with me before too long. Children and teens so often see things we adults overlook – so I’m eager to know what he thought, and felt, about the work by playwright Katori Hall.

Theater students at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix are actually learning to write reviews of theater productions, something too few theater students ever have the opportunity to explore. Still, I don’t expect perfect theater criticism from the youth. Sometimes their raw reflections are every bit as insightful.

Resources for young writers in Arizona include the Young Writers Program at the Virgina G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University in Tempe. A national organization called the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, where a young actor named Nick Cartell known to Valley theater buffs now works, also offers plenty of writing opportunities for youth.

Watch for a future post detailing more of the Anne Frank Center’s work, which blends writing, theater, visual art and more with themes of social justice inspired by the life of a little girl whose diary has become a gateway to hope and healing.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to view about an online video clip of Anne Frank. Click here for details on the newly-extended deadline for Arizona Theatre Company’s 2012 Arizona Playwriting Award.  Click here for information about an open call for submissions to the “Scholastic Art & Writing Awards” competition for 7th-12th grade students.

Coming up: A visit to the New York Public Library

Photo from www.heatheronhertravels.com

The many faces of Childsplay

I’ll be donning my party clothes Friday night to join the fine folks of Childsplay for their “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits Gala,” which kicks off at 6pm at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.

Memories of my last Childsplay shindig are still fresh. And fabulous. Think all the energy and fun of a Childsplay production for children translated into the realm of grown-ups — but with no less imagination and wonder.

Lillian Castillo with Childsplay associate artist D. Scott Withers, who appeared in HAIRSPRAY with Phoenix Theatre late last year (Photo: Laura Durant)

Lillian Castillo (L) and D. Scott Withers in a Phoenix Theatre photo by Laura Durant

I’ve had Childsplay on the brain lately because it seems that everywhere I turn I discover another Childsplay artist lending his or her talents to additional creative enterprises — from television commercials to musical theater productions in other parts of the country.

D. Scott Withers, who performed the role of “Edna Turnblad” in this season’s Phoenix Theatre production of “Hairspray,” has been reprising the role with Arkansas Repertory Theatre (along with Lillian Castillo, who plays “Tracy Turnblad”) in a production that runs through May 8.

Jon Gentry (L) and D. Scott Withers perform in a Childsplay production of A Year With Frog and Toad (Photo: Heather Hill)

Allison Couture, whose husband recently left the touring production of “Billy Elliot The Musical” to accept a role in “Jersey Boys” on Broadway, worked for a time with the children in the “Billy Elliot” cast. Both are now NYC-bound.

Israel Jimenez, who teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, is known to many as “the face of SRP.” You’ll see his mug in commercials and on billboards throughout the Valley. Jimenez teaches ballroom dance at a local Fred Astaire Dance Studio (swoon) and is readying to direct “Frida” for Teatro Bravo.

Kim Manning is currently performing the role of “Liliane La Fleur” in the musical “Nine” at Phoenix Theatre, which you can enjoy through May 8.

Molly Lajoie Plutnicki teaches dance at Mesa Arts Academy and also keeps busy choreographing various theater productions. She’s both director and choreographer for Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “Schoolhouse Rock,” opening Fri, May 6 at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale.

Yolanda London in a Black Theatre Troupe photo by Laura Durant

Yolanda London is rehearsing for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a one-woman show about the life of singer Billie Holiday that Black Theatre Troupe of Phoenix opens May 13.

Todd Hulet recently staged a production of his original musical titled “The Wheels on the Bus” for Ovation! Musical Theatre Bainbridge in Washington.

Toby Yatso teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, and is nearly impossible to keep up with when it comes to acting, directing and other theater gigs throughout the Valley.

Yolanda London performs in the Childsplay production of Tomato Plant Girl (Photo: Heather Hill)

My soon to be 18-year-old daughter Lizabeth has trained with the talented artists of Childsplay for at least half her lifetime. She’s taken classes, attended summer camps, participated in the Childsplay conservatory program and more.

Childsplay has given her extraordinary opportunities to study with several of the Valley’s very finest theater talents — those noted above and many others. 

As we attend the “Childsplay Celebrates” gala Friday night, I’ll be celebrating not only the arts in education programs that’ll be funded with event proceeds, but the many gifts this theater company has bestowed on us.

— Lynn

Note: Click here  for “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits Gala” event and ticketing information. The evening features cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, dinner and entertainment. (Bring your teacher, birthday and holiday gift lists to snag all sorts of fun finds at the auction.) Click here for a full roster of Childsplay company and staff (including associate artists, members of the acting company, teaching artists and others).

Coming: Valley museums celebrate “International Museum Day” with special events and discounts

Call for children’s artwork: I’m looking for photos, drawings, paintings and such with a garden theme for Friday’s post celebrating “National Public Gardens Day.” To submit your child’s work for possible use in the garden post, please send it to me at rakstagemom@gmail.com no later than 5pm Thurs, May 5 (include your child’s first name, age, city and your contact info too). Thanks!

From catwalk to picket line?

Valley dance offerings this month include Billy Elliot The Musical (Photo above by Michael Brosilow), Catwalk by Scorpius Dance Theatre and Peter Pan by Ballet Academy of Arizona

As some of you know, my cat “Pinky” brings her own special brand of sophistication to theater criticism. And now, thanks to Scorpius Dance Theatre, she’s toying with a move into the dance world as well.

Scorpius Dance Theatre presents “CATWALK” — a blend of dance and fashion full of “runway attitude” — May 12-21 at Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theatre. It’s an original contemporary dance production that “fuses funky, local fashions and sexy athleticism” with the choreography of Lisa Starry.

“CATWALK” is staged on a runway. It “features 17 dancers, 10 choreographic works four independent designers, and one urban boutique.” Both new works and “returning favorites” are included in this year’s production.

If you need a faster dance fix, there’s still time to catch “Billy Elliot The Musical” at ASU Gammage. It’s another show best for mature audiences, but it’s set in a coal mining town rather than on a fashion runway. “Billy Elliot” features young dancers but don’t take your pre-teens along unless you’re comfortable with them hearing some rather colorful cursing.

For tamer fare, take your family to the Ballet Academy of Arizona performance of “Peter Pan” Sun, May 15 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix.

Like ASU Gammage and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Herberger often presents diverse dance performance it’s sometimes harder to find other places.

Ballet Arizona presents its “Celebration of Balanchine” featuring three works by this “father of modern ballet” June 2-5 at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Music is by Ravel, Stravinsky and others.

Ballet Arizona presents a different program of Balanchine works each Spring — which are consistently breathtaking in the hands of Ballet Arizona artistic director Ib Andersen. Andersen danced with the New York City Ballet while Balanchine served as its ballet master and principal choreographer.

This time of year plenty of schools and dance studios present their spring dance recitals — which often feature works perfect for families at low or no cost. Check with your local high schools, colleges/universities, dance studios and performing arts venues to find the best fit for your dance tastes and interests.

I noticed while driving past Arcadia High School in Phoenix the other day that they have a dance performance scheduled for Thurs, May 5 and Fri, May 6 at 7pm. And Chandler-Gilbert Community College recently alerted me to their “Student Dance Showcase” taking place Fri, May 6 and Sat, May 7 at 8pm ($3-$5/ticket).

If your school or dance studio is presenting a dance performance (this month or next) that’s open to the public, please comment below to let “Stage Mom” readers know. To find other dance and art-related events for families, visit the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

I’m off to see if I can interest Pinky is donning a tutu or some other dance fashion for a photo I can drop back into this post for your later amusement. But never fear, no pets are ever harmed in the making of my word art. What’ll become of the tutu, however, is anyone’s guess.

— Lynn

Note: Watch for the June issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine, which includes an “AZ Generations” column profiling the family of a Valley dancer and dance instructor who describes herself as a “bunhead by birth.”

Coming up: Childsplay actors — on stage and off

Musings on “Billy Elliot”

A boy, a chair and an irrepressible need to dance (Daniel Russell as Billy Elliot, Photo by Kyle Froman)

There’s a scene near the end of the musical “Billy Elliot” — when Billy stands alone on stage holding his simple blue suitcase — that’ll always remind me of a very special night spent with my daughter Lizabeth.

In just a few months, she’ll be the one holding the suitcase, saying her goodbyes and leaving behind her hometown to follow her dreams in another city — possibly even NYC.

We saw “Billy Elliot” together Wednesday night, as her deadline to choose a college theater program loomed. It might have seemed an altogether different show any other night.

But that night, it felt full of messages meant for one particular mother and daughter who know their everyday time together is coming to an end.

For a young woman faced with multiple paths, all leading to different variations on a theme: the future. And all with no roadmap in sight.

Early in the musical, life feels pretty black and white for Billy and his family. But Billy discovers dance. His dad discovers Billy. And a community discovers a rainbow of greys.

“Billy Elliot” comes close to being one of my favorite pieces of musical theater — falling short in part because of uneven pacing and staging that feels unnecessarily complicated at times.

Lizabeth and I agree that the music is a bit hit and miss. Our favorites are those you may be most familiar with — including “Once We Were Kings,” “Solidarity” and “Electricity.” “Dear Billy,” during its second incarnation, made both of us weep.

There’s plenty of dancing for ballet and tap fans, much of it delivered by tiny packages of power and pizzazz.

Scenes that couple the dancing of a young Billy (Daniel Russell the evening we attended) with his older, future self (Maximilien A. Baud, who has danced with Ballet Arizona) are particularly poignant — and beautiful to watch.

Those who see “Billy Elliot” will promptly get their politics, puppetry and pirouette fix. All served up with a heavy dose of teen angst and midlife musings. Plus a barrel of belly laughs — and a bit of cross-dressing.

Were it not for lots of language unsuitable for young children, I’d have to put “Billy Elliot” right up there with “Annie” at the top of the list for shows most likely to make kids fall in love with not just watching musical theater, but performing it as well.

I’d have worried, when my children were less than 12 or so, about exposing them to some of the language (and one particular gesture) in this show. Lizabeth missed her first opportunity to see a touring production of “Chicago” for just that reason.

But today I’d favor a different decision. Because, as Billy discovers when sent on an errand at a local dance studio, children don’t always know they love something unless given the opportunity to see it. 

For me, the sheer joy of watching young cast members dance forgives a whole lot of “piss off” type material. I may have to see the show again just so I can spend more time watching Billy. (Lizabeth is already planning to take her dad.)

I was rather captivated, my first time around, by the tiniest pig-tailed girl in the show — Cassidy Hagel (“Ballet Girl”). And Griffin Birney (“Michael”) is beyond-belief-funny.

Still, it was another child who really tugged at my heart Wednesday night. I hope she knows how terribly proud I am of her, wherever she decides to follow her dreams.

— Lynn

Note: “Billy Elliot” is being performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe through May 8. Click here for show and ticket information.

Coming up: Jennifer’s marching orders