Tag Archives: Bobb Cooper

I ♥ freckles!

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It’s easy to love freckles — especially the ones that grace my hubby and three children, mostly Jennifer. So I was sad to miss Friday’s opening of “Freckleface Strawberry” at Valley Youth Theatre when it looked like another one of my kiddos might need a swift trip to the doctor. Turns out all could wait until the morning — but word came too late for me to join all the freckles and fun down at VYT in Phoenix, though I suspect it was happy news for the lucky person who snagged my seat.

Kimiko Glenn, who originated the role of “Emily” in the NYC production of “Freckleface Strawberry,” was in the house for Friday night’s opening (the show’s premiere outside NYC) — and will be on hand Saturday as well, doing a free post-show Q & A for those with tickets to the 3:30pm show. She’s one of many youth who trained and performed with VYT before making it on stage/or screen — but that’s a tale I’ll tell another day.

VYT’s production of “Freckleface Strawberry” features a fine mix of new and seasoned VYT actors, whose program bios make for a fascinating read. VYT first-timer include Jessica Arnold (Mother) of Ironwood High School, Lacey Bookspan (Freckleface) of Veritas Preparatory Academy and Carly Makani Copp (Jane) of Marshall Ranch Elementary School — all boasting plenty of Valley theater credits with shows from “Les Miserables School Edition” and “Seussical, Jr.” to “Cats” and “Hairspray.”

ASA students E.J. Dohring (Danny) and Bransen Gates (Jake) also have a long string of credits. Dohring’s done “Alice in Wonderland” and “13” with VYT, “Oliver” with Broadway Palm and “Les Miserables” with Phoenix Theatre. Also “The Producers” at the famed Stagedoor Manor performing arts summer camp. “Freckleface Strawberry” is Gates’ ninth show with VYT, but he’s also done “Godspell” at Spotlight Youth Theatre, “Spring Awakening” with ACAA and “The Wiz” at Greasepaint Youtheatre (that one earned him an AriZoni Award).

Ally Lansdowne (Ballet Girl) attends Orangewood Elementary, where she’s active in chorus, drama and the National Junior Honor Society. She’s performed roles with especially fun names — like Jennyanydots in “Cats,” Toffee in “Zombie Prom” and Bird in “Pinkalicious.” Megan Mahoney (Emily) attends and directs show choir for Chaparral High School — doing piano, music and voice lessons in her spare time. She’s performed with VYT, Desert Foothills and Musical Theatre of Anthem.

Rhetta Mykeal (Teacher) is a freshman at MCC who’s done several shows with VYT, enjoys playing the piano and plans a career in acting — while Devin Sanders (Harry), a Mountain Ridge High School student with several VYT credits, looks forward to a career in orthodontics. If you see a kid with singing braces someday, they might be a Sanders masterpiece.

Naturally I’d expect his braces to feature songs from the musical “Freckleface Strawberry.” Think “Freckle Mafia Song,” “Kid in the Mask,” “Creative Mind Rap” or “Be Yourself.” All were inspired by children’s books authored by actress Julianne Moore and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. The musical was conceived for the stage by Rose Caiola.

Gary Kupper and Caiola wrote the book (parts not sung) for the musical, while Kupper wrote both music and lyrics. The VYT production of “Freckleface Strawberry” is directed by Bobb Cooper, the company’s producing artistic director. Mark Fearey is musical director and Katie Casy is choreographer.

Other team freckle members include Karol Cooper (costume designer), Sarah Trieckel (scenic designer) and D.J. Selmeyer (lighting designer). Production stage manager is Kristian Rarig and sound design is by Clearwing Productions. VYT is presenting this baby by special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).

I’m disappointed about missing Friday’s show for all sorts of reasons, including the very real chance that I missed a playful producing artistic director sporting a face full of freckles. Red pigtails would have been a bit over the top. Though who could really blame him? Freckles just have that effect on people.

— Lynn

Note: Our own adorable freckleface, Jennifer, turns 21 this month and while I suspect she’s a tad too old now for a “Freckleface Strawberry” party — I’d run with the theme if she was a bit younger. So keep that in mind if your child is celebrating a birthday during the “Freckleface Strawberry” run (through April 22). Hitting a show with friends makes for fun, easy and affordable birthday fare.

Coming up: Tarzan of the desert?, Beware the barber

Update: The VYT production of “Freckleface Strawberry,” which got rave reviews while I was away in NYC, has extended its run through April 29 “due to popular demand.” Way to rock the freckles, VYT!

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The dance party starts at…

I'm returning to the Brooklyn Museum in New York City Saturday night to enjoy a Keith Haring exhibit and dance party

“The dance party starts at 8pm.” The fine folks at the Brooklyn Museum were kind enough to share this little ditty with me after learning I’d be in town for the weekend. Seems they’re planning all sorts of frivolity for April’s Target First Saturday, which also features deejay Junior Vasquez.

Our daughter, Lizabeth, who lives in NYC, will no doubt shudder at the thought of mom hauling out the “Macarena” moves — but she doesn’t have to watch. She’ll be busy with fellow Pace performing arts students doing their “Our Lady of 121st Street” thing at the Lion Theatre, where it’s opening that same night.

I’m hoping to explore several museums during my quick turnaround trip to see Lizabeth perform, yet sad to be missing all the arts adventures taking place in the Valley this weekend — including the premiere of Childsplay’s “Tomás and the Library Lady” at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Julianne Moore's book inspired the "Freckleface" musical

Before heading out, I’m hitting opening night for Valley Youth Theatre’s production of “Freckleface Strawberry” — the show’s only run outside of NYC before it launches a national tour in 2013. Seems VYT’s producing artistic director Bobb Cooper was invited about a year and a half ago to see the original Off Broadway production of “Freckleface Strawberry” (now “Freckleface The Musical“) featuring VYT alumna Kimiko Glenn in the role of Emily.

“She connected me to the creative team,” recalls Cooper, “who agreed to let us be the first theatre company outside of New York to mount this show.” Tonight’s opening includes a “special audience appearance by Glenn,” who first performed with VYT as one of seven dwarves in a 2000 production of “Snow White.” Before her last VYT gig in 2006, performing the role of Demeter in “Cats,” Glenn earned two AriZoni Awards.

Last time I visited Lizabeth in NYC, we went to see Nick Cartell (who also graced the VYT stage) perform in a preview of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway — where he rocks the Jonah/Swing gig. It’s hard to believe that so many of these young actors are now grown and doing their thing in NYC, L.A., Arizona and beyond.

But harder still to imagine all those empty-nester stage parents with newfound free time whooping it up at dance parties…

— Lynn

Note: Read more about “Tomás and the Library Lady” in the April issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine, and click here to explore the magazine’s calendar of events for Arizona families. Folks who hit VYT’s “Freckleface” Sat, April 7 at 3:30pm, can enjoy a free Q & A with Kimiko Glenn (who originated the role of “Emily” in “Freckleface Strawberry” in NYC and toured with “Spring Awakening”) after the show. Details at www.vyt.com.

Coming up:  Trees and tolerance, A diorama tale

The swing and I

Little did we know, when Lizabeth performed with Nick Cartell in "The King and I" more than a decade ago, that we'd one day witness his Broadway debut in "Jesus Christ Superstar," currently in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre

My daughter Lizabeth performed more than a decade ago in a Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “The King and I.” So did Nick Cartell, now a swing with the Broadway revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” currently in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre. If an actor who performs the role of Jesus, Judas or Annas (or one of ten ensemble tracks) can’t go onstage for any reason, Cartell is among those ready to run with it.

Cartell graciously invited Lizabeth and I to join him for a bite to eat before Wednesday night’s show, and we were delighted that his wife Christie joined us as well. Seems they met several years ago while living in Japan. Cartell performed for Disney in Japan for three years, and Christie quips that she was “friends with lots of the princesses.” Each shines, but together they sparkle.

Cartell graciously answered all sorts of questions between bites of burger sans bun, raw veggies and cottage cheese. Best to be buff when working on Broadway, and this show in particular. Heaven forbid the call might come to don a loincloth when you’ve more flab than abs. Not something Cartell needs to fret, but his work ethic is admirable.

Stay in shape. Continue acting training. Seize opportunities to learn more. Honor fellow performers. Be grateful for the chance to do what you love. And remember those who helped along the way. For Cartell, it’s family, friends and a pair of Arizona directors — Bobb Cooper, producing artistic director for Valley Youth Theatre and Michael Barnard, artistic director for Phoenix Theatre.

We saw a preview performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” Wednesday night after Cartell made his way from burger to backstage, and he graciously treated us to a backstage tour after the show — where it became clear just how much gets accomplished in small pockets of space. Everyone we met who had anything at all to do with the show was incredibly generous in spirit.

We can’t share a formal review because “Jesus Christ Superstar” is still in previews, but I don’t see the harm in simply telling you that we both loved it big time. I’ve seen four different productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar” since my teens, and this is my favorite by far for all sorts of reasons I’ll happily share after reviewers have a chance to see the show post-previews and give their opinions. Lizabeth is already talking about seeing the show again, but I suppose it’ll be James’ turn to tag along next time.

Cartell’s on-stage time is relatively brief, but it’s delightful all the same. His heart is clearly in it — really in it. And his smile lights up the theater as cast members take their bows. When the Arizona heat feels too much to bear, just head for the bright lights of Broadway. Cartell will surely be there.

— Lynn

Note: I’ll be sharing more of Cartell’s journey to Broadway in future posts, plus his insights for young actors on things like training and auditioning — and his thoughts about trends in Broadway theater.

Coming up: NYC museum adventures, Building a better portrait

If shows were freckles

Headshot for Bobb Cooper of VYT

If shows were freckles, Bobb Cooper would have 105 of them. That’s the number of shows he’s produced at the helm of Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix. “Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical,” being performed by VYT April 6-22, will be #106. It’ll be the 67th show he’s directed for the company, where he serves as producing artistic director.

Seems there’s a bit of a statistician in the VYT fold, who recently shared with me that production #100 was last season’s “Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Nobody wants to have 1oo of those. If Cooper continues his average of directing four shows per season, he’ll reach the 100 milestone in VYT directing credits come 2020.

Bobb Cooper, 2008

I first met Cooper when my daughters auditioned for the 1998/99 VYT production of “The Sound of Music” back in their “Tower Plaza” days. I’ll have to ask my “math meets musical theater” friend which number to assign that baby. They weren’t cast but I took some still-treasured photos of the girls in braided pigtails that day, and we went on to enjoy plenty of VYT shows together.

They’ve been through more than a few hairstyles during the decade or so since, which left me wondering how Cooper’s coiffure might have morphed during the same span of time. Anyone who’s ever looked back at an old grade school photo knows how hairstyles change over time, so I felt compelled to ask VYT for pictures of both shows — and Cooper — through the years.

Cooper does The Wiz for a VYTal event

Those of you digging “The Wiz” vibe will be delighted to learn that VYT will close its 2011/12 season by performing “The Wiz” June 8-24 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. Folks who missed VYT’s production of “Annie” at the Herberger Theater Center last season missed a rare opportunity to see Cooper rocking the bald vibe as Daddy Warbucks.

I’m eagerly awaiting news of VYT’s 2012/13 season for all sorts of reasons. I’m not ashamed to admit that another year of amazing hairdos, mostly the onstage variety, is one of them. Stay tuned at www.vyt.com.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on VYT spring break and summer camps, here to purchase “Freckleface Strawberry” tickets and here to buy tix for “The Wiz” (on sale next month) via the Herberger Theater Center box office. Looks like “The Sound of Music” was the 13th show directed and 20th show produced by Cooper for VYT.

Coming up: Art ala keychain?, Skateboard musings, More fun with freckles

Charlotte’s Web

Young Arts Arizona worked with children and teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale to create custom artwork you can enjoy when you see the show

Valley Youth Theatre opened its production of the play “Charlotte’s Web,” directed by Lauren Antioco, this weekend. It’s a Joseph Robinette adaptation of E.B. White’s classic book about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. And it’s beautifully done.

Charlotte's Web cast members get ready to meet and greet fans

The set design by Dori Brown in striking, as is lighting design by D.J. Selmeyer. Costume design by Karol Cooper perfectly captures the small farmtown setting from head to toe. Sound design by Clearwing Production is also exceptional. Taken together, they make “Charlotte’s Web” one of the best designed pieces of youth theater I’ve seen to date.

Sam Primack (Wilbur) poses with two young fans after the show

The production was also exceptionally well cast. Lead roles went to Hannah Blaile of Arcadia High School (Charlotte), Sophia Drapeau of Veritas Preparatory Academy (Fern) and Sam Primack of Cherokee Elementary (Wilbur). Primack has plenty of acting experience, and it shows. Together, the show’s 29 cast members create a cohesive, capable ensemble.

Charlotte's Web cast members pose for photos after the show

I especially enjoyed performances by the actors noted above — plus Jamie Grossman of Ironwood High School (Edith Zuckerman), Audrey Nelson of Archway Classical Academy (Little Lamb) and Aaron Zweiback (Templeton) of Arizona School for the Arts. Also Erik Wilson (Avery), a medieval history buff who didn’t note a school in his program bio.

These young ladies came out to see Sophia perform the role of Fern

A mother I talked to during intermission shared that the production had just the right balance for her two young daughters — holding their interest without being too loud or busy. To producing artistic director Bobb Cooper’s credit, “Charlotte’s Web” is just simple, elegant storytelling that shows real respect for young viewers.

Future teacher Audrey Nelson (Little Lamb) signs autographs after the show

“Charlotte’s Web” is being performed at Valley Youth Theatre through Feb. 19. Next up is Julianne Moore’s “Freckleface Strawberry” and “The Wiz” (which’ll be performed at the Herberger Theater Center). When you go, stay after the show to enjoy meeting cast members, who love signing autographs and talking with young fans.

You'll enjoy both visual and performing arts at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix

Also take time to enjoy “Charlotte’s Web” inspired artwork created by children and teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale through Young Arts Arizona. Valley Youth Theatre is one of several venues that displays Young Arts Arizona works — and pictures currently exhibited at VYT feature pigs, geese, spiders and webs sporting words ala Charlotte herself.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about VYT shows, spring break camps, performing arts classes and more.

Coming up: Don’t mock the presidents!

Of pirates, maps & treasure

Enjoy Dora the Explorer LIVE! through Nov. 6 at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix

Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix is presenting the Arizona premiere of a kid-friendly musical called “Dora the Explorer LIVE! Dora’s Pirate Adventure” through Nov. 6. It’s based on Nickelodeon character Dora the Explorer and her faithful pals, including a boy named Diego and a monkey named Boots.

VYT music director Mark Fearey opened a Sunday matinee by inviting young audience members to sit “criss cross applesauce” on the floor in front of the stage. They happily obliged, many waving pirate adventure flags as Fearey offered child-friendly tips on theater etiquette.

The show features upbeat music, adorable critters well-animated by the actors who portray them, a delightful dose of Spanish and all sorts of audience interaction. Children get to sing along, dance along and even help Dora with a bit of old-fashioned problem-solving.

Characters travel through the theater several times during the show to engage young audience members, offering high fives and such to wide-eyed children with beaming smiles. They’ve no idea that the show doubles as a learning tool full of the repetition and sequencing so critical to things like reading and arithmetic.

This kid-friendly musical features lots of interaction with audience members

Dora’s Pirate Adventure” is full of feel-good messages and important life lessons too. Stop and think before you act. Friends can overcome challenges by working together. Life’s more fun when no one gets excluded. My only quibble with the work is the missed opportunities for adding a “please” or “thank you” here and there.

Youth theater productions can sometimes be hit or miss in the talent department, but these cast members are talented across the board. Sophia Deyden’s “Dora” is effervescent. Deyden’s high energy, which never wanes, is infectious.

The set for “Dora’s Pirate Adventure” is simple in the very best way possible. It’s colorful and well-crafted but doesn’t distract from the story. The costumes are equally adorable and polished, the music and choreography shine, and it’s clear that director Bobb Cooper has worked to finesse each detail.

The first act of “Dora’s Pirate Adventure” ran just 30 minutes and was followed by a 20-minute break before the second act. That’s important for the preschool set, who need time to hit the potty, get a drink and marvel at the wonder of “Dora” with all their friends.

After most shows at VYT, cast members do a meet and greet with audience members in the theater’s lobby. For the performance I attended, VYT had cast members sit on the edge of the stage instead — signing autographs, posing for pictures and talking with young fans about their favorite parts of the show.

Parents seeking unique and affordable play date or birthday party options will find it in “Dora’s Pirate Adventure.” You can even buy goodies like Dora plush characters and T-shirts at the show, meaning you don’t have to make an extra trip to find party favors. Let Dora do the exploring. You can just show up and be the hero.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for ticket information and to learn more about future auditions and shows at VYT. Click here for “Dora the Explorer” activities from Nickelodeon designed to help children develop in four areas — language, social/emotional, math and physical/wellness.

Coming up: Fun photos from my “Dora the Explorer” adventure at VYT

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.