Tag Archives: Broadway tours

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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What’s the buzz?

Cast of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

I enjoyed an amazing evening of Broadway trends in action during a preview performance earlier this month of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” revival that opened last week at the Neil Simon Theatre in NYC. Digital projections, folk flavor added to the pop/rock score and more.

All things Victor Hamburger with ASU Gammage in Tempe alerted me to during a recent call to talk trends on Broadway. Turns out ASU Gammage is one of the country’s biggest markets for touring Broadway productions. Also professional home to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and recipient of a 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Award.

ASU Gammage will unveil its 2012/13 Broadway Across America season next week, so we’ll all get the chance to see trends translated into action. Audience engagement via social media and other means is one of the industry’s hottest trends, according to Hamburger. So folks who follow ASU Gammage are among the first to get the scoop — and enjoy opportunites to offer feedback.

Hamburger says they always work to provide a balance of shows that’ll appeal to folks with different tastes. Some prefer revivals, others prefer newer works. Some like nostalgia, others like the here and now. Some favor mature fare, others favor family fare. So I suppose the best season has a little something for everyone.

Steve Kazee and the cast of "Once," which recently opened on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Simply looking at the Broadway landscape, you might surmise that topics your parents always told you to avoid at the dinner table make for the best subject matter. Religion, sex and sometimes even politics. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of several works that factors God into the mix. Think “Godspell,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Sister Act” and such. Going retro, with shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” seems to be a safe bet too. God is groovy, but dance is divine.

Bringing movies to stage is another biggie these days, according to Hamburger (although “biggie” isn’t really a part of his vocabulary). Think “Once,” “Ghost,” and “Flashdance.” Seems they help introduce audiences fond of the big screen to stories told on stage. I was skeptical until I started reading reviews of “Once” that landed it high on my list of shows to see during future trips to NYC.

Casting artists dubbed celebrities is also on the rise — as evidenced by the current cast list of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which includes Nick Jonas as J. Pierrepont Finch, Beau Bridges as J.B. Bigley and Anderson Cooper as Narrator. Jonas started out on Broadway, but that’s not the case for others who’ve finessed Finch — including Daniel Radcliffe and Darren Criss, both of whom my daughter Lizabeth loved in the role. Snagging tix to see Jonas is high on her wish list these days.

Touring production of "Green Day's American Idiot" coming to ASU Gammage in April (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Lizabeth lives in NYC, where she most recently saw “Evita” with fellow students at Pace University, and sometimes sees things well before they make their way to Arizona. I’m eager to see “Green Day’s American Idiot,” the next Broadway touring production coming to ASU Gammage, so I can compare notes with Lizabeth — who has seen it performed on Broadway.

I started taking Lizabeth to touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage when she was just a little girl. Over the years we’ve enjoyed everything from “Annie” and “August: Osage County” to “In the Heights” and “Avenue Q” together. It’s all good in our book — because whatever the buzz on Broadway, sharing mother/daughter time at the theater never gets old.

— Lynn

Coming up: Exploring the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The fine art of cowboys, In good company

A tale of teen angst

We forget sometimes that the musical “West Side Story” is a modern-day take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” — a tale of young love thwarted by feuding families and the fickleness of fate.

I tend to think big song and dance numbers set against colorful sets and costumes — which is what I expect the touring production of “West Side Story” to deliver when it hits ASU Gammage Sept 27-Oct 2.

If I snap, will the West Side Story cast jump? (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But I was reminded, after chatting recently with cast member and seasoned television actor John O’Creagh, that it also delivers a powerful portrayal of “the difficulty kids have in defining themselves.”

ASU Gammage says the show is appropriate for ages 13 and up because it “deals with adult themes: violence, murder, rape and bigotry.” It includes “bad language, sexual innuendos and racial slurs.”

“It’s a very powerful work,” says O’Creagh, who describes “West Side Story” as “a very painful show in a lot of ways.” It’s a tough look at teens in rival gangs in New York City — and the challenge of making love survive in an atmosphere of hate.

Ali Ewoldt and Kyle Harris of West Side Story (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The original production of “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957, when Americans commonly judged one another based on skin color, language and the like — something that still happens all too often today. Something else was true both then and now, according to O’Creagh. “Adolescence is a nightmare.”

The original Broadway production of “West Side Story” featured music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The script was written by Arthur Laurents, who died earlier this year at the age of 93.

O’Creagh recalls that Laurents attended many rehearsals for this touring production of the show’s 2009 Broadway revival, exploring the show’s characters with cast members who include Kyle Harris (Tony), who holds a BFA from the University of Arizona, and Ali Ewoldt (Maria), who holds a BA in psychology from Yale University.

O’Creagh describes fellow cast members as “sensible, disciplined and hard working.” Not surprising given that they’ve studied at places like The Juilliard School, performed on Broadway in shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Les Miserables,” and worked with dancers like Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp.

Please control the urge to attempt these West Side Story moves until you get home after the show (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But when did O’Creagh first catch the acting bug? While playing Stage Manager in a high school production of “Our Town” — which left him feeling he’d spent his whole life preparing to do acting. “It was comfortable,” recalls O’Creagh. “Acting felt like a good old pair of sneakers.”

So what’s his advice for youth considering the acting life? “Read everything you possibly can,” he says. “Learn everything you possibly can.” Study grammar and language too — because acting is a craft born and carried by words.

— Lynn

Note: Those who attend the Thurs, Sept 29 performance of “West Side Story” at ASU Gammage can stay after for a free talkback with cast and creative team members presented by 99.9 KEZ. Fans of “West Side Story” can also see the Actor’s Youth Theatre production which runs June 26-30, 2012 at Mesa Arts Center.

Coming up: Fall break camps with an arts twist

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

Broadway tales

After years of seeing touring Broadway shows at ASU Gammage in Tempe, Lizabeth will soon be enjoying shows on Broadway (Photo: James Trimble)

While Lizabeth and James were back East a while back for college theater program auditions (hers, not his), they faced plenty of tough choices. Which pizza joints to frequent. Which tourist attractions to explore. Which Broadway musicals to take in.

They ended up seeing a straight play off Broadway one night. Their other two choices, dictated in part by what they could snag last minute tickets to, were “Jersey Boys” and “American Idiot.”

It never occured to us that “Green Day’s American Idiot” might be making its way to Arizona, but we learned just recently that the rock musical is part of the 2011-2012 “Broadway in Arizona” series at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

Lizabeth saw American Idiot on Broadway -- but I'll be enjoying it during April 2012 at ASU Gammage in Tempe (Photo credit: James Trimble)

“We always like to have something new,” explains Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and Assistant Vice President of Cultural Affairs at ASU.

Other “new” offerings in the 2011-2012 “Broadway in Arizona” season at ASU Gammage include the “Blue Man Group.”

You might say Gammage is poised to “rock our world” this season.

But there’s also more sentimental fare — including “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” “West Side Story,” and “Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.”

Lizabeth will be thrilled that one the shows she missed on Broadway, “Million Dollar Quartet,” is also coming to town. “La Cage Aux Folles” should prove equally fabulous and fun.

Thanks to three 2011-2012 special engagements (shows that aren’t part of the season ticket package), your gift-giving decisions just got a whole lot easier.

For winter holidays, give tickets to “Stomp” (Dec 28-31, 2011). For Valentine’s Day, think “Wicked” (Feb 15-March 11, 2012). Trust me — a change in theme from pink to green will be ever so appreciated. And for Mother’s Day or year-end teacher gifts, there’s “RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles.”

Especially during tough economic times, reflects Jennings-Roggensack, people appreciate the familiar. She sees the season as a perfect blend of the new and exciting with the familiar and comforting.

Lizabeth was thrilled when she learned of the 2011-2012 ASU Gammage line-up, because we’re longtime season ticket holders who rarely miss a show. At some point, however, the bad news struck her. She’ll likely be in New York — either studying or auditioning — when these shows hit Arizona.

But we’ll have a great time swapping “Broadway in Arizona” and Broadway in New York stories…

— Lynn

Note: ASU Gammage offers “Camp Broadway” June 6-10, 2011 for youth ages 10-17.

Coming: More new season announcements

Got Spam?

"Spamalot" opens tonight (Feb 15) at the Mesa Arts Center

You can “Spamalot” this week as Theater League brings the 2005 Tony Award winner for best musical to Mesa and Phoenix stages.

Spamalot” creators say the musical — complete with cows, killer rabbits, show girls and french people — is “lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s a very grown-up take on the legendary tale of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, though the legend may be fading fast in the absence of disco versions of knight battles made for various home and pocket entertainment systems.

Even worse perhaps, is the fact that so few of our children have ever met a can of actual Spam, a product of the Hormel Food Corporation. It faded from popularity as things like sushi and arugula marched in, but I think a Spam-sushi mash up of sorts might be fun.

The fine folks of “Spamalot” will gladly take you through the tale of King Arthur’s quest in a little online ditty titled “What is all this rubbish?” They also make a convincing case for “Spamalot” as the world’s oldest musical.

The “Spamalot” you’ll see on Valley stages this week features book by Eric Idle and score by Eric Idle and John Du Prez. Hence you’ll enjoy both words and music in addition to dancing knights in tights.

But what, you may be wondering, is a Monty Python? And has it anything to do with that “Flying Circus” of yore? It does indeed, as explained ever so eloqently by a BBC piece you can enjoy by clicking here.

Whether you’re a lover of musical theater, of British comedy or of unadulterated genius, check out the touring production of “Spamalot” at the Mesa Center for the Arts and/or the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix.

And always look on the bright side of “Spam.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here for an overview of the legends of King Arthur by Michael Wood for the BBC.

Coming up: Reflections on Rosie’s House, The fine art of stage combat, ASU Gammage readies to unveil its 2011-2012 season, Tales of Tom Chapin

One singular sensation

Mesa and Phoenix welcome a touring production of "A Chorus Line" this week

Actor Michael Douglas reclaimed the headlines recently after sharing that his throat cancer has been successfuly treated. It’s a great relief to Douglas’ many fans, and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones — who won the 2010 Tony Award for best lead actress in a musical for her performance in “A Little Night Music.”

But did you know that Douglas, perhaps best known for roles in “Fatal Attraction” with Glenn Close and the television series “The Streets of San Francisco,” was in the 1985 “A Chorus Line” film?

“A Chorus Line” is the tale of diverse dancers auditioning for a role in a Broadway musical. Douglas played Kurt, the director auditioning these 17 dancers on a bare stage that leaves them feeling various degrees of vulnerability.

It’s a story with true staying power — as evidenced by its current national tour, produced by NETworks Presentations, which stops this week in the Valley. A final Mesa performance takes place Wed, Jan 12. “A Chorus Line” hits the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix Jan 13-16, thanks to the Theater League.

It’s a “mature audiences only” production with a single act that runs about two hours  — but I consider it perfectly fine for teens, and even some children who are experienced in musical theater. Individual parents are always the best at judging such things.

Lizabeth and I are excited about seeing the show while it’s here, especially since she’s readying to travel from coast to coast to audition for musical theater college programs.

A year or so ago we enjoyed the work of documentary film makers Adam Del Deo and James D. Stearn, who shot more than 500 hours of footage as auditions and casting were underway in New York for the 2006 Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.”

The resulting film — titled “Every Little Step” — presents a singular glimpse into the rigors of musical theater training and performance. We enjoyed seeing it at the Harkins Camelview 5 near our home, which often features films you can’t easily find in mainstream movie theaters.

Karley Willocks plays "Maggie" in "A Chorus Line" in the Valley through Jan 16

“A Chorus Line” originally opened on Broadway in 1975, and was the longest-running musical in Broadway history until eclipsed by “Cats.” Personally, I favor dancers in leotards over cats who sing and dance — but that’s just me.

The book for “A Chorus Line” was written by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. Edward Kleban wrote the lyrics and Marvin Hamlisch composed the music. It’s a “must see” musical for musical theater aficionados — and those who love them.

“It’s really a musical about us,” shares dancer and actress Karley Willocks — who performs the role of Maggie in the touring production now on Valley stages. She’s been dancing since her parents enrolled in her tap and ballet classes at the age of three.

Willocks auditioned for her first theater role when she was eight years old, following the lead of her best friend at the time. Her friend wasn’t cast, but Willocks landed the role of orphan “Duffy” in the musical “Annie.”

She spent many years performing with “The Talent Machine” in Annapolis, Maryland — where her favorite shows included “Brigadoon,” “Anything Goes,” and “Pippin.” Willocks also did high school theater before entering the musical theatre program at Shenandoah University in Virginia, where she earned a B.F.A.

Willocks first performed the role of Maggie in a Tennessee production of “A Chorus Line” the summer right after she graduated. “I grew up listening to the soundtrack,” she recalls — and had also seen the movie.

She recommends the musical for anyone whose life is touched by dance or theater — including families with budding performers in their midst. But “A Chorus Line” also appeals to a wider audience.

“It helps to know that these are real stories or real dancers in the ’70s,” reflects Willocks. For her, “A Chrous Line” is about “putting yourself out there — no matter what it takes.”

— Lynn

Note: Watch for a future post offering Willocks’ insights into the college theater program audition process — plus tips from Halley Shefler of The Arts Edge, which offers educational consulting for visual and performing arts students

Coming up: Art-related resources for bullying prevention

Update: Click here to read part two of my interview with Karley Willocks, and to read a “mini-review” of “A Chorus Line” by Mala Blomquist of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.