Tag Archives: David Ira Goldstein

Feeling next to normal

Alice Ripley (L), Aaron Tveit (center) and J. Robert Spencer in "Next to Normal" at the Booth Theatre (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Some musicals mirror our lives. Others manage to change them. For our family, “Next to Normal” did both. So news that it’ll open Arizona Theatre Company’s 2012/13 season hits home. Our son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during middle school, and the road from first symptoms to stability was a rocky one.

For many years, the everyday experiences of living with mental illness took a toll on every member of our family, including Christopher’s two younger sisters. For Lizabeth, who’s long been interested in stage and screen, the musical “Next to Normal” felt an anthem of sorts in ways that only she can fully explain.

“Next to Normal” imagines the life of a suburban family fraught with depression and denial. Parents Diana and Tom battle their own demons, and each other, long after the death of son Gabe. Other characters include daughter Natalie, a friend of hers named Henry and Doctor Madden.

It features music by Tom Kitt, and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey — and is being directed for ATC by the company’s artistic director, David Ira Goldstein. The Broadway production won a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama and three Tony Awards, including one for best musical score.

"Next to Normal" on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Lizabeth saw the musical during its Broadway run at the Booth Theatre, and we traveled together last January to see the touring production featuring Alice Ripley (who originated the role of Diana on Broadway) at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. I’m hoping she’ll be on fall break during Arizona Theatre Company’s Oct. 11-28 run in Phoenix.

If not, we’ll continue our tradition of exchanging show stories. I’ve enjoyed hearing her accounts of everything from “Seminar” to “Porgy and Bess.” Some shows, like “Godspell” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” she’s seen more than once. Others, like “The Book of Mormon,” are tough to take in on a college student’s budget.

If Lizabeth gets to “Freud’s Last Session” at New World Stages in NYC, we’ll be able to compare notes on imagined conversations between Sigmund Freud and C.S Lewis — because Arizona Theatre Company is co-producing the Southwest premiere of this work with San Jose Rep as well. A Feb. 14-March 3 Phoenix run means those of you with a warped sense of humor have Valentine’s Day planning in the bag.

The 2012/13 season for Arizona Theatre Company also includes “Lombardi” (a play about Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi), “Emma” (a musical based on Jane Austen’s novel), “The Sunshine Boys” (a Neil Simon play about comedians reuniting to rehash their old schtick) and “Clybourne Park” (a play exploring race and real estate in America, which received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in drama).

Theater has long been a normalizing force amidst circumstances sometimes isolating and unpredictable. Works like “Next to Normal” remind families living with mental illness, or grief following the loss of a child, that they’re not alone. I’m not sure whether seeing “Next to Normal” again will feel more like applying a bandage or ripping one off. Both are necessary for healing.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Arizona Theatre Company’s current season and here to explore their 2012/13 offerings (show are performed at both Tucson and Phoenix venues)

Coming up: Dust in the wind

Update: “Clybourne Park,” which my hubby James saw during his last trip to NYC, has been nominted for several 2012 Tony Awards — including best play. Click here for a full list of this year’s Tony Award nominees. 5/1/12

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Book to stage: The Great Gatsby

Last year at about this time, Stephen Wrentmore dug out his very old copy of “The Great Gatsby,” the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel published in 1925 — considered by many the “great American novel.”

He was talking at the time with David Ira Goldstein, artistic director for Arizona Theatre Company, about possible programming for the 2011-12 Arizona Theatre Company season. Wrentmore was named the company’s associate artistic director in January, and will be directing “The Great Gatsby” for ATC later this season.

The thrill of returning to “The Great Gatsby,” says Wrentmore, was greater than any other experience revisiting works he’d previously read. Reading it cold as an adult, he muses, beats being force fed the novel as a child. “It’s such complex and rich writing for a hungry mind,” shares Wrentmore.

This first edition of The Great Gatsby was sold at auction by Christie's for $163,500

American students are expected to read “The Great Gatsby” but that’s not the case for students in London, where Wrentmore was born and raised. “I read ‘Huckleberry Finn’ by accident when I was 11 or 12,” recalls Wrentmore. Seems immersion in the writings of modern American authors isn’t considered essential within the British education system.

Wrentmore discovered American novels shortly after taking his exams at age 16, and says he soon became “obsessed with American literature.” Wrentmore recounts reading American novelists like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald through the end of his university studies — when he finally got to visit America.

He first traveled to Arizona in 2000, and still marvels today at the differences between British and American culture. Comparing life in Arizona to life in London, he says, is like comparing two distinct languages. “I knew in my head that it would be different,” shares Wrentmore. But “the different energy levels” of Arizona life and London life are more stark than he’d imagined — by virtue, he says, of both climate and distance.

“Europeans walk everywhere,” reflects Wrentmore. “And there’s a greater sense of the outdoors in Europe.” In London, he says, you meet people on the pathways. “There are more opportunities for random encounters.” In Arizona, he’s observed, people seem to live in their cars. There’s no popping out to the market late at night unless car keys are involved, and it’s isolating.

Hence the added importance of arts and culture to Arizona communities, reflects Wrentmore. People who attend a concert or play have a shared experience. They develop a sense of community — something Wrentmore says we need more of. The arts, adds Wrentmore, forge a connection between “our common humanity.”

Wrentmore has been busy casting “The Great Gatsby” in Tucson, Phoenix and NYC — but says he’s only about 70% there so far. The Arizona Theatre Company production of “The Great Gatsby,” the final work in their “America Plays! Celebrating Great American Stories” series, runs Feb. 25-March 17 in Tucson and March 22-April 8 in Phoenix.

Cover of my daughter Jennifer's $12.95 copy of The Great Gatsby

“People have great expectations,” reflects Wrentmore. “We have to tell the story in a way that resonates with contemporary audiences.” Wrentmore recognizes that whatever they do, it’s likely to collide with various audience member visions of the work. “For every reader of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ there’s a different Gatsby,” says Wrentmore. “It’s completely liberating.”

“Some people won’t get it,” says Wrentmore, “and some will see a truth in it.” Wrentmore says he feels more freedom to choose historical periods and other elements when directing the works of Shakespeare. But “The Great Gatsby,” he says, must “relate with the period and how people remember the story.”

Still, Wrentmore says he’s observed that people’s memories of “The Great Gatsby” are hazy. You can ask anyone, he says, about “The Great Gatsby.” They all know it and they all have an answer — a different answer. Not all novels translate well to the stage, according to Wrentmore. But he sees “great theatricality” in the work, and is certain it’ll travel to the stage “with elegance.”

“The Great Gatsby” has been adapted several times for the big screen. The 1974 film starred Robert Redford and a 2012 film will star Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s being filmed in Australia and directed by Baz Luhrmann, and will be released by Warner Brothers Pictures in both 2D and 3D on Christmas Day 2012. But it’s rare, according to Goldstein, for the Fitzgerald estate to grant rights for theatrical adaptations. They’ll be performing an adaptation by Simon Levy.

Wrentmore notes that “The Great Gatsby” is supremely relevant for contemporary American society. “These characters live in a bubble of privilege,” says Wrentmore. “They drink, lay about and engage in dangerous liaisons.” It’s hardly a reflection, says Wrentmore, of the Protestant work ethic in which folks work hard for money they then put to good use.

“I come from a society that believes in a sense of society and culture,” says Wrentmore. “We give back.” But the characters in “The Great Gatsby” don’t give back. Wrentmore notes that the Gatsy story “kicks us again about the elusive idea of the American dream.”

“These characters are, for the most part, the one percent,” says Wrentmore. Just a few of them “represent the 99 percent.” Fitzgerald’s tale reminds us all to ask ourselves what it really means to be successful. And to consider, once we’ve achieved wealth and status, what we ought to be doing with it.

— Lynn

Note: The West Valley Arts Council is featuring “The Great Gatsby” in “The Big Read,” a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. A visual arts competition for ages 12-22 closes on Dec. 8 so click here ASAP for details if you or someone you know might like to participate. 

Coming up: Musings on “Mozart’s Sister,” Visual arts classes for youth, Ethnic studies translated for the stage

Update: Arizona Theatre Company is seeking donations of new and used copies of the book “The Great Gatsby” — which can be dropped off at The Temple of Music and Art in Tucson or one of three Phoenix locations — the Herberger Theater Center, the ATC Phoenix box office and the Downtown Phoenix Partnership. Watch the education section of the ATC website for details coming soon. And click here to check out the NEA’s “Big Read” blog.  12/06/11

Seeing red

It’s starting to feel like a bit of a conspiracy theory. Now that my daughter Lizabeth is readying to leave Arizona for college, several of the shows she’s most eager to see have started popping up around the Valley.

We were “seeing red” recently when we realized she’ll be well into her freshman year (at a college yet to be decided) before the Arizona premiere of a play that won six 2010 Tony Awards — including “best play.”

The work is John Logan’s “Red” — which is based on the true story of an artist grappling with “the commission of a lifetime.” The play is described as “a searing portrait of an artist’s ambition and vulnerability.”

Apparently matters are complicated by a new assistant who questions the artist’s “views of art, creativity and commerce.” Their master/novice dialogue explores an age-old query: “Is art meant to provoke, soothe or disturb?”

“Red” is the final work in the recently unveiled Arizona Theatre Company 2011-2012 season, which opens with a world premiere titled “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club.” It’s a Jeffrey Hatcher work based on “The Suicide Club” by Robert Louis Stevenson and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The 45th anniversary season slate for Arizona Theatre Company also features the Southwest premiere of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” which won the 2009 Tony Award for “best play.” Picture grown-ups trying to be civilized as they discuss their children’s misadventures on a playground — only to unravel as “political correctness” dissolves into “character assasination.”

The fact that bullying is such a hot topic of discussion these days makes this work especially intriguing. Perhaps it’ll answer one of my one burning questions: Why are parents (and politicians) who bully so suprised when children follow in their footsteps?

They’ll also present the Southwest premiere of “Daddy Long Legs” — a musical that’s based on the novel by Jean Webster. It features book by John Caird (who also directs), and music/lyrics by Paul Gordon.

“Daddy Long Legs” couples coming of age saga and love story. Told “through a series of letters,” it’s described as “a testament to the power of the written word.”

Valley theater-goers might have had more experience with the next show in ATC’s 2011-2012 season — “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.” Lizabeth and I first saw this one at ASU Gammage, then at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

“The 39 Steps,” which features four actors in well over 100 roles, is described by some as “spy novel meets Monty Python.” It’s the tale of a mild-mannered man who finds himself tangled up with murder, espionage and a dash of flirtacious misadventure. When well cast (which I certainly expect to be the case with ATC), it’s one of the funniest shows around.

An additional offering in the ATC 2011-2012 season is Simon Levy’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” — based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. It explores a world of wealth and privilege during the “jazz age” of 1920s America.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger season. And while Lizabeth is truly disappointed she won’t be here to experience these shows, ATC’s 2011-2012 offerings will serve me well by providing poignant, powerful fare and a much needed distraction as I miss my favorite theater companion.

— Lynn

Note: Arizona Theatre Company presents their “Curtains Up Cabaret 2011” Sat, April 30 at the Herberger Theater Center. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Musings on “message” movies, Valley teen does comedy

Real drama in Wisconsin

Citizens opposing proposed changes to collective bargaining options in Wisconsin have been protesting at the State Capitol in Madison since mid-February. For folks unfamiliar with American theater history, it might feel like the first time high drama has come to Wisconsin.

But those who know the story of acting duo Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne, who graced American stages from the 1920s through the 1950s, know that plenty of drama took place at their summer home — an estate called “Ten Chimneys” that’s now a historical landmark.

This weekend is your last chance to see Arizona Theatre Company perform "Ten Chimneys" (Photo by Ed Flores)

It’s high on my list of places to tour if I ever find myself in that neck of the woods — a small town called Genessee Depot that’s just 60 miles from Madison. In the meantime, I can get my Lunt & Fontanne fix from Arizona Theatre Company’s production of “Ten Chimneys.”

This world-premiere by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, with direction by David Ira Goldstein, is being performed through Sun, March 6 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. The uber-eager can go online for a play guide covering all things Lunt & Fontanne, which I read with rapt attention from front to back.

The play “Ten Chimeys” imagines Lunt & Fontanne working at their summer home to prepare for roles in Chekhov’s “The Sea Gull.” I’m especially grateful now that I attended a production of this Chekhov classic during my last trip to Pepperdine University in Malibu.

Next time you’re glued to the television watching something mediocre that passes for real drama, remember the tale of “Ten Chimneys.” Then make your way to the Herberger Theater Center for a magic blend of classic and contemporary theater.

Because that, my friends, is real drama.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about a new PBS “American Experience” titled “Triangle Fire” which examines historical events and issues related to labor unions. (Students from Arizona School for the Arts perform the play “Triangle” next month). Another episode titled “Hoover Dam” also examines these issues. Click here to enjoy a taste of the “Odd Wisconsin” exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Coming up: A plethora of puppets, Theater tales from Scottsdale Community College

The sparkle in her eyes

Brian Anderson (Frederic) in Arizona Opera's "The Pirates of Penzance" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

I met a delightful girl and her mother recently during intermission at a matinee performance of “The Pirates of Penzence” by Arizona Opera. The young girl’s eyes got wide with excitement when I asked what she thought of the show so far.

It must have been some sparkle, because it distracted me from the delicious brownie she was nibbling on. Though tempted by the cheesecake and such at the nearby coffee stand, I managed to walk away with only an iced espresso.

But back to my friend with the brownie, whose mom shared with me that she’s one of the magazine’s subscribers.

The daughter’s face completely lit up as we talked about the show. “I love it!,” she exclaimed. So I asked whether anything was a particular favorite — the music, the costumes, the humor. “I love it all!,” she beamed.

Korby Myrick (Ruth) in Arizona Opera's "The Pirates of Penzance" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

The last time I saw a young girl that excited about going to the opera, it was my own daughter — a good decade or so ago.

I was thrilled to see several children and teens in the audience for Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” conducted by Joel Revzen and directed for Arizona Opera by David Ira Goldstein of Arizona Theatre Company.

The other parents and youth I spoke with — including a dad named Steve and his daughter, and a dad (also a magazine subscriber) there with his wife and two sons — also seemed to be enjoying the show. Even a group of teens I spoke with gave it high marks, noting they have plans to see more operas together.

I gave several of the folks I talked with my business card and suggested they get in touch to share a bit about what their schools are doing in terms of theater, music and other arts. I’m always on the prowl for school and community art offerings.

Sarah Jane McMahon (Mable) in Arizona Opera's "The Pirates of Penzance" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

It just so happens that Arizona Opera offers several education programs, including a special opera week, teacher workshops, school tours, opera “look ins,” student dress rehearsals, study guides and opera in a box. I’ll share a bit more about those in a future post.

For now, I’m still reliving my swashbuckling good time. 

I was thrilled to see the name of Lizabeth’s longtime violin teacher, Cynthia Baker, in the program — and rushed to the pit (after the lengthy standing ovation) to chat a bit before she headed out with violin case in tow.

Then I stuck around for a talkback session with several cast and creative team members during which audience members asked about how opera singers train, how performers find just the right comedic balance, how opera differs from musical theater and more.

Curt Olds (Pirate King) in Arizona Opera's "The Pirates of Penzance" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

There was plenty to love about the show itself. The endearing word play. The performance of Curt Olds (Pirate King) — part Johnny Depp, part Jon Stewart (and ever so easy on the eyes). Baton-twirling bobbies. Chest-pounding odes to duty. Even the splits and several cartwheels from Sarah Jane McMahon (Mabel).

But the most fulfilling moments by far were the ones I spent talking with the parents, children and teens who were gracious enough to share their time and thoughts with me.

It’s the sparkle in their eyes that we all work and write for each day.

— Lynn

Up next for Arizona Opera is Georges Bizet's "Carmen"

Note: Opera buffs can enjoy the Harkins Theatres and Emerging Pictures “Opera & Ballet in Cinema” series presentation of “Das Rheingold” in three Valley movie theaters on Thurs, Nov 18. ASU Lyric Opera Theatre opens “The Secret Garden” in Tempe on Fri, Nov 19. Arizona Opera presents “Carmen” at Tucson Music Hall on Nov 13 & 14 and at Phoenix Symphony Hall on Nov 19, 20 & 21. And Phoenix Opera presents “The Magic Flute” at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix on Dec 3 & 5.

Coming up: From D.C. to Higley, Thespian tales, Holiday shopping museum-style, Dancing your way through the holidays

[title of blog]

Note: Please see end of post for NEW information about remaining shows…

“Have you seen the show?”

It’s a question recently posed to me by actor Stanley Bahorek, who’s between Tucson and Phoenix runs of “[title of show]” with Arizona Theatre Company. The show opens Thursday night at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix.

He wasn’t referring to his current gig, but the first bit of acting he did—which was in middle school. Bahorek shares that his first audition was for the school production of “Annie,” and he must have nailed it.

Bahorek was cast as the riotous renegade Rooster Hannigan, one of a trio of cons poised to profit by claiming the orphan Annie as their own. Worthington, Ohio theater wasn’t on my radar at that point (it is now), but I’ve seen plenty of other productions of Annie.

Bahorek surmised as much, suggesting I might need every finger and toe at my disposable to count the many ways. If I hadn’t glimpsed it sooner, this was a sure sign. This fellow is fabulously fun.

I’ve been gently asked to avoid overplaying this fact, but feel I must share it nonetheless. Bahorek confesses to saying the following to his mother when he was just ten years old: “I want to be an actor.”

“I’ve been performing all my life,” reflects Bahorek. I get the feeling his toothbrush might have served as a microphone on more than one occasion, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

Bahorek followed the declaration to his mother with a question: “Is that okay?” Happily, he shares, his parents were very supportive. Some kids leave dreams of dentistry or dinosaur hunting when they catch the theater bug—but Bahorek seems to have been born with it.

It didn’t hurt that as a middle school and high school student, he had oodles of friends doing theater, preparing for or entering university theater programs. And so, thought Bahorek, “why not?”

He’s quick to credit the theater teachers he studied with in public school settings—sharing just how dedicated they were to giving kids opportunities. (Legislators take note: If you want to lower Arizona’s high school drop-out rate, return rich arts experiences to all our schools.)

Bahorek was thrilled when accepted at the University of Michigan, renowned for its stellar musical theater department. “That,” quips Bahorek, “sealed the deal.” He raves about their “excellent training,” adding that some of his best experiences occurred during his time there.

I asked Bahorek whether he had any advice for high school students researching universities and preparing for theater program auditions.

Here’s his first tip: “Take piano.” It’s an essential component of hearing and speaking the language of music. (Take note if your child is considering Arizona School for the Arts—which includes two hours of piano each week as part of its middle school curriculum.)

“Read plays and see as much theater as you can,” suggests Bahorek, who recalls seeing “all the touring shows” while in high school. “Get to know both classic and contemporary work.” Know current playwrights—plus those from “pre-1965.”

“The greater your breadth of knowledge,” says Bahorek, “the better your foundation.” The more a person is exposed to, he explains, the better he or she becomes at selecting monologues and vocal performance pieces for auditions.

Bahorek seizes this opportunity to share with me his hope that plenty of young people will come to see “[title of show].” While show advisories note the mature content of the piece, Bahorek likens it to a PG-13 rather than R-rated movie.

He notes that there is some swearing, but that it’s done in part of raise the issue of whether swearing is or isn’t acceptable. “It’s never graphic,” he says, “or gratuitous.”

With two kids in college and another preparing for a career in theater, I’m way past worrying about episodic exposure to swearing—especially within the context of the arts.

“I would have loved this show in high school,” shares Bahorek.

Bahorek describes “[title of show]” as a play about four people in New York, two of whom are writers. I’m hooked already but will happily provide more info for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the frequent foibles and follies of being, or being with, a writer.

“The show has a great premise,” says Bahorek. “The writers end up writing a show about them writing a show.” Not that writers are ever prone to navel-gazing, mind you.

Bahorek fondly recalls his experience with seeing “[title of show],” describing it as “charming, ingenious and funny.” Like many musicals, he reflects, it’s about dreamers and their dreams. “You fall in love with these characters—their dreams, their chutzpah.”

There’s a moment near the middle of the show, Bahorek adds, when you really start to see what it’s all about. It’s during a musical number called “Die, Vampire, Die!” The vampires, he says, are the little voices in our heads that tell us we’re not pretty, talented or good enough. “Once you get to that point, you’re really pulled into the story.”

I asked Bahorek how he came to be involved with the Arizona Theatre Company production of “[title of show]”—“The old fashioned way,” he told me, “by pounding the pavement.” He auditioned for the show in New York with David Ira Goldstein (now celebrating his 18th season as artistic director for ATC).

Bahorek says he was familiar with ATC’s sterling reputation and suspected a January/February gig in Arizona might not be such a bad thing. He recalls meeting Goldstein and feeling right away that the two had a connection.

“We had a little too much fun,” he recalls. “He told jokes, I did a few songs.” Bahorek says Goldstein struck him as seriously smart, adding that he loved the way Goldstein spoke about the show.

So what does he think of Goldstein now that they’ve worked together? “He’s excellent to work with,” says Bahorek, “and he treats his actors really well.” If there’s a recipe for the perfect show, I’m sure artistic excellence and fun are near the top of the list of ingredients.

I can’t wait to see what this cast, crew and creative team cook up together…

–Lynn

Note: “[title of show]” will be presented by Arizona Theatre Company Feb. 18 to March 7 at the Herberger Theater Center. Tickets available at http://www.arizonatheatre.or or 602-256-6995. Some performances feature student, senior and active military discounts. “Pay What You Can” for this show is Feb. 21 at 7pm, subject to restrictions and availability. Group rates/fundraising packages/rush tickets may be available. Please check details before attending.

Feb. 23 update from Arizona Theatre Company…

The post-show discussion following the March 4th 7:30pm performance will feature the show’s creators (also its original stars) Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, as well as the original keyboardist and musical arranger Larry Pressgrove. Discussion will also feature ATC artistic director David Ira Goldstein. Larry Pressgrove, the original ‘Larry’ for the show’s off-Broadway and Broadway runs, will play the role onstage for ATC’s March 3-7 performances. Returning ‘”[title of show]” patrons can receive 50% off regularly-priced tickets for their second experience of the show.  For details, visit www.arizonatheatre.org or call 602-256-6995.