Tag Archives: Disney

I feel the earth move

My relationship to the earth is changing. When post-knee surgery instructions included “no kneeling” and “no squatting,” I suspected my gardening days were behind me. But once my son Christopher — raised on nature walks and front yard veggie gardening — reminded me about an upcoming native plant sale, I resolved to get a bit back into the swing of things.

He’s lobbied me for years about making the transition to gardening with native plant species, puzzled by my attempts to explain the meaning behind other sorts of plants I’ve embraced through the years. Most remind me of places lived before moving to the desert — all located near forests where I feel most at home.

But water is scarce, and so too is time. Using native species makes practical sense — and I can only hope some measure of true inspiration for desert gardening will worm its way into my heart. Cactus never really cut it for me. This feels like the first time I’ve noticed that the darn things actually blossom for a spell.

I took a trusty rake to my long overgrown garden yesterday in a botantical spin on “out with the old and in with the new.” It broke off near the tines, apparently angry over all those seasons of neglect. But the little stub that remained was enough to get the job done. I’ve got a clean slate, a fresh palette. And the will to feel the earth move.

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This morning we strolled through the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park. And I’ll be hitting the plant sale at the Center for Native and Urban Wildlife at Scottsdale Community College later this week (Thurs and Fri 9am-1pm in Toad Hall, and open to the public). It’s a fitting way to celebrate Earth Day, which plenty of other folks will be doing this month at various Valley venues — from the Desert Botanical Garden to Phoenix Zoo.

Folks who favor the feel of playing in the dirt while keeping their own hands clean are eager to witness the unfolding of a new Desert Botanical Garden/Ballet Arizona collaboration called “Topia” — which’ll blossom beyond the traditional stage during its May 2-26 run at the garden. Choreographer Ib Andersen (artistic director for Ballet Arizona) is both dancer and visual artist, so I’m eager to experience his marriage of nature with movement.

Those who like their celebrations on the cooler side can head to Valley theaters for the Earth Day premiere of Disneynature’s “Chimpanzee.” Also Arizona libraries, colleges and museums offering special Earth Day fare. I’d love to list them all for you here, but I’ve spent far too much time at my laptop of late. It’s time I feel the earth move.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to find Earth Day celebrations and other family-friendly events featured in the Raising Arizona Kids magazine calendar (and to learn how you can submit calendar items to the magazine).

Coming up: Human rights and human rites

Photos: Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park

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Get out, get art!

After hitting just a single night of this year’s “Phoenix Film Festival,” I’m giving serious thought to running away from home. Not forever. Just through next Thursday when the festival comes to a close. With so many amazing offerings, it seems silly to drive back and forth from theater to laundry room and such.

All sorts of things caught my eye on this weekend’s festival schedule — including a free “Kids’ Day” for families presented by IFP Phoenix from 9am-2pm on Sat, March 31 (where you can also see three family films for just $5 each — including “Chimpanzee” from Disney at 1:05pm).

Also high school shorts, college shorts, animated shorts, a silent auction, a preview of Phoenix Comicon 2012 and plenty of live performance art by folks from Scorpius Dance Theatre to Carol Pacey & the Honey Shakers. Even workshops on topics like “Casting Indies” and “Life as an Indie Actor.”

A film titled “Kerry and Angie” that’s part of a Saturday morning “Arizona Showcase” is directed by Amanda Melby, head coach and owner at Verve Studios in Scottsdale — one of many performing arts groups to participate in this year’s RAK Camp Fair. Folks who attend the Actors Theatre production of “Body Awareness” at the Herberger Theater Center will get to see Melby in action.

Those seeking more family-friendly fare have another great option in the “Children’s Day & Kite Festival” taking place Sat, March 31 from 10am-3pm at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix — which features martial arts, games, food, face painting and other activities. Families are invited to wear kimonos and bring a kite along (or make kites during the festival). Best they not offer kimono-making. I would only embarrass myself.

Fans of Rodgers & Hammerstein can enjoy a double dose of musical theater this weekend as Greasepaint Youtheatre performs “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” and The Phoenix Symphony performs “An Evening with Rodgers & Hammerstein” (don’t let the name “fool” you — Sunday’s show is actually a matinee). The latter is a collaboration with Phoenix Theatre featuring direction by Michael Barnard and a collection of vocalists that bears a startling resemblance to my list of favorite people.

Your last chance to see the Scottsdale Community College production of “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson is Sat, March 31 at 2pm and 7:30pm — and I happen to know first hand that at least one of the show’s young actors is cuter than the dickens. If acting is hereditary, she’s also rocking her role.

— Lynn

Note: Family-friendly activities are always available in print and online calendars from Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

Coming up: Two of the most imporant hours of my life

Musings on “The Muppets”

As the new Disney movie “The Muppets” opens with the song “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” we see two brothers as seemingly mismatched as Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. There’s big brother Gary and little brother Walter, who seem to go just about everywhere together – often sporting matching outfits like plaid flannel pajamas and powder blue suits.

While watching television one night, they see an episode of “The Muppet Show” featuring funnyman Steve Martin. Soon life changes forever. Gary and girlfriend Mary, eager to celebrate their tenth anniversary, plan a trip to Los Angeles – and Gary suffers the first of many “Walter needs me” moments.

Walter has a bit of a one track mind, so the trio soon find themselves on a tacky tenth-rate tour of the old Muppets studio, where Walter overhears a Texas oil baron talk of tearing the joint down. Walter knows what he has to do – reunite the Muppets for a telethon to save their turf. He starts by tracking down Kermit, who helps him gather more Muppets during travels from Reno to Paris.

From a dusty hall in the old Muppets studio that’s lined with photos of celebs like Florence Henderson to the offices of Miss Piggy decorated with covers of magazines from Esquire to People, the journey is a nod to nostalgia – with a character named ’80s Robot behind the wheel. Lines like “gag me with a spoon” feel a tad less subtle. So does dialogue praising the Muppets of old over contemporary pop culture – though the converted won’t mind being preached to.

The movie stays remarkably true to the Muppets’ real roots while updating the vibe with dashes of rap and recovery mantras. Fans of musical theater will appreciate the film’s multiple homages to both the genre and classic works like “The Phantom of the Opera.” And let’s face it – there’s really nowhere else to go if you favor films that mix dancing butchers with singing chickens.  

The wee ones among us think Big Bird and Elmo when they hear talk of the Muppets, which might explain why grown-ups in the theater seemed more smitten with this movie than their children. After all, we’re the ones who built the city on rock and roll – and think others need us when it’s really the other way around.

Thank goodness for gags, like Fozzie’s fart shoes, that span the generations. For songs like “Rainbow Connection.” For movies that show even failure can lead to triumph. For musical tours de force from “mimimi” to “mahna mahna.” But most of all, for movies that mix the species without anybody giving birth.

— Lynn

Coming up: “Being Elmo,” Fixing what’s broken

Harem tales

Enjoy a new twist on A Midsummer Night's Dream at SCC on Oct. 28 & 29

I attended two shows in Scottsdale this weekend — each with something of a harem theme. First, a community college production of a Shakespeare work. Next, a community youth theater production of a Disney tale. Those of you still searching for Halloween costume inspiration take note.

The Theatre Arts program at Scottsdale Community College is performing William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” through Sat, Oct. 29. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but director Randy Messersmith brings a unique twist to the work – setting the comedic escapade about the follies of love in ancient India rather than Athens.

Sets, costumes, music and props convey an “Arabian Nights” feel that keeps the play fresh even for those who’ve seen it performed countless times. With a little time spent on the storyline and characters before attending, it makes for a fun introduction to Shakespeare for teen audiences or those not terribly familiar with Shakespeare’s work.

I attended Friday night’s performance, and was especially impressed by one actor in particular – a recent theater graduate from the University of Arizona. Andy Cahoon, who performs the role of Lysander, has a firm grasp of Shakespeare’s language, delivering his lines comfortably and convincingly.

Sasha Wordlaw shines in seductress mode as she performs the role of fairy queen Titania, and Ryan Wetter’s Nick Bottom is a brilliant bit of buffoonery. Much of this production’s humor derives from movement choreographed by Karryn Allen that’s well executed by the entire cast.

The real stars of this production are two members of the design team, whose work elevates the feel of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to something akin to opera. The combination of scenic design by Kimb Williamson and lighting design by Paul Black does justice to the play’s reputation as a visual feast.

The SCC theater production students who tackled scenery construction for this one, as well as the electrical crew, deserve high praise for bringing the designers’ visions to life. I’m in awe of you, one and all.

I enjoyed costume designer Elizabeth Peterson’s work, but got a bit nervous when a pair of harem pants seemed to hit closer to the bikini line than the belly button. Maybe that’s just the mother in me talking.

The “Midsummer” mask work by Maren Maclean Mascarelli adds much to the show. I’ve seen this woman paper maché, and mold the human medium — and she’s fierce. SCC theater students are fortunate to study with her, and with Williamson and Messersmith too.

Enjoy Disney's Aladdin Jr. performed by Greasepaint Youtheatre through Oct. 30

Greasepaint Youtheatre performs the kid-friendly musical “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” through Sun, Oct. 30. Whether the Scottsdale theater venue they call home is dubbed “Greasepaint Youtheatre” or “Stagebrush Theatre” depends on who you ask — but no matter, it’s got a perfectly-sized stage for serious productions.

“Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” is directed by Jodie Weiss, events specialist with Childsplay in Tempe. The musical is based on the screenplay by Ron Clementsand, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Jim Luig adapted the musical’s book and wrote additional lyrics.

But it’s the contributions of Alan Menken (who wrote the music), plus Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (who wrote the lyrics) that fans of musical theater most fervently praise. Best loved songs from the show include “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.”

I attended Sunday’s matinee performance, where the packed house included enthusiastic audience members of all ages. The cast delivered a high-energy performance full of dance, acrobatics, humor and song. Liz Grannis (Princess Jasmine) and Andrey Lull (Aladdin) are well matched as the romantic couple at the center of the story. Lull delivers both a strong vocal performance and a kiss complete with dip.

The script is full of humor — playing on words, adding new twists to songs well loved by the “yuppie generation” and sprinkling dialogue with fun expressions like “riff raff” some of us thought only our mothers were accustomed to using. Actors Jacob Stovall (Jafar), Amanda Rahaman (Genie) and Lexa Rose (Iago) are the perfect comedic trio.

Greasepaint’s production of “Aladdin Jr.” has the feel of a glorious piece of big musical theater — making good use of its large cast in the song and dance department, and adding a trio of live musicians whose performance on keyboard, drums, saxaphone and flute gets the joint jumpin’ with a jazzy big band vibe.

John Luke Osorio serves as musical director and Ariana Ziskin as choreographer. The artistic team boasts some impressive resumes. Josef Rahaman and Kris Rahaman did set and properties design. Nathalie Koyabe did costume design. Pete Bish did sound design. Andrea Williams serves as stage manager.

Lighting design is the work of Bob Nelson, who proves in the production that less can be more. His work is subtle, adding to the ambiance of Agrabah both day and night without screaming at the audience. Be prepared, when you attend, for moderate use of fog and strobe lights.

Part of this production’s charm is the number of very young cast members, who bring both talent and a serious dose of adorable. Two other actors deserve special mention — Thea Eigo in the role of Abu and Grace Elsie in the role of Magic carpet.

Still, the fun, fabulous feel of this show is a collective triumph for the entire cast and creative team. As I observed those involved in the show before, during and after Sunday’s performance — it was clear that Greasepaint Youtheatre understands the importance of theater as a team sport.

— Lynn

Note: Photos above feature (L to R) Andy Cahoon (Lysander), Paula Vasquez (Hermia), Kaylyn Riggs (Helena) and Chris Ellis (Demetrius) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Scottsdale Community College — and Andrey Lull (Aladdin), Liz Grannis (Princess Jasmine) and Grace Elsie (Flying carpet) in “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” at Greasepaint Youtheatre.

Coming up: Born to be blue?, Celebrating birthdays — theater style

Fall break theater camps

Parents seeking fall break theater camps need to act quickly since spaces are growing scarce. Childsplay’s “Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” camp is already full, and the three camps noted below will soon enjoy a similar fate. Consider a theater camp for your child or teen if you’re keen on things like creativity, teamwork, imagination, problem-solving and confidence.

Youth who participated in a recent summer camp at Chandler Center for the Arts

Chandler Center for the Arts presents a “Fall Glee Camp Intensive” for ages 8 & up Oct 11-14 from 9am-noon. The camp is taught by Phoenix actor, singer, teacher and concert performer Kristen Drathman. www.chandlercenter.org.

Youth performing in a recent production of "The Jungle Book" at Greasepaint

Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale presents “Everything Disney!” for ages 6-13 Oct 10-14 from 9am-3pm. Campers will enjoy music, dance and scenes from Disney shows including “The Jungle Book,” “Aladdin Jr.,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” www.greasepaint.org.

Youth who participated in a recent FunTales camp with Copperstar

Copperstar Repertory Co. in Gilbert presents “Glee Camp” Oct 10-14 from 9am-noon at Higley Center for the Performing Arts. The camp is directed and choreographed by Alan Palmer and Mary-Jo Okawa. www.copperstarrep.org.

Plenty of folks offer camps, workshops and other education/training experiences throughout the year, so stay tuned to your local theater companies for news of offerings for children and youth.

You never know what might happen when the drama currently confined to the walls of your own home breaks loose into the world at large.

— Lynn

Note: Stay tuned to Raising Arizona Kids magazine, which offers an annual directory of summer camps

Coming up: A very special Cinderella story

Photos are from organization Facebook pages

“Winnie the Pooh” meets “Avenue Q”

A scene from Walt Disney Picture's Winnie the Pooh--which is full of playful letters and words

Lizabeth suggested at about 12:45pm Saturday afternoon that we hit a 1pm showing of Disney’s new “Winnie the Pooh” film, which gave us little time to transition from Eeyore to Tigger mode. But we made it, and enjoyed every second of nostalgia nirvana in the short 73 minute film.

“Winnie the Pooh” is a literature lover’s dream — filled with images of books, letters and punctuation marks that come alive (as muses, not monsters), and scenes of Pooh characters bouncing, stumbling and flying through the pages of a “Winnie the Pooh” storybook.

Tigger doesn’t text or tweet. Kanga and Roo get letters the old-fashioned way — in their mailbox. Friends work together to solve problems. They’re creative. They cheer each other on. And they accept one another, foibles and all. Pull out the Pooh books before heading to the theater — you’ll want to extend the movie magic with a few good reads when you get home.

Robert Lopez wrote music and lyrics for both Avenue Q and Winnie the Pooh

“Winnie the Pooh” is a lovely musical jaunt, full of classical music in various tempos and styles. The movie features an original score by Henry Jackman and original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, a married couple with impressive joint and individual credits.

Lizabeth spotted Robert Lopez’s name in the credits — because she’s familiar with his work on “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q.” The couple share music and lyric credits for seven songs in the film. Anderson-Lopez voices Kanga and Playbill.com reports that Lopez makes the rumbling sound for Pooh’s tummy. It’s a gift, I suppose.

A careful review of the movie’s credits — which roll as some of the movie’s funniest antics unfold — reveals plenty of familiar names. There’s Zooey Deschanel, who contributes an original song and vocal performance for the film. And Craig Ferguson (the voice of Owl) of late-night fame.

Also actors who’ve voiced characters for Toy Story 3, Phineas & Ferb and SpongeBob SquarePants. Most endearing is the voice of Christopher Robin. It’s that of Jack Boulter, and it’s his first-ever voiceover role. I may have to enjoy the movie a second time just to relish all the voiceover talent — including narration by John Cleese, co-founder of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

A single line in the credits reads “Dan Read-In Memorium” — in honor of a longtime background and visual development artist for Disney Animation films who died in May of 2010 after battling melanoma. I read that donations to local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) chapters were requested in lieu of flowers.

Film credits mention “caffeination by Carlos Benavides” and thank three museums, including Britain’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where film directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall studied original “Winnie the Pooh” illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. The original stuffed animals that inspired Milne’s stories for his son Christopher Robin Milne are housed at the New York Public Library.

Disney's Winnie the Pooh opens with pages from this 1961 book by A.A. Milne

Children and their grown-ups giggled throughout the film as Tigger pounced atop a downtrodden Eeyore, Owl recited his lengthy memoir, Roo braved the forrest in his tea cup helmet, Rabbit found comfort in a checklist and Pooh raced to escape angry bees. There were no angry birds back in author A.A. Milne’s day (1882-1956).

When characters ponder knotting a rope to rescue friends who’ve fallen into a pit, Eeyore suggest that “it’s all for naught.” Later he’s convinced that “we’re all gonna die.” Roo offers a deadpan “Send the pig” (Lizabeth’s favorite line) when scary noises loom, and Tigger spends a lot of time saying “it’s gonna be great.” Pooh dreams of honey, meeting frustrations with a simple “Oh, bother!”

Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” website offers a “100 Acre Wood Personality quiz” for those of you who’ve yet to identify with a particular character, and there are plenty of games, activities and facts for younger “Pooh” fans. As other folks flock to Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forrest, I’m perfectly content to linger in the 100 Acre Wood.

— Lynn

Note: Lizabeth found a cool “10 Questions” interview of Robert Lopez by Belinda Luscombe of TIME Magazine in which he talks about his “personal connection with Pooh.” Click here to watch the video from TIME.com.

Coming up: Pardon my Pygmalion

Musings on “The Book of Mormon”

The Book of Mormon sign on the Eugene O'Neill Theatre marquee in New York

My first love was a Mormon. His name was Donny Osmond, and though I never met him, I loved everything about him — from his bright purple socks to his pearly white smile. 

Shades of The Lion King as Elders Price (Andrew Rannells) and Cunningham (Josh Gad) arrive in northern African for their Mormon mission (Photo: Joan Marcus)

My latest love is a musical called “The Book of Mormon,” which I saw at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway while visiting NYC last month. I stalked the tickets online and by phone day and night until a single seat popped up for the week of my visit.

“The Book of Mormon” stars Josh Gad (Elder Cunningham) and Andrew Rannells (Elder Price) — plus Nikki M. James (Nabalungi), winner of the 2011 Tony Award for best performance by an actress in a featured role (musical). Also Rory O’Malley (Elder McKinley) and Michael Potts (Mafala Hatimbi).

Crowds gathering before a recent performance of The Book of Mormon on Broadway

I sat in a center seat of the seventh row in the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, a small venue jammed packed with people who’d been clever enough to buy tickets before the reviews made headlines, paid dearly for tickets via the secondary market, or gotten lucky in the daily ticket raffle or standing room only line.

To my left was an actor well-known to “Law & Order” viewers, who was perfectly charming until I stepped on his feet making a run for my seat. A father and his teenage son, also visiting from out of state, sat to my right — and shared that they’ve long been fans of the television series “South Park.”

“The Book of Mormon” is the brainchild of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone — who wrote the musical’s book, music and lyrics after meeting one night when Parker and Stone (creators of “South Park”) went to see “Avenue Q” (which Lopez co-wrote and conceived).

This doorbell that marks the Eugene O'Neill Theatre stage door is part of the show's impressive marketing campaign

His bio in “The Book of Mormon” playbill notes that “Lopez sang in church choirs throughout college and always suspected he’d return to sacred music.” Parker and Trey are best known for the profane. The show’s playbill notes that “It has been a long-time dream of Parker’s to write a musical for Broadway.”

The “South Park” duo hails from Colorado — Parker from Conifer and Stone from Littleton, a Denver suburb best known to some as the site of Columbine High School, where a tragic school shooting took place in 1999. If you’ve seen “South Park” or “Avenue Q,” you know what you’re getting into with “The Book of Mormon.”

Josh Gad and other cast members signed autographs after the show last Wednesday night

Apparently, at least one person in the audience came unprepared. Folks who waited in the autograph line after the show told me they’d heard a women protesting the show’s crude content — saying something like “You just don’t use the F-word on Broadway.” True enough for a time, but that time has clearly passed. And the “F-word” is mild compared to some of the show’s other language.

A truer test of this trio’s musical theater muster might be creating a show with less offensive fare. I’d have taken just as much pleasure from “The Book of Mormon” story were it told without colorful gestures, language and props — though it was clear from the steady hum of the audience that they were thrilled with every minute of it.

Andrew Rannells lights up the stage, and more than a few hearts, with his sparking smile and spectacular talent

“The Book of Mormon” pokes fun at American culture. The opening scene, which features a set full of signs for retail and fast food giants like Walmart, registers a high score on the mock-o-meter. The bright-eyed character with a pristine white smile, Elder Price, longs to live in a Disney-created paradise he simply calls “Orlando.”

The mock-o-meter also registers jabs at Americans who romanticize Africa — including obvious hits to “The Lion King” and celebrities who champion causes in other countries ala “We Are the World.” Changing the world, it seems, is easier than changing oneself. And here be the rub: For all its offense, this musical speaks the truth. The greater your ability to laugh at yourself, the less it hurts.

Tony Award winner Nikki M. James greets fans after a recent performance of The Book of Mormon

If an actual mock-o-meter existed, the needle would spin wildly out of control during depictions of the Mormon religion, known more formally as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While Utah has the country’s highest population of Mormons, I’m told that Mesa — home to a beautiful temple and visitors center –ranks second.

The Mormon church has been relatively quiet, wisely I think, in their objections to portrayals of their faith in “The Book of Mormon.” The musical conveys all sorts of stereotypes about the religion’s founders, tenets and followers — but still manages to capture the earnestness of a people who desperately want to do right by God and each other.

“The Book of Mormon” is a powerful reminder of the ease with which we make assumptions. That God favors us over others. That others see us the way we see ourselves. That the afterlife trumps the everyday. That easy is good, and good is easy.

Nikki M. James, Andrew Rannells, Josh Gad and the cast of The Book of Mormon (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The show drew thunderous applause and a lengthy standing ovation. I didn’t want the experience to end, and was delighted when cast members shared in the audience afterglow by signing autographs and talking with fans. They’re a gracious bunch who seem genuinely grateful for their own “The Book of Mormon” experiences and those of us who travel from far and wide to see the show.

This sign reminds theater-goers that Mormons are more than musical theater fodder

Before jumping on the subway back to our hotel in lower Manhattan, I veered in and out of the crowds taking in all the noise and neon of Times Square. I stopped at Starbucks (which also registers on “The Book of Mormon” mock-o-meter), looking up at nearby signs while I waited for my drink.

I spied a giant sign featuring dozens of diverse faces and the words “I’m a Mormon” next to the mormons.org website. A fitting reminder that judging a person based on religious (or secular) beliefs might make for an outrageously funny piece of theater. But it’s never a good idea in real life.

— Lynn

Note: “The Book of Mormon” won the 2011 Tony Award for best musical, as well as several other awards

Coming up: Lynn & Liz see “War Horse” at Lincoln Center