Tag Archives: Ella Fitzgerald

Once upon a concert

“Guess what Lizabeth is doing this evening?” My husband greeted me with the question after I got home from a day spent at the Arizona Humanities Festival in downtown Phoenix. Earlier in the week, our youngest daughter lamented being bored. “She lives in Manhattan,” James mused at the time, “and she can’t find anything to do.”

Of course, there’s always something happening in New York City. The trick is making it in Manhattan on a college student’s budget, and Lizabeth has long been mindful of the fact that money doesn’t grow on trees. She called home while I was out to ask about getting tickets for the nosebleed section of a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Lizabeth called home after the concert too, eager to talk with us about her adventure. This was about 10:30pm our time, one of many clues that Lizabeth is adapting to life in the “city that never sleeps.”

She’d jumped a subway to make the trek from her university near the World Trade Center to the 59th Street/Columbus Street station – putting her near Columbus Circle, where big names in protest music had performed “We Shall Overcome” for “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators just a day before.

When I mentioned Pete Seeger’s participation in the march to Columbus Circle, Lizabeth noted that she’d seen Seeger-related materials while exploring some exhibits before taking her seat for the show. Seems one of Seeger’s most famous solo concerts took place at Carnegie Hall exactly thirty years to the day before Lizabeth, our youngest, was born.

Her favorite finds at the Rose Museum and Archive included a baton used by conductor Leonard Bernstein, a scarf worn by dancer Isadora Duncan and eyeglasses worn by singer Ella Fitzgerald. Also a signed photo of George Gershwin, a record signed by Judy Garland, a program signed by Luciano Pavarotti and a program signed by all four Beatles. 

Liz was thrilled to meet Audra McDonald in NYC

Lizabeth was at Carnegie Hall that evening to hear Audra McDonald, who’ll perform the role of Bess in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” which begins previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Dec. 17. Somehow we’d missed her performance at last year’s “ARTrageous” event at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

I love talking with Lizabeth after she’s experienced a performance. She observes and describes them with what I’ve always considered a writer’s eye, though it’s clearly part of the acting craft as well – something Lizabeth is studying at Pace University. She started by telling me about McDonald’s stunning midnight blue gown, and shared that catching her first glimpse of McDonald on stage brought tears to her eyes.

Lizabeth started voice lessons several years ago, studying first with Toby Yatso — one of her beloved theater teachers at Arizona School for the Arts. He’d encouraged her to listen to McDonald’s recordings, and shared his love along the way for all things Audra. The majesty of her first Carnegie Hall experience left Lizabeth remembering Yatso, one of many teachers who helped her make all those dreams of studying acting in New York a reality.

Lizabeth stayed after the show for an hour or so, waiting by the stage door to tell McDonald how much she enjoyed the performance — eager to tell her about Yatso’s devotion to her work and the way she’d felt moved by that evening’s performance.

But a group of women, “groupies” in a not-so-lovely sense of the word, pushed their way past others waiting patiently in line — only to position themselves directly in front of the stage door, “practically jumping on McDonald” as she exited with her young daughter after the show.

Lizabeth was hoping to chat briefly with McDonald, but decided by the time they met, that keeping it brief would be best. She asked for two autographs — one for Yatso and another for herself — and accepted when McDonald graciously offered to pose with her for a photo. Lizabeth told me she thought it better to let McDonald’s daughter get home to bed than to keep her any longer.

Lizabeth thanked McDonald for making time to meet and greet the folks who’d come to hear her sing that evening, then hopped a subway back to her dorm — where foot blisters from all that NYC walking got bandaged as a proud mama relished telephone time with a daughter making all kinds of strides in the world.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to enjoy a recent NPR interview with Audra McDonald, here to read a review of the concert written by Stephen Holden of The New York Times and here to visit McDonald’s Facebook page. Click here to learn more about this year’s “ARTrageous” event in Scottsdale.

Coming up: Local stage offerings from Shakespeare to Disney

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Don’t push my buttons!

Pushing buttons…

It’s a common occurrence when the “teen taxi” is in service.

Sometimes it’s the emotional kind, but usually it’s just the radio that’s in play. I push the ‘70s button, Christopher pushes the ‘80s button, Jennifer pushes the country/western button and Lizabeth pushes the Broadway button.

'50s crooner Eddie Fisher

We get a ‘50s station thanks to Sirius XM, but it’s never had its own button. James and I are at the back of the “Boomers,” born in the ‘60s after the heyday of soda jerks and juke boxes.

So it surprised me when I actually got chills listening to the cast of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s The Sound of Plaid” perform the show’s final number, “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”

The show—an Arizona premiere of “The Sound of Plaid: The New Glee Club Version of Forever Plaid”—features mostly music popularized in the ‘50s. Think “Lady of Spain” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.”

I attended the Saturday matinee at Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre) in Scottsdale, which was also enjoyed by youth from a variety of non-profit organizations—including Free Arts of Arizona, Chrysalis and Girl Scouts.

Collaboration is a many splendored thing, and Phoenix Theatre does it so well.

I never met a mic I didn't like

I’m also rather partial to their take on all things plaid. If ever there was a show with the potential to be a monotonous “one note”—this has to be it. I’m more of a spandex and disco ball kind of a gal, so I really didn’t expect to find this show all that enchanting.

Contemporary crooner Michael Buble

But they had me with the very first notes out of the tuxedo-clad quartet that opened the show (all looking a bit like Michael Buble brandishing braces)—which follows the performance of a high school glee club who’ve come back to earth after perishing in a 1964 crash with another school bus.

Students on the other fictional bus, en route to watch the Beatles’ debut on the Ed Sullivan show, survived—but that’s the last we hear of them. They haven’t got the power of the plaid.

I loved the show’s many references to all things nostalgic. The club sang a round rather than a rap. They pined over LPs instead of iPods. They used words more common many decades ago—uranium, Korea, harmonic convergence—even “Holy cannoli!”

Ed Sullivan & the "Fab Four"

The show featured especially strong vocals, with plenty of stunning solos and heartfelt harmonies. I’d have to give the best overall performance award to Ryan Kitkowski, an Arcadia High School sophomore who plays Jinx with true comedic flair.

I was also impressed by the balance of various creative elements—the live music (piano, bass and drums), the simple but sophisticated scenic design, the polished costumes and the playful props.

The youngest trio of cast members—including 2nd grader Alex Kirby (Gladys), 3rd grader Sam Primack (Lionel) and 4th grader Madeline Bates (Irene)–were both capable and cute. Madeline is the youngest of three Bates siblings in the show, and the cast member I’d pick for “most likely to make it big as a dancer” one day.

The Andrew Sisters

As always, the Greasepaint Theatre lobby was transformed into a world reflecting the cultural context of the show. Patrons enjoyed clips of songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrew Sisters on a tiny black and white television. And yup, they even managed to dig up an old record player.

Exhibits featured photos and descriptions of cultural icons like American Bandstand—and true American idols like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Big Mama Thornton and Bing Crosby. A mock recording studio with stand-up mic and “On the Air” sign made a great setting for snapping souvenir photos.

“The Sound of Plaid” makes for a refreshing afternoon or evening of theater for all ages (recommended for 5 & up). If you want to treat the grandparents in your life to some quality time with the grandkids, get them tickets to see this show.

Dick Clark

Or if you want your child to see the polished, but not plastic, performance of a real live “glee club”—this is the show for you. Long before 3-D televisions invade our family rooms and kitchens, we’ll have plenty of live performance art to transport young imaginations to new dimensions.

But don’t get me started. The tragedy of television time taking over theater time is one of my hot buttons…

–Lynn

Patsy Cline

Note: If, like my daughter Jennifer, the radio button you’re most fond of pushing is for country/western tunes, don’t miss the presentation of “Always…Patsy Cline” coming to Phoenix Theatre on May 19. It’s a touching glimpse into the world of singer Patsy Cline, whose life was cut tragically short by a plane crash in 1963 when she was just 30 years old.

Coming up: Spotlight on summer theater camps, including those offered by Phoenix Theatre, Childsplay, Valley Youth Theatre and more. If your child has had a positive experience with a Valley theater camp (or you’ve seen another youth theater production you’d like to recommend), feel free to comment below to let our readers know.