Tag Archives: family entertainment

Showing too much leg?

Three generations of the Gardner family of Surprise attending the Saturday matinee performance of A Christmas Carol at Phoenix Theatre

My first foray into Christmas fare came rather early this year, when I headed down to Phoenix Theatre one afternoon in mid-September as they held children’s auditions for “A Christmas Story.” Kids filed in and out of the Little Theatre, where “A Christmas Story” director Pasha Yamotahari was heading up the open casting call for boys and girls to play characters from six to fourteen years old.

Children were asked to bring a resume plus headshot or photo, and to prepare a 30 second snippet of any Christmas song. Each was given what’s called a side, or portion of the script, to read during the audition – and had time to look it over before taking their turn. Eventually 11 boys and four girls were chosen for two children’s casts.

Director Pasha Yamotahari with young cast members from the Saturday matinee performance of A Christmas Carol at Phoenix Theatre

The cast of “A Christmas Story” at Phoenix Theatre also includes four adults – Harold Dixon (Narrator), Dion Johnson (Old Man), Emily Mulligan-Ferry (Miss Shields) and Debby Rosenthal (Mother). No double casting needed there since bedtimes and homework aren’t really an issue.

A Christmas Story has been extended through Dec. 24

Cast members young and old earned high praise from folks who attended the Saturday matinee on opening weekend. I overheard one gentleman telling his wife “the kids are terrific.” Not knowing that the “cheesy” factor is part of what makes this show so fun, she told him it felt a bit overacted. “The whole thing is overplayed,” he replied, “that’s why it’s so good.”

“A Christmas Story” follows the pre-Christmas adventures of a fictional Midwestern family as Ralphie, one of two young sons, dreams of finding a BB gun under the tree. But his chances aren’t good, because Ralphie’s mother is convinced he’d shoot his eye out with the darn thing. The mom has her hands full with Ralphie’s singular obsession, a younger child’s many eccentricities and her husband’s laser-like focus on winning every contest pitched via U.S. Mail.

Urban Outfitters sells these lovely items

One day the father receives “a very important award” in the mail. It’s a lone leg covered in black fishnet hose – complete with light bulb and lamp shade. He proudly displays the leg lamp so it’s visible from the street, and assumes the nightly catcalls from passersby are meant to congratulate his achievement. What he’s supposedly achieved is never made clear. It’s all part of the gag that keeps audience members in stitches.

Phoenix Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Story” seems a good choice for family holiday entertainment. Younger family members will enjoy watching other children on stage, and older family members will enjoy the show’s nostalgic nod to secret decoder pins, giant erector sets, jumbo tins of car wax and characters like the Lone Ranger. Several families, including three generations of the Gardners from Surprise, looked like they were having a great time at Saturday’s matinee.

Leg Lamp at the House of Broadcasting in Scottsdale

I hadn’t planned to see this – or any other Christmas shows this holiday season. There’s just too much happening in arts and culture outside of the holidays that I’m eager to experience. But I felt Saturday morning like seeing just this one show was somehow meant to be.

While buying something my daughter Jennifer had put on hold at Urban Outfitters, I stumbled onto Christmas fare bearing Ralphie’s mug and the lovely leg lamp. Later I spied an actual leg lamp at a Scottsdale museum dedicated to Arizona broadcasting. I headed home to snag one of the few remaining tickets for Saturday’s matinee – and I had a great time at the show.

Even if it does show a little too much leg.

— Lynn

Note: For a comprehensive list of holiday activities for families, consult the December calendar from Raising Arizona Kids Magazine. For news of a musical theater production of “A Christmas Story,” click here. To learn about the Cleveland house (now museum) used in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story,” click here. Click here for information on a special Dec. 13 performance (plus pre-show reception) benefiting Arizona Citizens for the Arts.

Coming up: Word power, Views beyond the Valley

Update: Mesa Encore Theatre is also performing “A Christmas Story” this season so now you can double the fun by seeing two productions. 11/28/11


Bridge to somewhere

Golden Gate Bridge by Margie Smeller

I’ve had enough with talk of so-called “bridges to nowhere.” If you want to build a bridge to somewhere, build it with music.

Tom Chapin, a three-time Grammy Award winner, will be doing just that as he performs a “Building Bridges Family Concert” in Arizona next month.

It’s refreshing news for the many Arizonans who prefer building bridges over building walls.

If the name Chapin sounds familiar, perhaps you’re thinking of brother Harry Chapin or Steve Chapin — just a couple of the artists grown from the same family tree.

Bridge to Terabithia by Margie Smeller

Tom’s “Building Bridges” concert features original songs “in a fun array of musical styles” — teaching life lessons about “inclusiveness, making healthy choices, tolerance, respect and the environment.”

Turns out the Higley Center for the Performing Arts, located in the East Valley, presents all sorts of family-friendly fare — like “The Music Man” being performed through Feb 26 in partnership with Copperstar Repertory Co. and Higley Community Education.

They also welcome plenty of touring productions you may not have the opportunity to see at other Valley venues. Just last November, I enjoyed “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” presented by the Kennedy Center for Young Audiences on Tour” at the Higley venue.

Bridge to a New Life by Margie Smeller

The 2011 Educational Tour of the Utah Shakespeare Festival will present “Macbeth” at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts Mon, March 7, at 9:45am.

You might think of Higley as a sleepy little town on the outskirts of metropolitan Phoenix, but those who appreciate rare and unique art opportunities for building bridges between children and culture know better.

— Lynn

Rainbow Bridge by Margie Smeller

Note: The ASU School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts presents “A Bridge to the Stars” March 3-11. The play (which is appropriate for all ages) follows a character named Joel (age 11) as he searches for “family, community and meaning” in a mythical Scandinavian village.

Coming up: New seasons for venues presenting touring Broadway productions

Artwork by Margie Smeller, a self-described “outsider artist” in Maryland, who works at home, at “Art Enables” and at “Scott Key Center.” Visit her website for information on commissioning work and works currently for sale.

Stories & songs with Bill Harley

Maybe you didn’t make it to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix for the recent celebration of John Lennon’s 70th birthday.

Bill Harley brings family-friendly story and song to the MIM in Phoenix on Sunday (Photo: Tom Thurston)

No worries. Sunday will be another fabulous day at the MIM as Grammy Award winner Bill Harley brings his family-friendly fare to the MIM Music Theater.

I spoke recently with the prolific singer/songwriter, storyteller, author and playwright — and his team was kind enough to send me review copies of his latest CD (“The Best Candy in the Whole World”) and soon-to-be-published paperback (“Between Home and School.”)

Harley is the father of two grown sons and currently lives with his wife Debbie near Providence, Rhode Island. He grew up in Indianapolis and Connecticut.

Two of Harley’s “Best Candy” stories are originals — while others are adapted from the British Isles, Africa and Appalachia. While you’re at the MIM for Harley’s concert, take some time to experience musical instruments from these (and other) regions.

"Best Candy" from Bill Harley is a decadent dessert for those with a sweet tooth for storytelling

I asked Harley whether storytelling seems a dying art. “It can’t really die,” shared Harley, “because it’s what people do.” Storytelling, says Harley, is what makes people human.

While talking about the family-friendly nature of his show, Harley noted that “songs and stories always go hand in hand culturally.” But what exactly is a story?

Story is “saying what happens before and imagining what happens after,” reflects Harley. “History is the winner telling the story.”

“My job,” says Harley, “is to watch, listen and pay attention” — adding that artists help others take a second look, to notice things they might otherwise miss.

So what are we missing as parents today? Many would say it’s family together time. Or ways to connect and communicate with our kids. Which is why a shared experience of story and song might be just the ticket this weekend.

Bill Harley's "Between Home and School" is an ode to the fine art of communicating

“I’ve done my job,” says Harley, “if I give kids and parents a common language.” Harley loves seeing parents and children in the audience elbowing each other during his show with a “Yup, that’s us” grin.

We focus too often, observes Harley, on what we think kids need to learn in order to grow up. It’s no less important, he says, to honor children’s emotional lives.

Harley describes his work as more descriptive than prescriptive — hoping concertgoers will leave considering not simply what they know, but what they feel.


Note: Harley performs this Sunday at 2:30pm at the MIM Music Theater. Visit www.themim.org or call 480-478-6000 to learn more about this concert and others in the MIM 2010-2011 Concert & Film Season.

Coming up: Reflections on NPR, “Glee” and GQ magazine