Tag Archives: family musicals

If shows were freckles

Headshot for Bobb Cooper of VYT

If shows were freckles, Bobb Cooper would have 105 of them. That’s the number of shows he’s produced at the helm of Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix. “Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical,” being performed by VYT April 6-22, will be #106. It’ll be the 67th show he’s directed for the company, where he serves as producing artistic director.

Seems there’s a bit of a statistician in the VYT fold, who recently shared with me that production #100 was last season’s “Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Nobody wants to have 1oo of those. If Cooper continues his average of directing four shows per season, he’ll reach the 100 milestone in VYT directing credits come 2020.

Bobb Cooper, 2008

I first met Cooper when my daughters auditioned for the 1998/99 VYT production of “The Sound of Music” back in their “Tower Plaza” days. I’ll have to ask my “math meets musical theater” friend which number to assign that baby. They weren’t cast but I took some still-treasured photos of the girls in braided pigtails that day, and we went on to enjoy plenty of VYT shows together.

They’ve been through more than a few hairstyles during the decade or so since, which left me wondering how Cooper’s coiffure might have morphed during the same span of time. Anyone who’s ever looked back at an old grade school photo knows how hairstyles change over time, so I felt compelled to ask VYT for pictures of both shows — and Cooper — through the years.

Cooper does The Wiz for a VYTal event

Those of you digging “The Wiz” vibe will be delighted to learn that VYT will close its 2011/12 season by performing “The Wiz” June 8-24 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. Folks who missed VYT’s production of “Annie” at the Herberger Theater Center last season missed a rare opportunity to see Cooper rocking the bald vibe as Daddy Warbucks.

I’m eagerly awaiting news of VYT’s 2012/13 season for all sorts of reasons. I’m not ashamed to admit that another year of amazing hairdos, mostly the onstage variety, is one of them. Stay tuned at www.vyt.com.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on VYT spring break and summer camps, here to purchase “Freckleface Strawberry” tickets and here to buy tix for “The Wiz” (on sale next month) via the Herberger Theater Center box office. Looks like “The Sound of Music” was the 13th show directed and 20th show produced by Cooper for VYT.

Coming up: Art ala keychain?, Skateboard musings, More fun with freckles


Forbidden love

Funny meets forbidden love in The Mikado at Chandler-Gilbert Community College (Pictured: Cast with Kevin Petersen as Nanki-Poo and Holly King as Yum-Yum at far left)

Forbidden love is easy to find onstage or on the big screen —  and even on all sorts of little screens. I chatted recently with college sophomore Kevin Petersen of Mesa about his role in a tale of forbidden love opening at Chandler-Gilbert Community College Friday, June 24.

Julian Pena as The Mikado of Japan in the CGCC production that runs June 24-29

His character is expected to marry someone of his father’s choosing, something he has no interest in doing. So his character runs away, only to find true love with another. But there’s a catch. The girl of his dreams has been promised, against her will, to another.

She’s set to wed the town executioner, making any thought of carrying on an illicit love affair feel especially dangerous. The young man on the run, who has disguised himself as a traveling minstrel, decides to keep running — but thoughts of the girl haunt him still.

And so he returns to woo her, but with what result? Does he keep his head? Lose his heart? Continue to run? Or settle down? You won’t know until you go. Unless you happen to be a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, who wrote the work being performed by Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

It’s “The Mikado” — and it’s being presented at CGCC June 24-29. “It’s a really fun and goofy show,” quips Petersen, a vocal music education major who is thrilled with the opportunity to further hone his acting chops. He also appeared in the the CGCC production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” which takes forbidden love to a whole other level.

“The show is good for all ages,” says Petersen. Not something you can say about many of the more contemporary tales of forbidden love out there these days. Petersen believes its many subplots add to the work’s appeal. Think Japan in an age of British Imperialism. 

Holly King (Yum-Yum) and Kevin Petersen (Nanki-Poo) during a dress rehearsal for the CGCC production of The Mikado

Petersen’s older brother Jacob, who auditioned hoping to enjoy a bit more brother-to-brother time, is also performing in “The Mikado.” He loves the way Gilbert and Sullivan, both British, manage to poke fun at their own culture through characters who pride themselves for supposed superiority over Japanese characters and ways.

Two of Jacob Petersen’s children also perform in “The Mercado” — and Petersen himself did several theater productions during his student years. He agrees the work is good for audiences of all ages — noting that there’s a lot of action constantly moving the work forward.

Marren Sanders as Katisha in Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado at CGCC

Jacob Petersen shares that this production features some “modernized” language that makes the dialogue more accessible and easier to understand than it was originally. When the executioner riffs about folks he might like to do away with, for example, he offers a modern-day twist.

After chatting with the Petersen brothers, I have a whole new appreciation for “The Mikado.” I used to think “old” and “operetta.” Now I think “classic” and “comedic.” If you’re not familiar with the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, or you’re game for supporting students working to translate their artistry for a new generation, set aside some time to enjoy “The Mikado” at CGCC.

Short of finding and following a Lady Gaga tour bus, this seems your best chance to enjoy paper mache wigs and all the good fun that goes along with them.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for “The Mikado” show dates/times and ticketing information. If you missed their production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” click here to learn when you can enjoy the musical performed by Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert.

Coming up: Review of “War Horse” on Broadway, Theater Works presents “Romeo & Juliet,” More comedy meets community college, “Stage Mom” hits NYC museums

Photos courtesy of Chandler-Gilbert Community College

A small, sparkly world

Cast of "Mamma Mia!" 2010 North American tour-Photo by Joan Marcus

I headed out to “Mamma Mia!” at ASU Gammage by myself Tuesday night. My 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth, my Gammage buddy for more than a decade, was feeling rather puny after a fitful few days with the flu.

She’s been a “super trouper” this week, going to school despite feeling awful, but finally had to listen to her body and just hit the hay. I had only my car radio for company on the drive to Tempe.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I turned to a 70s station and bopped a bit to tunes from Stevie Wonder, Foreigner, Tavares and Fleetwood Mac. The clock on my dashboard read 7:00 pm as ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me” came through the speakers, and I worried I might not make it to the 7:30pm show on time.

But I discovered that we live just six oldies away from ASU Gammage. This is good news, because it’s hard to get out the door for anything that involves more than the denim shorts my son calls “farmer britches” and a beat up pair of sandles.

If you don't leave ASU Gammage looking like Donna Sheridan (Kaye Tuckerman), you'll at least leave feeling this perky-Photo: Joan Marcus

Knowing “Mamma Mia!” is a bit of a glitterfest with an extra shot of rainbow, I dug out a hot pink top and purple earrings to break up my basic black. James yelled “Don’t get too carried away dancing” as I headed out the door. My reply? “I can’t make any promises.”

The mood at ASU Gammage was festive, not just in the theater, but in the multi-story parking structure — where there was all sorts of “Mamma Mia!” girl power in the air. Giggling. High fives. Excited chatter about the show. And a glimpse of glitter too.

Before the show began, there was the usual announcement about turning off cell phones. Most people listened. Then another note that went something like this — “We must also warn patrons of a nervous disposition that platform boots and white Spandex are featured in this performance.” (Sounds like the produce guy at my local Safeway last Halloween).

That drew quite a roar, and the show was off and running. It never stopped. Everyone in the cast was high energy all the time, and the audience loved it. Think toe tapping, swaying side to side, uproarious laughter and generous applause throughout. What happens at ASU Gammage stays at ASU Gammage.

“Mamma Mia!” is set on a tiny Greek island. It’s a small world surrounding by a sparkling ocean and sky of beautiful blues. It feels smaller after three former lovers of single mother Donna show up for her daughter Sophie’s wedding.

John-Michael Zuerlein (Bill Austin), John Bisom (Sam Carmichael) and Paul DeBoy (Harry Bright)-"Mamma Mia!" 2010 North American tour-Photo by Joan Marcus

Seems 20-year-old Sophie has no idea who her father might be.

She suspects it’s one of these three after reading her mom’s diary — in which entries about each man end with an ellipsis.

Or “dot, dot, dot” — as Sophie likes to tell her friends. They remind her that it’s the moms who are supposed to sneak peeks at their daughter’s diaries.

But things are a bit topsy turvy on the island as Sophie rushes into adulthood and Donna reminisces about her youth. “Mamma Mia!” is a “midlifers” dream — full of puns and poignant moments that those of us old enough to have a Sophie of our own can relate to.

There’s much to love about this production of “Mamma Mia!” The simple set that puts song and storytelling first. The crisp voice and comedic flair of Chloe Tucker (Sophie Sheridan). The tautly toned men in the ensemble who make dancing in snorkel gear under something akin to blacklights look perfectly natural.

Also the pair who play Donna’s best buddies — Mary Callanan (Rosie) and Alison Ewing (Tanya). They’re a hoot. John Bisom (Sam Carmicheal), who sings with power and soul, gives heartthrob Matthew Morrison a run for his money. 

Happy Mahaney (Sky) and Chloe Tucker (Sophie Sheridan) in "Mamma Mia!" North American 2010 tour-Photo by Joan Marcus

The music — duh. The dancing. And the costumes, so saturated with color by the end of the show that you think you’ve died and gone to jelly bean heaven.

When “Mamma Mia!” drew to a close, a sizeable portion of the audience jumped to their feet to offer deafening applause. It might be the quickest standing ovation I’ve ever seen mounted at ASU Gammage (I’ve seen quite a few.)

The families I talked with during intermission offered high praise without exception. Every child or teen I spoke to raved about the songs, most telling me they were familiar with ABBA before their first “Mamma Mia!” moments. Lizabeth plans to see the show with James this weekend.

“Mamma Mia!” is sweet, simple, sparkly and sassy — just like the people who adore it.

— Lynn

Note: “Mamma Mia!” runs through May 22 at ASU Gammage. Click here to learn more about this and other shows coming to ASU Gammage, to read reviews by “Gammage Goers,” and to get details about special opportunities and savings.

Coming up: Weekend of change, “Comicon” meets contemporary art, Ode to season tickets, Musings on Mamet, Countdown to the Tony Awards®

“Fiddler” & family

Jewish father and milkman Tevye likens the balancing act of life to a fiddler perched atop a roof (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Most of my favorite musicals focus on family-related themes. There’s “Les Miserables” — which portrays a mother’s sacrifice for her sick child, “In the Heights” — which recounts the experience of immigrant parents who send their daughter to college, and “Fiddler on the Roof” — which follows the frustrations of parents whose three eldest daughters struggle to find independence in a world defined by tradition.

The touring production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is being performed through Sun, April 3, at ASU Gammage in Tempe — the venue at which I first enjoyed the musical with my husband and three children many years ago. For all the fun I’ve had at “mature-theme” musicals, this “family-friendly” show is still among my favorites.

Its characters, including Tevye (the papa) and Golda (the mama), are human in ways many parents find familiar. We wonder how to balance the past with the future. Ponder the meaning of family and home. Fret about fostering values without forcing them upon our children.

Tevye and his wife live in Tsarist Russia. The year is 1905, and the country is on the brink of revolution. They’ve got five daughters and little means. And the three eldest daughters are begining to develop, and act upon, their own ideas about life, love and the world around them.

The original production of “Fiddler on the Roof” opened on Broadway in 1964, and won nine of the 10 Tony Awards for which it was nominated in 1965 — including the award for best musical.

But its themes are every bit as relevant today. Think religious versus secular life. Economic hardship. Political upheaval. Think roles of women and men in society. Gossip. Keeping and breaking promises. Learning to start over.

"Fiddler on the Roof" runs through Sunday at ASU Gammage in Tempe (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

“Fiddler on the Roof” is a feast of music and dance, full of rich color and texture on all sorts of levels. It’s tender and joyous, playful and profound.

You can take it all in without any appreciation for its more serious themes. Or you can embrace it as a vehicle for bittersweet reflection on the many ways our personal, family and collective histories are moving forward.

In either case, it’s a classic musical that no parent should miss — and a fine choice for folks eager to introduce their children to the magic of musical theater.

— Lynn

Note: Tickets for “Fiddler on the Roof” at ASU Gammage start under $25. The show runs through April 3 and there are both matinee and evening performances on Saturday and Sunday. Visit the ASU Gammage website to read reviews by “Gammage Goers” and learn about special offers and opportunities (including a “talkback” with cast/crew and a special brunch at the ASU University Club).

Coming up: Get your fringe on!, Reflections on a glass house, Tips for choosing a college theater program

My fondness for “Fiddler”

Scene from "Fiddler on the Roof" (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Most folks know the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” thanks to songs like “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Tradition.”

It’s a lovely part of one of our own family traditions — enjoying touring Broadway productions, and other performing arts fare, at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

Often I take in shows with just my 17-year-old daughter, Lizabeth, herself a bit of a fiddler after a decade or so of violin study. She’s the family musical theater expert — and eagerly awaiting letters from the colleges where she recently completed B.F.A. auditions.

But seeing “Fiddler” at ASU Gammage — like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — has been a family affair.

The musical has plenty of elements that appeal to children — the rooftop fiddler, the sibling spats, the grandma “dream sequence,” the lively songs and dance sequences.

I first saw the show while parenting three young children, but this time around I’ll have the perspective of a mom with three grown children grappling with many of the issues treated in the show.

The longing to belong. The urge to break away. The pull of duty. The push of desire. The traditions shared by generations. The new paths forged by youth. The interplay of the personal with the political.

I confess to forging my own path with the song “If I Were a Rich Man” several years ago while performing with fellow parents at a talent show.

We were chaparoning a summer camp session of the Phoenix Girls Chorus, and changed up the words as an homage to artistic director Sue Marshall (who now heads the blossoming Arizona Girlchoir).

Thankfully, “If I Were Miss Sue” made its debut before the advent of YouTube and viral videos. Seems to me I did something similar with “Memory” (from the musical “Cats”) one year during a parent talent show at my children’s elementary school.

My favorite audio of the “Fiddler” variety is a recent interview with Harvey Fierstein that Lizabeth and I heard in the car one day — where we often listen to the SIRIUS XM “On Broadway” channel.

Fierstein has performed the lead role of Tevye (the father and milkman in this tale inspired by the stories of Sholom Aleichem), and eloquently shares the impact the show had on him as a young Jewish boy.

My “kids” may roll their eyes when the “Fiddler” song “Sunrise, Sunset” comes through the car radio speakers. But I know that one day, they’ll appreciate the lyrics to this and other “Fiddler” songs that capture the currents of change in family life and the world beyond.

— Lynn

Note: Watch the ASU Gammage website for the early March announcement of their 2011-2012 season — and head to ASU Gammage this week to enjoy the musical “9 to 5.”

Coming up: More musical theater with a family-friendly feel, Valley students present a series of one-act plays