Tag Archives: Les Miserables

Ode to the Oliviers

Scene from "Matilda the Musical" featuring characters Matilda and Mrs. Phelps (Image: Quirk Books). The show earned seven 2012 Olivier Awards.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Sunday’s Lawrence Olivier Awards in London thanks to a live online broadcast that’s got me appreciating all the modern technology I’ve typically scoffed at until now.

I was just a teen when the awards, first dubbed The Society of West End Theatre Awards, originated in 1976, but married and in graduate school when they became the Lawrence Olivier Awards in 1984.

In between, I studied for a year in Europe — but spent most trips to London exploring museums and architectural wonders rather than theater offerings. One of many oversights committed during my youth.

The awards are run by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which commissioned sculptor Harry Franchette to create the award that’s an elegant take on the young Lawrence Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937.

I was struck by several aspects of the ceremony and its broadcast. Though the SOLT’s partnership with MasterCard is evident, there were no tacky commercials or other interruptions we accept too readily as American television viewers.

Instead, breaks during various portions of the ceremony were filled with live performances — of works nominated for an audience award — on a beautiful outdoor stage surrounded by theater fans.

The BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award, voted for by the public, went to “Les Miserables” — a musical Arizona audiences can enjoy at ASU Gammage come September.

I was struck as well by the tasteful fashions worn by presenters, nominees and recipients — despite the ceremony’s lovely lack of obsession over such things. Way to rock the flats, “Matilda” girls. You’ll need those ankles for future roles.

“Matilda the Musical” led the list with ten nominations, and waltzed away with seven awards. The Royal Shakespeare Company production is based on Roald Dahl’s charming tale.

The musical’s director noted early in the ceremony that “productions are like children” — sharing that he’d still love both if one of two nominees he directed was chosen best new musical. Later, the award went to “Matilda the Musical.”

There’s a point in the musical, he explains, when Matilda pummels three times into her pillow — then looks up and shares the final bit of the story. Seems it’s “a metaphor for the healing power of imagination.”

“Matilda the Musical” director Matthew Warchus then delivered my favorite remarks of the evening — All kids have it. We all have it. Our educational system should promote it more. That was the gist of it — but there’s more.

Creative imagination, says Warchus, is the key to surviving life and improving it for all of us. It’s more important, he reflects, than science, math and testing — perhaps even literacy.

His riff made me wonder — Might more children achieve the literacy we so value if reading and writing were pressed more often into the service of creative imagination rather than the mere consumption of content?

They’re heady things, these British award shows. Words and ideas loom larger than the flashy sorts of sets and such we seem to favor for award shows on this side of the pond. Dry wit and genuine humility trump the faux and flashy.

Sunday’s ceremony included special recognition of the 60th anniversary of “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap” — which continues to enjoy the theater world’s longest continuous run.

Seems Christie grandson Matthew Prichard, who shared remarks during the presentation, was given rights to the show for his ninth birthday — but admits to feeling fonder at the time of the gift with two wheels. Prichard notes that he gives income earned on the show to lots of charities.

I learned of the Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which serves more than 12,000 students each year, during remarks from its founder — which inspired me to explore other outreach efforts like the SOLT’s own “Autism and Theatre” program.

The Society of London Theatre presented two special awards during this year’s ceremony — one to Dame Monica Mason, honoring her career with the Royal Ballet, and another to lyricist Sir Tim Rice.

Rice shared reflections on the journey of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from school show to musical theater sensation, and his reluctance to make the original “Jesus Christ Superstar” album — also noting that NYC audiences are fonder by far of current “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” revivals than NYC theater critics.

My own budding theater critic, Lizabeth, had perfectly lovely things to say about both shows — but did share that seeing Ricky Martin shake his bum during “Evita” was rather the low point of it all. I’ll have to add seeing a slew of West End theatre productions together to my bucket list.

While I adored every performance during Sunday’s Olivier Awards show, a few will likely live longest in my memory — a stunning pas de deux that should be required viewing for all those “Dance Moms” settling for sickening alternatives to actual artistry, the vocal performance of a haunting song from “Whistle Down the Wind” that I first heard when Lizabeth performed it during a Greasepaint Youtheatre fundraiser, and the lavish “Circle of Life” from the cast of “The Lion King” — which made me remember the magic of seeing the musical with Lizabeth long before her NYC theater adventures.

I’ll be more mindful of the bridge between Broadway and the West End thanks to that one magical evening I felt honored to be part of the virtual audience for the 2012 Olivier Awards. London, anyone?

— Lynn

Note: Click here to see the full list of Olivier Award winners and highlights from the ceremony — plus here to enjoy West End news reported by Broadway World.

Coming up: Musings on “Smash” and “New York 22”

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Bring on the Broadway!

"Anything Goes" comes to ASU Gammage Nov 13-18, 2012

ASU Gammage nearly packed the house for Monday night’s big reveal of their 2012/13 “Broadway Across America” season, which featured film footage of selected shows, live performances by cast members from a couple of the shows and behind-the-scene details from Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and Arizona’s sole Tony Awards voter.

"The Addams Family" comes to ASU Gammage Dec 11-16, 2012

The poor dear has to schlep every year to 60 + Broadway shows, in addition to working the Broadway magic right here in her own backyard — and she’s got stories to tell about each and every experience. Folks who decided to forego this year’s in-person reveal in lieu of merely mousing their way to the details missed some gems. Take note for next time around.

"Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan" comes to ASU Gammage Jan 8-13, 2013

Before Monday night’s event, much of the chatter around town seemed to center on “The Book of Mormon” — which won the 2011 Tony Award for best musical. I’ve seen it, and I loved it. But it’s not coming. Turns out we’re getting something even better — the 2011 Tony Award winner for best play. It’s “War Horse” — which is completely captivating. Even soul-stirring.

"War Horse" comes to ASU Gammage Feb 5-10, 2013

Consider yourself warned, because “War Horse” is the kind of show that transforms single ticket buyers into season subscribers — which means that folks who wait risk not having a shot at it. In theater world current season ticket holders typically get a chance to renew or updrade their seats before others can jump in. New subscribers come next, followed by folks in search of tickets to just a few shows here and there. But no one can predict what might remain after subscriptions are sold, because every house has only a certain number of seats.

"Flashdance" comes to ASU Gammage April 30-May 5, 2013

The fine print for such things is available on the ASU Gammage website, as are dates and details about other shows headed our way — including “Anything Goes,” “The Addams Family,” “Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan,” “Memphis,” “Flashdance” and “Sister Act.” Praise the lord and pass the leg warmers!

"Sister Act" comes to ASU Gammage June 25-30, 2013

Turns out ASU Gammage is also bringing back the Cameron Mackintosh production of “Les Miserables” that sold out during its last ASU Gammage run, as well as “Beauty and the Beast.” Both are special engagements, which means they’re not part of season ticket subscriptions. Another show is headed our way as well. Think Arizona Christmas meets Donny and Marie Osmond.

Posters for two special engagements graced the ASU Gammage lobby Monday night

While patrons enjoyed Monday night’s event, ASU Gammage staffers were busy mounting posters for the newly-announced shows along a wall folks pass as they walk from box office to their seats. Yes, Lizabeth, I did have someone snap my photo with “Donny” — but only because I saw someone else do it first. Kissing it seemed inappropriate somehow with “Sister Act” so closeby.

ASU Gammage presents "Donny & Marie Christmas in Arizona" Nov 27-Dec 2, 2012

Before the evening drew to a close, Jennings-Roggensack shared that ASU Gammage is already gearing up for its 50th anniversary, planning to raise funds that’ll help meet patron requests for things like sound improvements and additional women’s restrooms — plus further the venue’s diverse youth education and “community connection” programs.

Visit http://www.asugammage.com for 2012/13 Broadway season details

I hit the ASU Gammage lobby as the formal program was drawing to a close, watching the monitor that showed a pair of passionate, powerful “Memphis” vocalists singing “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll” onstage as a young mother and her toddler son danced along to the beat nearby.

Remember too that registration for "Camp Broadway" 2012 is now open

Soon people poured out of the theater to enjoy cupcakes compliments of Butter & Me Bakeshop, which has a new storefront in Old Town Scottsdale, plus a bag of ASU Gammage goodies that included the very first edition of the new “gammbill” (their very own take on a “Playbill” program), which features local content and reflects a new partnership with ON Media Publications.

Something a woman said to her friend as they walked to the parking lot signaled the success of the evening, and excitement over the season. “This,” she exclaimed,” was so worth it!”

— Lynn

Note: Click here for ASU Gammage 2012/13 Broadway season details

Coming up: More community connections, Spring dance recitals

Revolution in Scottsdale?

Bjorn Eriksson as Enjolras in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

I saw the “Les Mis” story anew last week during opening night for Greasepaint Youtheatre’s production of “Les Miserables School Edition.” It was my first time experiencing a stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel since the advent of “Occupy Wall Street” — a movement that’s translating the lingo of “haves” and “have nots” into numerical terms.

I felt like part of the 1% Friday night — not because the house was packed with people of great means. But because I had a ticket. This is the first Greasepaint Youtheatre show to completely sell out its run before opening night, according to producing artistic director Maureen Dias Watson. So 99% of the people hoping to see the show won’t have the opportunity. It’s a shame, because “Les Mis” at Greasepaint is big, bold and beautiful.

Much of the production’s grandeur comes from music elegantly and energetically performed by a 12-piece orchestra, and ensemble vocals approached the quality I’ve enjoyed during several touring productions of “Les Mis.” Musical direction for this production is the work of Reynaldo Saenz.

Rebecca Woodbury, who studies vocal performance at ASU in Tempe, makes her Greasepaint Youtheatre debut as Cosette in this production. It’s easy to imagine Woodbury singing this and other roles on a much larger scale, so I hope her sights are set on auditioning soon for national touring productions of various musical theater works.

Tanner Van Parys as Javert in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

Greasepaint Youtheatre assembled a first-rate creative team for this production, which is directed by Sara Bernstein and features choreography by Molly Lajoie. “Les Miserables” is only as believable as its barricade, and set designer David Weiss nails it. Brick walls and various vignettes for other scenes round out his work — which gives an authentic feel to each setting, from tavern to courtyard.

Still, I found myself wishing for a somewhat grittier vibe. Both sets and costumes could have used an extra layer of grime, since it’s hard to imagine prisoners working with pristine feet and peasants sporting nearly spotless clothing. Nonetheless, costume design by Jean Aiken, which features great attention to detail, is lovely. Every element of the show transports viewers to mid-19th century France.

Lighting design by Dori Brown and sound design by Pete Bish are best appreciated during the barricade scene and sewer scene that follows. Both battle and sewer sounds feel eerily real. Sound equipment for the production was provided by Nearly Naked Theatre of Phoenix.

Other community organizations assisted with the production as well. Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place provided researsal space. Southwest Shakespeare Company of Mesa and Tesseract School of Phoenix helped with costuming, and Great Scott Productions provided props. The loveliest of the latter was a pair of silver candlesticks that shone for a time on a lone table sitting center stage.

Boston Scott as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

Boston Scott exhibits a rare blend of acting and vocal performance skills. Despite struggling with a few of the high notes, Scott brings real depth to Jean Valjean. A great Gavroche is a must and Casey Likes, another newcomer to Greasepaint, delivers smile and spunk with playful precision.

Other cast members include Jessica Arnold (Fantine), Cheyanne Ballou (Little Cosette), Ryan Beamon (Thenardier), Bjorn Eriksson (Enjolras), Luke Powell (Marius), Tasha Spear (Eponine), Tanner Van Parys (Javert), Johnna Watson (Young Eponine). The stellar cast of 39 makes it easy to forget at times that you’re watching young non-professional performers.

The power of “Les Miserables” stems from Hugo’s insight translated into strong storytelling. Program notes evidence Dias Watson’s grasp of Hugo’s inspiration and intent, and the show reflects direction well-grounded in the plight of poor living in despair amidst the decadence of the rich.

Tasha Spear, Boston Scott, Jessica Arnold, Luke Powell and Rebecca Woodbury in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

“The best theatre impacts both individuals and societies,” writes Dias Watson, “enabling them to see those who may have been invisible to them before.” The Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “Les Miserables School Edition” makes clear that the 99% have always been with us, and that revolution never ends.

— Lynn

Note: Greasepaint Youtheatre has added an additional performance Sun, Jan. 29 at 7pm. Click here for details.

Coming up: More French revolution tales

Photos: Barry Smith

Kids’ Night on Broadway

Nick Jonas was just named national ambassador for Kids' Night on Broadway 2012

The Broadway League announced today that actor and musician Nick Jonas will serve as national ambassador for the 2012 Kids’ Night on Broadway® — which takes place next February at participating theaters in New York City and across the country.

Families who’ve long wanted to experience live Broadway theater together can start planning now. Kids’ Night on Broadway tickets are available for participating shows Feb. 5-9, 2012.

Tickets go on sale Tues., Nov 1 at noon EST at www.kidsnightonbroadway.com.

Participating shows (to date) include two Off-Broadway productions — “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Stomp” — plus eighteen Broadway productions, including a new show at the top of my list called “Seminar.” Especially kid-friendly selections include “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins.”

All Kids’ Night on Broadway ticket holders can join Jonas at a pre-theatre party Tues, Feb. 7 at Madame Tussauds New York. I’ve enjoyed several Jonas Brothers concerts with my daughter Lizabeth and friends, and know what an absolute thrill this type of opportunity presents for the fans.

Nick Jonas returns to Broadway on Jan. 24

Nick Jonas was all of eight years old when he launched a successful stage career, and will be returning to perform the role of J. Pierrepont Finch in the musical “How to Succed in Business Without Really Trying” starting Tues., Jan. 24. Jonas fans will want to make haste in securing tickets for this baby.

Thanks to our local public television station — Eight, Arizona PBS — I’ve watched Jonas’ performance in the “Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2” not once, but many times. And I’ll be watching those television listings next year for Jonas’ guest appearance on the new NBC musical drama “Smash.”

Jonas has previously been seen on Broadway in “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Les Misérables” — plus productions of “A Christmas Carol” and “The Sound of Music.” “As someone who got their start as a kid on Broadway,” says Jonas, “it’s truly an honor to be involved in such a fantastic event.”

“Broadway played an enormous role in inspiring me to be the performer I am today, and as this year’s ambassador I hope I’ll be able to encourage kids across the country to get involved in the theater,” adds Jonas, “whether on stage, behind the scenes or in the audience.”

Folks fortunate enough to be in NYC beginning Mon, Oct. 31, can get their Kids’ Night on Broadway tickets at the Broadway Concierge & Ticket Center located inside the Times Square Visitor Center. Both NYC and out-of-town theater lovers can now enjoy the center’s new online chat component.

The presenting sponsor for this year’s event is The New York Times, the paper I faithfully carry with me and read each day. Other people have smart phones. I have smart journalism. Madame Tussauds New York is also a presenting sponsor, though the Arizona heat would make it hard for me to haul around a lovely bit of wax work as a show of support.

— Lynn

Note: There’s even a cause-related component to Kids’ Night on Broadway. This year it’s Givenik.com — “the only place on the web to get Broadway tickets and have 5% donated to the charity of your choice.”

Coming up: Arizona Jewish Theatre Company opens its 2011/12 season

Beyond the Bastille

Prise de la Bastille by Henri Paul Perrault, 1928

France celebrates Bastille Day on July 14, the day in 1789 that revolutionaries seized the Bastille in Paris, starting the French Revolution that ushered in the French Republic. The Bastille was a medieval fortress built to protect Paris, but 18th century monarchs used it as a political prison. Bastille Day has been a national holiday in France since 1880.

For American theater-goers, the French revolution conjures images of the musical “Les Miserables,” based on one of Victor Hugo’s many novels. It’s being performed Jan 20-29, 2012 by Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale — which has enlisted Jon Gentry, associate artist with Childsplay in Tempe, to direct the work.

Before Hugo finished “Les Miserables” (1862), he wrote “Notre-Dame de Paris” — better known to Americans as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” A stage adaptation is being performed Sept 9-25 by Theater Works’ Youth Works in Peoria.

You can enjoy a taste of France this month at the Phoenix Art Museum — which presents “Theatre de la Mode,” an exhibit of mid-20th century French fashion design, through July 31. Featured garments were created for one-third human size mannequins using couture fabrics and details, then placed within elaborate stage sets.

Theatre de la Mode” originated in Paris following World War II as French fashion designers, jewelers, shoemakers, milliners and hairdressers united to raise war relief funds and reinvigorate their industries. Three of 12 scenes on exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum are from the historic 1945 collection. And works by French artists are part of the museum’s permanent European collection.

The French Language Program in the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University will host the “2012 Women in French Conference” Feb 24-25, 2012 — highlighting “the influence, representation, presence and achievement of French and Francophone women from the Middle Ages through the 21st Century.”

Two of five works being performed by Arizona Opera during their 2011-12 season will be sung in French with English subtitles. A new production of “Faust” designed by Bernard Uzan reimagines “Faust” in modern times — trading village fair for nightclub. “Orfeo ed Euridice” is the retelling of a Greek myth featuring sets by New York’s John Conklin.

Paris Opera Ballet will perform in Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York next year as part of their first North American tour in more than a decade. The New York Times reports that Paris Opera Ballet will perform “Suite en Blanc,” “L’Arlésienne,” “Bolero,” “Giselle” and Pina Bausch’s version of “Orpheus and Eurydice.”

If your arts organization has upcoming offerings with a French flair, please comment below to let our readers know. Merci!

–Lynn

Note: To enjoy the flavor of France with younger children, read Le Petit Prince (first published in 1943) or Histoire de Babar (first published in 1931)

Coming up: Fun with arts fundraisers, Ode to Christopher Robin, Film meets journalism, Cinderella tales

From Sondheim to South Park

South Park Elementary School Musical episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

I worried as a young parent that irreverent television shows like the animated series “South Park” on Comedy Central might serve as a sort of gateway drug to all sorts of bad behavior. I suppose it was the foul language factor that scared me the most. There’s nothing pretty about cruising the bathroom cleanser aisle of the local mommy mart with a potty-mouth child in tow.

South Park The F Word episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

Yet musicals laced with colorful language have never felt all that threatening. I didn’t even realize “Les Miserables” contained a four-letter word until I saw it, just yesterday, for the umpteenth time. My daughter, Lizabeth, has been joining me at the theater for more than half her lifetime. Most of our favorite shows are peppered with language that’s plenty spicy. Think “Spring Awakening,” “Avenue Q,” and “Next to Normal.”

South Park All About Mormons episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

As “The Book of Mormon,” a new musical with book, music and lyrics by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” co-creator Robert Lopez, creates a stir on Broadway, I suspect part of its popularity stems from the “South Park” as gateway drug factor. How lovely to have a built-in following that already rocks it in the world of cynicism and absurdity.

I’m all for the gateway drug approach, assuming we’re talking about ideas rather than injectables — but my starter drug isn’t “South Park.” It’s Sondheim. Because my love of musical theater is fueling a new appreciation of all things “South Park.” I don’t do much in the way of “appointment television.” Few series are intriguing enough to demand regular viewing. But tonight I sat glued to the latest episode of “South Park” — in which Stan, who’s celebrating his 10th birthday, gets an official diagnosis of cynicism (and makes generous use of the word I was shocked to hear just once during “Les Mis”).

South Park You're Getting Old episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

I’ll never be a fan of humor favored by adolescent boys — barf jokes, poop gags and such. But I’m eager to encounter the genius of Parker and Stone outside my frequent encounters with the CD for “The Book of Mormon” and the nifty little paperback featuring the complete book and lyrics of the musical. One day I hope to land a ticket to see the show on Broadway.

South Park Super Best Friends episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

People asked, after I chose to pursue graduate studies in religion, what I planned to do with my degree. With three years of doctoral study in the philosophy of religion in the bag, I feel uniquely equipped to experience “The Book of Mormon” in all its splendor. Whether all that Kant and Camus will help me grasp the machinations of Stan, Kyle, Eric, Kenny and Butters remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for “The Book of Mormon” show and ticket information

Coming up: Musings on the 2011 Tony Awards®, The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

Lynn & Liz do “Les Mis”

Cameron Mackintosh’s new 25th anniversary production of Boublil & Shoenberg’s “Les Miserables” is being performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe through Sun, June 12 — though the venue warns that only a “very limited inventory” of tickets remain. I saw the June 7 opening night performance with my daughter Lizabeth on the eve of her 18th birthday.

She mentioned feeling a little teary-eyed once we got to our seats – remembering that she’d been seated in a similar spot the first time she saw the musical a decade or so ago. That was the year, we reminisced, that she chose to sing “The People’s Song” at a school performance.

Lizabeth shared that while she didn’t understand everything that was happening on stage during her first “Les Mis” experience, she “was very affected by it.” This particular production left her reaching for Kleenex® more than once during the final hour — and sharing them with the woman seated next to her.

I’m a little more jaded, I suppose. Still, I was quite moved by J. Mark McVey’s (“Jean Valjean”) performance of “Bring Him Home,” which I listened to with my eyes closed. This solo earned the most audience applause, not surprising given that he’s delivered “Les Mis” performances nearly 3,000 times.

Michael Kostroff delivered the crass inn-keeper “Thenardier” with comic genius. Lizabeth knows him best from roles on television shows including “Disney’s Sonny with a Chance.” Young actors performing the roles of “Gavroche” and “Little Cosette” were delightful — and fans of all ages were thrilled to meet and chat with them after the show.

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Lizabeth and I agree that the work of scenic and image designer Matt Kinley, who trained with Motley Theatre Design Course, is breathtaking in this production. It’s inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, author of the mid-19th century novel “Les Miserables” that inspired the sweeping musical. We also enjoyed the musical staging by Michael Ashcroft, who has done a great deal of work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England.

The orchestrations were especially moving and memorable so we paid special attention to the “Playbill” bios of the folks who created them. Original orchestrations are from John Cameron and new orchestrations are by Christopher Jahnke. Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker provide additional orchestrations.

I made sure to compliment orchestra members as they exited the backstage area toting black cases protecting instruments from cello to oboe. My personal favorites were Will Curry (also assistance conductor) on viola and Eric Borghi on percussion. The orchestra was masterfully conducted by Robert Billig, with associate conductor Daniel Rein.

Folks expecting over-the-top set pieces and non-stop special effects may have felt disapppointed. This is a leaner, cleaner “Les Mis” that puts story first. I’m grateful that the production’s air of simplicity refocused my attention on Hugo’s tale and the time during which it was written — leaving me eager to explore more of both his visual art and writings.

— Lynn

Note: Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale performs “Les Miserables: School Edition” January 20-29, 2012 (Fri/Sat at 7pm and Sun at 2pm). Auditions are scheduled for Dec 5 & 6 (5-9pm). Call 602-889-7609 to schedule an audition.

Coming up: All things “Annie”