Tag Archives: Monty Python

“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


Comicon tales

A few of Lizabeth's fun finds from Friday night at Phoenix Comicon 2011

It was “show and tell” at our house this morning — something my daughter, now 17, hasn’t done since circle time during kindergarten at Desert View Learning Center in Phoenix.

She awoke eager to show me her first day’s haul from Phoenix Comicon, taking place this weekend at the Phoenix Convention Center, which is billed as “the signature pop culture event of the Southwest.”

Autographed photos. Freebie like luggage tags and treat bags featuring faces of fan favorites. Posters to line the walls of her college dorm in NYC this fall — including one from a movie called “The Roommate” that’ll hardly make a glowing first impression.

We got our first taste of Phoenix Comicon 2011 while lunching at Majerle’s Sports Grill, across the street from the stage door at Symphony Hall, which we first discovered when Lizabeth performed the role of “party girl” in the Ballet Arizona production of “The Nutcracker.” The streets were dotted with folks wearing superhero T-shirts and other pop culture fare.

James was struck, while picking Lizabeth up after the event Friday night, by the blend of people intermingled in the streets — those finely dressed for an evening graduation ceremony, those donning patriotic garb for the Phoenix Symphony’s “Boogie Woogie Pops” concert and those whose tastes trend more towards Marvel’s “Green Goblin.” The city, like our three children, is growing up all around us.

Having a mom who blogs is a mixed bag. My kids know to offer a disclaimer for arts-related conversations that aren’t meant for public consumption. But sometimes they enjoy the opportunity blogging brings to spotlight the good things we discover during our daily travels.

Lizabeth was particularly animated while describing finger puppets she’d seen at one of the exhibitor booths at this year’s Phoenix Comicon. Finger puppets of cute, furry animals aren’t hard to come by. But “bacon” finger puppets — and even “finger” finger puppets — have a different sort of magic altogether.

Lizabeth took special care to snag a business card for Stacey Rebecca Gordon, proud puppet crafter and performer whose business is dubbed “Puppet Pie.” I was delighted to discover that Gordon — who describes herself as improviser, mom and wife — has a charming, cheeky blog complete with photos of her works.

One of Lizabeth's favorite actors is working to create a culture of literacy

Lizabeth was equally smitten with the “Kids Need to Read” booth. “Kids Need to Read” is a non-profit organization based in Mesa that enourages literacy, promotes social responsibility, fosters leadership and inspires imaginations. Canadian-born Nathan Fillion, one of Lizabeth’s favorite actors, is a co-founder of “Kids Need to Read.”

“I felt like such a geek,” Lizabeth told me during one of her many Comicon tales. I expected her to follow with a story of being the only person at the Convention Center sporting regular street clothes (if that’s what you call a purple “I’m Not Dead Yet” T-shirt from the musical “Monty Pyton’s Spamalot“).

But she was referring to gushing over someone she met at Comicon. Not a celebrity or actor protraying a super-hero, but a real super-hero — a librarian. Lizabeth shared with the librarian how much trips to our local libraries, still a favorite pastime for James and the girls, have meant to her through the years.

Libraries make the world feel bigger and more intimate at the same time, and no child should ever have to do without them. Lizabeth mentioned to the librarian she met at Comicon the fact that librarians she met as a child were always so nice, friendly and helpful.

Lizabeth shared that the librarian seemed genuinely touched by her words. Perhaps she, like many others, feels unappreciated or doesn’t receive nearly the recognition she deserves. It can’t help that so many libraries and other keepers and creators of culture are taking a hit during budget battles that strip pounds while trying to save pennies.

Tonight’s Phoenix Comicon events include the “Kids Need to Read Geek Prom,” sponsored by Bookman’s — with all proceeds benefiting “Kids Need to Read.”

Comicon also includes a film festival — with films sporting titles like “Laptop’s Revenge,” ” Paint-B-Que” and “Peace, Love & Tacos” (plus others with a more offensive vibe). But it’s Lizabeth’s flyer for a 2010 independent film titled “Beautiful Boy” that looks most intriguing. The movie hits Valley theaters in June.

As James headed out this morning to drive Lizabeth to downtown Phoenix for more Phoenix Comicon adventures, I commented that Lizabeth seems to be having the time of her life. He readily agreed, adding an insight of his own…

“She’s with her people.”

— Lynn

Note: Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix is home to the “Arizona Pop Culture Experience.”

Coming up: From Sondheim to South Park, Father’s Day meets JFK

Find your grail

In one of the few semi-serious moments during the musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the cast sings a song about finding your grail. It’s hard to relate to because, frankly, I’m satisfied most days with simply finding my mail.

Lizabeth and I have long had tickets to see “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” which is being presented by Theater League at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix through Sunday.

I may have stumbled onto Monty Python a bit too early in life to really get the gag, so I can’t say that I was a huge fan going into this show. But my appreciation for the offbeat humor has grown since seeing “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Though the comedic elements differ, this show reminds me in many ways of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Just add in plenty of references to gay men and Jews, and props such as herring.

Loved the lively music, colorful costumes and bright, shiny lights. Loved the references to pop culture from Britney Spears to Lady Gaga. Loved the scenes spoofing other musicals (I won’t name names). Loved Sir Robin (Martin Glyer) and The Lady of the Lake (Caroline Bowman).

I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed as much, or as loudly, as I did throughout this performance. Folks sitting nearby would be asking for refunds had they not been suffering from a similar affliction. Plus, as a character notes during the show: “What happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot!”

Before the curtain came up on Act I, a Theatre League representative announced their 2011-2012 season — which includes “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Rat Pack is Back,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Grease” (plus some other goodies you’ll find noted on their website).

He also announced that students from a local high school were in the house (there to support a teacher all duded up with knight gear for a brief bit in the show). I chatted with four of the students during intermission, who eagerly told me about their spring musical (“The Music Man”) and the school’s theater program.

One especially articulate student in particular impressed me with her poise, confidence, professional demeanor and genuine enthusiasm for musical theater.

I invited her to submit a guest blog for possible online publication, so watch for her review during the next day or two. She’s a repeat “Spamalot” offender who really seems to know her stuff — and I’ve no doubt she’ll one day capture her grail.

As I drove home from the show, Lizabeth leaned against the front passenger-side car door and fell asleep while clutching her purple “I’m Not Dead Yet” T-shirt.

When we pulled into our driveway, a single glance in her direction reaffirmed what I’ve long known.

I’ve already found my grail.

— Lynn

Note: Spamalot contains adult language and situations, so this one is not for the kiddies (who might also miss the humor in the show’s “killer rabbit”).

Coming up: Searching for Seussical, Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre, What’s up with one-acts?

Got Spam?

"Spamalot" opens tonight (Feb 15) at the Mesa Arts Center

You can “Spamalot” this week as Theater League brings the 2005 Tony Award winner for best musical to Mesa and Phoenix stages.

Spamalot” creators say the musical — complete with cows, killer rabbits, show girls and french people — is “lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s a very grown-up take on the legendary tale of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, though the legend may be fading fast in the absence of disco versions of knight battles made for various home and pocket entertainment systems.

Even worse perhaps, is the fact that so few of our children have ever met a can of actual Spam, a product of the Hormel Food Corporation. It faded from popularity as things like sushi and arugula marched in, but I think a Spam-sushi mash up of sorts might be fun.

The fine folks of “Spamalot” will gladly take you through the tale of King Arthur’s quest in a little online ditty titled “What is all this rubbish?” They also make a convincing case for “Spamalot” as the world’s oldest musical.

The “Spamalot” you’ll see on Valley stages this week features book by Eric Idle and score by Eric Idle and John Du Prez. Hence you’ll enjoy both words and music in addition to dancing knights in tights.

But what, you may be wondering, is a Monty Python? And has it anything to do with that “Flying Circus” of yore? It does indeed, as explained ever so eloqently by a BBC piece you can enjoy by clicking here.

Whether you’re a lover of musical theater, of British comedy or of unadulterated genius, check out the touring production of “Spamalot” at the Mesa Center for the Arts and/or the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix.

And always look on the bright side of “Spam.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here for an overview of the legends of King Arthur by Michael Wood for the BBC.

Coming up: Reflections on Rosie’s House, The fine art of stage combat, ASU Gammage readies to unveil its 2011-2012 season, Tales of Tom Chapin

Orpheum welcomes Broadway ala Theater League

I recently stumbled on a brochure for Theater League while at the Ticketmaster box office in downtown Phoenix picking up tickets for the Arizona School for the Arts 2010 Showcase. 

Chorus Line lapel pin

Theater League is a Kansas City-based “not-for-profit, tax-exempt, community-based performing arts organization dedicated to the development of professional legitimate theater, both as a cultural and an educational resource.” 

The League’s “constituent communities” include Mesa and Phoenix, Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks (California), South Bend (Indiana), Toledo (Ohio) and Wichita (Kansas). 

Their 2010-2011 Broadway Series at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix will include four productions: 

The Color Purple—described by Theater League as “a moving tribute to the power of hope over adversity.” It’s based on Alice Walker’s novel and the Steven Spielberg film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. The musical recounts Celie’s struggle to overcome the oppression of the segregated South to find her beloved sister Nettie and reunite with her children. Oct 14-17, 2010. 

Spamalot 'Killer Bunny Puppet'

Cirque Dreams Illumination—described as “a fascinating journey into the depths of a city that ignites with imagination, suspense and theatrical innovation.” The performance features “brilliant costumes, hair-raising feats of skill and side-splitting comedy” (which sounds remarkably similar to a typical day in ‘toddler town’). Nov. 11-14, 2010.

A Chorus Line—described as “the show that introduced the world to those chorus line dancers whose hopes and dreams make the Broadway musical possible.” It features a score by Marvin Hamlisch, and has earned numerous awards (including the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize). Jan 13-16, 2011. (It’s a must for anyone seriously considering ‘show biz’ as a lifestyle choice.) 

Chorus Line coffee mug (or shotglass?)

Monty Python’s Spamalot—described as “the outrageous new musical comedy lovingly ripped off from the film classic ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’” It follows the adventures of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they seek the vessel believed to have been used by Jesus at the “Last Supper” with his followers, and features “flying cows, killer rabbits, taunting Frenchmen” and more. Feb 17-20, 2011

Theater League shares that their presentations include “the top national touring companies of all the major Broadway musicals of the last twenty-five years.”

“In addition,” they note, “the League’s own in-house producing division mounts annual revivals of classic Broadway fare featuring stars of stage, screen and television.”

One of several Spamalot buttons

The Orpheum Theatre Broadway Series is sponsored by Wyndham Phoenix, and both season and individual tickets are available. 

Season ticket holders receive one free parking pass for each show (for the Wells Fargo Parking Garage adjacent to the Orpheum Theatre), first choice of seating (before tickets go on sale to the public), a Theater League membership card (good for select discounts at other Valley theaters as well as special dining deals), and ticket exchange opportunities. 

I’ve long been a season ticket holder for the ASU Gammage Broadway Series, and find season ticket holder benefits—including easy replacement of lost tickets and opportunities to upgrade seats as needed—invaluable. 

Folks who order season tickets and become a Theater League member by June 15 will automatically be entered in their “New York Sweepstakes.” The sweepstakes winner will enjoy round trip airfare for a trip for two to NYC, including two nights hotel accommodations and two “VIP tickets” to a Broadway show. 

One of many Chorus Line posters

You can learn more about all things Theater League—including their education and outreach programs—by visiting them online at www.theaterleague.com

At this point I’m really left with only one burning question… 

Are these the folks who brought “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” to town with my childhood crush (Donny Osmond) all those years ago? 

"Every Little Step" film

If so, please let Donny know how very proud I am of his mirror ball trophy and that I’ll be first in line should he ever decide to reprise his ‘dreamboat in a dreamcoat’ gig. 


Note: Photos depict items available from the online Playbill store at www.playbillstore.com. It’s among our favorite places to shop for our very own Broadway baby, who hopes the birthday fairy comes through next week with a CD of the “American Idiot” cast recording.

Coming up: Diverse summer offerings from Phoenix Theatre–including master classes, theater camps, summer of dance program, workshops with Valley theater professionals and more

“The 39 Steps” is ‘LOL’ entertainment

As the house lights dimmed at ASU Gammage in Tempe last night, a single spot shown down upon a leather chair occupied by a chap who seemed an odd mix of self-loving and self-loathing.

He began by bemoaning his boredom, realizing soon enough that what he really felt was tragically tired. So he wondered—what to do in such a situation?

I’d been wondering the same thing myself just an hour or so before, when faced with the decision of whether or not to drag myself out for a night of theater after a day that left me feeling as though I’d been dragged behind a fast-moving truck.

The gentleman in the chair decided he needed to do something mindless, so naturally he opted for a night at the theater. The audience roared at this, the first in a fast-paced series of quips offered up by a parade of colorful characters.

But I knew where he was coming from.

I can’t say that I felt especially eager to see a show last night. Truthfully, I was operating more in housework avoidance mode than theater appreciation mode. And so I bid farewell to my dust bunnies…

I’d heard that “The 39 Steps” was a sort of homage to Hitchcock with a “Spamelot” spin.

That didn’t help.

Other than the shower scene in “Psycho” and the avian attack scenes in “The Birds,” I’m not that familiar with Hitchcock’s work. And the rhythm and ruse of Monty Python’s humor has always escaped me.

My husband gets it. My kids get it. But not me, I’m afraid.

There was really no logical reason for me to have enjoyed last night’s opening of “The 39 Steps” at ASU Gammage—but I did.

I enjoyed it a great deal.

I caught the more obvious references to Hitchcock movie titles like “Rear Window” and “Strangers on a Train”—but learned during a “talk back” with the cast held after the show that there were several other references that I missed.

A teenage boy sitting front and center for the talkback—during which the play’s four actors and one of two understudies sat on the edge of the stage—rattled off quite a few more.

Couple that with the cast member who spent the entire 20 or so minutes in a seated yoga pose I can only approximate for about a minute as something akin to “crisscross applesauce” and you can imagine how terribly fit I felt both mentally and physically at that point.

But no matter—the evening had been a success. I’d replaced drudgery and dust bunnies with follies and funnies.

My children will be pleased to know that I developed a taste for watching others finesse the fine art of slapstick—without having to try it myself in the company of family and friends.


Photo credit: Craig Schwartz, 2009

Note: “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” runs through Sunday, April 25, at ASU Gammage. It’s fun for all ages, enjoyable to those who know their Hitchcock as well as those who don’t, and worthy of the many hearty laughs it garnered on opening night.

Coming up: Musings on the Musical Instrument Museum—opening in just three days! For a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the museum, watch RAK on Channel 12.

We’re not dead…

I’ve got plenty of ideas for books I’d like to write. One of my earliest came soon after the launch of e-mail, when I discovered the fun of writing subject lines as thoughtfully as e-mail content.

I was reminded the other day, after receiving an intriguing e-mail from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, of how much I’d like to compile a book of e-mail subject lines.

Here’s what it said: “We’re not dead.”

I’d never suspected otherwise, but was intrigued nonetheless. That’s what a good subject line, your own personal version of a headline, can do.

The e-mail itself opened with the following quote from Mark Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Then came the “Bring Out Your Dead” video clip from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Because despite horrific (my word) state budget cuts impacting the arts (not to mention education, health and human services), the commission will continue working towards their vision for Arizona:

Photo by Christopher Trimble

  • All Arizonans have access to quality arts and cultural activities
  • Residents working in the arts make healthy livable wages
  • All students have access to quality arts education in schools
  • Arts and cultural programs partner with other revitalization efforts
  • Innovative businesses choose Arizona for its cultural vibrancy

As part of its 2010-2015 strategic planning process, dubbed “Building an Artistic Future for Arizona,” the commission is gathering input and ideas through targeted surveys, interview, focus groups and listening sessions.

To participate in an upcoming listening session, send required info to the commission by e-mail at least five days prior to the event. Remaining sessions include:

  • Flagstaff: Thursday, April 13 from 5:30pm-7pm
  • Tubac: Wednesday, April 21 from 5:30pm to 7pm
  • Mesa: Thursday, April 29 from 5:30pm-7pm

If you’re not receiving the commission’s “Arts Learning Newsletter,” the folks who do know a whole lot more about some pretty important things. I’ll give you a few tidbits here, but you really should sign up to be sure you get every detail in all its glory…

  • Arts in Crisis Tour. Community forum with Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, coming to Tucson and Phoenix on April 12. Free/open to public.
  • Governor’s Arts Awards. Joint event of Arizona Citizens for the Arts, Arizona Commission on the Arts and Office of the Governor, coming to the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix on April 19. Ticket required.
  • Joint Arts Education Conference. Event for arts educators, administrators and teaching artists, coming to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix July 29-30. Registration required.

There’s more—notices of new publications (on topics like integration of multiple media as the new hallmark of literacy), current research (on topics like art’s role in academic and professional success), upcoming workshops (including “Drawing From Within: An Exploration of Arts Therapy” on April 8 at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts), resources (on topics like out-of-school arts learning) and funding.

Finally, the April arts learning newsletter describes several opportunities—including a call by VSA for teaching artists with disabilities, an interactive presentation at ASU Gammage about careers in arts administration, an arts-related student employment program and a poster contest seeking student submissions.

Nope. The Arizona Commission on the Arts is clearly not dead—and I think we’d all feel at least a little more alive by spending more time with their people and their programs.


Photo by Christopher Trimble

Note: The ASU School of Theatre and Film in Tempe presents social activist and writer Arlene Goldbard, campaigning to create cultural recovery for the U.S.,  April 6 from 4-5:30pm at the ASU Lyceum Theatre. Her p.a.v.e. talk–titled “Achieving creative potential through cultural development”–is free and open to the public. Learn more about Goldbard at www.arlenegoldbard.com.

Photo (above, right) by Christopher Trimble depicts Chihuly’s “Desert Towers” at the entrance to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. To learn how you can help the “Tower to the People” campaign to secure the sculpture for permanent exhibition in the garden, visit dbg.org.