Tag Archives: musicals based on books

I ♥ freckles!

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It’s easy to love freckles — especially the ones that grace my hubby and three children, mostly Jennifer. So I was sad to miss Friday’s opening of “Freckleface Strawberry” at Valley Youth Theatre when it looked like another one of my kiddos might need a swift trip to the doctor. Turns out all could wait until the morning — but word came too late for me to join all the freckles and fun down at VYT in Phoenix, though I suspect it was happy news for the lucky person who snagged my seat.

Kimiko Glenn, who originated the role of “Emily” in the NYC production of “Freckleface Strawberry,” was in the house for Friday night’s opening (the show’s premiere outside NYC) — and will be on hand Saturday as well, doing a free post-show Q & A for those with tickets to the 3:30pm show. She’s one of many youth who trained and performed with VYT before making it on stage/or screen — but that’s a tale I’ll tell another day.

VYT’s production of “Freckleface Strawberry” features a fine mix of new and seasoned VYT actors, whose program bios make for a fascinating read. VYT first-timer include Jessica Arnold (Mother) of Ironwood High School, Lacey Bookspan (Freckleface) of Veritas Preparatory Academy and Carly Makani Copp (Jane) of Marshall Ranch Elementary School — all boasting plenty of Valley theater credits with shows from “Les Miserables School Edition” and “Seussical, Jr.” to “Cats” and “Hairspray.”

ASA students E.J. Dohring (Danny) and Bransen Gates (Jake) also have a long string of credits. Dohring’s done “Alice in Wonderland” and “13” with VYT, “Oliver” with Broadway Palm and “Les Miserables” with Phoenix Theatre. Also “The Producers” at the famed Stagedoor Manor performing arts summer camp. “Freckleface Strawberry” is Gates’ ninth show with VYT, but he’s also done “Godspell” at Spotlight Youth Theatre, “Spring Awakening” with ACAA and “The Wiz” at Greasepaint Youtheatre (that one earned him an AriZoni Award).

Ally Lansdowne (Ballet Girl) attends Orangewood Elementary, where she’s active in chorus, drama and the National Junior Honor Society. She’s performed roles with especially fun names — like Jennyanydots in “Cats,” Toffee in “Zombie Prom” and Bird in “Pinkalicious.” Megan Mahoney (Emily) attends and directs show choir for Chaparral High School — doing piano, music and voice lessons in her spare time. She’s performed with VYT, Desert Foothills and Musical Theatre of Anthem.

Rhetta Mykeal (Teacher) is a freshman at MCC who’s done several shows with VYT, enjoys playing the piano and plans a career in acting — while Devin Sanders (Harry), a Mountain Ridge High School student with several VYT credits, looks forward to a career in orthodontics. If you see a kid with singing braces someday, they might be a Sanders masterpiece.

Naturally I’d expect his braces to feature songs from the musical “Freckleface Strawberry.” Think “Freckle Mafia Song,” “Kid in the Mask,” “Creative Mind Rap” or “Be Yourself.” All were inspired by children’s books authored by actress Julianne Moore and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. The musical was conceived for the stage by Rose Caiola.

Gary Kupper and Caiola wrote the book (parts not sung) for the musical, while Kupper wrote both music and lyrics. The VYT production of “Freckleface Strawberry” is directed by Bobb Cooper, the company’s producing artistic director. Mark Fearey is musical director and Katie Casy is choreographer.

Other team freckle members include Karol Cooper (costume designer), Sarah Trieckel (scenic designer) and D.J. Selmeyer (lighting designer). Production stage manager is Kristian Rarig and sound design is by Clearwing Productions. VYT is presenting this baby by special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).

I’m disappointed about missing Friday’s show for all sorts of reasons, including the very real chance that I missed a playful producing artistic director sporting a face full of freckles. Red pigtails would have been a bit over the top. Though who could really blame him? Freckles just have that effect on people.

— Lynn

Note: Our own adorable freckleface, Jennifer, turns 21 this month and while I suspect she’s a tad too old now for a “Freckleface Strawberry” party — I’d run with the theme if she was a bit younger. So keep that in mind if your child is celebrating a birthday during the “Freckleface Strawberry” run (through April 22). Hitting a show with friends makes for fun, easy and affordable birthday fare.

Coming up: Tarzan of the desert?, Beware the barber

Update: The VYT production of “Freckleface Strawberry,” which got rave reviews while I was away in NYC, has extended its run through April 29 “due to popular demand.” Way to rock the freckles, VYT!

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A budding romance

Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock in Daddy Long Legs (Photo: Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company)

Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis), the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home, learns one day that she’s been chosen by a generous benefactor to receive full college tuition with room and board. But there’s a catch. Nine of them, actually — all recounted in the benefactor’s sole letter to Abbott.

She’s delighted to escape the orphanage, but puzzled by college life and fellow students whose experiences with family, friends and privilege she’s never shared. Still, she honors her benefactor’s request to write once a month — often writing more often as she has anecdotes or questions to share.

Megan McGinnis in Daddy Long Legs (Photo: Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company)

Abbott knows only that her benefactor is lanky and tall, having seen him leaving the orphanage the day word came of his generosity. And so she dubs him “Daddy Long Legs,” assuming he’s terrribly old and boldly asking in her letters whether he’s got black hair, grey hair or no hair at all.

But her benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Robert Adelman Hancock), is young and rather handsome. Also bookish and a bit of a loner. As Pendelton reads Abbott’s letters, which he’s sworn never to answer, he comes to admire her curiosity, innocence and wit. Once they meet, under false pretenses, his admiration turns to adoration. It’s something he can’t share, for reasons revealed during the course of the play.

“Daddy Long Legs” features book by John Caird, who also directs the work. Prior directing credits have earned Caird both Tony and Olivier Awards. The musical features music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, whose music and lyrics for “Jane Eyre” earned a Tony Award nomination.

The writing is well-paced and humorous, the music sentimental and sweet. Together they convey the evolving and sometimes conflicted emotions of Abbott and Pendleton. Both McGinnis and Hancock originated their roles at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, California.  

The only weakness in Sunday night’s performance at the Herberger Theater Center was the sometimes nasal quality of Hancock’s vocal performance — but it’s easily overlooked with the exceptional quality of all those high notes. Abbott’s vocals were clear and melodic, the perfect embodiment of the character’s wonderment at the world around her.

Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock in Daddy Long Legs (Photo: Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company)

Although “Daddy Long Legs” is a tale of self-discovery and budding romance, it also explores some weightier themes — the role of women in society, the limitations of charity by checkwriting, the nature of God and the lure of socialism. Apparently all were on the mind of Jean Webster, the novelist whose work inspired the musical.

“Daddy Long Legs” is set in New England during the early part of the 20th century. Its simple but dramatic set consists of a darkly-paneled library filled with book-laden shelves, plus desk, lamp and chair — and an assortment of trunks that morph into everything from bed to mountaintop.

A teen who sat next to me at the performance toyed every once and a while with her cell phone — failing, I suspect, to recognize how opportunities for women have evolved since Webster penned her novel in 1912. There’s a comprehensive study guide on the Arizona Theatre Company website that does a magnificent job of making clear just how far we’ve come, and how we got here.

In the end, I was struck be something far simpler — Abbott’s realization that the bravery needed to face the everyday exceeds the courage called for in times of crisis.

— Lynn 

Note: Arizona Theatre Company presents the Arizona premiere of “Daddy Long Legs” through Jan. 15. Click here for show and ticket information, and here to read the play guide.

Coming up: Reflections on 1,000 posts

From storybook to stage

Childsplay performs a a musical adaptation of P.B. Eastman’s “Go, Dog. Go!” at the Tempe Center for the Arts Jan 29-March 6

Telling and reading stories is one of the most enchanting parts of childhood. But today’s kids have additional options for enjoying their favorite tales — including movie and stage adaptations of classic and contemporary children’s books.

Consider the case of P.D. Eastman’s “Go, Dog. Go!” The book comes to life this weekend as Childsplay presents a preview at Tempe Center for the Arts.

I’m told the preview and opening night are already sold out, so don’t delay if you’re eager to take in the show.

Childsplay’s “Go, Dog. Go!”– recommended for ages 3 & up — is adapted by Steven Dietz and Allison Gregory, with music by Michael Koerner. 

It runs Jan 29-March 6, with 1pm and 4pm shows both Saturdays and Sundays. An ASL interpreted performance takes place at 1pm on Sun, Feb 27.

Take the kiddos to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe Sat, Jan 22, at 10am if you’d like to enjoy some charming “Go, Dog. Go!” moments with Childsplay.

Changing Hands notes that children will be “exploring the world of story using dramatic play to guide kids through an exploration of scenes from P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog Go!” and promises that “They’ll even create some of their own!”

Another book for children was literally “on the go” last weekend as the cast of Cookie Company’s upcoming “Unstoppable Me!” took a bit of the show on the road — performing selections at Desert Ridge Marketplace.

The cast of Cookie Company's "Unstoppable Me!" performed last weekend at Desert Ridge Marketplace

Cookie Company is affiliated with Phoenix Theatre, which offers more mature fare in “No Way to Treat a Lady” through Jan 30.

“Unstoppable Me!” runs Jan 28-Feb 6 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale. It’s based on the book by Wayne W. Dyer with Kristina Tracy. It has the shortest run of the shows noted here so you have just a small window of opportunity to see it.

This iPhone "app" is proof that some stories have moved to both stage and super-small screen

Though “Unstoppable Me!” is best for K-grade 4 students, I’m eager to see is myself — having recently seen one of its cast members, Walter Belcher, offer a moving performance in the Black Theatre Troupe production of August Wilson’s “Fences.”

Many adult actors who perform brilliantly here in the Valley in works for children also can be seen in works for older audiences (by older, I mean no longer required to do homework).

I’m especially excited about seeing Childsplay’s Yolanda London appear in an Actors Theatre production titled “This” which opens at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix this Friday. And Kristen Drathman, a Valley actor frequently seen in Phoenix Theatre productions, performing in “Go, Dog. Go!”

Youth Works, which is part of Theater Works in Peoria, brings “James and the Giant Peach” to the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts Feb 3-20.

Enjoy "James and the Giant Peach" at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts next month

It’s based on the book by Roald Dahl — which recounts the adventures of James as he finds a way to escape from two odd aunts who take him in after his parents die in a tragic rhinocerous accident.

The adventures of "James and the Giant Peach" exist in book, stage and movie form

Theater Works presents “The Desperate Hours” on another stage Jan 28-Feb 13.

I’ve always been a fan of reading books before seeing them portrayed on stage or screen (whether big screen or handheld device).

Childen who read these stories before seeing them performed have a chance to imagine the setting and characters free of someone else’s images.

But once your child reads or listens to a book, there’s nothing more fun than seeing it come to life on stage. Unless, of course, you finish off an afternoon at the theater by cracking open another exciting book.

— Lynn

Note: Childsplay and Cookie Company productions feature adult actors performing family-friendly works, while Youth Works features young performers presenting family-friendly fare.

Coming up: Theater cats (no Andrew Lloyd Webber required), Musings on “mature content” theater as ASU Gammage presents a touring production of “Spring Awakening,” Valley veterans participate in a national arts contest, It’s a jungle (and farm) out there!

Photos provided by Childsplay (photo by Heather Hill features cast members from a previous run), Phoenix Theatre and Theater Works.