Tag Archives: musicals

Songs of Travel and Other Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson books housed in a Samoan museum dedicated to his life

I found this gem of a title while reviewing a long list of works by Scottish novelist, essayist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Treasure Island. A Child’s Garden of Verses. Essays in the Art of Writing. New Arabian Nights.

Also The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written in 1886, which explores the duality of human nature, the battle between rationality and irrationality, and contrasting elements of London life during the Victorian period.

It’s been repeatedly adapted for film. John Barrymore played the lead in 1920, Fredric March in 1931, Spencer Tracy in 1941. David Hasselhoff got the gig for a 2001 television version dubbed “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical.”

Of course, every time that vision pops into my head, I rush to play a cast album — original or revival — of the musical adaptation performed on Broadway. Like “Sweeney Todd,” it’s got truly touching loves songs mixed in with all that murder and mayhem.

An adaptation of the Stevenson tale by playwright Andrea McFeely is being presented Oct. 13-15 by the performing arts department at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, which performs at the Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center.

It’s being directed by Shalynn Reynolds — and features Sam Allen (Dr. Jekyll) and Guy Valentine (Mr. Hyde) in the lead roles. There are 13 people in the cast, described by Reynolds as “extremely dedicated actors who have worked tirelessly to create a work of art.”

“All the actors,” explains Reynolds, “have worked really hard on various British and Cockney accents.” Reynolds sounds especially proud of the set, which “has the ability to transform into multiple locations between scenes.” She also shares that “some of the items in Jekyll’s lab are actually from the late 1800s.”

Reynolds says the show “would be rated PG-13 due to the violence of several deaths onstage” — adding that she had to spend a lot of time getting Valentine “to be creepy, callous and murderous.” Sounds like a good way to get into the Halloween spirit, though you might leave the show wishing their costume people made house calls.

While reviewing the program for the show, I was struck by the tone of genuine gratitude. We take each other too often for granted, in theater world and the world at large. It’s refreshing to find folks who express appreciation with such elegance and ease.

I was impressed as well by a series of statements shared in the program under the heading “Why do we need Theatre?” They read as follows:

  • Theatre prepares students for life in the real world by guiding personal development and refinement of interpersonal skills.
  • Theatre has the ability to affect students on a personal level by contributing to mental, emotional, and social growth.
  • Theatre helps students develop a sense of community and social responsibility.
  • Theatre gives students the opportunity to voice opinions, explore personal concerns, and produce viable solutions to problems.
  • Theatre encourages diversity and the exploration of human experience.
  • Theatre asks students to be active participants and advocates for others, aware of surroundings and their ability to mediate and effect change.
  • Theatre communicates the fact that as many ways as we humans are different, we share common bonds and can connect with everyone on some level, bringing new understanding and compassion to our lives.

I’ve never seen students from Chandler-Gilbert Community College perform, but this glimpse into the way they approach the world and the craft of theater intrigues me — and I’m eager to experience their work.

This weekend will find me in New York City, creating my own variation on “songs of travel” — so I’ll have to miss this and many other works being performed on Valley stages.

But I’ll be keeping an eye out, as I visit NYC libraries and museums, for all things related to Robert Louis Stevenson — a man with much to teach us about the complexities of all sorts of travel.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for details about this and other CGCC performing arts offerings, and here to learn about a BBC drama based on Stevenson’s travel writings and personal letters.

Coming up: Art meets homeschooling, Got blue?


Focus on forgiveness

I’m not Jewish, or much of anything else for that matter. Most days I’m satisfied with simply doing my best to be a good person. There’s plenty that needs doing in the here and now, so musings on an afterlife feel a luxury at best.

Still, I pause each year to really reflect on the meaning of a Jewish holiday called Yom Kippur, also known as the “Day of Atonement.” It’s right up there with Thanksgiving for me because forgiveness and gratitude are so essential to everyday life.

I hadn’t realized, when making plans to see Phoenix Theatre’s opening night performance of a lesser-known musical called “The Spitfire Grill,” that the themes of gratitude and forgiveness were so prevalent in the work.

“The Spitfire Grill” is peppered with characters who have imposing pasts but retreating futures. It’s set in a small, rural town that speaks authentically to the experiences of anyone who has ever lived in one. 

L to R: Jeannie Shubitz (Shelby), Trisha Hart Ditsworth (Percy), Toby Yatso (Joe) and Barbara McBain as Hannah in the Phoenix Theatre production of The Spitfire Grill

“The Spitfire Grill” has just a handful of characters — a widow who owns the grill, an ex-con who takes a job there and the law enforcement type who makes it possible. Also a town gossip and a couple whose relationship changes as the man feels his masculinity challenged by his wife’s discovery of life outside the laundry room. And a final character central to the musical’s themes of shame and loss.

The cast is a delightul mix of actors who’ve often graced the Phoenix Theatre stage (Johanna Carlisle as Effy, Rusty Ferracane as Caleb and Toby Yatso as Joe) and those making a Phoenix Theatre debut (Jason Barth as Eli and Trisha Hart Ditsworth as Percy). Barbara McBain returns to Phoenix Theatre as Hannah and Jeannie Shubitz returns as Shelby.

If you like spunky or feisty women, you’ll find them at “The Spitfire Grill.” As events unfold, one woman is forced to confront her goodness as another learns to embrace her power. Two face the loss of a child, and learn to let go of the shame they need never have carried. The men feel less transformed somehow, but that could be my chromosomes talking.

L to R: Trisha Hart Ditsworth (Percy), Barbara McBain (Hannah) and Jeannie Shubitz (Shelby) undergo profound transformation in The Spitfire Grill at Phoenix Theatre

There’s much to love about “The Spitfire Grill.” Dialogue like Percy’s “If a wound goes real deep, can the healin’ feel just as bad as what caused it?” Music, rich in strings, that leaves you just a little bit tempted to get up and square dance, two-step or do a jig. And storytelling praised by many who attended opening night as “simple” and “straightforward.”

Several of the songs, slower ballads that soar like the birds they sometimes reference, are among the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard in the world of musical theater — reminding me of other favorites like “Maybe” from “Next to Normal.” Ordering the cast album from the folks who created “The Spitfire Grill” is high on my “to do” list.

The Spitfire Grill,” directed for Phoenix Theatre by Brad Carroll, is based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff (though the film and the musical have entirely different endings). It features music by James Valcq, lyrics by Fred Alley, and book by both Valcq and Alley.

Alan Ruchs serves as musical director for this production (he’s the resident musical director at Phoenix Theatre). Mike Eddy serves as director of production and lighting designer. Robert Andrew Kovach serves as scenic designer. All perform brilliantly in making “The Spitfire Grill” at Phoenix Theatre a moving experience for theater-goers.

While “The Spitfire Grill” has been dubbed “a musical about second chances,” I’m not convinced that tagline does it justice. Plenty of people get the gift of a second chance nowadays without undergoing any real change.

“The Spitfire Grill” is more of a transformation tale — a story of family and forgiveness rooted in very real evolutions of self. A world without forgiveness for self, others and sometimes even the universe, is a miserable one indeed.

“The Spitfire Grill” is a lovely gem of a musical reminding us all to let go and let live.

— Lynn

Note: Phoenix Theatre is undergoing its own transformation, which you can learn more about or get more involved with by clicking here.

Coming up: Who’s munching who?, Before there was Zuccotti Park…

The CATS meow

I like my cats curled up on couches or stretched out on window sills. Seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber bring T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” to life in all its furry feline glory, a process he started late in 1977, is about as thrilling as sniffing a felt mouse stuffed with catnip.

But I’m taking a new look at the musical “Cats,” thanks to photos shared by Spotlight Youth Theatre of Glendale — which is performing the work through Sun, Sept 18. Enjoy these snippets of “Cats” creativity photographed by Alayne Vogel of Memory Layne Photography, which are laced with lovely bits of Andrew Lloyed Webber news and trivia…

  • Webber has composed many works you’ve likely never heard of — including “The Likes of Us,” “By Jeeves,” “The Beautiful Game,” and “The “Woman in White.” My personal favorite is “Whistle Down the Wind.”

  • Webber’s awards include seven Tonys, three Grammys, seven Oliviers, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, two International Emmys, the Praemium Imperiale, the Richard Rodgers Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre and The Kennedy Center Honor.

  • “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall,” a 25th anniversary production presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, will be screened live at hundreds of North Americans movie theaters Sun, Oct 2 (including theaters in Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson). Visit www.fathomevents.com for details.

  • “The Phantom of the Opera” has grossed more than $5.6 billion worldwide — with box office revenues that “are higher than any film or stage play in history” (including “Avatar,” “Titanic,” “E.T.,” and “Star Wars”).

  • Until recently, only “By Jeeves,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “The Likes of Us,” and “Sunset Boulevard” were available on license from Webber’s “Really Useful Group.”

  • Today the BBC reports that “Really Useful Group” is starting a rollout of major musicals to education and amateur markets. These shows will include “Whistle Down the Wind” and “Starlight Express.” Versions of “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera” for UK and Irish schools are “identical to the professional productions.”

I’m told that Spotlight Youth Theatre added an extra performance of “Cats” Sat, Sept 17, at 1pm. Shows have been selling out and we certainly don’t want anyone showing their claws.

— Lynn

Note: Learn more about “Cats” and the rest of Spotlight Youth Theatre’s 2011/12 season at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org. Those interested in buying tickets to “Cats” should call Kenny Grossman at 623-521-8093. Learn about all things Andrew Lloyd Webber (including licensing rights) at www.andrewlloydwebber.com.

Coming up: More Andrew Lloyd Webber on Valley stages — plus a bunch of things that have nothing to do with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Ode to hairspray

Two theater companies present Hairspray on Valley stages this summer

Like most little girls, I spent lots of time imitating my mom. I’d try on her pumps and pearls — and sneak dabs of her blush or lipstick. Even wave a can of aerosol hairspray back and forth over my head until my hair looked like a helmet.

Hairspray movies were released in 1988 and 2007

I recall those moments, and growing up during the ’60s, each time I see the musical “Hairspray.” My mom never saw the show, but she would have loved it. It’s an anthem to teen girls who refuse to accept the status quo or let others determine their worth.

And it’s being performed this summer by two Valley theater groups — Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale and Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix. I love seeing the same work performed by different groups because it’s fun to compare their cast, set and costume choices.

No two productions are ever the same, and seeing multiple versions of a single show gives kids experience in making comparisons, plus analyzing similarities and differences — skills they’ll need for reading, writing, history, math, science and more.

The original cast recording features upbeat songs perfect for retro dance parties

The Desert Stages Theatre production, which runs through Aug 7, will be presented at their Scottsdale venue — which is near Scottsdale Fashion Square. The Valley Youth Theatre production runs Aug 12-28 at the Herberger Theater Center, near Arizona Center, in downtown Phoenix.

Because both are close to shopping and plenty of restaurants, you can take in a show and enjoy other attractions in the area. Still, there’s a downside. Neither is within easy walking distance of a place that’ll sell you hairspray.

For summer birthday parties or back-to-school get togethers, “Hairspray” makes a fun theme. Treat your child and some friends to one of the live productions of “Hairspray,” then get one or both “Hairspray” films for sleepover viewing.

Before there was Harry Potter, there was Hairspray

Find some pictures of Audrey Hepburn or other folks with big hair, and challenge party-goers to see how high their locks will go with a little teasing and hairspray. Then take photos of the results (promising never to post them online).

Encourage guests to dress in “Hairspray” era clothing and accessories. Think bobby socks, headbands and cardigan sweaters. Or take them to a thrift store to see who can find the most outrageous “Hairspray” look.

Let them dance to the “Hairspray” soundtrack or cast recording, eat foods that might have been served in 1962, or play board games from that era. Remind them that Tracy Turnblad never tweeted, and that Mrs. Von Tussle would have frowned (were her face not frozen) on using Facebook.

— Lynn

Note: Theater Works’ Youth Works performs “Hairspray” at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts Feb 3-19, 2012 and Mesa Encore Theatre performs “Hairspray” at Mesa Arts Center May 25-June 3, 2012.

Coming up: AriZoni nominations

“Memphis” meets movie theater

Alert: Click here to learn how you can help victims of flooding in the Memphis area.

Lizabeth and I are heading to a Broadway musical Thursday night — not in the theater district in NYC, but right here in the Valley — as Fathom Events presents a filmed performance of “Memphis” at several AMC movie theaters.

Memphis” was nominated for eight 2010 Tony Awards, and won four of them. It beat out “American Idiot,” “Fela!” and “Million Dollar Quartet” for the 2010 Tony Award for “Best Musical.”

You wouldn’t have expected as much had you read an early review of “Memphis” by theater critic Charles Isherwood of The New York Times — who described it in an Oct 20, 2009 review as “the Michael Bolton of Broadway musicals.”

Isherwood decribes the musical as “slick but formulaic entertainment,” but that hardly dampens my interest. If anything, it ups the intrigue factor — already quite high because the music for “Memphis” comes from Bon Jovi pianist David Bryan.

“Memphis” explores issues of sex, race and rock & roll in 1950s America. Seems a white high school dropout stumbles into a black nightclub and wows the crowds with his powerful piano licks — then hits plenty of highs and lows before landing a DJ gig that appears his true calling. Falling for a black singer doesn’t make his life any easier.

The club where character Huey Calhoun first finds his bliss is located on Beale Street, an actual music row located in Memphis, Tennessee — where something called the “Beale Street Music Festival” takes April 29-May 1 this year.

I suppose those who get really inspired when “Memphis” meets the movies on Thursday night can hop a plane and live a bit of Memphis in real life this weekend. Other fab events on the Memphis horizon include a May 2-8 “International Salute to Belgium” and a May 12-14 “World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest.”

Memphis has influenced or been home to plenty of famous actors — from Dixie Carter and Justin Timberlake to Kathy Bates and Morgan Freeman. Also musicians Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis (depicted in the musical “Million Dollar Quartet“).

As every loyal Elvis fan knows, Memphis is home to Presley’s “Graceland.” Tennessee museums include the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, the Memphis Zoo and the Children’s Museum of Memphis.

I have a feeling I’ll want to jump on a plane bound for Tennessee come Friday morning. Thankfully, I’ve got lots of reasons to stick around — including tickets to see the Arizona School for the Arts performance of “Triangle” and the Actors Theatre performance of “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

Come to think of it, perhaps the good folks of Memphis ought to think about coming here to enjoy a bit of Arizona arts and culture…

— Lynn

Note: “Memphis” is also being shown at Cinemark Mesa 16 (home to performances from the Metropolitan Opera in NYC and other special events).

Coming up: Like everyone else…

Update: We had a great time attending “Memphis” at a Mesa movie theater Thursday night. The movie theater venue lets viewers see actors up close, enjoy behind the scenes happenings and watch interviews with cast/creative team members that they can’t experience during live theater performance. I liked the musical as a story of the difference one person, or a small group of people, can make — but Lizabeth and I agree we’d enjoy it more as a concert or play rather than a piece of musical theater. You still have the weekend to see “Memphis” in select movie theaters. It’s perfect for those who enjoy rock and soul, those interested in the history of the civil rights movement, those who appreciate the marriage of history and music, those who like a lot of dance with their Broadway, and those who want to see what happened when Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan got inspired to write music that might help us all like each other more than we hate each other.

Greasepaint musings

A jar of theatrical greasepaint created by Ross (Photo: http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com)

In times past, the term “greasepaint” referred to a specific type of stage make-up. I’m told it was a lard-based improvement of sorts over lead-based make-up once worn by theater folk.

Though today’s performers have better options, the term is still used by some to harken back with nostalgia to the early days of on-stage acting. And it was the name chosen back in 1984, when a new youth theater was formed in Scottsdale.

I was a newlywed at that point, still five years away from having my first child. So I didn’t experience my first Greasepaint Scottsdale Youtheatre performance until many years later.

I came across some old Greasepaint programs the other day, including one for an April 2000 performance of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” And another for an April 1999 performance of “Pinocchio.”

I spotted a familiar name in the “Pinocchio” cast list — Jennifer Trimble (performing the role of “Bella”). Her bio reads like this: “Jennifer is a 7-year-old 2nd grader at Desert View Learning Center. She studies dance and the piano, and is a member of the Phoenix Girls Chorus.”

The bio also notes her performance earlier that season in “Hansel and Gretel” with Greasepaint — which conjures memories of putting icing on gingerbread cookies with young cast members in the green room, spray painting angel wings with glow-in-the-dark colors, and adjusting Jennifer’s peasant blouse and cotton floral skirt.

I got to looking for other names too — like Katie Hart, Tyler Smalley and Amanda Glenn — knowing the three Greasepaint alumni will soon be joining current Greasepaint performers on stage at the ASU Kerr Cultural Center.

Sure enough, Smalley was there — along with siblings Krysten and Tanner. Back then, Tyler was a 12-year-old home-schooling 7th grader studying dance. He was already represented by the Ford/Robert Black Agency and had several Valley Youth Theatre and Greasepaint shows among his list of credits.

Tubes of greasepaint make-up from Max Factor (Photo: http://www.cosmeticsandskin.com)

There are plenty of reasons to attend the April 16 “Greasepaint for Tomorrow” event taking place this Saturday night at the ASU Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale. Catching up with young adults who’ve acted with Greasepaint in years past should be especially fun.

“Greasepaint for Tomorrow” — scheduled from 6pm to 10 pm — features a reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres, a live performance titled “Broadway Heroes & Villains” directed by Kelli James, a silent auction and more.

“Broadway Heroes & Villains” includes selections from diverse musicals including “13,” “Billy Elliot,” “Hairspray,” “Jekyll & Hyde,” “Les Miserables,” “Mamma Mia,” “Spring Awakening,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Wicked.”

Producing director Maureen Dias-Watson, who heads the theater company now known as Greasepaint Youtheatre, promises more than 70 items for silent auction shoppers — including trips, gift certificates, theater tickets and more.

Think Fleming’s and Neiman Marcus. Sailing and skiing. Athlete and rock star memorabilia. Jewelry and art. Clever Mother’s Day and Father’s Day shoppers take note — because silent auctions present opportunities to snag good deals on unique fare. (The time for finding year-end teacher gifts is fast approaching too.)

You can learn more about Saturday’s “Greasepaint Youtheatre” fundraiser by visiting www.greasepaint.org — where you’ll also find information on their next show, an upcoming master class and summer theater camps for kids.

Folks who attend “Greasepaint for Tomorrow” will want to hang on to their programs — because you never know when the children and teens performing today on local stages might be listed down the road in programs from Broadway to London’s West End and beyond.

— Lynn

Note: To learn more about the history and uses of greasepaint, as well as other forms of cosmetics, visit www.cosmeticsandskin.com. The above photos are just a few of those featured on this website.

Coming up: “Jersey” girls, Pinky’s picks

Follow the children

We got some not so welcome news last week about an hour before I was scheduled to judge auditions for a student talent show at Kiva Elementary School in Paradise Valley, whose distinguished alumni include my hubby James.

I was reminded of a song called “Where Do I Go” from the musical “Hair.” It follows the question “Where do I go?” with the answer “Follow the children.” I knew that watching children perform was just what I needed.

I entered the Kiva cafeteria after school last Tuesday to find it abuzz with doting stage mothers and fathers, and kids with all sorts of performing arts fare – a cello in a hard neon green case, a pink Daisy Rock guitar, tattered costumes a la “Annie” orphans, tumbling mats and more.

I sat at a long table in front of the stage, joined by two fellow judges – including Desert Stages Theatre co-founder and executive director Laurie Cullity, who was quick to introduce herself with a confident handshake and broad smile.

The other judge was Matt Peterson, a 14-year-old student at Mohave Middle School who “founded” the Kiva talent show when he was in 5th grade and vice president of the student council.

Peterson eagerly described his acting ambitions and plans to utilize “YouTube” to make his talents known.

As Peterson described his dreams of heading to Hollywood to pursue television or film work before graduating from high school, I thought of my own daughter’s eagerness to graduate and begin B.F.A. studies in theater.

I hope he’ll stay in school – because his experiences there will likely broaden his horizons and add the depth of character that makes an actor’s performance authentic and compelling – and because childhoods cut short can never be recaptured.

Together we judged fifty performances ranging from fiddling and gymnastics to skits and singing. I was surprised by how many details rushed back from watching my own children’s lessons and recitals.

Bow placement on violin strings. Hand position at the piano. Posture during dance. We weren’t judging on these factors, but I realized while judging that I’ve developed a critical eye over the years (for better or worse).

I admire every single one of the students who took to that stage. It takes guts, and all demonstrated true class and composure. I remember my own modern dance and gymnastics performances at that age, which I’m sure were far from perfect.

Whatever the outcome of auditions – students, parents and teachers should be proud. We rated each performance on a scale of 1-10 based on entertainment value and student preparedness, but there’s more to performance than pleasing judges.

Every child gave it all they had – and it showed. The talent show takes place in March, and I’ve no doubt it’ll feature both polished acts and supportive audience members. I hope I’ll be able to attend.

Next time you have a bad day – even a truly dreadful day – just follow the children. Their smiles will show you the way.

— Lynn

Note: The Kiva Elementary School talent show is Thurs, March 10, at 6pm at Saguaro High School (and is open to the public)

Coming up: Arizona art volunteers, You’ve got Spam!, Grammy winner performs for Valley students

Artwork from Kansas City, Kansas Public Library