Tag Archives: Pace University

From lullaby to lion

Lizabeth reluctantly posing for her stage mom at the Lion Theatre in NYC

When our three children were babies, we’d often sing them lullabies — or gentle renditions of tunes by the likes of Three Dog Night. Considering youngest daughter Lizabeth’s love for theater, you’d suspect we lulled her into slumber each night with “Lullaby of Broadway” from the musical “42nd Street.”

One of those photos that only a stage mother could love

Nowadays Lizabeth is studying theater at Pace University in NYC, where she’s part of an amazing cast for the Pace Performing Arts production of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Our Lady of 121st Street” directed by Grant Kretchik.

The work imagines a dead nun gone missing in Harlem as those she’s helped through the years gather to lament the loss. It’s best described as a ‘dark comedy’ — two words that describe Lizabeth with startling precision. Though I assure you, dark fare was never part of my lullaby repertoire.

Wall mural in the Theatre Row lobby that shows its historic theaters before recent renovations

Recently I alerted one of Lizabeth’s theater teachers here in the Valley to her “Our Lady” gig. Soon she shot back an enthusiastic e-mail, noting that Lizabeth would be performing on 42nd Street — an iconic locale for those who aspire to careers on Broadway.

I saw the production Saturday at a charming little theater that’s part of Theatre Row — a collection of historic theaters that’ve been beautifully renovated. “Our Lady of 121st Street” is being performed at the Lion Theatre, so I couldn’t help musing about Lizabeth’s journey from lullaby to lion. And the way a little girl who once purred is becoming a lion who roars.

Entrace to the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row

Seeing Lizabeth perform last weekend was especially poignant because it’s the weekend I mark each year as the anniversary of my mother’s death. Lizabeth was just a preschooler when her “Nana” died, overcoming the fear that breathing tubes stir in ones so young so she could give her a kiss on the cheek and share an innocent goodbye.

A fellow theater mom recently asked me whether Lizabeth dreams of performing on Broadway one day. It was, I think, Lizabeth’s goal for a time. But she’s developing a glorious curiosity for things beyond the world of theater, which are plentiful and no less profound. Where she’ll land is hard to say.

But wherever Lizabeth’s dreams take her, I’ll never forget her remarkable journey from lullaby to lion.

— Lynn

Coming up: A role reversal


The dance party starts at…

I'm returning to the Brooklyn Museum in New York City Saturday night to enjoy a Keith Haring exhibit and dance party

“The dance party starts at 8pm.” The fine folks at the Brooklyn Museum were kind enough to share this little ditty with me after learning I’d be in town for the weekend. Seems they’re planning all sorts of frivolity for April’s Target First Saturday, which also features deejay Junior Vasquez.

Our daughter, Lizabeth, who lives in NYC, will no doubt shudder at the thought of mom hauling out the “Macarena” moves — but she doesn’t have to watch. She’ll be busy with fellow Pace performing arts students doing their “Our Lady of 121st Street” thing at the Lion Theatre, where it’s opening that same night.

I’m hoping to explore several museums during my quick turnaround trip to see Lizabeth perform, yet sad to be missing all the arts adventures taking place in the Valley this weekend — including the premiere of Childsplay’s “Tomás and the Library Lady” at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Julianne Moore's book inspired the "Freckleface" musical

Before heading out, I’m hitting opening night for Valley Youth Theatre’s production of “Freckleface Strawberry” — the show’s only run outside of NYC before it launches a national tour in 2013. Seems VYT’s producing artistic director Bobb Cooper was invited about a year and a half ago to see the original Off Broadway production of “Freckleface Strawberry” (now “Freckleface The Musical“) featuring VYT alumna Kimiko Glenn in the role of Emily.

“She connected me to the creative team,” recalls Cooper, “who agreed to let us be the first theatre company outside of New York to mount this show.” Tonight’s opening includes a “special audience appearance by Glenn,” who first performed with VYT as one of seven dwarves in a 2000 production of “Snow White.” Before her last VYT gig in 2006, performing the role of Demeter in “Cats,” Glenn earned two AriZoni Awards.

Last time I visited Lizabeth in NYC, we went to see Nick Cartell (who also graced the VYT stage) perform in a preview of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway — where he rocks the Jonah/Swing gig. It’s hard to believe that so many of these young actors are now grown and doing their thing in NYC, L.A., Arizona and beyond.

But harder still to imagine all those empty-nester stage parents with newfound free time whooping it up at dance parties…

— Lynn

Note: Read more about “Tomás and the Library Lady” in the April issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine, and click here to explore the magazine’s calendar of events for Arizona families. Folks who hit VYT’s “Freckleface” Sat, April 7 at 3:30pm, can enjoy a free Q & A with Kimiko Glenn (who originated the role of “Emily” in “Freckleface Strawberry” in NYC and toured with “Spring Awakening”) after the show. Details at www.vyt.com.

Coming up:  Trees and tolerance, A diorama tale

Resurrecting a rock opera

The current revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a sort of fourth coming for me. I’ve seen three previous productions of the classic rock opera featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice — starting as a tween who first fell in love with the concept album, then saw a touring production of the show many years later in California.

For a time, I lived and died by the record that felt like my generation’s version of Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Listening to the double album, with its mottled dirt-colored cover and gold logo depicting a pair of angels, felt like an act of supreme rebellion. I remember opening the folded album cover atop my bed, pouring over the matching booklet and kneeling nearly prayer-like on the floor while singing along to songs like “What’s the Buzz?” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”

My daughter Lizabeth, who performs this weekend in the Pace Performing Arts production of “Our Lady of 121st Street” at the Lion Theatre on NYC’s famed 42nd Street, has joined me for two national touring productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar” performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

She admits to being too young to truly understand “Jesus Christ Superstar” the first time around, but I remember thinking at the time that I wanted her to experience the music that’d meant so much to me during a similar age and stage. Some things — like Springsteen concerts and favorite Broadway musicals — are important to share with our children along the journey.

During my last trip to NYC, we saw a preview of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” directed by Des McAnuff (think “Jersey Boys“) — which has since officially opened at the Neil Simon Theatre. Lizabeth shared after the show that it was the first time she really understood the full measure of the story, based loosely on the last seven days of Jesus’ life.

Though some see blasphemy in the musical’s broad strokes, it’s clearly educating a whole new generation about geopolitical and religious issues of Jesus’ day. For kids not raised with Bible in hand, it’s as close as they may ever come to considering Jesus’ life and times — to witnessing a work within the “passion play” tradition.

Those who’ve suggested the current revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a tad over the top may have preferred tamer takes featuring Ted Neely as Jesus — but we’re not among them. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production –performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego before heading to Broadway — is bolder by far, and much better for it. I loved “The Book of Mormon,” but can’t say that I adore “Jesus Christ Superstar” any less. God has been good to Broadway of late.

I spent much of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fighting the urge to get up and dance. Nobody wants their mom to have the musical theater equivalent of a “come to Jesus” moment in public, so I settled for a swift bit of toe-tapping and a silent sing-along in my head. This resurrection of “Superstar” is fresh, fabulous and fun. No apologies needed.

The “Jesus Christ Superstar” cast includes Paul Nolan (Jesus), Josh Young (Judas), Chilina Kennedy (Mary Magdalene), Tom Hewitt (Pontius Pilate) and Bruce Dow (King Herod). Also Marcus Nance (Caiaphas) and Aaron Walpole (Annas). Nick Cartell (Jonah/Swing) grew up in Arizona, where he performed with Valley Youth Theatre, Phoenix Theatre and more. Liz tells me he’s already rocked the role of Judas in understudy mode.

The creative team includes Andrew Lloyd Webber (composer), Tim Rice (lyricist), Des McAnuff (director), Lisa Shriver (choreographer), Rick Fox (music director), Robert Brill (set design), Paul Tazewell (costume design) and Howell Binkley (lighting design). Also Steve Canyon Kennedy (sound design), Sean Nieuwenhuis (video design), Daniel Levinson (fight director), Simon Fox (stunt coordinator) and John Miller (music coordinator).

It’s about time we had a “Superstar” laced with sensitivity and sass. Think sets featuring tall metal bleachers and a giant ticker counting down Jesus’ final days. Costumes in lush fabrics saturated with rich color or earthy materials muted with feminizing tones. Choreography with tent-revival fervor. And layers of glorious orchestration with a hint of folk fare. All bring modern scale to an ancient tale — making “Jesus Christ Superstar” a resurrection well worth the wait.

— Lynn

Coming up: “Rock of Ages” on Valley stages

Photos courtesy of Boneau/Bryan-Brown

A city inside a museum

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I first fell in love with children’s museums when my young daughters, like hundreds of fellow citizens, got involved in developing the Children’s Museum of Phoenix (then dubbed the Phoenix Family Museum) at the grassroots level. Today it’s recognized by Parents magazine as one of the country’s top ten children’s museums.

Both daughters, and our son, are now grown and attending college — one of them in New York City. Each time I visit her, I make a point of exploring another bit of NYC’s vast expanse of arts and culture. I reported on the art of Occupy Wall Street early in the movement’s history, saw “War Horse” and “The Book of Mormon” before they earned Tony Awards for best play and best musical and explored places like the Poets House in Battery Park.

Lately I have the museums of NYC on my radar, wishing I’d discovered them several decades earlier somehow. Many years ago I visited MoMA and the Met, but lately I’ve been focusing on smaller fare like the Morgan Library & Museum in midtown Manhattan (a favorite for one of my friends at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts), which is currently exhibiting drawings by Rembrandt and a look at animals throughout art, literature and music.

Top of my list for next time is the Brooklyn Museum. I missed the opening of their Keith Haring exhibit by just two days last time around and am still experiencing the museum-goers version of mourning. I didn’t really favor Haring’s work at the height of his heyday, but nowadays I’m simply mesmerized. I’m also hoping to enjoy the Children’s Museum of the Arts.

I hit the Brooklyn Children’s Museum during my last trip to visit daughter Lizabeth at Pace University. She’s been busy with rehearsals for an upcoming production of “Our Lady of 121st Street,” so I’ve had more time to kick around NYC on my own. Typically adults aren’t allowed to visit the museum without children, but they graciously let me do my press thing with camera in tow so I could share reflections and images with Arizona readers.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum was “the first museum created expressly for children when it was founded in 1899” — 15 years before Arizona achieved statehood. Still, I first encountered one of its offerings — a traveling exhibit called “Pattern Wizardry” — during the fall of 2009 at the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa (proving that you should never overlook the treasures in your own back yard).

I found two remarkable things at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. First, a city within a museum. And second, the world. My favorite exhibits featured rooms devoted to various cultures found in the diverse neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and an expansive upstairs gallery highlighting objects and people from around the globe. I’ve come to love the Brooklyn Children’s Museum for the same reason I love New York City — diversity.

I get the feeling, when I’m there, that differences are to be embraced rather than feared. That living amidst diverse cultures helps us to appreciate both our own heritage and the heritage of others. That human beings from all walks of life can love, respect and empathize with one another. That mere tolerance falls short when what we need is true celebration.

— Lynn

Coming up: Prison meets performance art

What’s the buzz?

Cast of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

I enjoyed an amazing evening of Broadway trends in action during a preview performance earlier this month of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” revival that opened last week at the Neil Simon Theatre in NYC. Digital projections, folk flavor added to the pop/rock score and more.

All things Victor Hamburger with ASU Gammage in Tempe alerted me to during a recent call to talk trends on Broadway. Turns out ASU Gammage is one of the country’s biggest markets for touring Broadway productions. Also professional home to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and recipient of a 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Award.

ASU Gammage will unveil its 2012/13 Broadway Across America season next week, so we’ll all get the chance to see trends translated into action. Audience engagement via social media and other means is one of the industry’s hottest trends, according to Hamburger. So folks who follow ASU Gammage are among the first to get the scoop — and enjoy opportunites to offer feedback.

Hamburger says they always work to provide a balance of shows that’ll appeal to folks with different tastes. Some prefer revivals, others prefer newer works. Some like nostalgia, others like the here and now. Some favor mature fare, others favor family fare. So I suppose the best season has a little something for everyone.

Steve Kazee and the cast of "Once," which recently opened on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Simply looking at the Broadway landscape, you might surmise that topics your parents always told you to avoid at the dinner table make for the best subject matter. Religion, sex and sometimes even politics. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is one of several works that factors God into the mix. Think “Godspell,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Sister Act” and such. Going retro, with shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” seems to be a safe bet too. God is groovy, but dance is divine.

Bringing movies to stage is another biggie these days, according to Hamburger (although “biggie” isn’t really a part of his vocabulary). Think “Once,” “Ghost,” and “Flashdance.” Seems they help introduce audiences fond of the big screen to stories told on stage. I was skeptical until I started reading reviews of “Once” that landed it high on my list of shows to see during future trips to NYC.

Casting artists dubbed celebrities is also on the rise — as evidenced by the current cast list of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which includes Nick Jonas as J. Pierrepont Finch, Beau Bridges as J.B. Bigley and Anderson Cooper as Narrator. Jonas started out on Broadway, but that’s not the case for others who’ve finessed Finch — including Daniel Radcliffe and Darren Criss, both of whom my daughter Lizabeth loved in the role. Snagging tix to see Jonas is high on her wish list these days.

Touring production of "Green Day's American Idiot" coming to ASU Gammage in April (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Lizabeth lives in NYC, where she most recently saw “Evita” with fellow students at Pace University, and sometimes sees things well before they make their way to Arizona. I’m eager to see “Green Day’s American Idiot,” the next Broadway touring production coming to ASU Gammage, so I can compare notes with Lizabeth — who has seen it performed on Broadway.

I started taking Lizabeth to touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage when she was just a little girl. Over the years we’ve enjoyed everything from “Annie” and “August: Osage County” to “In the Heights” and “Avenue Q” together. It’s all good in our book — because whatever the buzz on Broadway, sharing mother/daughter time at the theater never gets old.

— Lynn

Coming up: Exploring the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The fine art of cowboys, In good company

A “Gypsy” tale

I’ll never forget a pair of shows produced many years ago by Phoenix Theatre. One was “Into the Woods,” with a cast that included D. Scott Withers as the Baker — who’s now performing in the Phoenix Theatre production of “Gypsy.” The other was “Will Rogers Follies” — a show that’s long been my own personal “one to beat” in the world of splashy musical theater fare. Sunday’s matinee of “Gypsy” gave me that “Will Rogers Follies” feeling all over again, and I loved it.

I was hoping that Lizabeth, who’s been fortunate enough to study theater with Withers and perform in a production he directed, would be able to join me for “Gypsy” — but she’s spending spring break in NYC rehearsing for a Pace University production of “Our Lady of 121st Street.” So I invited a friend, whose arts and culture creds far outweigh my own, to come along.

She loved the costumes (Cari Sue Smith). I loved the lighting (Mike Eddy). Also music direction (Alan Ruch) and scenic design (Robert Kovach). We both loved the choreography (Mollie Lajoie), and agreed that the best number in the show is “All I Need Is the Girl,” performed by Peter Marinaro (Tulsa) — whose bio should sport one additional line: The cutie pants who can dance. My line, not hers. She waxes more poetic. I just wanna rhyme.

L to R: Kathy Fitzgerald (Rose) and Jenny Hintze (Louise) in "Gypsy" at Phoenix Theatre

Three other performers delivered especially strong performances, including Withers (Herbie) and Jenny Hintze (Louise). Also Kathy Fitzgerald, who performs the role of stage mother Rose. Lizabeth and I saw her last gig — the Broadway production of “Wicked” (Madame Morrible) — where she was the perfect embodiment of misguided mean. She brings the same beautiful bite to Rose, with singing chops a bit too grand for smaller stages. Her  “Some People” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” rival renditions by several Broadway greats.

People read Rose differently depending on their own life experiences. It’s hard to justify her selfish, hard-driving ways. Still I felt the emphathy Fitzgerald hoped to convey. Rose’s own childhood was ugly, and left her wounded in ways most of us can scarcely imagine. She wanted so desperately to be together instead of alone. To scratch out her own shot at fame while helping her daughters escape the life that’d carved “victim” across her heart.

Still, Rose modeled some important coping skills for her daughters — humor, hard work and undying optimism.” I can’t help wondering how much better any of us might have fared under similar circumstances. Michael Barnard’s direction is a kaleidescope of sorts — revealing complicated facets of characters where others might settle for simple stereotypes.

L to R: Kate Shein (June) and Kathy Fitzgerald (Rose) in "Gypsy" at Phoenix Theatre

It helps when you’re working with brilliant material. “Gypsy” features book by Arthur Laurents, music by Julie Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Consider it a “musical fable” suggested by the memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, the oldest of two daughters the real-life Rose did her best to shove into show business as the craft of vaudeville was falling away to the craze of burlesque.

“Gypsy” feels especially relevant in a day and age that elevates stage mothers to reality show stardom. But there’s something more — the undercurrent of change within the theater biz itself, no less profound today than it was in Rose’s day. Consider, my friend suggested, the ways of Lady Gaga. What’s talent without terrific packaging? Once there was burlesque. Now we have branding.

Phoenix Theatre has long been the cornerstone of classic musical theater in the Valley, but it’s seamlessly transitioned in recent years to contemporary fare like last season’s “Avenue Q.” They’re presenting “Spring Awakening” with Nearly Naked Theatre in June, and opening the 2012/13 season with “Spamalot.”

This and other 2012/13 offerings were revealed in a short black and white film shown on a small screen in the theater before an orchestral medley of “Gypsy” tunes opened the show. They include “Defending the Caveman,” “S’Wonderful: The New Gershwin Musical” and “a reimagining” of “Our Town.” Also a new musical revue called “Love Makes the World Go Round” (“Gleeks” will dig it) — and a little something they can’t yet name but describe as “a menagerie of  crazies.” Don’t expect Tennessee Williams.

— Lynn

Note: The cast of “Gypsy” includes several talented young actors — another great reason to see the show. Phoenix Theatre performs “Gypsy” through April 1, and their “Cookie Theatre” production of “Charlotte’s Web” opens at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale on April 14.

Coming up: Got scripts?

“With Two Wings”

My mother loved the work of Lebanese-American artist Kahlil Gibran, especially his verses on various topics contained in “The Prophet.” The section titled “On Children” begins like this:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

I was reminded of these words, and my mother’s remarkable gift for creating both roots and wings, while watching a Childsplay performance of Anne Negri’s “With Two Wings” directed by Andrés Alcala.

It’s the tale of a boy who lives in the woods with his overprotective parents, though all the other families live in colonies. They’ve got lots of rules, all designed to keep the family safe.

Son Lyf (Nathan Dobson) seems content to follow them until he encounters an adventurous young girl named Meta (Kaleena Newman), who fuels his curiosity with tales of flight training. She’s Lyf’s first friend, and she’s a good one.

Meta has a thing for physics, often pondering the wonders and workings of aerodynamics, while Lyf has a gift for imagery and story. I love the deviation from “boys do science” and “girls do words” type thinking

Meta has a twin named Taur (John Moum) who’s quite the bully, and seems to fancy himself an investigative journalist. He uncovers handmade wings inside the workshop Lyf’s father has kept locked for years, and makes a startling discovery.

Lyf’s parents are “dodos” — a name given to those who can’t fly. When Taur starts name-calling, Meta insists that he stop. She teaches Lyf to fly as his anxious Mom (Kate Haas) and hopeful Dad (Jon Gentry) look on. “I’m here,” says Mom, “I’m always here.”

“With Two Wings” is a profound reminder that flying and falling is better than never trying to fly. That bystanders should defend those who are bullied. That some family rules may need to evolve over time. That growth rarely happens without taking risks.

It’s a lovely one hour piece that speaks to both children and adults, making good use of humor and never taking itself too seriously. “With Two Wings” elevates curiosity, individual differences, loyal friendships and trusting your instincts.

The cast of five is superb. Dobson’s Lyf is innocent and earnest, while Newman’s Meta is bright-eyed and confident. Gentry’s Dad is optimistic, while Haas’ Mom is a worrier. Moum’s Taur is a perfect portrayal of everything we love to hate about tabloid types.

The “With Two Wings” set designed by Kimb Williamson is simple — mainly nesting materials inspired by the works of artist Andy Goldworthy. So is lighting design by Tim Monson and sound design by Christopher Neumeyer. Both serve the story well without distracting from its beauty.

The most intriguing visual elements are costumes by D. Daniel Hollinghead, who designed the mechanism used for characters’ wings, and puppets. Thanks to puppets atop long sticks, no one has to pull a Cathy Rigby over the TCA stage.

“With Two Wings” is rich in dialogue we can all relate to. The play’s true beauty rests in its ability to inspire us to reflect on our own experiences with launching and letting go.

I got a little teary-eyed as Lyf learned to fly, thinking of our daughter Lizabeth being cast in her first theater production with Pace University, because I know Childsplay played a part in giving her wings.

I hope you’ll be just as inspired by Childsplay’s interpretation of Negri’s tender tale, and more reflections from “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran…

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

— Lynn

Note: Childsplay performs “With Two Wings” through Feb. 5 at Tempe Center for the Arts, and the play is available for school tours (grades 1-6) Feb. 7-May 25. Click here to learn more, and here to explore Childsplay photos on Facebook.

Coming up: Fun with arts & culture fundraisers