Tag Archives: Peter & the Wolf

Family-friendly symphony

I had a lovely Sunday afternoon, enjoying the semi-staged, narrative-style performance of “The Music Man” — the first venture in a multi-year collaboration of the Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre.

Think charming sets with lattice-laced blue and yellow porchfronts sporting charming screen doors. A barbershop quartet and gentlemen donning newsboy caps.

Think  tall white pillars topped with spring bouquets of gentle pastel tones. Ladies wearing crisp white blouses buttoned staunchly with cameos and adorned with large hats boasting fantastic feathers.

French horn meets mouse

We’ve been enjoying Phoenix Symphony concerts as a family since about the time our oldest could spell the word “symphony” — and they never disappoint.

Once we saw them perform while an artist created a giant original painting on stage. Another time they performed cartoon-theme music with cartoons rolling on a huge screen behind the musicians. The Phoenix Symphony has always excelled at family-friendly music and performance art.

I’m pleased to present a sneak peek at the 2010/2011 “Target Family Series” — followed by a look at pre-concert activities for children.

Enchanted Tales: Brundibar and Peter & the Wolf. Oct 10 at 2:30pm. Special guest: Phoenix Boys Choir. Both folk tales follow friends who come together in the face of those who bully or menace others. And “Peter & the Wolf,” with various animals represented by different instruments, is the perfect introduction to orchestral music.

"Peter & the Wolf" meets piano lessons

Hocus Pocus Pops. Oct 30 at 2:30pm. An afternoon of “tricks, treats and suspenseful music” including a murder mystery for children — Lemony Snickett’s “The Composer is Dead” — which also teaches children about instruments of the orchestra. Kids and grown-ups are encouraged to come in costume.

Orchestra from Planet X. Jan 29, 2011. Two “devious but somewhat bumbling space creatures” attempt to take over the concert as the symphony plays music ranging from “Symphony X” by Don Gillis to John Williams’ “Flying Theme” from the movie “E.T.”

Cirque de la Symphonie. Feb 26, 2011 at 2:30pm. “Acrobats, contortionists, jugglers and strongmen” perform as the symphony plays both popular music and classical masterpieces.

The Rhythms of the Earth. March 19, 2001 at 2:30pm. A concert dedicated to “our amazing planet” from desert to jungle — to include music from the “Grand Canyon Suite,” “Songs the Plants Taught Us” and more. Children leave with seeds to plant as the community prepares to celebrate Earth Day 2011.

Opera meets "Wild Things"

Pre-concert activities start in the Symphony Hall foyer an hour before each of the above concerts — and feature activities ranging from storytime and arts & crafts to a musical instrument “petting zoo” where children can try out various instruments. The cello and horns were always big hits with my kiddos — who went on to play flute, piano, saxophone and violin between them.

I’ve also chaperoned many an elementary school field trip to the symphony, but hadn’t realized until I visited their website recently that they also offer programs that send musicians to perform at schools. 

I was struck today by just how magical the venue can be for children–with a perfect blend of formality that makes the occasion feel special and a more casual ambiance that still feels warm and welcoming.

We’ve also experienced the music and musings of individual symphony members, who chat and perform periodically in venues like bookstores where children can see and hear just a small number of instruments up close (and for free).

Phoenix Symphony meets Ib Andersen's "The Nutcracker"

Lizabeth still recalls many other experiences with the Phoenix Symphony — seeing friends play in the “side by side” concert coupling the Phoenix Symphony with the Phoenix Youth Symphony, hearing Tchaikovsky’s music as Ballet Arizona performs “The Nutcracker” each year.

My favorite Phoenix Symphony memories are of lazy afternoons or evenings when Lizabeth and I would go to hear musical greats like Itzhak Perlman. At first I fretted when she only made it through half of a concert before falling asleep on my shoulder.

But then I realized it was a rare and special gift — Lizabeth drifting off to slumber amidst the tender sounds of the symphony, and me feeling the warmth of her cheek nuzzled against my neck.

There’s really nothing quite like it.


Note: Intermissions at Symphony Hall have a charm all their own — with impressive chandeliers and other interesting design elements to explore, a gift boutique with diverse offerings (my favorites this time around were miniature animals playing various instruments) and a choice of snack bars (including one with over-the-moon cheesecake and chocolate-dipped strawberries).

Coming up: My “first love” in theater is rekindled

Ballet Arizona photo by Rosalie O’Connor


Old friends and tomato plants

An allegorical game of "Mother, may I?" in Heretown

There’s nothing like time with old friends.

That’s how it feels each time I enjoy a Childsplay production with my 16-year-old daughter Lizabeth, something we’ve done together for more than a decade now.

She’s enjoyed oodles of their productions, summer camps, conservatory classes and more—even performed herself in community theater works directed by renowned Childsplay artists like D. Scott Withers.

Today we sat nearly front row and center (we moved to the side one seat since Lizabeth wanted to be sure the younger child behind her had a clear view of the stage)—watching a talented trio turn a tale of tomatoes into something much more.

The trio is Jodie L. Weiss (Tomato Plant Girl), Yolanda London (Little Girl) and Elizabeth Polen (Bossy Best Friend). “Tomato Plant Girl” was written by Wesley Middleton and directed for Childsplay by Patricia Snoyer Black.

I always wrestle with how to convey such moving work in mere words, but Lizabeth summed it up beautifully as we passed the gushing “waterfalls” outside the Tempe Center for the Arts on our way back to the car.

Lizabeth likened the process of growing tomatoes with the process of growing friendships, confessing that she was tempted to ask the cast about the use of metaphor in theater when they came out after the show for an actor/audience Q & A.

The “Tomato Plant Girl” trio began by asking young viewers which of the characters seemed like a good friend or a poor friend—and why. Though Childsplay productions are never preachy, the kids clearly got the message.

“Bossy Best Friend” was a poor friend because she “yelled at people” and “bossed them around”—whereas “Little Girl” was a good friend because she “was nice” and “knew how to say sorry.”

Am I the only one who thinks we ought to offer this play to aggressive drivers in lieu of those dreaded driving classes?

My point is simply this—that Childsplay productions typically teach both young and old alike, but gently and with good humor.

The online resource guide for teachers and parents notes the following “Tomato Plant Girl” themes: friendship, bullying, differences, nature, gardening, peer pressure, knowing right from wrong, children’s games, six pillars of character and fitting in.

I’d add another two, which I treasure finding in many a Childsplay production: The joy of reading and the importance of good manners.

When cast members thanked audience members for coming, the young Childsplay regular sitting to our right with his mother and brother replied, “You’re welcome.”

Parents of young children (“Tomato Plant Girl” is ideal for K-6 students but enjoyable for many others) should add Childsplay season passes to their list of essentials.

Live theater that supports our growth as parents, fosters the curiosity of our students, engages the imagination of our youth, and brings us all closer together as a community is as important as seat belts and smoke detectors in my book.

If your child has ever struggled with being “the new kid,” wrestled with peer pressure, recoiled in the face of someone who seems “different” somehow or questioned the rewards in doing the right thing, Childsplay’s “Tomato Plant Girl” will sew seeds that bear fruit for a lifetime.


Note: It’s an exciting time of year for Childsplay as they ready for their next production (“The Big Friendly Giant” opening April 25), a gala fundraiser to benefit their arts in education program (“Childsplay Celebrates” on April 30) and summer academy classes (for ages 3-17) focused on everything from beloved storybooks and classic fairy tales to Shakespeare and musical theater. Today marks the final performance of “Tomato Plant Girl” at the TCA, so go online to learn more in case tickets are still available. Happy growing!