Tag Archives: Playing for Change

“Hairspray” is big fun

Shawna Quain, Chase Todd, Lillian Castillo, Antyon Le Monte and D. Scott Withers (center) of Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Big hair. Big props. Big set pieces. Big band. Big vocals. Big dance numbers. Big talent. Big message. Big fun.

You’ll find it all in Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Hairspray,” which runs through Dec 12.

I’m often drawn to particular shows for sentimental reasons. They remind me of an early childhood experience, relate somehow to a cause I support or feature folks we know as teachers or friends.

This time around it was three actors in particular.  

D. Scott Withers, who’s been with Childsplay in Tempe just a wee bit longer than I’ve been a mom, perfectly plays Edna Turnblad’s transformation from mousy to magnificent. (Though, sadly, his ironing skills appear to be lacking.)

Toby Yatso, a Phoenix Theatre artist-in-residence and member of the theater faculty at Arizona School for the Arts who plays Corny Collins, offers a performance that blends pristine attention to detail with a big, bold bundle of energy. (An observation shared with me by an astute ASA student who also attended on Saturday.) 

And Dion Johnson, who we first met a decade or so ago when Lizabeth was one of many daughters to his King in the Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “The King and I,” makes for a hilarious hat-donning and hip-thrusting Wilbur Turnblad. (With him, Edna doesn’t hear the bells — she feels them.)

I also give big marks to Antyon Le Monte, who makes his Phoenix Theatre debut as Seaweed, and Chase Todd, whose performance as Link Larkin makes you wonder whether the stork delivered him in a skinny tie and dancing shoes.

My daughter Lizabeth was thrilled to see Yolanda London make her Phoenix Theatre debut in “Hairspray” (Kamilah, Hooker, Female Ensemble). She’s another longtime favorite from Childsplay, where Lizabeth has enjoyed London’s big talent and big heart as an instructor in their Childsplay Academy.

She’s one of many women whose performances made us smile ourselves silly and tap our toes like there’s no tomorrow.

Jacqueline Rushing (Little Inez) was last seen in Mesa Encore Theatre’s “Once on This Island” and I became a fan the second I read these words in her “Hairspray” bio — “In her spare time she enjoys writing stories and inhaling books.”

Andi Watson, who plays the delightfully devious Velma Von Tussle, was last seen as Poppy in Phoenix Theatre’s “Noises Off.” Her off-stage adventures include “photography and maternity casting.” She’s also co-founder of Living Arts Studio.

Daughter Amber Von Tussle is capably played by Jacqueline Dunford, a music major at Scottsdale Community College making her professional theater debut.

Shawna Weitekamp (Penny Pingleton) is a Phoenix Theatre repeat offender (it’s a good thing) whose bio advocates the benefits of eating healthy chocolate. Perhaps she can get the folks in San Francisco to replace all those banned Happy Meal toys with candy bars.

Lillian Castillo plays trailblazing teen Tracy Turnblad in Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Audience favorites included Lillian Castillo as the spunky and single-minded Tracy Turnblad, whose insistence on racial integration on the dance floor shows that one person (often a teen) truly can change the world.

Also De Angelus Grisby (Motormouth Maybelle), whose bio includes this note to sons Roman and Elijah — “Thank you for allowing your mother to dream out loud on the stage.” Her vocal performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” left the woman sitting next to me dabbing tears away with a tissue while other audience members stood to applaud.

They didn’t wait until the show was over, which tells you just how moved they were by her soul — and the collective strength of the ensemble singing behind her. It was the finest vocal performance I’ve ever experienced in Valley theater.

The creative team is no less impressive. It includes director Michael Barnard, choreographer Robert Kolby Harper, and resident music director Alan Ruch. Michael J. Eddy, also well loved in youth theater circles, is production manager and lighting designer.

Phoenix native Katie McNamara, a graduate of Southern Utah University and one-time prop artisan with the Utah Shakespearean Festival (now the Utah Shakespeare Festival), does property design with pizzazz. The equally impressive scenic design is by Robert Andrew Kovach.

Wig designer Gerard Kelly did “Hair” on Broadway, but my one criticism of the show is that not all the coiffed cast members turned it loose during their final dance numbers — looking like they feared their hair might end up flying across the room. So ladies, let your hair down.

A few things of note in this particular musical…

References to bygone days and ways are plentiful. The more you know about Geritol, Perry Como, Ripple, Cooties, Mydol and Green Stamps — the more lines you’ll meet with laughter.

The sexual inuendo is relatively tame but there’s enough of it to satisfy those who go for such things. And “Hairspray” is a dream for one-liner lovers with quips like “I lost my man and my hair deflated in one day.”

Lillian Castillo and D. Scott Withers of Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Whether you go just for the fun of it or for the fabulous social justice vibe of this “Welcome to the ’60s” musical, you’ll find plenty of what you’re looking for.

I think it’s an especially powerful show for teens in an age of face-to-face and online bullying.

The message is simple, but timeless.

Big is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Being yourself is beautiful.

Above all, follow your dreams. Remain loyal. And keep moving forward.

— Lynn

Note: The musical “Hairspray” features book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman. Click here for Phoenix Theatre ticket information. Read yesterday’s post titled “Saturdays & serendipity” to learn more about Lynn’s “Stage Mom” adventures before and after the show.

Coming up: Art in the animal world, Pearls from “Playing for Change,” Art adventures: City of Surprise, Museum exhibit that asks “Are we that different?”


The week’s hidden art treasures

The week’s most heralded events are often splashed across our local newspapers and noted during television newscasts.

This week they include “Cirque Dreams Illumination” at the Mesa Arts Center and the opening of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” produced by Arizona Theatre Company — the first a family-friendly event and the second a “mature themes and language” piece.

World music recording artist Scott Schaefer plays didgeridoo, flute and more this Saturday at Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior.

Dozens of kid-friendly activities, arts-related and otherwise, are always available online via the Raising Arizona Kids magazine online calendar (there’s a print calendar in each monthly magazine too).

So what I’ll feature here (and at the beginning of each week) are things you might not have discovered yet — including visual and performing arts presented by Valley schools and other organizations.

Enjoy "The Nutcracker Sweet Tea" event with Ballet Etudes at the Wright House in Mesa this Saturday

Some, like the musical “Urinetown” opening Thursday at Paradise Valley Community College, are best for the mature teen and adult set.

Others, like the Ballet Etudes “Nutcracker Sweet Tea” this weekend, are fun for all ages.

The Phoenix Art Museum presents a children’s event (for ages 5-12 with their adult companions) titled  “Define Your Style!” on Sat, Nov 13, from noon-3pm. After touring the “Extending the Runway” fashion collection on exhibit at the PAM, kids will design their own “artistic attire” and use found objects to create a cigar box purse or secret treasure box.

Three of Arizona’s charter schools specializing in the arts present student performance art this week.

Tonight (Mon, Nov 8 ), you can enjoy the chamber singers and concert choir from Arizona School for the Arts performing a 7pm concert at Central United Methodist Church in Phoenix.

Metropolitan Arts Institute presents an Arizona theater premiere in downtown Phoenix Nov 11-13

Metropolitan Arts Institute presents its fall theater production, the Arizona premiere of “Little Brother,” Nov 11-13 at the Playhouse on the Park in Phoenix.

New School for the Arts and Academics presents a dance performance Nov 12 & 13, and I’ll share more details as I learn them.

Another dance option for Nov 12 & 13 is the “SMCC Dance Concert” at the South Mountain Community College Performance Hall — which features dance performance by SMCC students, local high schools and area dance companies.

Music lovers can head to Superior for the Boyce Thompson Arboretum “Live Music Festival” from 11am-5pm on Sat, Nov 13. The event features frontier ballads, Midwestern humor, world music and “olde-time Americana” by the Close Enough String Band. 

Finally, in conjunction with the Phoenix Symphony’s “Rediscovered Masters” series featuring music of composers stifled or silenced during the Holocaust, you can hear a presentation on “The Jews of Central Europe” either Wed, Nov 10, at Temple Beth Isreal or Thurs, Nov 11, at Symphony Hall in Phoenix.

PVCC presents a musical with a social justice theme and one of my favorite love songs

If I’ve overlooked a hidden treasure being exhibited or performed by your organization or venue this week, feel free to share event details in a brief comment below.

And watch for weekly rundowns in future posts — which will replace my Friday arts roundups.

That way I can share both weekday and weekend events to inspire more arts adventures with family and friends.

— Lynn

ASU remounts "And What She Found There" this Tuesday night only

Update: Just heard from ASU about a one-time only remount of a work titled “And What She Found There” taking place Tues, Nov 9 at 7pm at the ASU Lyceum Theatre in Tempe. Info at www.mainstage.asu.edu or 480-965-6447.

Note: Always call ahead to check event details — including location, date/time, ticketing requirements, age guidelines and such.

Coming up: Recent adventures with the Arizona Opera, Playing for Change, the Heard Museum North Scottsdale and the Arizona Science Center; “Hairspray” meets Childsplay?

World peace and local politics

My favorite arts experiences combine art as escapism with art as engagement.

Take my recent trip with Jennifer to hear Mark Johnson, creator and director of “Playing for Change,” speak about musicians coming together around the globe to promote peace through music.

It was a free event held the day “Playing for Change” performed an evening concert at the Musical Instrument Museum as part of their 2010-2011 theatre and film season.

We first heard “Playing for Change” when they performed at the Mesa Arts Center last season — and once is never enough.

As a small group of “Playing for Change” musicians performed — two vocalists, plus two on guitar and two on drums — I felt swept away from the day, yet fully in the moment.

But afterwards, my escapism shifted to engagement. Now I’m a mom in a movement. Cool.

Music is a fundamental means of self-discovery and self-expression. And a way to discover and explore the people and places all around us — both far and near.

In America, we enjoy another fundamental opportunity to express ourselves while working together for a collective good. It’s voting. And sure as we all tap our toes or hum a tune, we need to do it. The right to vote is something our fellow citizens have fought for and something we must never take for granted.

Would that all people had even a fraction of our freedoms. Sure, you’re free to stay home from the polls. But don’t assume those polls will always be there if people stop paying attention and participating.

Democracy isn’t a finished product, like a painting on the wall. It’s a piece of clay whose shape we continue to mold. It’s an art in many ways. And we’re all sculptors.

Perhaps that’s the appeal of political satire. It reminds us that democracy can be fragile, even fleeting.

Consider one of the Valley’s many Thanksgiving weekend traditions. It’s all the power, conflict, scandal and mayhem you can handle — set to your favorite tunes.

It’s “The Capitol Steps,” a Washington, D.C.-based group performing next month at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

But why celebrate mayhem or scandal? Because we can. Because we have freedom of speech, freedom of the press and more.

Because in America people of all ilks can sit side by side and enjoy songs like “Liberal Shop of Horrors” together.

I suspect “liberals” may laugh the loudest, as they’re one group of many to be musically mocked by this traveling troupe of singing political comedians.

“The Capitol Steps” performs Nov 26 & 27 — featuring works from their current repertoire of timely tidbits. There’s no telling what will be on the front burner by that point. But I’m eager to see what they’ll do with it.

— Lynn

Note: I learned while reading a recent issue of the Arizona Capitol Times that Arizona News Service will present “Rock the Capitol” Dec 8 from 4:30-6:30pm at the Wyndham Phoenix. It’s your opportunity to meet the freshmen of the Arizona state legislature. For information, contact veronica.mier@azcapitoltimes or call 602-889-7137.

Coming up: Stage Mom meets slide show — featuring photos taken by a lovely couple I met while enjoying “Playing for Change” at the MIM.

Cupcakes for peace?

Photo: Getty Images

I was in great company Saturday as I commemorated the 70th birthday of musician, artist and peace activist John Lennon at the MIM — the majestic Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

I was lucky to get there after my car died, apparently to show me who was boss as it slowed to a crawl on the freeway and I begged it to give me just one more round of 100,000 miles.

I was on the way downtown to drop Lizabeth off for a QSpeak Theatre event before heading to the MIM when my car started shifting itself into lower and lower gears.

This has become a rather unwelcome tradition for our family.

The last one to go was a white Volvo station wagon that never made it through the day long ago when I had three “stage mom” gigs — getting the kids to their annual piano recital, getting Lizabeth to something “Nutcracker” related and something else that has slipped my mind over time.

My husband James came to our rescue soon after we’d coasted to a local gas station, so I was able to get to the MIM in time for the 2:30pm performance by Tetra String Quartet playing works by John Lennon.

This gracious fellow was ever so patient as museum patrons made that all important decision -- chocolate or vanilla (Photo: The MIM)

I stopped first by the MIM Cafe, where elegant black and white cupcakes decorated with various musical symbols (what, no peace signs?) were being given out for free — and had to check a mirror soon after to assure I wasn’t making my way through the MIM with a cupcake moustache a la those lovely “Got Milk?” commercials.

The cupcakes were from the newly renovated Fry’s Marketplace at Tatum & Shea, which seems to have become a sort of museum of menu items and more in its own right. They’re especially yummy for those of us who enjoy a bit of cake with our frosting.

Soon the musical performance began, as well over 100 museum patrons looked on — sometimes humming, singing and clapping along while others the world over were similarly engaged in communal birthday celebrations for the legendary John Lennon.

Everywhere I turned there was an homage to Lennon. Greeters at the ticket counter donned eyeglasses with round rose- or blue-colored lenses. Middle age music lovers sported endless variations of Lennon t-shirts. I even ran into a young couple who told me of another museum guest whose arm is tatooted with Lennon’s self-portrait.

I never found the man with the inked homage, but I did locate the exhibit featuring the upright Steinway Lennon used to compose “Imagine” — and something called the “Peace Piano” nearby.

Displayed on the wall were guitars from various artists including Eric Clapton and Paul Simon. The MIM is a vast treasure trove of instruments from around the world — but you feel after seeing just this one space, dubbed the “Artist Gallery,” that you’ve died and gone to music nutopia.

The Tetra String Quartet performed for MIM patrons

Just next door on the first of two floors there’s a room where you can try your hand at all kinds of instruments from around the globe — drums, stringed-instruments, a giant gong and more. Kids find the “Experience Gallery” in a heartbeat and know instinctively what they need to do: Play!

At the other end of the first floor, there’s an open performance space for “museum encounters” featuring diverse musical styles, plus a gift shop full of things you just won’t find elsewhere — exquisite jewelry (much of it with tasteful musical themes), CDs and books featuring the music and people of dozens of countries and nations, and percussion pieces as essential as books to developing young imaginations.

I came home with black “MIM” guitar picks, bookmarks and postcards (including one depicting “Strawberry Fields” in NYC’s Central Park). I’m also the proud new owner of a children’s book titled “M is for Music” (written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Stacy Innerst).

The book opens with music-related quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche, Charlie Parker, Helen Keller and Frank Zappa. “B” is for Beatles. “K” is for Klezmer. “M” is for music, music teachers, mistakes and Mozart. And “W” is for whistling. What’s not to love?

My other favorite finds of the day included the books “Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo” and “Opera Cat” — plus a long list of CDs featuring everything from Persian classical music and traditional Navajo songs to Sufi music for whirling meditation and live performance by “Playing for Change.”

Jennifer and I first heard “Playing for Change” perform at the Mesa Arts Center, and hope to see them again when they perform at the MIM on Oct 26. While at the MIM on Saturday, I picked up the brochure for their 2010-2011 Concert & Film Season.

Upcoming performers include Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre, Harlem Gospel Choir, ASU African Drum Ensemble, Young Sounds of Arizona and many more. I’ll profile the MIM’s film line-up in a future post.

One of many snappy dressers who embraced the spirit of the day (Photo: The MIM)

Before leaving the museum on Saturday, I headed to the MIM Music Theater — where a self-playing piano sat center stage, bathed in multic-color lights, playing Lennon’s music for those who’d made the musical pilgrimage that day.

One floor above sat a baby grand piano with an empty bench, available for anyone to play. A nearby sign beckoned folks to play their own variations of “Imagine.” No one heeded the invitation while I was there, but I suspect they were simply mindful of not getting all that cupcake icing on those glistening ivories.

Somehow I don’t think Lennon would mind.


Note: Click here to learn about an upcoming ASU event featuring Bill DeWalt, director and president of the MIM (which I learned about from my husband James).

Coming up: “Fences” and family foibles, Mesa meets Denmark?

Fun with “forsooth”—and other Shakespearean shenanigans

I learned long ago that wagging my finger has little effect when I want my children to know I disapprove of something they’ve done. For our family, at least, humor seems so much more effective than hand gestures. Hence my use of the expression “Forsooth!”

My son hears it when he asks me for yet another serving at supper. My daughter hears it when she decides television might be more exciting than homework. My husband never hears it because, come to think of it, he’s pretty much always on his best behavior.

I’ve twisted the meaning a bit, I’ll bet. I use it to mean something akin to “how shocking.” My limited study of Shakespeare, which consists of arm crunches with Lizabeth’s “complete works” volume and a tad bit of time with professor Google, tells me it means something closer to “how true” or “indeed.” But I don’t guess there’s much Shakespeare can do about that now.

I might be better off using one of my favorite Broadway lines: “Shocking, shocking, shocking!” I roared with laughter the first time I heard it—I think it was during a production at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale—but I’ll be darned if I can remember which show. It appears I’d rather mangle Shakespeare than use a source without proper attribution. Occupational hazard, I suppose.

Fortunately, the Valley is full of people who know a great deal more about Shakespeare than do I. One of them is Robyn McBurney, a theatre arts major at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, who also has a soft spot for humor. In her own words: “I love the classical texts. I adore more subtle humor and, I don’t know, I think some people associate Shakespeare with slapstick-like comedy, but all of his plays are full of little tiny double entendres and puns.”

I dare say that Lizabeth didn’t feel anything of the sort the first time she saw a Shakespeare work performed. She was in elementary school and I had grand visions of a trip to see Shakespeare performed in Sedona. We made the trip, but Lizabeth was less than impressed. The play was recast in a relatively modern-day setting, and I suspect she was expecting something more extravagent. Remember, this is the child who begged me to take her to see the opera Rigoletto at about that same time.

She’s always been a gracious kid. So I didn’t know until just the other day how she really felt about that performance. Here’s what Lizabeth told a fellow cast member from Oliver!: “I hated it!” Thankfully Shakespeare outfoxed me on this one. After seeing Ballet Arizona perform Romeo and Juliet, taking “Shakespeare Collision” workshops with Childsplay and studying Shakespeare in both arts and academic classes at ASA, she’s grown quite fond of him.

Isn’t it nice to know that our kids bounce back even when we blow it? Last year Lizabeth enjoyed attending the Utah Shakespeare Festival with fellow theatre arts students, accompanied by the incomparable (forsooth!) Maren Mascarelli, actress and theatre arts teacher extraordinaire. (You might think I’m biased here, but McBurney shares my opinion, so I’m quite certain it is entirely objective and true.)

Lizabeth missed the trip this year, but celebrated the return of her classmates when she learned several of them had placed well in the festival’s student competition. McBurney was among those who made ASA proud (again). But why on earth would a bunch of high school students take a shine to Shakespeare?

McBurney says it best: “Almost all of Shakespeare’s works look at the human creature, their loves and losses and revenge and happiness.” And frankly (my opinion here), who’s more human than a high school student? (Relax, young readers—it’s a compliment!) I hope to share more of McBurney’s reflections, and those of other Shakespeare fans, in future blogs. But seeing Shakespeare performed may be the only real way to do him justice.

You’ll have a chance this week because the Southwest Shakespeare Company is presenting “The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)” through December 19th.

I don’t know everyone in the cast, but the folks I do know are rip-roaring funny. I mean rolling in the aisles, chuckling like a warthog funny. And there’s no reason to believe they’d settle for acting with anyone who didn’t share these credentials.

Performances take place at the Mesa Arts Center, a lovely-sized and beautifully-appointed venue that may indeed have aisles big enough to roll around in. (Of course, they may charge extra for that.)

The last time I saw a show there, the audience was as magnificent as the musicians on stage. This is important, given that theater is a communal experience.

I can’t tell you whether or not to take your kids. I haven’t seen this production, and I clearly missed the mark last time I tried to predict which Shakespeare play my own daughter might enjoy.

The company notes that “this show contains mature language and situations.” They also note that the production sold out the last time they did it, so you’d be wise to get tickets sooner rather than later if this appeals to your senses.

Let me know what you think, and whether anything fun like “forsooth” creeps into your vocabulary after you’ve seen it.

And to all you fellow aisle-rollers: Be careful out there…


Coming soon: The art at the heart of Cardon Children’s Medical Center

Playing for Change with Lynn & Jenn…

I celebrated my birthday last night with my 18-year-old daughter Jennifer (a name James and I chose for our first girl before we’d even made the leap from engaged to married). “We did good,” I told her on the way home. I’d waited patiently while she dawdled in getting out the door. She’d controlled her urge to scoop up a little black cat that crossed our path as we drove home from the Mesa Arts Center.

We’d gone to see a concert by Playing for Change, a self-described “multimedia movement created to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music.” Our last concert together was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale. Because I’m just this side of rabid when it comes to Springsteen, other music sometimes has a hard time measuring up.

But I was pleasantly surprised. The audience was as diverse—from school age to retirement age—but there was at least one important difference. No one at the Playing for Change concert made a beer or bathroom run when confronted with a song they didn’t recognize. If you can judge musicians by the company they keep, Playing for Change is in good stead.

We sat next to a lovely gentleman, there with his wife and out-of-town guests. He shared that he was 75 or so, a military veteran and a self-taught guitar player. He loves YouTube, he told me, because he can watch something while starting and stopping it whenever he needs to. So much for the stereotype that no one over age 30 knows the fine art of YouTubing (for those of you who are new to this blog, welcome to my inventive spelling). And thanks to Jennifer, he now knows about Hulu too.

We chatted a bit before the concert started. He was impressed with the venue and the surrounding architecture, as was I. Very modern. Lots of glass, stone and metal. Clean lines and wide open outdoor spaces perfect for après-performance strolling. The Ikeda Theater itself reminded me of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like the bed and bowl she chose—the space was neither too large nor too small. It was just right. Intimate but spacious. Lots of warm wood tones and great acoustics. (And seats so comfy I wanted to take one home with me to install in my teen taxi!)

It reminded me of seeing Springsteen at ASU Gammage many years ago during the Ghost of Tom Joad tour. Arena shows are amazing, but smaller venues leave you feeling more connected with the artists and fellow audience members. I felt proud as I watched the crowd swaying and stomping their feet to Playing for Change within such a welcoming venue. Proud of the Valley. Proud of our people. Proud of my daughter, who never hesitates to support a good cause and get others involved alongside her.

I did have second thoughts at one point in the evening. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told my children about lingering at the band’s bus after a Doobie Brothers concert somewhere in California (I moved around so often, I really couldn’t tell you which city). As we passed the Playing for Change buses on the way from the parking structure to the concert hall, Jenn said something about wanting to wait at the bus after the concert to meet the band. This has infinitely less appeal when you are having a 40-something birthday rather than a teen-something one.

Happily, we were able to meet several band members under more civilized circumstances. I enjoyed telling Clarence Bekker, a lead singer and dancer extraordinaire with the band, that Jennifer seemed to find him exponentially more exciting than E Street sax player Clarence Clemons. It’s blasphemy, I know. But sometimes our children don’t follow our religion. Band members were gracious and I was grateful. No loitering bus side for me after all.

When we got home (sans feline), I pulled out an old basket full of musical instruments we’ve collected over the years. A recorder. A harmonica. Sand blocks. A triangle. Small variations of drums we’d fallen in love with several years ago during a museum trip in NYC. We’ve collected African instruments, Asian instruments, Australian instruments. Many came from a music teacher and friend who sold instruments from around the world.

The music basket—like our many book baskets—was always at the ready when our children (now 16, 18 and 20) were younger. It made for great solitary play, but was equally fun to share with friends (many of whom flocked to it because they didn’t have anything like it at their house). For whatever reason, we never met a musical instrument we didn’t like (well, there was that one close encounter with a bassoon). We had keyboards and guitars–plus a saxophone, flute, violin, piano and more–the way other people have electronic gizmos.

I’m grateful for the bounty of that basket, for music continues to be a bond holding our family and friends together. I’ll share more about that—and about Playing for Change—in future blogs.


Note: Looks like the Doobie Brothers are performing on New Year’s Eve at Tempe Town Lake

Did you know? The Musical Instrument Museum, dubbed the “world’s first global musical instrument museum,” will open in Arizona on April 4, 2010. Visit their website to learn about the museum and ways you can get involved.

Update: Eager to hear African drumming close to home? Check out the ASU African Drum Ensemble December 6, 2009 from 7:30-9pm at Katzin Concert Hall (ASU Music Bldg., Room 222, on Cady Mall).

Blogging, bathrooms and bad manners…

Is it possible that there’s such a thing as too much happiness?

I had to wonder when I showed up at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts last night expecting to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company, only to learn they are performing next Wednesday and Thursday night. Could it be that my performing arts plate is a tad too full?

Dance one night, music the next, and theater after that. I’m a glass half full (or more than half full) kind of a gal. So I choose to think of this as a welcome chance to give you a week’s notice that these exquisite dancers are coming to town. My “oops” can be your opportunity. Tonight I have tickets for Playing for Change at Mesa Arts Center. So if you run into me at Starbucks, be gracious and diplomatically point me east.

I’m still adjusting to the fast-paced nightlife of my new gig. My evenings used to be punctuated by lesser moments.

Take last night, for example. I found myself marveling at a remodeled bathroom. I headed to the ladies’ room at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale as I waited for Lizabeth to wrap an Oliver rehearsal. (The windows are still covered with adorable crayon-colored shoes from the Cookie Company run of Cinderella Confidential!)

You don’t have to hit a new show every night to know about Valley bathrooms and the performing arts scene. I’ve powdered my nose in closets, in basements, in pretty-darn-close-to-alleyways and more. Some of you might be thinking: That explains a lot. Be nice.

I’ve heard men whine about a line I can count with one hand (unlike the ladies room line, which requires a calculator). I’ve seen pregnant women barter for a better place in line (been there, done that). And I’ve seen some other things that I’d just as soon not share.

But last night I felt like Aida and Elle Woods all wrapped into one. Subtle grey tones. Elegant tile. Soap dispensers that rival my best lighting at home. I was in the new and improved Stagebrush Theatre, which is undergoing all kinds of improvements. Finally someone had the good sense to start with the ladies room. Other improvements—even tasteful landscaping—are on their way.

No matter. I will be fixated inside the ladies room by lighting that makes me look less than a century old. (If you’ve seen my Gammage Goer picture on the ASU Gammage website, you know just how priceless that kind of lighting can be.)

It occurred to us as we drove home that a blog devoted entirely to bathrooms might be too much. But what to blog about instead? Lizabeth suggested theater etiquette or, to be more exact, bad manners. So let’s riff with that. And please chime in below with a comment if you have a particular horror story (or a beautiful bathroom find) to share.

Lest you think I’m a real meanie for suggesting people leave their audible jewelry (oh trust me, we’ve heard some doozies) and Frito Lays at home, we’ll share these thoughts with a bit of whimsy ala some of our favorite shows. (I know, more made up spelling—but it’s my birthday, so let me have a bit of fun here. Plus, I don’t spell check on holidays.)

Les Miserables: Fond as we are of Les Mis, we don’t want to “hear the people sing” as your cellular phone ringtone.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Let younger audience members know ahead of time that Joseph is the one in the coat. (If you have to whisper who is doing what during the show, you didn’t do your homework.)

A Chorus Line: Love those kicks (I could do them 30 birthdays ago), but we’re less enamored with kicks that nail the back of our theater seats. (This is where Chyro Arts Venue, with their suave sofa seating, has a distinct advantage.)

Rent:  Mark does all the filming for this one. I prefer his work to patrons furiously photographing or filming with devices like Flickr. Yes—the rest of us can see you and your bright shiny objects.

The Lion King: These performers know how to make a grand entrance. But unless you have a massive wing span or walk on gigantic stilts, your fellow patrons would prefer you take your seat before the curtain opens.

South Pacific: Enchanted evenings rarely start with high-fashion flip flops.  Unless you’ve just come from trying to wash a man right out of your hair, leave the island footwear at home.

Spring Awakening. If we wanted to watch young lovers neck, we’d sit front and center for the swing scene. When we’re at other shows, we can live without all that audience-member participation.

I’ll give it a rest now, since I have a full day of blogging business ahead of me. (I reserve the right to add more tips and quips as the day unfolds.) I’ll be writing a review of the Disney movie A Christmas Carol, which Christopher tagged along to see with me at Harkins Shea 14 yesterday (and adding some tips for where to see live versions of the Christmas classic this holiday season). I’ll be brushing up on my modern dance FAQs to prepare for next week’s review of the Paul Taylor Dance Company (and compiling a list of local modern dance resources to share with you as well).

I’ll also be doing a couple of interviews—one with a cast member from Little House on the Prairie, which is coming to ASU Gammage in early December as part of the Broadway Across America-Arizona series, and another with Bobb Cooper, producing artistic director for Valley Youth Theatre. Stay tuned for future blogs featuring tips for young performers from these and other pros.

I’m off to Starbucks to ponder which beans would best bolster the flavor of my birthday cake.


Note: If you happen upon my husband today, point him in the direction of Essence Bakery (near Childsplay’s Campus of Imagination and Wonder) or Arcadia Farms (near Stagebrush Theatre). Their desserts are to die for.