Tag Archives: Robert Kolby Harper

Reds versus blues

Rebecca Duckworth, Drew Ignatowksi, Cody Dull and Laurie Trygg in Peacemaker with Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company

For grown-ups the “red vs. blue” thing conjures images of partisan politics. Or assumptions about huge swaths of Americans living in various states. California is blue. Texas is red. Purple is becoming harder and harder to come by.

But not so for the colorful clown-like folk who populate the land of Reds and Blues in a play called “Peacemaker” that’s being performed through Feb. 26 by Phoenix Theatre’s Cookie Company. It’s directed by Robert Kolby Harper, who knows a thing or two about juggling.

Seems there’s a land where reds and blues once lived peacefully together — albeit one to the north and another to the south. The bridge connecting them held room for just a single person to cross at one time, which wasn’t a problem until a pair who met in the middle each refused to yield.

This portion of “Peacemaker” is told by a lone character who’s lamenting her lack of juggling skills, and acted out by puppets — helping to make this work, best for preschool-K audiences, a perfect transition from puppet theater to works featuring on-stage actors.

After a battle of relatively tame proportions, the two sides decide the only way to stop the fighting is to assure the Reds and Blues never see each other. They build a wall, hire guards and hope for the best.

Until red juggling balls get thrown over the wall to the blue side, and children from warring factions begin a playful exchange that leads them to tear down a portion of the wall.

Cookie Company presents Peacemaker, a tale of children tearing down walls, through Feb. 26

A little Red girl wants to improve her juggling, while a little Blue boy wants to learn how to dance. Turns out each needs the other to get what they want. No cooperation and they all leave empty handed.

I’d have been tempted to write a bit more political parody into this piece, but it’s best I think that it’s a straight telling of a children’s story — meant to promote acceptance, empathy and friendship rather than satisfy the sarcastic tendencies of parents turned pundits.

“Peacemaker” is a very simple, straight-forward bit of storytelling that leaves the ending open so children can imagine how the world might be different once the Reds and Blues learn that neither has plans to actually eat the other.

Costumes for the Peacemaker are wonderfully whimsical, as are various sound elements that range from beatbox-style music to shoes that squish loudly as the Red guard storms across the stage befuddled that folks aren’t following the rules.

“Peacemaker” comes in under 45 minutes, so folks who go have plenty of time for exploring nearby attractions. Cookie Company performs at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale, which is near the Scottsdale Waterfront, Old Town Scottsdale, the Civic Center Public Library and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Children who attend get a free cookie with milk. Your kids might leave the show feeling inspired to bake cookies with red and blue candies, create their own puppets with fabric and craft sticks, or give juggling a try. The best theater lives on long after the show comes to a close.

— Lynn

Note: Mark your calendars for the final production of Cookie Company’s 2011-2012 season — they’ll perform “Charlotte’s Web” April 14-29 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale. “Gypsy”opens at Phoenix Theatre, near downtown Phoenix, on March 7.

Coming up: A betrayal tale

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Pig tales

Someone forgot to tell Fatilda to wear her birthday party attire

This little piggy was born on Sept. 21, so it’ll be a while before she enjoys a birthday party of her own. But she made an appearance — along with two older, plumper friends — between two performances of “If You Give a Pig a Party” in Scottsdale today.

These sisters, who attended the show with their grandmother, were patient and persistent as they worked to throw hula hoops over a mop and broom

“If You Give a Pig a Party,” based on a series of books written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond, is being performed by Phoenix Theatre’s Cookie Company through Nov. 27 at Greasepaint Youtheatre.

Lots of parents and children, including the mother and son pictured here, enjoyed taking photos with this pig cut-out and several wooden crates covered in hay

I started enjoying Cookie Company performances with my children when they were very young, and one of their favorite traditions still stands. After every Cookie Company performance, guests enjoy a chocolate chip cookie and a small carton of milk — and cast members come out in costume to meet and greet young fans.

A pair of sisters attended the show with their very own dressed-up pig

Often the fun actually begins before the performance, with pre-show activities. Today Phoenix Theatre presented several child-size carnival style games, set up a piggy photo-opp area and provided art supplies for those eager to pen a piggy picture or poem. A lively storyteller read to kids in the audience before the show, which runs just 45 minutes or so, got underway.

Lots of children enjoyed playing this carnival-style word game

“If You Give a Pig a Party” was adapted for the stage by Nancy Schaeffer. It features music and lyrics by B. Wolf, and was originally commissioned by Dallas Children’s Theatre. The Cookie Company production is directed by Robert Kolby Harper and recommended for grades K-3.

A mother and daughter enjoying some time with baby Fatilda and cast member Kate Haas

It’s a colorful, fast-paced musical with a charming theme — the best part of a birthday party is friends. The cast includes Rebecca Duckworth (Girl), Kate Haas (Pig), Krystal Pope (Moose), Isaac Wesley Wilson (Dog), Kate Kugler (Cat) and Devon Nickel (Mouse).

These girls enjoyed lobby activities like drawing and word games before the show

I love the set design by Robert Andrew Kovach, which features a center screen that’s often used for shadow work and two large side pieces with panels that flip like the pages of a book. They make transitions through various settings — an amusement park, an outdoor play area and various rooms inside a home — seamless.

Several children enjoyed easel time before taking their seats in the theater

For kids old enough to notice such things, it would be a fun technique to replicate at home on a smaller scale. A slumber party scene featuring tents made of blankets and one giant, colorful quilt should inspire plenty of homemade forts built with sheets thrown over dining room tables. 

Kate Kugler (Cat) enjoys baby Fatilda with two young fans after the show

The best children’s theater inspires imagination while reinforcing those things we all value for our children — manners, safety, cooperation and sharing. “If You Give a Pig a Party” does just that. When regular bike helmets don’t fit Moose and Snake, Girl makes sure no one rides until they get just what they need. Chores are done cheerfully. Words like “please” and “thank you” are plentiful.

A girl pig named Charlie meets one of her young fans after the show

I enjoyed the costume design by Carl S. Smith. Pig opens the show in a fabulously full tutu with fuzzy textured leg warmers. Come pajama time, Moose dons a funky pair of moose slippers.

One of many families who attended the show together

Properties designer Katie McNamara rocked the giant pancakes, cookie, muffin and more — even giving me a heads up on ideas for next Halloween. Who knew pink sprinkle donuts made such fetching headgear?

— Lynn

Note: A limited number of discount tickets for the Nov. 13 performances of “If You Give a Pig a Party” may still be available through showup.com. The three little piggies won’t be there, but you can still enjoy all the pre-show activities and time after the show with cast members rocking their “Party” clothes.

Coming up: Movie reviews — “Stage Mom” style

“Next Fall” with Actors Theatre

The cast of Next Fall being performed by Actors Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center

While audience members are busy enjoying early offerings in various 2011/12 theater lineups, folks behind the scenes are already well into planning for next fall — when the 2012/13 season will get underway. They’re considering what’s sold tickets in the past and what might sell them in the future, thinking about what’s been overdone and what sounds surprisingly fresh, wondering whether the economy will be crawling or really chugging along.

But for one Valley theater company, Actors Theatre of Phoenix, it’ll take all the support they can muster just to make it through this fall. Before a recent performance of their current offering, a Goeffrey Nauffts’ play titled “Next Fall,” Erica Black briefly shared a bit about their financial woes — which are significant — and invited theater goers to give in a show of “grassroots support.”

To date, they’ve reached well over half the dollars needed to carry them through this production and the next — another edgy work, titled “Hunter Gatherers.” But making it to next fall, and beyond, will take gifts of a much larger magnitude. In total, Actors Theatre of Phoenix needs a half million dollars to survive through this season — and we all want them to make it.

After last Sunday’s standing ovation for the cast of “Next Fall,” one of six cast members shared his own fervent hope that the community will come together in support of Actors Theatre. It was Robert Kolby Harper, who performs the role of Adam. Harper is associate artistic director for Phoenix Theatre and artistic director for its Cookie Company.

L to R: Robert Kolby Harper (Adam) and David Dickinson (Brandon) in Next Fall

Harper likened the Arizona theater scene to a family, reminding us all that no one wants to lose a family member. Harper’s character in “Next Fall” worries he’ll lose boyfriend Luke (played by Chance Dean), who lies near death in a hospital bed Adam never sees because he isn’t “family.” The play alternates between scenes in a hospital waiting room and scenes in the couple’s New York City apartment, where a giant Mapplethorpe we see only briefly hangs over the bed.

“Next Fall” opens with the beeping sound of a heart monitor, but comedic elements quickly outpace the tragic as Debra K. Stevens, known to younger theater-goers for her work with Childsplay, launches into some serious Southern dialect with comments about thighs rubbing together and bagels being “one of those Jewish things.”

My favorite scenes involved flashbacks to pre-hospital days, with atheist Adam and Christian Luke bantering back and forth about their disparate beliefs. The seriousness of the dilemma — what to do when you worry a loved one will go to hell — is portayed with honesty, elegance and humor. The issue is a very real one in many families, and the playwright does it justice without resorting to platitudes.

Works this original covering topics too often tucked under the table (or shoved in a closet) are rare. Theater companies who dare to present them rarer still. That they perform them with such beauty and brilliance makes the thought of losing Actors Theatre all the more devastating. You’ll see for yourself, when you witness “Next Fall,” just how vital it is that we all step up to assure that Arizona audiences can experience works like these for many fall seasons to come.

— Lynn

Note: “Next Fall,” which is directed by Matthew Wiener, is currently scheduled to run through Nov. 13. Click here to learn more about the show or how you can support Actors Theatre. As of yesterday afternoon, they’d raised more than $45,000 of the $70,000 needed for the first phase of their three-part fundraising campaign.

Coming up: A “Star Trek” tale, Performance art meets native culture

Photos by John Groseclose. Top photo features (L to R): Debra K. Stevens (Arlene), David Dickinson (Brandon), David Vining (Butch), Chance Dean (Luke), Andi Watson (Holly) and Robert Kolby Harper (Adam).

Update: Actors Theatre announced on 11/14 that it has reached the first of its three fundrasiing goals.

Storytelling takes flight

Alyson Marie Maloney soars as Emily Book in Stray Cat Theatre's production of The Sparrow (Photo: John Groseclose)

Storytelling took flight Friday night as Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe opened its 10th season with “The Sparrow,” a work conceived by Nathan Allen and co-written with Chris Mathews and Jake Minton.

It’s directed by Stray Cat Theatre’s founding artistic director Ron May, recently honored with an Arizoni Award for directing last season’s “Learn to be Latina.” He opened the evening by previewing the rest of this season’s shows — “Milk, Milk Lemonade” by Joshua Conkel, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” by Stephen Adly Guirgis and “Heddatron” by Elizabeth Meriwether.

That last one promises a mix of housewife, playwright and robots. May has perfected the fine art of selecting a season — and casting the right people for each role. “The Sparrow” features Alyson Marie Mahoney as Emily Book, the sole survivor of a school bus that somehow collides with a train.

In a day and age of lavish, big budget productions that expect little of their viewers, Stray Cat Theatre knows that less can be more. Robert Kolby Harper, associate artistic director with Phoenix Theatre, praises May’s “minimalist” approach to “The Sparrow” — noting its elegance as an homage to imagination.

Rather than elaborate sets with frequent changes that can distract audience members from the heart of a story, May pumps life into “The Sparrow” with a simple dollhouse, tall red rectangles signifying student lockers and a bevy of chairs — plus a little something we all remember from high school biology but never expected to see doing the disco.

Damon Dering, artistic director for Nearly Naked Theatre in Phoenix, notes that May’s production has a “real Chicago feel.” The play originated at The House Theatre in Chicago, and May’s own Chicago roots have clearly taken flight at the little Tempe theater where he’s feathering the nest with a “$10 for 10th” campaign that’ll help future seasons soar.

This production’s Chicago connections include Andréa Morales, who portrays high school uberachiever Jenny. Morales performed for several years with Childsplay in Tempe before heading to the Windy City, where she’s a company member with Halcyon Theatre and artistic associate with Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

The cast of Stray Cat Theatre's The Sparrow gives a stirring ensemble performance (Photo: John Groseclose)

I hit opening night for “The Sparrow” with my daughter Jennifer, an ASU student who usually ranks attending live theater productions right up there with cleaning out the litter box. But she was eager to see “The Sparrow” after learning that the cast includes a couple of actors she knows from ASU and Arizona School for the Arts.

I spoke with one of them, Joshua Sherrill, after the show. He practically waxed poetic about the show’s deeper meaning. We all experience pain, he told me, but it’s how we come through it that defines who we are. In “The Sparrow,” it’s parents who are grieving.

The parents’ pain, and the grief of a community losing its innocence, are signaled by actors carrying framed photos of children and pastoral rural scenes. No need to wheel trees and plains in and out of view. We get it from the moment the show first spreads its wings — thanks in part to simple but dramatic lighting and music, mostly strings, that mix sweet melodies with sad, somber sounds.

Much of “The Sparrow” centers around small town high school life. Think cheerleaders and football fervor. Wrist corsages and awkward prom moments. Teacher crushes and overhead projectors. The latter makes for nifty shadow effects on a screen also used to show footage of the school bus crash at the heart of the play. The film clips are especially compelling when mixed with sound effects signaling trains careening down the tracks.

You'll have to decide whether Emily Book's strange powers are really beyond her control (Pictured: Alyson Marie Maloney, Photo: John Groseclose)

“The Sparrow” is perfectly enjoyable as a story free from existential elaboration. Theater goers who prefer to let trains be trains will be satiated by this show. But those seeking deeper symbolism can find it in a speeding train that could be the powerful imaginings of a young child or the repressed feelings of a teacher at once tender and treacherous.

It’s the collision of love and loss that gives “The Sparrow” its poignancy and power. The naysayers of a decade ago who told Ron May that starting Stray Cat Theatre could lead to a train wreck were right. But little did they know just how high it would soar.

— Lynn

Note: “The Sparrow” is best for mature teen and adult audiences. To learn more about the show, which runs through Oct 8, visit www.straycattheatre.org. I’m told the fabulous cookies enjoyed by folks who lingered after the show for a 10th season celebration came from Angelica Howland, proprietor of Scrumptious Angel cookies. I’ll update this post with her website once it’s up and running. Baking first, technology second. I like her style. Hooray! You can now click here to find the cookie website!

Coming up: Show me your Sondheim!, Mystery takes center stage

Ode to the Arizoni Awards

The Homestead Playhouse gang gathers after the 2011 Arizoni Awards youth ceremony (Photo by David Martinez)

While others sat glued to “Dancing with the Stars,” I enjoyed a festive evening with Arizona “theater folk” — attending Monday night’s Arizoni Awards at Tempe Center for the Arts. It’s actually two ceremonies, one for youth and another for adults.

This allows younger actors to finish homework and make their bedtimes. It also lets the hosts turn loose a little bit with off-color humor and language during the second half of the evening.

The 21st annual Arizoni Awards — formally known at the Arizoni Theatre Awards of Excellence — featured “dream hosts” Yolanda London, Robert Kolby Harper and Kurtis Overby. All looked fetching in their white sequin gowns and mostly-blue evening attire (Overby, sporting a red tie, didn’t get that memo.)

A few fashion trends of note: purple shirts for the gentlemen and long blue gowns for the ladies. My “best dressed” picks include Eric Chapman, president of the executive board for the Arizoni Awards, who rocked a black and white jacket with a jumbo check pattern and red lining.

Also Rebecca Hammer, one of four presenter assistants for the youth ceremony, who wasn’t afraid to share with me in the lobby that her royal blue gown with tasteful silver trim at the waist was a “My Michelle” from JC Penney.

Two shoe trends of note — flip flips and gladiator sandles. I’m not sure which is worse. Footwear that looks like a glittering granola bar or shoes that appear they could easily double as a weapon. (This from a woman who thinks black Fossil flats qualify as evening wear.)

The youth ceremony included performances by Greasepaint Youtheatre (“Bare Necessities” from “Disney’s The Jungle Book”), DFT Gecko Teatro (“Biggest Blame Fool” from “Seussical, Jr.”) and Actor’s Youth Theatre (“One Day More” from “Les Miserables School Edition”). Think lots of animal print and red, white and blue.

A gathering of Actor's Youth Theatre after the Arizoni Awards youth ceremony

It’s impossible, it seems, to curb excessive displays of enthusiasm during such ceremonies — but many of the grown-ups I chatted with were genuinely concerned it might takes days to regain full use of their throbbing eardrums. Maybe we should all try a little harder to emulate the calm of the Tony Awards we all hope to see our children participate in one day.

Director Chanel Branham (in blue) with Arizoni Award nominees Cambrian James (L), Andrea Martinez and David Vigari (R) (Photo by David Martinez)

Director Chanel Branham (in blue) with Arizoni Award nominees Cambrian James (L), Andrea Martinez and David Vigari (R) (Photo by David Martinez)

Results of the 2011 Arizoni Awards should be posted online once folks recover from the after-party, which landed a corporate sponsor for the first time this year. Thanks to the Arizona Ford Dealers Association — and a wag of the finger to those of you still driving Chevys to auditions and rehearsals.

If you followed the Arizoni Awards on Twitter last night, you’ve already got the scoop on big winners — which included Childsplay’s “The Borrowers.” Audience members seemed especially delighted when young actress Sara Matin was honored for her portrayal of Helen Keller in Desert Stages Theatre’s production of “The Miracle Worker.”

Alaina Beauloye, Jimmy Shoffman and the cast of Desert Stages’ “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” performed “Love is My Legs” during the adult ceremony. And Fountain Hills Community Theater performed “Along Came Bialy” from “The Producers” — complete with well-endowed grannies rocking tap-dancing walkers.

But the most applause went to Dion Johnson and D. Scott Withers, who performed “Timeless to Me” from the Phoenix Theatre production of “Hairspray” that resulted in awards for both Withers and Phoenix Theatre. Withers, who somehow made time to serve as director for this year’s Arizoni Awards, was teary- eyed as he accepted the award. Waterproof mascara is such a blessing.

Alex Slocum, Camille Gibbons, Jason Washburn, Brenda Goodenberger, Jennell Angel, Sydnie Greger and Victoria Fricker at the Arizoni Awards

Folks who offered thank yous chose the usual suspects — parents, children, fellow theater folk and volunteers. One thanked the ‘moms and dads set construction union,’ another the siblings ‘who never get jealous,’ and another the make-up artist who bestowed a full head of hair. Two thanked God for their ‘amazing talent.’ (God knows it’s there, no need to share.)

Four students received Arizoni Award scholarships during the youth ceremony — all ASU students, one in a doctoral program. The Virginia G. Piper Trust was honored during the adult cermony for its ongoing and outstanding support of Arizona arts and culture.

Chuck Disney, Linda Ferington, Patrick Moyse, Alexander Blilie and Ross Collins of Fountain Hills Community Theater (Photo by Patty Torrilhon)

Before leaving for the evening, I handed my business card to several folks gathered for impromptu picture-taking. I’ll update this post as their handiwork rolls in (and more gems from the ceremonies come to mind).

Congratulations to every Arizoni Award nominee and winner. You make it fun to sit atop the fifth wall.

— Lynn

Note: Visit the Arizoni Awards online at www.arizoniawards.com. If you have photos of last night’s ceremony to share, feel free to send them my way at rakstagemom@gmail.com. A selection will be featured in an updated version of this post.

Coming up: Conversations with Arizoni Award winners, Shopping takes center stage, Musical instrument photo opp, For the love of Lilly!

Review: “Oedipus for Kids!”

“Oedipus for Kids!” is one of 30 musicals in this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, but you don’t have to fly across the country to enjoy it. The Valley’s own Nearly Naked Theatre is presenting the work through Sept 10 at  The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre.

Before you go, a few things you should know. It’s adult material not suitable for children. And it’s full of all the things you’d expect in a tale of Oedipus Rex — except the gore. There’s no blood during the eye scene — just curious squirts from a pair of cleverly concealed creamer containers — although a final scene does get messy when a character takes a baklava knife in the back.

I attended the Aug 21 performance with my daughter Lizabeth, part of her informal “farewell tour” before leaving for college theater studies in NYC.  I felt torn, knowing I’d have to miss the National Youth Theatre Awards at the Herberger Theater Center that night.

“Oedipus for Kids!” is directed by Toby Yatso, one of Lizabeth’s teachers for many years at Arizona School for the Arts, and Sunday was her only real opportunity to say “thanks” and share a bit of goodbye banter. It just didn’t feel right to miss this bit of his work after all he’s meant to my daughter.

Sunday’s audience included several older teens, including ASA theater major Nicole Speth, who seemed disappointed that others weren’t catching the show’s many references to Greek mythology. Speth was delighted about putting all those studies of Greek mythology during sophomore year to good use.

Don’t send your teens if you’re convinced they’ve never experienced foul language akin to the title of a Broadway show starring Chris Rock that closed just last month. “Oedipus for Kids!” is anything but politically correct when it comes to topics like suicide and disabilities. It’s the spoofs of political correctness, Greek weddings, children’s entertainment and actors who take themselves too seriously that make this show such a killer comedy.

Still, “Oedipus for Kids!” is tame by some Nearly Naked standards. Yatso describes it as pretty typical fare in terms of content, but notes that unlike other works from this theater company, there’s no nudity. Only underwear. And simulated sex behind a rack of costumes. That’s a relief.

I’m a big admirer of Nearly Naked’s work (and that of founding artistic director Damon Dering), though I don’t really have what it takes to hit every show. In quaint parlance, I suppose I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to artistry meeting anatomy. “Oedipus for Kids!” is perfect for those of us ready to dip only our big toe into the water.

Folks who relish the risque know that this is where to find it. Still, I expect to see more Nearly Naked shows than usual this season because their five-show line-up includes a tantalizing take on “Romeo and Juliet” and the local premiere of “Spring Awakening” (a joint venture with Phoenix Theatre featuring direction by Damon and Phoenix Theatre’s Robert Kolby Harper).

“Oedipus for Kids!” features book by Gil Varod and Kimberly Patterson, lyrics by Gil Varod and music by Robert J. Saferstein (who also provides additional material). It’s published by Samuel French, which offers a summary of the work — a play within a play — on its website.

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times describes “Oedipus for Kids!” as “a spoof of children’s theater, with some truly funny songs and endearlingly loopy performances from a cast of just three.” The three are members of a fictional theater troupe specializing in performing the classics for children.

After success with the likes of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Fuzzy Duck Theatre Company decides to tackle “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles. Seems two troupe members are in the middle of a nasty divorce, and the third is an actor with “questionable methods.”

Samuel French notes that “off-stage disagreements between the cast members spill onstage.” Think “Noises Off!” with less booze and more blood. Their description also mentions “flesh wounds” and “fornication” — making it clear that this is an adults-only piece.

I’m told that the show’s two writers contacted Nearly Naked after learning they’d be mounting “Oedipus for Kids!” — offering to share updates to the work. Apparently this is the first full-scale production to feature those updates, and Varod and Patterson will attend the final Friday performance to see the result (and stay for a talkback with audience members).

The cast of Nearly Naked’s “Oedipus for Kids!” includes Johanna Carlisle (Catalina/Mommy/Jocasta/Oracle), Doug Loynd (Allistair/Lauis/Tedipus/Sphinxy) and Chad McCluskey (Evan/Oedipus). Aya Nameth, set to graduate next fall with a B.A. in theatre performance from ASU, is the Catalina understudy.

Carlisle is a veteran Valley actress whose program bio notes that her favorite role is that of mom to her son Maxx. Maxx Carlisle-King is a gifted teen actor currently appearing as “Sketch” in the Valley Youth Theatre production of “Hairspray” at the Herberger Theater Center.

Loynd’s bio recalls boyhood days in California spent acting, singing and dancing, Also sewing — which explains his skill as costume designer for Nearly Naked’s “Oedipus for Kids!” It also offers an homage of sorts to the cats he credits with “urging him to continue his passion.” More proof that the best artists owe it all to their cats.

Chad McCluskey “hails from foggy Newfoundland” and studies “Secondary Education: Chemistry” at ASU. Let’s hope some well-meaning parents won’t use McCluskey’s bio to lecture their own child with acting plans about the practicality of things like teaching degrees and “real jobs.”

McCluskey’s comedic performance in “Oedipus for Kids!” is the one to beat this season. “Oedipus for Kids!” is a gem of a show. Yatso’s directing sensibilities are perfectly matched to this work, which also features his choreography.

Musical direction by Mark 4man kicks the energy of “Oedipus for Kids!” into high gear. It helps to have songs like “A Little Complex” and “Be Kind to the Blind” to start with. And volunteers willing to join cast members on stage for a song about the plague.

But 4man’s music tracks, created at home with his keyboard according to Yatso, give the feel of a live band. Songs played before each act opens make for fantastic foreplay. As it should be for the opening of Nearly Naked’s 13th season.

— Lynn

Note: Those of you seeking Oedipus tales for younger audiences can click here.

Coming up: “Titus Andronicus” opens the Southwest Shakespeare Company season

And the nominees are…

These youth came out to support Spotlight Youth Theatre, one of three Valley theater companies nominated for both best youth play and best youth musical

This year’s Tony Awards ceremony in NYC has come and gone, but Arizona theater folk (and those who love them) gathered Mon, Aug 1 to hear a reading of nominations for the 21st annual AriZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence.

The reading, held at Phoenix Theatre, was followed by an after-party at BLISS/ReBAR — described during ceremony remarks as “huge supporters of the arts.” The 2011 AriZoni Awards ceremony honoring excellence during the 2010/11 season takes place Sept 19 at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Mesa Community College supporters at the Monday event included (L to R) Sarah Stellpflug, Jacqui Stevenson, Tyler Pounds and Heather Fallon

The AriZoni Awards recognize the best professional, community and youth theater among participating theaters in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Most, but not all, Valley theaters take part.

The 2011 ceremony features one portion for youth theater companies (5:30-7:30pm) followed by another for other theater companies (8-10:30pm). Folks of all ages, theater geek or no, can attend.

Maggie McNeil (L) and Taylor Lawritson came out to support Theater Works, and sat in a front row gleefully clapping for each Theater Works nomination

The best seats in the house go to nominees, so get your tickets early once they go on sale to get the best possible view of the evening’s festivities. No swanky evening gowns are required but folks do tend to show up a bit on the dressy side.

Overall production-youth play nominations went to works by Actor’s Youth Theatre, East Valley Children’s Theatre, Fountain Hills Community Theater Youth Theater, Spotlight Youth Theatre and Theater Works Youth Works.

Overall production-youth musical nominations went to Actor’s Youth Theatre, DFT Gecko Teatro, East Valley Children’s Theatre, Greasepaint Youtheatre, Musical Theatre of Anthem and Spotlight Youth Theatre.

Ryan Smith (R), Natalie Kilker and Andrey Lull attended Monday night to support Fountain Hills Community Theater, which has nominations in several categories

I have a few nominations of my own. The “biggest single totally-out-of-nowhere yelp!” award for Monday evening is a tie between those rooting for Damon Evans of MoezArt Productions’ “Here We Sit” and those cheering for Ron May of Stray Cat Theatre’s “Learn to be Latina.”

The “most overjoyed as evidenced by non-stop gasps and giggles” award goes to the cheerful crowd from Actor’s Youth Theatre, whose “Les Miserables – School Edition” raked in a ton of nominations. I asked one of their young supporters if she’d counted the theater’s total number of nods for the evening, and she quickly quipped “thirty.” I’m not going to check her math but it sounds about right.

Trevor Bowler (L) was there to cheer on AYT with Dale, Chelsea and Jamie (R) Mortensen and others whose enthusiasm with each nomination was infectious

You can hit the AriZoni Awards website for a full list of official nominations in every category. Of course those of us who heard them read by Yolanda London, Robert Kolby Harper and Kurtis W. Overby — emcees for the September awards ceremony — had infinitely more fun.

Scholarship and community award nominations are being accepted through Aug 15. Click here to learn more. Just promise me, please, that you won’t nominate me for any “worst-dressed” awards.

— Lynn

Note: Nominees have been selected for this year’s Business in the Arts Awards, which recognize “outstanding achievements, collaborations and contributions to and for arts organizations in metro Phoenix.” Honorees will be announced at a breakfast event Wed, Aug 17. Table sponsorships, event tickets and raffle tickets are available at www.abcannualawardsbreakfast.org.

Coming up: Writers workshops, Valley acting studios, Ode to ensembles

Photo credit: Lynn Trimble