Tag Archives: rock musicals

Anthem to angst

Scene from the touring production of "American Idiot" (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

I was steeped in angst as a teen. Still, the angst in “Green Day’s American Idiot” feels a tad over the top. I attended the opening night performance at ASU Gammage, then called my daughter Lizabeth on the drive home to compare notes because she saw the show some time ago on Broadway.

“You’ve never had that kind of angst,” she told me. “That’s true,” I replied, “I’ve never shot heroine.” I’m old enough now that I don’t even remember whether “shoot” is the right word for it. Parents eager to take their kids to “American Idiot” take note — it’s full of foul language, simulated sex and drug use, and other mature themes like suicide. Not necessarily a reason not to see it, just something to know before you go.

There aren’t a lot of musicals out there with the “American Idiot” vibe, so it’s an important notch to have in your theater belt. Expect lots of loud music and pounding movement, and brush up on the lyrics before you go since they’re hard to fathom on some of the ensemble numbers. Or just wing it — it’s plenty possible to get the gist of the show without understanding every word.

Kids leave home. Some try drink and drugs. Some enlist in the military. Some have sex, and some have babies. Some get jobs, but lament their 9 to 5 existence. All are bored, and none find fulfillment. Kids return home. Some with war wounds. Some with track marks. Some with broken hearts. One even admits near the end of the musical that his mother was right — though my daughter says she never heard that line. There’s much in “American Idiot” that reads differently depending on your age and A.Q. (angst quotient).

My own favorite scenes take the noise down a notch with soulful solos accompanied by acoustic guitar. Without these interludes, the high volume existential head banging takes on a surprising sameness — as if you’re watching a game of show and tell, but realize before too long that everyone’s brought the same thing to share.

I was thankful I had Lizabeth to translate, since I’d have mistaken all those hoodies in “Know Your Enemy” for a nod to America’s most visible arrest of late without her assuring me that they were there on Broadway too. She also made sense of my least favorite scene — featuring a slick general surrounded by dancing girls in sparkling shift dresses. I was fonder by far of the show’s choreography, thinking how much thinner I’d be if there was an “American Idiot” workout. But we agreed the aerial work was wonderful.

It’s hip these days to include digital projections in theater works, but “American Idiot” still does it best with a backdrop dotted with television-like screens and digital images of cityscapes and such rolling across it. The musical opens with three main set pieces — a sofa, a recliner and a bed built for two. Along the way there’s a tower that’s transformed into transportation, a shifting set of tall metal stairs (complete with cellist underneath them), a shopping cart that gets hoisted skyward and a row of beds for wounded warriors whose IVs drop from overhead.

When one of the show’s characters quips that “nobody seems to agree on anything these days,” you wonder how they knew all those years ago to channel events of the current election cycle. Though “American Idiot” explores the lives of youth, it’s safe to say nowadays that idiots exist at every age and stage. It’s just that musical versions of midlife crises aren’t nearly as much fun.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “American Idiot” and other ASU Gammage offerings (and be sure you stay until the curtain call ends, or you’ll miss a little something that’s worth waiting for).

Coming up: Hangin’ with Haring

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Broadway tales

After years of seeing touring Broadway shows at ASU Gammage in Tempe, Lizabeth will soon be enjoying shows on Broadway (Photo: James Trimble)

While Lizabeth and James were back East a while back for college theater program auditions (hers, not his), they faced plenty of tough choices. Which pizza joints to frequent. Which tourist attractions to explore. Which Broadway musicals to take in.

They ended up seeing a straight play off Broadway one night. Their other two choices, dictated in part by what they could snag last minute tickets to, were “Jersey Boys” and “American Idiot.”

It never occured to us that “Green Day’s American Idiot” might be making its way to Arizona, but we learned just recently that the rock musical is part of the 2011-2012 “Broadway in Arizona” series at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

Lizabeth saw American Idiot on Broadway -- but I'll be enjoying it during April 2012 at ASU Gammage in Tempe (Photo credit: James Trimble)

“We always like to have something new,” explains Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and Assistant Vice President of Cultural Affairs at ASU.

Other “new” offerings in the 2011-2012 “Broadway in Arizona” season at ASU Gammage include the “Blue Man Group.”

You might say Gammage is poised to “rock our world” this season.

But there’s also more sentimental fare — including “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” “West Side Story,” and “Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.”

Lizabeth will be thrilled that one the shows she missed on Broadway, “Million Dollar Quartet,” is also coming to town. “La Cage Aux Folles” should prove equally fabulous and fun.

Thanks to three 2011-2012 special engagements (shows that aren’t part of the season ticket package), your gift-giving decisions just got a whole lot easier.

For winter holidays, give tickets to “Stomp” (Dec 28-31, 2011). For Valentine’s Day, think “Wicked” (Feb 15-March 11, 2012). Trust me — a change in theme from pink to green will be ever so appreciated. And for Mother’s Day or year-end teacher gifts, there’s “RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles.”

Especially during tough economic times, reflects Jennings-Roggensack, people appreciate the familiar. She sees the season as a perfect blend of the new and exciting with the familiar and comforting.

Lizabeth was thrilled when she learned of the 2011-2012 ASU Gammage line-up, because we’re longtime season ticket holders who rarely miss a show. At some point, however, the bad news struck her. She’ll likely be in New York — either studying or auditioning — when these shows hit Arizona.

But we’ll have a great time swapping “Broadway in Arizona” and Broadway in New York stories…

— Lynn

Note: ASU Gammage offers “Camp Broadway” June 6-10, 2011 for youth ages 10-17.

Coming: More new season announcements

Idiots & kings

I heard from Lizabeth, our 17-year old daughter, after she’d seen the musical “American Idiot” Friday night on Broadway.

Saturday found her doing her first college theater program audition, and getting a good night’s sleep knowing that other auditions await.

While Lizabeth was enjoying college tours on Friday, I went with our 21-year-old son, Christopher, to see “The King’s Speech” at the Harkins Theatre in Tempe Marketplace.

I’ve long suspected that our mother-son movie outings are merely excuses for Christopher to get his buttery popcorn and jumbo drink fix. He’s often too bored or restless to make it through an entire show.

But “The King’s Speech” was different. Normally I find the whole popcorn munching thing distracting, and get more irritated than I should with people who talk or text message during movies.

But we both had a steady bout of rapt attention for this one — which features truly exceptional acting by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, plus a rare glimpse of Helen Bonham Carter with tamed hair and matching shoes.

The film opens with the two daughters of a British prince begging for a bedtime story, something he hesitates to offer because of a terrible stutter.

A love of literature is evident throughout “The King’s Speech” — especially in scenes featuring Rush, who portrays a sort of speech therapist meets self-help guru who becomes this man’s closest friend.

The first time the two men work together, before the prince reluctantly becomes Kings George VI of England, this therapist has him read a bit of Shakespeare.

Later in the film, we see this commoner (an Australian) playing a guess-the-character sort of game with his two sons. Seems he’s also an earnest but rarely- cast actor — which fuels more than a few of the film’s best one-liners.

“The King’s Speech” is billed as a movie about a stuttering monarch, but it’s a great deal more.

It’s a tale of duty and devotion to both family and country, of challenging father-son encounters and strained sibling relationships, of the delicate interplay between what others expect of us with what we demand of ourselves.

It’s a very tender film, which would be perfectly suitable for family members of all ages had it not earned an “R” rating for a few scenes heavy in hot-headed language of the not so demure variety.

Sesame Street won’t be choosing any of these words when they feature the letters S or F, and I can imagine a young child seeing the film only to run home with a favorite new expression — “Oh bugger!”

The language is even more colorful in “American Idiot” — but I haven’t asked Lizabeth to share it with me. That’s why they make cast recordings.

As we chatted Friday night, Lizabeth and I discovered one commonality in the way we’d spent the day.

I shared that I’d hit McDonald’s for dinner with both Christopher and Jennifer, our 19-year-old daughter. She dreams of San Francisco the way Lizabeth dreams of New York City (which is the way that I dream of sleep).

Turns out Lizabeth had also eaten dinner there, which is a genuine rarity because she’s much more health conscious than the rest of us.

Our children share a common gift for sniffing out life’s many ironies, so it wasn’t lost on Lizabeth that she chose to eat at America’s premiere fast food chain before seeing a Broadway show that mocks our country’s drive-through mentality.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony honoring the year’s best films

Coming up: Giant Peach meets Peoria, Children’s theater from jungle to farm, Picture yourself a playwright, How camp!, Childsplay goes to the dogs

Peace, love and HAIR

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have books in our lives know that family favorites are often handed down for generations.

As the child of a before her time hippie who stayed ever young at heart, I was raised on the likes of a book called “Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.”

I hadn’t given it much thought until opening the program for “HAIR” while attending the show at ASU Gammage Wednesday night.

I discovered cast bios proudly listing astrological signs like Gemini and Aries, Virgo and Leo. And yes — even Aquarius.

I suspect one cast member takes her astrology especially seriously. Caren Lyn Tackett (Sheila) notes that she was “Born Sun in Leo Moon in Aries Aquarius Rising” — which leads me to believe I wasn’t the only person to experience the wonders of astrological charting as a child.

I’ve been told that I’m Scorpio “sun, moon and rising” but I’m guessing it only felt that way to my oft-times exasperated, though ever-supportive, mother.

Also of note in cast member bios are final words consisting of “love,” “peace,” “namaste” and such.

It’s hard to know where the hippie ends and the actor begins — which is part of the charm and appeal of this show.

I was especially moved by one particular monologue, which encourages parents to run right home and have a talk with their teenagers.

And to say something like this — be yourself, embrace your freedom and love your life.

Of course, you could just take them to see the show. I think they’d get the message.

Be forewarned, however, that the musical “HAIR” is “mature audiences” fare.

I’m completely supportive of my high school age daughter seeing the show, but other parents might make a different choice knowing there is nudity (albeit brief and tasteful), swearing and simulated sexual/drug activity.

If you’re uneasy with exposing your child to the questioning of authority — whether God, country, the military or parents — you may not be comfortable having your child or teenager see the show.

But having said that, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a better multi-sensory snapshot of this particular period in American culture.

And since issues related to war, drugs and sexuality are still with us today — I don’t know that there’s a better way to expose youth to these issues.

It’s your call, of course, and you should know what you are getting into.

Certainly it would be a shame for anyone even remotely close to being “mature” to miss this show. It’s among the best Broadway productions I’ve ever seen.

Sorry, Phantom. The cape and mask have been replaced in my heart by fur and fringe. Believe me, my daughter Lizabeth has been waiting for this moment. That whole “music of the night” vibe just never spoke to her, I suppose.

I’ve never had more fun at the theater, and never heard those around me enjoying such profound conversations. One doesn’t always find this mix in a single show.

Everyone left dancing — that’s true. But I think they also left wondering about the modern-day American tribe, and whether we’re really living up to all that “peace” and “love” hype of the hippies who came before us — or who were us.

Especially strong performances were delivered by Phyre Hawkins (Dionne), Matt DeAngelis (Woof) and Paris Remillard (Claude). Josh Lamon makes a marvelous Margaret Mead.

Steel Burkhardt was clearly born to play Berger, and delivered one of the finest performances I’ve seen on the ASU Gammage stage.

Of course, some of his best performance art happens off stage — something it’s best to experience for yourself (rows one through five are especially lively).

Forget about that whole “fourth wall” thing when you see this show. 

Be ready to let your hair down, flash those peace signs and embrace whatever the goddess of musical theatre throws your way.

If you need a little something more concrete to go on, I offer this brief review…

Brilliant lighting. Incredible live band (on stage, no less). Strong acting. Moving vocals. Fever-pitch dancing. Oh yeah, and way cool costumes. (They give those Tony Awards for a reason.)

I suspect “HAIR” is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on stage before, and I don’t happen to think that anyone should miss this opportunity to see it.

Go. Dance. Hug. Sing. Love. Laugh. Shake your big hair. And be grateful for every last minute of this supremely unique and extravagant production.

— Lynn

Note: “HAIR” — described as “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” — runs through Sun, Dec 12 at ASU Gammage. Click here to learn more about the show, read reviews by “Gammage Goers” and find ticket information. Also visit ASU Gammage on Facebook to learn about Thursday night’s talkback and apres-show dance party/costume contest. I’m holding out for the biggest hair contest — I think I might have that one covered.

Coming up: Stage Mom reviews new movies

The musical “Hair” comes full circle

Your first pet. Your first kiss. Your first car. Most of us can recall a variety of “firsts” from our own lives.

But Caren Lyn Tackett of Boston, who performs the role of the Sheila in the current touring production of the Broadway musical Hair, recalls something more.

Tackett grew up listening to the original cast recording of "HAIR"

Stories of her parents’ first date – that night in the ‘70s when her mom took her dad to see the musical Hair during one of its earlier incarnations.

Eventually they married, and counted a signed cast album of Hair among their most prized possessions. Tackett grew up listening to the record over and over again. “I was obsessed with it,” she recalls.

Tackett first performed in Hair with the NYC Central Park production during 2008, and says she was especially thrilled with the show’s vibe within an outdoor setting.

Hackett first performed in HAIR at Central Park in NYC in 2008 (Photo: Joan Marcus)

You get the feeling in talking with Tackett that things like peace and love are more than quaint retro reminiscences. They’re values she’s thrilled to convey with every performance of Hair.

“I have a real personal identification with Sheila,” shares Tackett. “She’s a student, a real part of the tribe and very politically minded.”

Tackett describes Sheila as ambitious, sharing the beliefs of fellow tribe members but refusing to stop there. “She acts on everything she believes.”

Cast of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Sheila goes to Washington, D.C. to “try and levitate the Pentagon” and does all she can to engage others in the tribe who are content to champion ideas without acting upon them.

“I can still hear my mother’s voice,” muses Sheila. “Don’t let being a woman hold you back.”

We sometimes forget how little time has passed since gender and race were used with alarming regularity to devalue fellow citizens.

Hair serves as a powerful testament to the challenges of generations present and past – and inspires those who experience it to dream, and to do.

We spoke as Tackett was in Washington, D.C. with the Hair tourand with her family, which includes three-year-old daughter Ravyn Sioux (a name meant to honor Native American roots on both sides of the family).

Lawrence Stallings, Steel Burkhardt and Matt DeAngelis of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Apparently the tiny Tackett is already rocking the activism vibe during gleeful trips to see the Lincoln Memorial and other national treasures. “She loves to recite the stories and facts,” muses Tackett.

Seems Tackett was exposed to music early and often, describing her father’s family as “a bunch of jazz and blues musicians in the New England area.”

“My dad’s side is multi-racial,” says Tackett–recalling his role in establishing a “black and white orchestra” during the 1910s. “It was a big deal back then,” reflects Tackett.

Cast of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But Hair isn’t her only full circle experience. Seems Tuckett and Matt DeAngelis (Woof), both performing in the current national tour of Hair, have shared the stage before — during a student production of Godspell at Boston’s Masconomet Regional High School. They even attended the same elementary school.

“I always knew I would do theater,” says Tackett. Seems her high school acting peers were a close, supportive bunch. “It was such a beautiful experience.” She went on to major in musical theatre at Emerson College — but left to take an acting gig. 

Tackett is glad she realized early on that acting was a viable career choice, and that her parents were supportive of her decision. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have a career in musical theater and that it can’t last,” insists Tackett.

“It’s never impossible.”

— Lynn

Note: HAIR is being performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe Dec 7-12. Visit the ASU Gammage website for show and ticket information, plus the scoop on special events and promotions for this and future shows. While the show does include brief nudity, Tackett notes that it’s done in a very tasteful way, and hopes this won’t discourage anyone from attending.

Coming up: “Evening of Arts” at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, Valley visual arts news, Art festivals featuring family fun