Tag Archives: Shakespeare

The Boy Friend

Actress, director and author Julie Andrews made her American stage debut as “Polly” in a Sandy Wilson musical called “The Boy Friend” — which had fewer than 500 performances on Broadway during the mid-’50s. Her debut in theater director mode came nearly a decade later with a production of “The Boy Friend” performed in NYC, Connecticut and on tour.

Its ongoing appeal is evidenced by the numerous school and community theater productions mounted each year — including this season’s production of “The Boy Friend” by students at Grand Canyon University, which opened just last night and runs through next weekend. It’s the final production of their 2011/12 season, and the upcoming season — just announced — looks like this:

• “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare, Aug. 31-Sept. 2 and Sept. 7-9, directed by Claude Pensis. I’m told their production of the comedy about two pairs of lovers, originally set on the island of Sicily, will get an “Old West” twist.

• “Beauty and the Beast” by Vittorio Giannini and “Comedy on the Bridge” by Bohuslav Martinu, Oct. 12-14 and 19-21, directed by Michael Kary: Both one-act operas — the first a classic tale of finding love in unexpected places and the second a farce about two countries connected by a bridge — are described by GCU as plenty “family-friendly.”

• “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, Nov. 23-25 and Nov. 30-Dec. 2, directed by Claude Pensis. I’m told the show features Michael Kary as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s Dickens. Enough said.

• “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov, Feb. 15-17 and 22-24, directed by Claude Pensis. Think fall of the Russian aristocracywith an “eccentric” vibe. It’s Chekhov, and it’s rarely performed around these parts — making it one of my favorite pieces coming to Valley stages next season.

• “H.M.S. Pinafore” by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, April 12-14 and 19-21, directed by Michael Kary. GCU notes that the 1878 musical, set aboard a British ship, was the first international sensation for team Gilbert and Sullivan — better known to some for “The Pirates of Penzance.”

It’s a diverse season full of fascinating takes on classic works. Click here to learn more about these and other offerings coming to the Ethington Theatre on the CGU campus (including an April 27 & 28 “Spring Dance Concert”).

— Lynn

Note: British actor, author and all-around astute fellow Simon Callow has authored works on Shakepeare and Dickens that help elucidate their work, life and times. Click here if you’re up for a little theater homework.

Coming up: Of Maine and men, Observing Holocaust Remembrance Day, Actors turned author


Romeo, Romeo…

A scene from "Romeo and Juliet" performed in 2011 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (Photo: Karl Hugh). View their current season at http://www.bard.org.

A pair of “Romeo and Juliet” productions come to Valley stages during the 2012/13 season, so those of you who’ve enjoyed one or more of this season’s theater productions featuring star-crossed lovers ala Shakespeare can now experience its grandeur as a work of opera or ballet.

Ballet Arizona presents “Romeo and Juliet” featuring music by Sergei Prokofiev and choreography by artistic director Ib Andersen Feb. 14-17, 2013. Those of you who insist it’s far too early to think of such things should recall just how recently we seemed to be celebrating New Year’s Eve. Time moves quickly, especially in matters of the heart.

Arizona Opera presents “Roméo et Juliette,” written by Charles Gounod, Nov. 16-18. The Arizona Opera production, sung in French with English subtitles, features lyric soprano Jennifer Black of the Metropolitan Opera performing the aria “Je veux vivre.” Talk about a moment.

Love fares no better in most works of opera, which is part of their appeal for those dashed in everyday life by similar dreams and disappointments. Arizona Opera opens its 2012/13 season with another tale of tragic romance set against feuding family — performing Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” Oct. 12-14. Think Scottish moor instead of Italian piazza.

Ballet Arizona opens its 2012/13 season with “Giselle,” composed by Adolphe Adam and choreographed by Ib Andersen, Nov. 1-4. It’s one of four works being performed with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall. Others include “The Nutcracker” (music by Prokofiev, choreography by Andersen) Dec. 7-24 and “All Balanchine” May 2-5, 2013 (featuring “Serenade,” “Monumentum pro Gesualdo”/”Movements for Piano and Orchestra” and “Western Symphony”).

Ballet Arizona’s 2012/13 season also includes “Director’s Choice” — being performed March 28-31, 2013 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix — which features “Le Carnival des Animaux” by Alexai Ratmansky (an Arizona premiere), “Diversions” by Ib Andersen and “Untitled” by Alejandro Cerrudo (a world premiere).

Arizona Opera’s 2012/13 season features Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” in which passionate diva meets political dissident, being performed in Italian with English subtitles Jan. 25-27. Also Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Tavatore” (Italian with English subtitles) March 1-3. And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figero” (Italian with English subtitles) April 5-7.

No worries, by the way, if your Italian feels a bit rusty. If the rest of America can keep up with the Kardashians, you can keep up with a romance language or two. A quick click here will direct you to Arizona Opera offerings from composer bios and opera synopses to tips for first-time opera-goers — plus special programs for youth and adults.

Click here and you can explore education and outreach offerings from Ballet Arizona. Both companies, by the way, are readying for moves to new homes that’ll give them more space for both the artistic and administration elements of their work.

They’re also performing pieces to round out the 2011/12 season — including “Director’s Choice” (March 29-April 1) at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix plus “Topia” (May 2-26) at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix for Ballet Arizona — and “Aida” (March 9-11) and “Orfeo ed Euridice” (April 13-15) for Arizona Opera.

— Lynn

Note: Additional information about performance locations (including Tucson venues/dates) are available at each company’s website. Click here to learn about tonight’s special “season reveal” event at Theater Works in Peoria, and here to explore 12 works featured in the 2012/13 “Live in HD” season from the Metropolitan Opera.

Coming up: Doing time

Shakespeare meets Grand Canyon?

This weekend is your last chance to see Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” presented by Grand Canyon University. It’s being performed tonight, Feb. 18, at 7:30pm and tomorrow, Feb. 19, at 2pm. The CGU production, directed by GCU alumnus and faculty member Michael Kary, is being performed as part of the Ethington Theatre’s 57th season.

Michael Kary (front right) earned an Arizoni Award for best actor in a musical for CGU's "The Pirates of Penzance" during the 2010-2011 season

Kary notes that Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen and heard rather than merely read. “What I like about this play,” says Kary, “is what I like about all of Shakespeare’s work.” Kary shares in his director’s note for the program that there are “layer and layers of themes to sift through.” On the surface, of course, is love. Also the virtues and pitfalls of marriage.

But Kary says he tried to go deeper into the work. “One of the great things the dream shows us,” reflects Kary, “is what happens when good things become ultimate things.” Look closely, he says, and you’ll see a “production full of decent people behaving badly.”

Seems they’ve “let things like financial security, the care of a child, the out-of-reach love object, and yes, even true love itself become greater than the good things they were created to be.” They become gods, says Kary. “And a created god is a dangerous thing.”

Kary hopes the GCU production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will “spur us on to truly connect with the people around us, or offer us a warning about obsession.” For some, I suspect, it’ll serve only as a reminder that “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

CGU performed "Amahl and the Night Visitors" last December

The next Ethington Theatre production, “The Boy Friend” by Sandy Wilson, runs April 13-15 and 20-22. It’s a romantic spoof, set in the 1920s, which details the misadventures of a young girl at a prim and proper school who wants a boyfriend so badly that she make one up. Like “Midsummer,” it promises plenty of misunderstandings and mistaken identities.

The GCU College of Fine Arts and Production also offers film, dance and music events throughout the year — some held at off-campus venues. Both their “Opera and Broadway Concert” (Feb. 24) and “Mendelssohn’s Elijah” (April 27) are being performed at the First Southern Baptist Church of Phoenix.

The GCU “Student Spotlight” featuring dance works takes place March 14 in the Sanctuary Room of the GCU Recreation Center, and the “Spring Dance Concert” takes place April 27 & 28 at the Ethington Theatre. The GCU “Student Film Festival” takes place this Tuesday night, Feb. 21.

Grand Canyon University is also home to the Grand Canyon University Arena, which presents various athletic events, concerts, speakers and more. Click here to learn more.

— Lynn

Note: The Utah Shakespeare Festival begins Arizona tours of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Feb. 21. Click here to read their study guide for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” here to read their study guide for “The Boy Friend” and here to see tour dates and locations.

Coming up: Beware the green elixer

More fun with “ThesCon” photos

More than 75 schools are participating in this year’s Arizona Thespian Festival, taking place Nov. 18 & 19 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Most are from the Phoenix metropolitan area, but other parts of the state are also represented. Think Tucson, Bisbee, San Tan Valley, Vail, Yuma, Holbrook, Payson, Sahuarita and Wickenberg.

Agua Fria High School students who decided to really dress for the occasion on Friday

The event program features a graphic with paw prints that reads “Thespians Can’t Be Tamed” and this year’s “We Were Born This Way” theme. Theater students, more than any others perhaps, combine respect for individual differences with love of working together. They’re some of the country’s most creative and hard-working youth, yet perpetually strive to get to the next level.

A group of high school theater students deciding which workshops to attend

So it’s no surprise that more than 80 workshops are being offered this year – on everything from “The Rap & Rhyme of Shakespeare” to “Advanced Playwriting.” Even “Rigging Safety,” “Intermediate Juggling,” “Speaking the British Dialect” and “Hand to Hand Combat.”

A couple of attendees check out the amazing number of festival offerings

The festival helps high school theater students hone on-stage and behind-the-scene skills, and helps teachers connect with others working to improve arts education despite budget shortfalls and other challenges.

Students from Notre Dame Preparatory High School enjoying a bit of down time

Two schools were selected to perform full-length productions at this year’s festival – Perry High School (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and Desert Mountain High School (“Ruthless!”).

Students having a great time at the No Fear Ballroom Dancing workshop

Seventeen schools are presenting one-act plays, and some students are participating in competitions spotlighting specific abilities such as delivering monologues, designing costumes and creating short films.

More students demonstrating the fine art of ballroom dance

Between workshops, competitions and performances, students visit with representatives from various colleges and universities – some in Arizona, some from other states (including California, New York, New Mexico and Nevada). I was especially excited to see my own alma mater, Pepperdine University, on the list of places eager to recruit Arizona students.

Students from Glendale High School doing their ballroom dancing thing

An event of this magnitude takes extraordinary effort by dedicated individuals, and an incredible amount of teamwork. This year’s program lists 31 Arizona adult state board members, including Linda Phillips of Agua Fria High School, who serves as Arizona Thespian Chapter Director. It also notes the names of 22 Arizona student state board members, including Captain Thespian Chris Rodriguez of Desert Ridge High School.

A delightful gathering of several students volunteering at the festival this year

I’ll be heading out the festival again on Saturday morning, eager to glean tips I can share with young readers on topics like auditioning, applying for college theater programs, marketing shows and pursuing careers in theater.

Students from Sahuaro High School in Tucson with a piece entered in the tech challenge

Something tells me I’ll come home with enough stories to carry me through until next year’s festival. Have you ever heard the one about the horse’s head?

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Arizona Thespians, an affiliate of the Educational Theatre Association

Coming up: A playground dispute takes center stage

“Anonymous” tales

Southwest Shakespeare Company screened "Anonymous" as a fundraiser Friday night

Early rumblings about a movie called “Anonymous” seemed to liken its central premise, that Shakespeare was a fraud, to blasphemy. Plenty of folks refuse to even see the movie, convinced there’s nothing to the authorship question it raises. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, period. Or so we’ve all been taught.

Except those who study and perform the plays attributed to Shakespeare, who’ve long known that there’s some compelling evidence against his authorship — and less than you might imagine for it. I got my first taste of the authorship debate when I attended a Friday night screening of “Anonymous” held as a fundraiser for the Southwest Shakespeare Company, which performs at the Mesa Arts Center.

The movie itself makes for a good romp, a lively bit of storytelling. The characters, all full of a multitude of foibles, are entertaining enough. Sets and costumes are lovely and grand, transporting viewers to the visceral realm of Elizabethan England. Think rain, fire, filth and royal splendor.

Folks who insist their movies be thoroughly fact-checked won’t have much fun with this one, since it takes all sorts of liberties with the truth. When asked whether anything in the film follows the actual historical record, Jared Sakren (producing artistic director for Southwest Shakespeare Company) answered with a brief “Essex was beheaded.”

Most of those gathered for the “Anonymous” screening stayed afterward for a panel discussion including Sakren and three others — Michael Egan, Ph.D. (of the Shakespeare Oxford Society), Kevin Dressler (co-founder of the Southwest Shakespeare Company) and Dawn Rochelle Tucker Hillis (SSC director of education).  To my surprise, they offered different takes on the authorship debate.

Egan notes that it’s not enough to simply ask whether Shakespeare wrote the works he’s credited with writing. One must also ask, “If not Shakespeare, then who?” Egan says that more than 50 alternatives have been offered, adding that the most likely by far is the man at the center of “Anonymous” — Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. When asked his own opinion, Egan replies with “I’m an agnostic.”

“For me,” says Kessler, “there are some questions out there.” Tucker Hillis has an entirely different take, feeling the evidence for actual Shakespeare authorship is overwhelming.

Some question whether confirming the real authorship even matters. The words are beautiful, no matter their source. The mind, whatever man it may have belonged to, was brilliant. But Egan offers a terse response: “It’s a matter simply of truth.” Folks eager to explore the arguments on each side should consult materials from both the Shakespeare Oxford Society and the The De Vere Society.

Sakren seems happy enough with the fact that people are raising the question, recognizing the positive impact it’s likely to have on ticket sales for the Southwest Shakespeare Company. Perhaps the folks covering up all those Shakespeare-related signs in England have something similar in mind. “Like everyone else,” says Sakren, “they have a right to their own opinion.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Southwest Shakespeare Company, and here to read an article titled “Who Really Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays?” from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s education department.

Coming up: Art meets poetry in “Amexica”

Fresh take on “Midsummer”

SCC presents A Midsummer Night's Dream Oct 20-22 and Oct 28-29

Most productions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” open with a lush forest scene, but Randy Messersmith has something very different in mind for the “Midsummer” he’s directing this season for Scottsdale Community College, where he heads the theatre arts program.

Messersmith was inspired to mount the work after seeing television footage of the devastating earthquakes that struck Japan earlier this year. For Messersmith, “Midsummer” is a tale of human nature gone awry — and its devastating consequences for nature.

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” weaves together events in the fairy world and events in the mortal world. Titania and Oberon, queen and king of the fairies, bicker over the fate of a young “changeling” boy.

Early in the play, Titania (queen of the fairies) gives what Messersmith calls “the weather report” — describing the fog, famine and other disasters that have befallen mere mortals because of their dissention. “The world is all out of whack,” says Messersmith. “It’s life out of balance.”

“I looked at the tales of the Arabian Nights,” recalls Messersmith, “and found this a compelling way to tell the Midsummer story.” These tales, explains Messersmith, are set in Baghdad, Syria and China — the Persian area. He decided to present “Midsummer” through that lens.

Oberon sends the playful Puck to work all sorts of mischief in others’ love lives. In Shakespeare’s play, Puck uses a flower to work his magic. But in Messersmith’s production, Puck’s tool is a jewel. It’s all part of the “Arabian Nights” vibe for Messersmith’s vision.

Messersmith shares that his production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens with a young boy dressed in contemporary garb. A light shines down on a book the boy is reading — a collection of “Arabian Nights” tales. Soon “he steps inside the Midsummer story” — which is “told through the boy’s lens.”

The pastoral scene that typically opens this, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, is gone. In its place, Messersmith presents a “burned out desert.” Until, that is, Oberon and Titania reconcile later in the play. It’s a work, says Messersmith, that still has relevance today.

But never fear that this production of “Midsummer” may be too dark. “It’s still a comedy,” says Messersmith. “It’s still got lots of romance.” Messersmith notes that the costumes and sets are “very romantic” but that the show has a real “edge to it.”

Messersmith is a man who knows his way around Shakespeare, having co-founded the Valley’s own Southwest Shakespeare Company, which opened it’s 18th season this month with a production of “Titus Andronicus” directed by David Barker. Messersmith played the title role.

I noticed during “Titus Andronicus” that Messersmith — who lives in Gilbert with wife Denise, daughter Alex and twin cats Daisy and Violet — has a small tattoo just below the back of his neck. He shared when I asked that it had nothing to do with the show, but told me he’d gotten it to mark earning his black belt in karate in 2003.

Having seen Messersmith’s gift for acting, teaching and directing, I’m inclined to think there’s more of a tattoo/talent connection than Messersmith himself might realize. The tattoo, he told me, is Kanji for “trust yourself.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read more about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Scottsdale Community College.

Coming up: Valley playwright tackles Munchausen syndrome, Shakespeare meets Sondheim

Recipe for revenge


Actors in the dark play Titus Andronicus enjoy lighter moments while rehearsing at the Southwest Shakespeare Company studio in Mesa

Start with one melodramatic nymphomaniac and one well-meaning warrior. Add two offspring — one pristine, another psychotic. Then a few more siblings, and a couple of suitors, from different points along the naughty to nice continuum. Mix in a noble choice with life altering consequences. Finish with generous helpings of rape, mayhem and murder. First simmer, then broil. You’ve got “Titus Andronicus,” Shakespeare’s recipe for revenge.

In modern-day parlance, I suppose “Titus Andronicus” is a sort of “Shakespeare meets SVU.” Or “Sweeney Todd” without the soundtrack. It’s the tale of a good man who snaps — not once, but twice — after his daughter’s violent assault. A downward spiral once harmless grows heinous, then unimaginably evil. But with a surprising montage of humorous moments along the way.

You can enjoy a taste of “Titus” through Sept 24. It’s being performed by Southwest Shakespeare Company at the Mesa Arts Center — inside an intimate theater just right for a work of this intensity. The audience is seated along the two longer sides of a rectangular platform where actors perform at eye level. This violence, though not depicted with traditional blood and gore props, is very much in your face.

The platform touches a single wall, where a collection of swords and masks hang above a simple bench. There’s space off the other end of the platform, near the audience entryway — where some of the action occurs. Folks in the front row on either side of the stage must beware. Accidentally thrust out a foot and Titus could be toast.

Titus is played by Randy Messersmith, head of the theater arts department at Scottsdale Community College, who had me worried early on with his evenly-paced words and movement. Just as Justine Hartley, who plays Goth queen Tamora, took me aback with her diva-like depiction of grief in the opening scene.

Randy Messersmith (kneeling), pictured here during rehearsals with Jesse James Kamps (L) and director David Barker. Messersmith has since lost his shirt and his locks.

But they’re each laying those first bricks in the foundation of a story that needs room to grow. Without all that weeping and gnashing of teeth, it’s hard to envision one woman wreaking so much havoc. And all that civility and calm Messersmith brings to Titus as a triumphant warrior is what makes his demise as defeated father truly tragic.

Part of the intrigue in watching Shakespeare’s work is seeing his characters’ true colors unfold. It’s especially true in “Titus,” where the turn of events leads to truly chilling consequences that might have felt entirely out of proportion in a pre-9/11 world. But we’ve seen more than once just this century alone what can happen when a single soul feels agrieved.

I thought often during “Titus” of my husband and his tender relationship to our daughters, wondering how far he might go in the face of the unfathomable. Dawn Rochelle Tucker, who plays Titus’ daughter Lavinia, transforms the play from an abstract piece of theater to a compelling tale every parent can relate to.

Dawn Rochelle Tucker (L) rehearses with Jesse James Kamps, who plays compassionate brother to a sister mocked and mutilated

Many familiar with Shakespeare would advise the uninitiated to start somewhere else, just about anywhere else, in exploring Shakespeare’s canon. There’s a reason Southwest Shakespeare Company is performing it only now, as the opener for its 18th season.

But this particular production, brilliantly directed and staged by David Barker, is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare. Weighing in at a lean 90 minutes (about two hours counting intermission), it shaves a good hour off the time it takes to enjoy a typical serving of Shakespeare. The plotline is easy to follow for those who don’t have the luxury of brushing up their Shakespeare before attending.

I have mixed feelings about recommending this work for teens. Barker’s vision is beautifully executed — a “must see” in many ways for serious students of the theater. His use of color, shadow and actor-generated sound effects is breathtaking. The costumes, props and lighting prove that less can be more — even, and especially, in a world so obsessed with a constant barrage of stimulation serving no higher purpose. 

I was struck, when first taking my seat, by a row of simple objects that hang or stand along one wall in the theater, just feet from some audience members. A long, tangled rope. Two pairs of tall rods. Several masks and a single white sheet — at first a death cloth, then a royal’s robe.

Producing artistic director Jared Sakren (R) talks with cast members about mask work

All are transformed — often with large black lights mounted high and low along each corner of the stage — into a true feast for the senses. It’s rare to leave a work of theater feeling you’ve just experienced a masterful exhibit of visual arts, but “Titus” makes that impression.

On the other hand, the actions wrought by revenge are hard to stomach. I don’t know that “Titus” is the best choice for teens struggling with serious emotional issues of a much higher magnitude than worrying over what to wear to the prom. But it is a convincing morality tale for a day and age when one act of bullying can too easily escalate into an endless stream of aggression. In most cases, parents and teachers should see “Titus” for themselves before taking younger audiences.

Oediupus had his mommy. Sweeney his lovely wife. And Titus his beloved daughter. But the differences are stark. We never see Sweeney Todd before his decline into revenge ala razor mode. The musical opens long after he’s lost his wife and daughter. In “Titus” we see both the “before” and “after” of a man who opts for sword instead of scissors but brings a similar fate to those around him.

Yet Shakespeare, like Sondheim, also delivers a man who’s just plain evil from the get-go. For Sondheim, it’s Judge Turpin, the man who kidnaps Todd’s fragile wife and daughter. For Shakespeare it’s a Moor named Aaron, who faces death by gleefully confessing his regret for having not murdered many more.

Jeffrey Lamar’s performance as Aaron gives us a glimmer of hope, as he begs for the life of his infant son, that even the most wretched man might have a soul. Still, his final scene left me wanting to run right out and do a Childsplay chaser. Leave the kids at home if you’re going to see “Titus” this weekend, but buy a set of tickets to “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” too.

Titus will leave you wanting more time with your children and the balance of a story with a much lighter touch.

— Lynn

Note: Learn more about Southwest Shakespeare Company, headed by producing artistic director Jared Sakren, at www.swshakespeare.org. “Titus Andronicus” features costume design by Lois K. Myers, lighting design by Daniel Davisson and scenic design by Karen Siefried. All photos by stage manager Kati Long (thanks to her nifty iPhone) and courtesy of Southwest Shakespeare Company. Production photos are available on the company’s Facebook page.

Coming up: From thespian to med student