Tag Archives: Spelling Bee

Slice of life

I enjoyed a slice of life as only Sondheim can deliver it last night, attending the first Valley production of “Sweeney Todd School Edition,” which is being performed by Spotlight Youth Theatre in Glendale through Sunday. Folks who hit tonight’s show can enjoy the added thrill of sharing the company’s 2012/13 season reveal.

I ran into director Kenny Grossman after the show. “You’re a brave man,” I told him. “That’s a big show for a small stage.” It only worked because of clever set design — the work of Grossman and Bobby Sample. There’s also serious fun with props, the work of Vicki Grossman. (Think tools of the meat pie trade.)

There’s even a pair of Grossmans in the cast. Carly Grossman is part of the very capable ensemble, and Jamie Grossman completely rocked the role of Mrs. Lovett. Sondheim is a bear to sing, but she’s got both serious vocal chops and delightful comedic timing. The University of Arizona musical theatre program is fortunate that she’s joining their freshman class next year.

A warning to mom and pop Grossman, however. That freshman year sails by. Seems we just sent daughter Lizabeth off to college, and she’s returning next week proud to be a sophomore already. Attend the tale of the empty nest. Several seniors in the cast share college plans in their program bios — including ASU’s Barrett College/Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Tyler J. Gasper, whose program bio notes that he’ll “soon be heading to New York City,” performs the role of Sweeney Todd. Gasper has performed with several Valley theater companies, including Arizona Broadway Theatre, Hale Centre Theatre, Theater Works and Desert Stages Theatre. Gasper’s bio also notes that he’s been cast in the Phoenix Theatre production of “Spring Awakening” so fans will know where to find him.

Several cast members were culled from Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix and the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics in Peoria, including some I saw in another area first — a school production of “Spring Awakening.” This is another “mature content” musical and Spotlight notes that parental guidance is suggested.

Though I wasn’t wild about every element of the show, I felt sympatico with Grossman’s vision the minute I read his director’s statement. “Sweeney Todd, School Edition isn’t about violence and blood,” he wrote. “It is a very complex story about injustice.” Its themes resonate in contemporary American society, consumed by discrepencies between the 99% and the 1%.

“The characters,” adds Grossman, “are emotional and deep.” He advises theater goers to “Focus on the love and tortured souls of the characters” rather than the musical’s violence and blood. Teens will take me to task for saying this, but it’ll be a few years until they fully appreciate the depth of love hidden amidst all that blood. That’s part of the challenge in giving youth such meaty roles.

Grossman’s note also alludes to the humor in this work, which features book by Hugh Wheeler in addition to music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. I’ve seen two previous productions of “Sweeney Todd” and this was the funniest by far — in a good way. My favorite part of the show has always been a song titled “Johanna.” Butcher that and it’s all over in my book. Thankfully, Sam Brouillette (Anthony Hope) does a lovely job with the melody.

Half the fun was hearing reactions of audience members who’ve apparently never seen the musical before. The cumulative effect of revenge gone wrong is shocking in the show’s final scenes, and I enjoyed hearing a good gasp or two. But I was puzzled by the use of head mics in such a small house with actors plenty good at projecting their voices.

Still, I’m hoping folks will support the Spotlight Youth Theatre production of “Sweeney Todd School Edition.” It’s a slice of life that’s hard to find elsewhere, and it took real guts to put it on their menu.

— Lynn

Note: The musical director for “Sweeney Todd School Edition” at Spotlight Youth Theatre is Mark 4Man. Costumes are by Tamara Treat. Hair and make-up is by Angel DeMichael. Please note that although a Monday matinee is listed on their website, your final chance to see the show is Sunday, May 6.

Coming up: Museum meets asylum, Jim Gradillas talks playwriting

Update: Spotlight Youth Theatre’s 2012/13 season includes “The Little Mermaid Jr.” (Oct 26 -Nov 11), “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (Dec 12 – Dec 23), “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Jan 11 – Jan 27), “The Yellow Boat” (Feb 15 – Mar 3), “Once On This Island” (Apr 5 – Apr 21), “Footloose” (May 24 – Jun 6). Weigh in on their Facebook page. Post updated 5/6/12.


Got glee?

Fond as I am of watching the FOX television series “Glee,” I’m a bigger fan of Valley kids who “do the glee” in real time.

Those snappy numbers and catchy tunes don’t come to life quite as quickly off-screen, according to Valley actor and Mesa Community College (MCC) student Tyler Pounds.

Still, they’re every bit as fun — and have much to offer in terms of fostering creativity, teamwork and self-expression.

If your child is game for a bit of glee, consider a spring break camp with plenty of acting, singing and dancing.

Your choices include the “Spring Glee Camp” at Chandler Center for the Performing Arts — which runs March 21-25 and features “professional coaching in all aspects of musical theatre” by Kristen Drathman.

The camp runs 9am to noon that week, is designed for campers ages 8 & up, and takes place at the Chandler Center for the Performing Arts.

Drathman describes the camp as “a wonderful motivator and social outlet to get kids off the couch and doing something artistic, athletic and fun for the break.”

“Musical theater,” she told me, “works the body as well as the mind.”

Then Drathman added this quip: “Singing and dancing all morning…I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that!”

Turns out Drathman also gets to spend many of her evenings singing and dancing because she performs regularly on Valley stages — though she’s currently performing for more of a matinee crowd as the “Yellow Dog” in Childsplay’s “Go, Dog. Go!” at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Other options include the “Musical Theatre Glee Camp” being presented March 14-18 by an organization that’s fairly new to the Valley — Scottsdale Glee.

Camp hours are 9am to noon, but afternoon sessions focused on music appreciation and exploration are available at additional cost.

Scottsdale Glee instructors include Christine Kyhn, Nola Enge and Lisa Fogel. The camp (as well as other Scottsdale Glee programs) takes place at Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ in Phoenix — which is also home to one of the Valley’s “parent cooperative” preschools.

It’s just a hop, skip and jump away from Arcadia Music Academy, which is housed at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church — where my daughter Lizabeth first studied violin with Cynthia Baker.

Chandler Center for the Arts and Scottsdale Glee also offer summer options with a glee theme, plus other activities and opportunities for children interested in the arts.

As a mom whose children have missed far too many summer opportunities because of lingering too long over the oodles of choices out there, I offer three pieces of advice.

First, start asking around now. Second, attend the Raising Arizona Kids magazine camp fair next month. Third, get your child registered before popular programs like “Camp Broadway” at ASU Gammage are full.

While Pounds and others correctly note that characters on the television show “Glee” are often stereotyped to the extreme, I’m convinced that musical theater in real life does more to break down barriers than build dividing walls between students.

— Lynn

Note: Pounds is one of several students who’ll perform in the Arizona State University Lyric Opera Theatre Student Workshop production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” — which runs Jan 28-Feb 6. He’ll also be performing the role of “William Barfee,” as will William Marquez, in “The 39th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” being presented by MCC’s Act I Musical Productions March 3-12. Both contain mature content not suitable for children — so enjoy them with a friend, then take the kids to see a puppet show.

Coming up: More summer theater camps, Art in the round, Film festival meets Arizona politics, Art and healing, Talkback time: “Spring Awakening” at ASU Gammage, Valley students create art to commemorate “No Name-Calling Week”

Got GLEE? Send me a digital photo (or photos) of your Glee club or camp in action and it might be featured in a future post spotlighting Glee groups in the Valley. Please send by Fri, Feb 4 to rakstagemom@gmail.com.

Valley actor and director ‘noises off’

Lizabeth came home from school on Thursday with an interesting “to do” list–gather info for a community service project, return borrowed books to her voice teacher, and pick a night to see “Noises Off” at Phoenix Theatre. Such is the life of a senior theater arts major.

"Noises Off" runs Aug 25-Sept 12 at Phoenix Theatre

It reminded me that “Noises Off” will open Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season this week–and that associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, who’ll appear in the fabulous farce, recently did some of his own ‘noising off’ as we discussed trends in musical theater.

“Musical theater has always reflected the temperament of the culture at hand,” observes Harper. The ’50s were a sort of golden era with a “happy, feel good focus.”

During the ’60s, “our thinking as a culture became less linear because of Vietnam.” As the ’70s ushered in new styles of popular music, Sondheim brought us the first “concept musical”–called “Company.”

"3 Redneck Tenors" runs Sept 29-Oct 17 at Phoenix Theatre

Today a good story isn’t enough, reflects Harper. A good musical must also consider “the human condition.”

“As our culture has grown up,” says Harper, “musical theater has gotten more thoughtful.”

Many of today’s musicals, such as “American Idiot,” are “used as instruments to get across a particular point of view.” Sometimes, notes Harper, the stories get a little bit boring.

"Hairspray" runs Nov 10-Dec 12 at Phoenix Theatre

Harper says he enjoyed seeing “American Idiot” in New York (“there was some amazing lighting”) although he confesses to wishing someone would just turn the music down a tad. (I hear you.)

So what of today’s musical theater landscape? “We have a little bit of everything,” reflects Harper. “Musical theater is becoming incredibly artistic because everybody is diversifying.” Think “Spring Awakening” and “[title of show].”

"No Way to Treat a Lady" runs Jan 12-30 at Phoenix Theatre

As we question ourselves more on issues like war and sexuality, we see those struggles reflected in works of musical theater. “The point of view of the underdog is more popular than it used to be,” adds Harper.

Another trend? The use of on-stage cameras, huge screens and other technology. It’s due in part, says Harper, to the growing influence of multi-media in all parts of American culture.

Musical theater is growing in popularity as it’s being developed by younger and younger artists, observes Harper.

He cites the musical “Rent” as an example–noting that it was “the first one in years that was a huge hit by an unknown.”

"Avenue Q" runs Feb 23-March 20 at Phoenix Theatre

“Now it happens all the time,” muses Harper. He describes “Avenue Q,” which Phoenix Theatre will present Feb 23-March 20 of next year, as a prime example.

Still, many seasoned musicals continue to attract new audiences. Harper recalls being struck by the incredibly long line of patrons waiting to see “The Phantom of the Opera” last time he hit New York.

“Lots of people still haven’t seen it,” notes Harper. “I don’t care if that’s all they see–because the point is that they tried it.”

I’m reminded of Lizabeth’s first trip to DC and NYC, during which fellow travelers were thrilled to see “Phantom” on Broadway while Lizabeth and a fellow student made their way to the Booth Theater to experience “Next to Normal.”

It’s all good, I suppose.

"Nine" runs April 13-May 8 at Phoenix Theatre

After all, reflects Harper, many Broadway visitors will return home to support their local community theaters.

Soon the Valley’s many theater companies (including Phoenix Theatre, Arizona’s oldest) will open their 2010-2011 seasons. They’ll offer everything from classic to contemporary, giving us all a bit of Broadway–and beyond.

To enjoy an insider’s look at Phoenix Theatre’s 90th season, and your own conversation with associate artistic director Robert Kolby Harper, you can enjoy “A Noises Off Tea” at The Ritz-Carlton Phoenix, featuring an exclusive opportunity to chat with Harper about his role in the comedic play “Noises Off” and more.

The event takes place at noon on Wed, Sept 1, and costs $35. Phoenix Theatre promises ‘no sardines, but a lovely English Tea.’ For reservations, call 602-468-0700.

Prepare those dialing fingers and pointed pinkies…


Note: You can double the fun by seeing Harper and others perform in “Noises Off” live at Phoenix Theatre and renting the 1992 film version of “Noises Off” starring Michael Caine and Carol Burnett (direction by Peter Bogdanovich). Other comedies coming soon to the Valley include “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Mesa Arts Center, Aug 27-Sept 12) and “The Kitchen Witches” (Tempe Center for the Arts, Sept 17-Oct 3).

Coming soon: Focus on fall festivals, Music and dance with William Shakespeare, “Eat Pray Love”–museum style

Fake lawyers and other bloodsuckers

First, note the word “fake.” I’m married to a lawyer, and a fine one at that. In fact, I married into a family full of them. Lawyers I can live with. Fake lawyers, not so much.

Now there's a bumper sticker you don't see every day!

So I was intrigued to learn about a fictional fellow named Jeremy Troy, the subject of a comedy by Jack Sharkey (please, no ‘lawyers are sharks’ jokes), coming to Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert as part of their recently unveiled “2011 season.”

Jeremy Troy has it all. He’s about to make partner at his law firm. He’s got a beautiful wife, lovely home and plenty of spending money. But he’s got no law degree, and the jig will be up if his secret is revealed. I can’t wait to watch the man squirm when the show comes to Hale Dec 31, 2010 to Feb 12, 2011.

But he’s not the only bloodsucker coming to Gilbert next season…

Poster ala playbillstore.com

Hale presents “Little Shop of Horrors” from the Ashman/Menken pairing so popular in Disney fare (July 15-Aug 27, 2011). It’s a musical tale about “a down-and-out skid row floral assistant who becomes an overnight sensation when he discovers an exotic plant with a mysterious craving.”

Other 2011 offerings from Hale Centre Theatre include “Hello Dolly” (Feb 17-April 2), “Man With The Pointed Toes” (Feb 22-March 29), “Never Too Late” (April 7-May 21) and “Over the River and Through the Woods” (May 27-July 9).

Bloodsucking of a different sort comes to Anthem next season with the Starlight Community Theater production of “Dracula,” the perfect show for folks needing a frequent vampire fix.

For those of you who can’t wait that long, there’s the July 30 release this year of “Eclipse,” the third movie in the “Twilight saga” based on the books by Arizona mother and author Stephanie Meyer, which presents a rare (for a reason) opportunity to encounter a “newborn vampire.”

If your tastes are more tame, you’ll be delighted to know that Starlight’s 2010-2011 season opens with “Oklahoma!” There’s nothin’

Anyone for a trip down 'Memory Lane?'

creepy ’bout that except, perhaps, that the lead cowboy is named “Curly.”

“Oklahoma!” was the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. It’s based on a 1931 Lynn Riggs play titled “Green Grow the Lilacs” (itself based on a popular song by the same name). And it nearly inspired me to title this post “Surrey with the fangs on top.”

Starlight rounds out its 2010-2011 season with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (based on a story by early 20th century English author C.S. Lewis, who often used Christian or morality-related themes), “Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Bye Bye Birdie” (which recently completed its first revival run on Broadway).

Thanks to Hale Centre Theatre and Starlight Community Theater, Valley families will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy classic works, new works, musicals and comedies in the coming season.

As always, read print and online editions of “On Stage”–Raising Arizona Kids’ monthly listing of theater and other live performance events—for news of family-friendly theater, music, dance and more.

Truth be told, more than a few of us at RAK count lawyers among those we love. They all have real degrees and they’re all real good people.


Another treasure from playbillstore.com

Note: Remember that this evening’s Tony Awards party at ASU Gammage has been cancelled–so stay tuned to see the ceremony on that little box that occasionally brings us beautiful things.

Coming up: More new season announcements, ASU Gammage presents “In the Heights” (winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2008)

Ring in a glorious new year

For days the airwaves have been full of year and century in review perspectives. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m practically pining for some of those American Idol misfits. I’m tired of Tiger’s trysts, Blogojevich’s banter and Sanford’s shenanigans. I miss the good old days, when William Hung sang She Bangs, when Sanjaya Malakar sported a mohawk, when Nicole Tieri gave us “scooter girl.”

I could hold out for the premiere of American Idol’s ninth season, coming to Fox television Jan. 12th and 13th, but I just can’t wait that long to get my idol fix. Instead, I’ll be enjoying opening night of Phoenix Theatre’s production of Glorious, a musical about a “wanna-be” idol from a bygone era whose self-certainty might rival that of Adam Lambert, runner up for American Idol’s eighth season.

Glorious recounts the musical misadventures of wealthy American widow and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who lived from 1868 to 1944. It’ll be a refreshing change from media too mesmerized by the pseudo-celebrities of our own day and age, whose only claim to fame is fame. After speaking with Glorious cast member Toby Yatso, who plays Jenkins’ pianist Cosme McMoon, I expect to discover something infinitely more complex in Jenkins than in the subjects of so many of our modern day tell-alls.

Yatso, by the way, was recently honored with a 2008-2009 AriZoni Award for best principal actor in a musical with a contracted theater for his portrayal of Leo Bloom in Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Producers. I don’t yet have a full roster of the cast for Glorious, but knowing Phoenix Theatre, there’s not a mediocre one in the bunch. If I recorded here all the accolades and awards they’ve received through the years, you’d be reading well into 2011. (It’s enough for me to know that neither Carrie Prejean nor Kanye West will be anywhere in sight on opening night.)

If you attended the late night version of Phoenix Theatre’s production of The 35th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (sponsored by Echo Magazine), you know that a naughty word or two can sometimes slip into one of their productions. (In all fairness, however, they make it well known when profanity might be paramount.) Yet Glorious, quips Yatso, is almost annoyingly devoid of innuendo.

The good news, of course, is that Glorious is appropriate for audiences of all ages. Imagine the conversations that might result from three generations in one family seeing the show together. The piece is full of World War II references—and I can’t imagine a better bridge for older generations sharing reflections with younger ones who might otherwise never discuss this period in our nation’s history.

Yatso notes that although Glorious is set in the 1940s, “the story is so current.” Like today’s “reality show culture,” Glorious makes us wonder what it really takes to be a star. Is it talent? Is it chutzpah? Does it really matter? In the absence of talent, does something else give a person star quality—and is that okay? Apparently Jenkins was devoid of talent but drowning in ego. How then, you might wonder, does she make it all the way to Carnegie Hall?

Ours is a culture, reflects Yatso, that can’t look away from a human train wreck. We know it’s wrong, but something compels us nonetheless. Candidates for a modern day train wreck award might include Kate and Jon Gosselin, Nadya Suleman, or Richard and Mayumi Heene. (The fact that you may not recognize these folks without their media monikers is further proof of their depersonalization as they lay on our tracks.) “Jenkins,” says Yatso, “is one of these people but in the 30s and 40s.”

Still, Yatso’s admiration for Jenkins seems strong. He describes her as a philanthropist, influential in New York society circles, who did about as many things as a woman could do during that era. “She was just such a robust woman,” he says. The complexity of her character, and Yatso’s enthusiasm for it, leave me genuinely intrigued. A show like this—so off our everyday radar yet so steeped in the issues of our day—doesn’t come around that often.

It sounds like a glorious way to ring in the New Year…


Note: If you have art-related topics you’d like to see covered here, please comment below with your ideas and suggestions. Thanks!

How do you spell that?

I’m posting a bit late this evening because I got a better offer. Pancake puppies. Lizabeth brought them home from an opening night after-party at Denny’s. If it doesn’t have syrup, she’s not interested. Unless, of course, it’s pasta or pizza. How do you spell f-a-s-t metabolism?

I’m in spelling mode because it’s closing weekend for The 35th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Phoenix Theatre. I had hoped to attend last night as part of a special parent night for Arizona School for the Arts, but ended up at home attending to f-a-m-i-l-y matters. Tonight I learned what I missed.

Turns out the ASA thespian troupe had a bit of a reception for ASA parents and administrators before the show—and the clever little d-a-r-l-i-n-g-s did a rigged version of a spelling bee to help determine who would sit on stage as a guest speller.

Several audience members sit on bleachers placed stage left for a portion of the show—while mischevous cast members work to involve them in their shtick and bounce them back to the audience with purposefully timed words (in the late night version, the words get a bit n-a-u-g-h-t-y).

A. Beck, Director of Education for Phoenix Theatre, gave me the scoop. What word did the thespians throw their head of school (I needn’t name names—you know who you are)? “Spell A-S-A,” they told her. Obviously oblivious to their obfuscation, she replied: “A-S-A.” Her fate was sealed.

Shockingly, she got a much harder word to spell once she was b-l-e-a-c-h-e-r bound. I didn’t ask for details, but it seems she was the second audience speller to go down. Had I attended, I surely would have been the first. I’m told she was an awfully good sport.

Sounds like it was almost as much fun watching the school’s p-r-i-n-c-i-p-a-l taking all of this in. She got to sit safely and soundly in her own seat (never fear—no one who attends the show has to sit onstage unless they want to). It sounds like the highlight of her evening may have been watching her boss do something called ‘the shimmy dance.’

Way to go, t-h-e-s-p-i-a-n-s. I have a newfound respect and appreciation for everyone involved. Perhaps you’re wondering whether I should worry that one of these beloved school administrators will seek revenge for the possible over-share here. Let me reassure you—that was taken care of the last time I attended an ASA parent night at Phoenix Theatre.

Toby Yatso, Associate Artist with Phoenix Theatre (and proud owner of many other hats), led parents in a little dance d-i-t-t-y the last time we all went to a show together. Beck looked on with a sly grin, as did a few parents who maintained their dignity by staying in ‘maybe no one will notice me in this corner’ mode.

I was in a different club—the one that eagerly attempted to follow Yatso’s moves as he led us through a piece of choreography the students were learning for class. “I used to be a dancer,” I thought. Sadly, I did more than think it. I actually said it—to a teacher who was there that night and saw me s-t-u-m-b-l-e  in all my splendor.

When my knees should have been straight, they were bent. When my palms should have been closed, they were open. And that whole business of coordinating the left side with the right, and the top half with the bottom, seemed so much harder than it did 30 y-e-a-r-s ago. I like to believe they at least gave me points for trying.

I share this with you because I hope you’ll think about doing something really special this weekend—attending one of the final shows for Phoenix Theatre’s 35th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I’ve run into a tremendous number of people who have seen it, and all describe it as h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s.

Remaining tickets are just $25 each, so you have no e-x-c-u-s-e for staying home. Check the Phoenix Theatre website for show times and other details. I’ll be enjoying opening weekend for Oliver! with Phoenix Theatre affiliate Greasepaint Youtheatre—serving as a backstage wrangler for younger members of the cast.

Please, kids, promise you won’t make me d-a-n-c-e…


Coming soon: Lessons learned on opening night (for little people and big people alike)…

Note: If you haven’t already done so, check out our three-post series (from Thanksgiving weekend) to find out what’s happening in family-friendly dance, theater and music this weekend.