Tag Archives: Steve Martin

To protect and preserve

Yolanda London, Eric Boudreau and Colin Ross in Childsplay's "Rock the Presidents"

With all the political bantering these days, I sometimes worry that the office of president isn’t getting the respect it deserves. So I was thrilled when Childsplay’s Sunday preview of “Rock the Presidents” at Tempe Center for the Arts opened with a rap number called “Hail to the Chiefs” — which recounts the name of each president while reinforcing our duty as Americans to protect and preserve the highest office in the land.

Think what you will of any given president, but know that the office is worthy of respect and dignity, and we do ourselves no favors by attempting to diminish it. “Rock the Presidents” is a perfectly non-partisan look at those who have served, which makes clear both their humanity and their dedication to the nation. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, and so little that’s worthy comes of it.

Better to teach our children to honor those who step up and lead, and to remind them that they too have the power to make a difference. Public service is a noble calling. And being an informed, engaged citizen is essential. These are the messages conveyed throughout “Rock the Presidents,” a musical salute to all 43 presidents featuring book and lyrics by Dwayne Hartford and music by Sarah Roberts.

Roberts plays guitar on the soundtrack, as does Jason Brown. Other musicians include Jonathan Ivie (piano and keyboard), Scott Miner (bass), Mark Stolper (drums), David Dickinson (Violin) and Scott Leader (ukelele and guitar). Jonathan Ivie is musical director for the work, which features everything from rock and rap to country and calypso. Think concert meets classroom.

The “Rock the Presidents” set, designed by Holly Windingstad, is a mix of stately and sparkly red, white and blue elements with a giant screen in the center onto which images of presidents and related fare from speeches to statues are projected throughout the show thanks to projection design by Limitrophe Films. It adds a fabulously nostalgic feel while upping the show’s educational value for children and teens.

Eric Boudreau, Yolanda London and Colin Ross rapping "Hail to the Chiefs"

Eric Bourdeau (Harry), Yolanda London (Amy) and Colin Ross (Ted) open “Rock the Presidents” donning black secret service gear by costume designer D. Daniel Hollingshead as they appear to sing into tiny spy mics hidden in the ends of their sleeves. They’re capable quick change artists who also rock general, cowboy, hippie and other vibes during the 90-minute gig that features choreography by Molly Lajoie. Think line dancing to shades of disco, all done in good taste.

Director Anthony Runfola strikes a perfect balance between rock concert and musical theater production. Lighting design by Tim Monson plays up the rock star vibe, as do cast member shenanigans with standing mics, high fives with children seated in the front row and shouts like “Thank you Tempe!” Their first crowd laughed and clapped with enthusiasm, rising to a standing ovation after the final number titled “Are You a President-to-be?”

The fact that every American president to date has been a man isn’t lost on Hartford, who included plenty of dialogue and lyrics hailing women who’ve made a difference while encouraging girls in the audience to aspire to the country’s highest office. But the favorite number by far, which closes the first act, was a little ditty on presidential pets from ordinary to odd called “They Got a Dog.”

The second act opens with “Not Made of Stone,” performed against the backdrop of an image of Mount Rushmore. It’s an ode to each president’s humanity which, when coupled with “I’m Not All Bad,” reminds folks that every president has both accomplishments and failures. Presidents, you see, are people too. In many ways, they’re like me and you.

Presidents we’ve lost are remembered in “What Could Have Been?,” while the contributions made by presidents after leaving office are celebrated in “I Am More Than Four Years.” Two rounds of “The Presi-tron” test audience member knowledge of presidential trivia, and “Who in the World is Millard Fillmore?” pays tribute to presidents too often forgotten.

Colin Ross in Rock the Presidents, being performed in Tempe through March 4

The song “John and Tom,” which praises the mutual civility demonstrated by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson despite conflicting ideas, feels most relevant for today’s society seeped in supercharged sniping. We don’t have to agree on everything to get along, or to get things done.

My own favorite song is “The Only Thing We Have to Fear,” inspired by FDR’s first inaugural address. Hartford says his greatest hope is that folks will be entertained by “Rock the Presidents.” That’s clearly the case. But I suspect something more will happen too, as those who “Rock the Presidents” with Childsplay reaffirm their responsibility to protect and preserve.

— Lynn

Note: The creative team for “Rock the Presidents” also includes Christopher Neumeyer (sound design). Samantha Monson serves as stage manager and Jenny Millinger serves as dramaturge. David Saar is Childsplay’s founder and artistic director, and Steve Martin serves as managing director.

Coming up: Let’s Play!

Photos: Heather Hill

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Musings on “The Muppets”

As the new Disney movie “The Muppets” opens with the song “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” we see two brothers as seemingly mismatched as Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. There’s big brother Gary and little brother Walter, who seem to go just about everywhere together – often sporting matching outfits like plaid flannel pajamas and powder blue suits.

While watching television one night, they see an episode of “The Muppet Show” featuring funnyman Steve Martin. Soon life changes forever. Gary and girlfriend Mary, eager to celebrate their tenth anniversary, plan a trip to Los Angeles – and Gary suffers the first of many “Walter needs me” moments.

Walter has a bit of a one track mind, so the trio soon find themselves on a tacky tenth-rate tour of the old Muppets studio, where Walter overhears a Texas oil baron talk of tearing the joint down. Walter knows what he has to do – reunite the Muppets for a telethon to save their turf. He starts by tracking down Kermit, who helps him gather more Muppets during travels from Reno to Paris.

From a dusty hall in the old Muppets studio that’s lined with photos of celebs like Florence Henderson to the offices of Miss Piggy decorated with covers of magazines from Esquire to People, the journey is a nod to nostalgia – with a character named ’80s Robot behind the wheel. Lines like “gag me with a spoon” feel a tad less subtle. So does dialogue praising the Muppets of old over contemporary pop culture – though the converted won’t mind being preached to.

The movie stays remarkably true to the Muppets’ real roots while updating the vibe with dashes of rap and recovery mantras. Fans of musical theater will appreciate the film’s multiple homages to both the genre and classic works like “The Phantom of the Opera.” And let’s face it – there’s really nowhere else to go if you favor films that mix dancing butchers with singing chickens.  

The wee ones among us think Big Bird and Elmo when they hear talk of the Muppets, which might explain why grown-ups in the theater seemed more smitten with this movie than their children. After all, we’re the ones who built the city on rock and roll – and think others need us when it’s really the other way around.

Thank goodness for gags, like Fozzie’s fart shoes, that span the generations. For songs like “Rainbow Connection.” For movies that show even failure can lead to triumph. For musical tours de force from “mimimi” to “mahna mahna.” But most of all, for movies that mix the species without anybody giving birth.

— Lynn

Coming up: “Being Elmo,” Fixing what’s broken

“The Sun Serpent”

An early rendering of "The Sun Serpent" set design

For two years, a unique collaboration of Valley artists and arts organizations have worked together to bring “The Sun Serpent” by José Cruz González to Valley  audiences. It’s being performed through Nov. 13 by Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in works for young audiences and families.

“The Sun Serpent” is an adventure tale on a grand scale. It depicts the collision of worlds old and new as a boy struggles to save his family and preserve the memory of his Aztec culture, bringing the conquest of Mexico to life through captivating media, masks, music and more.

Entering the studio theater at Tempe Center for the Arts Saturday evening, I felt transported to another world. Lush rainforest scenes, the work of projection designer Adam Larsen, were projected onto three giant panels layered on each side of the stage.

Lights with a beautiful blend of blue and green, the work of lighting designer Tim Monson, shown down onto large Aztec images painted on the stage — the work of scenic designer Carey Wong. A gentle cloud of mist hovered over the stage as sounds of birds and other rainforest creatures, the work of sound designer Christopher Neumeyer, floated through the air. It was breathtaking.

“The Sun Serpent” marries the best of traditional storytelling with technology. As its three main characters — a young boy, his widowed grandmother and his older brother — face cultural shifts with diverse motivations and dreams, projections reflect their changing world.

We see foreign ships approaching the shore, villages consumed by fire, and journeys trekked over mountaintops — all part of a visual feast best suited for audience members ages 8 & above. There’s greed, death and betrayal. But also hope and courage. “The Sun Serpent,” says director Rachel Bowditch, “portrays the strength of the human spirit.”

The creative team also includes composer Daniel Valdez, costume designer Connie Furr-Soloman, mask designer Zarco Guerrero and puppet designer Jim Luther. Amy Gilbert, who recently made the move from Atlanta to Arizona, serves as stage manager.

David Saar has directed and taught for Childsplay since it began in 1977. Managing director Steve Martin, also president of the board for Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts, is enjoying his 11th season with Childsplay.

Just three actors peform 30 roles in the Childsplay production of “The Sun Serpent.” Andrés Alcalá (Tlememe), an associate artist with Childsplay since 2007, has also performed with Actors Theatre of Phoenix, the Southwest Shakespeare Company, Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre.

Ricky Araiza (Young/Elder Anáhuac), an Arizona native who attended Brophy College Preparatory, graduated from ASU in 2004 with a B.A. in theatre before pursuing additional training in ensemble-based physical theater. Araiza is a freelance acting and movement teacher studying mask-making with Zarco Guerrero.

Andréa Morales (Anci) previously spent five seasons as a Childsplay company member, but now lives in Chicago, where she is a company member of Halcyon Theatre and an artistic associate of Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

As I chatted with cast members after the show, I marveled at the amazing depth and breadth of Childsplay offerings. It seems only yesterday that I was watching Childsplay associate artists D. Scott Withers and Jon Gentry bounce, run, bark and drive around in circles during a theater-in-the-round performance of “Go, Dog. Go!” You never know where the artistry of Childsplay might take you.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for additonal show and ticket information, and here to learn about other works being presented as part of the CALA Festival.

Coming up: Border tales

Update: Playwright José Cruz Gonzaléz writes about developing “The Sun Serpent” and his experiences with Childsplay in an article titled “Chasing the Sun” published in the January 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine. 1/4/12

Big MAC attack!

Sunday is your last chance to see Mesa Encore Theatre perform The Music Man, which beat out West Side Story to win the 1958 Tony Award for best musical

Knowing the 2011 Tony Awards are right around the corner, I decided to go in search of local productions of Tony Award-winning musicals. I started with shows coming to the Mesa Arts Center after getting an e-mail alert that tickets for their 2011-2012 Broadway series, which includes four shows, start at just $95.

Watch the Tony Awards on CBS this Sunday night to see who wins best musical for 2011

The series includes “Rock of Ages,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “The Rat Pack is Back” — plus “My Fair Lady,” winner of the 1957 Tony Award for best musical. The 1958 Tony Award for best musical went to “The Music Man,” which is being performed at MAC by Mesa Encore Theatre through June 12.

I’ll have to share other Tony Award winners coming to Valley stages in a later post, because I’m experiencing a bit of a”big MAC attack” at the moment. Turns out there’s a ton of good stuff happening at the Mesa Arts Center, so I’ve got MAC on the brain instead.

The Mesa Arts Center has offerings in four main areas — shows, classes, events and museum exhibits. Upcoming shows sound plenty intriguing. There’s “Retro,” “Live Love Dance!,” and even Steve Martin and his banjo buddies. Events to watch for include fall and spring “out to lunch” concert series, the Mesa Arts Festival and celebrations of Dia de los Muertos.

This girl should have signed up for music classes through Mesa Arts Center

Mesa Arts Center offers classes in visual and performing arts. Think blacksmithing for the grown-ups and ceramic “mud pups” for children. Also American tribal dance and belly dance classes. Plus “scenes for teens” acting classes and a “dance sampler” for kids who want to explore various dance options.

Exhibits opening today at MAC’s “Mesa Contemporary Arts” space — a collection of five galleries — include “Picturing Maricopa” and “Women’s Work.” Other current exhibits include “Chicanitas,” “Vermilion Remains,” and “Wood & Substance, Substance & Spirit.”

Another snappy dresser from the Mesa Encore Theatre production of The Music Man

That’s a lot of art for an admission fee of just $3.50. Kids age 7 & under are always free — and admission is free for all on Thursdays (the museum is closed on Mondays). I’m going to have to move this to the top of my “me time” to do list. My grown children would enjoy the works, but they’re already off and running in a million directions this summer. Bummer.

— Lynn

Note: The Theater League 2011-2012 Broadway series also performs at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix

Coming up: Art meets science — with a twist of creative genius

Photo credit: Sarah Rodgers and Wade Moran

Charmed (literally) by Childsplay

Though never big on bling, my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth was sporting a new piece of jewely Friday night. It’s a silver necklace with a crystal ball-shaped bobble and a silver charm set with the Childsplay minstrel logo.

I came home with a bright blue hobo style handbag that I can only hope to have the guts to actually carry in public one day. Not because it isn’t amazing, but because it’s such a stark contrast to my usual attack of the black.

Now Lizabeth can take a bit of Childsplay with her to NYC...

We found these puppies at the silent auction for Childsplay’s annual event to support their arts in education program — dubbed “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits” this year.

It’s a good thing we snagged these babies, because there are still far too many kids who need companies like Childsplay to introduce them to the world of live theater.

Steve Martin, managing director for Childsplay, shared some truly sobering statistics about just how little art exists in Arizona schools, and how little we invest as a state in arts education.

We enjoyed the evening at a table of fellow Childsplay fans, who enjoyed chatting with Lizabeth about her experiences growing up with Childsplay and her plans to begin college theater studies in NYC this fall.

To my right sat a longtime supporter of Childsplay named Andy Dzurinko, whose third book espousing “the power of optimism” will be published later this year. I hope to review a copy since Dzurinko shared that the book offers plenty of insights for youth, parents and teachers as well as business folk.

Childsplay’s warm and genuine graphic designer was seated to our left. She gets to play with the Childsplay mistrel on a regular basis. And she was supremely excited to learn at the end of the evening that she’d won the auction prize of her dreams (which I’d best not share here in case it’s a surprise for her 15-year-old son).

Dinner tables were decorated with fiber artist Sonja Saar’s “Benjamin Bears” — Build-a-Bear teddies that tug at the heart with their handmade, no-two-alike sweaters. Guests were invited to purchase a bear and give it a good home, and we all heeded the admonishion to share rather than fighting over them.

The bears raise awareness and money for a special “Benjamin Fund” named in honor of artist Benjamin Saar, son of David and Sonja Faeroy Saar, who died of AIDS-related complications following a blood transfusion to treat his hemophilia. He was just 8 years old, and a well-worn bear named “Muffa” who lives on in each of Sonja’s sweaters, was his constant companion.

I enjoyed learning a bit more about David Saar during his remarks. Seems his first encounter with making theater came after Saar was recruited for a second prop master gig. Later he nailed the role of “Captain Hook” in a production of “Peter Pan,” a real thrill for a boy who’d years before fallen in love with the original “Peter Pan” starring Mary Martin.

Shopping is almost bearable when it's for a good cause...

We enjoyed running into all sorts of creative folk at the gala, including Frances Smith Cohen of Center Dance Ensemble, who was honored with the “Pied Piper Award” at last year’s Childsplay shindig. She was amazed to see Lizabeth, now several feet taller than when she started dance lessons with “Susie” and “Frannie” at Dance Theater West while in preschool.

This year’s “Pied Piper Award” — given to honor achievement in preserving imagination and wonder by supporting and advocating for quality art and education programs — went to Don Dolye and Lin Wright, founders of the “Theatre for Youth” graduate program at ASU.

This year’s “Sonja Award,” named for Sonja Saar and established to honor volunteer service of time given over time, was presented to Donna Gerometta, Jenny Lucier and Dan O’Neill, and the National Charity League-East Valley Chapter.

The evening concluded with a musical presentation by members of the Childsplay acting ensemble, each donning a glorious costume from one of Childsplay’s “greatest hits” — starting with “Still Life With Iris,” the first Childsplay production I enjoyed with my children.

The ensemble sent us off with “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think” — a fitting ode to all the imagination and wonder that is Childsplay. Perhaps Lizabeth will recall its lyrics each time she wears her Childsplay necklace, a talisman of sorts for carrying the good wishes of her many theater friends back home as she makes her own way amidst all the imagination and wonder that is NYC.

— Lynn

Note: Childsplay performs “The Borrowers” through May 22 at Tempe Center for the Arts. Click here for show and ticket information.

Coming up: Summer arts adventures, What’s new: Shakespeare

Playing games

Actors Theatre opens Circle Mirror Transformation -- a play featuring games played by those in a community center acting class -- this Friday at the Herberger Theater Center.

My husband’s been coming home with new books even more than usual these days thanks to sales at local bookstores going out of business. We support plenty of bookstores when they’re thriving, so my guilt is merely mild at this point.

Among his latest haul were two theater-related titles written by award-winning playwrights — “Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays” (1996) by Steve Martin and “Theatre” (2010) by David Mamet. 

I dived into Martin’s “Picasso” play first. It imagines visual artist Pablo Picasso and physicist Albert Einstein conversing in a bar. They’re in their early 20s and have yet to achieve their finest work.

Then I mused my way through Mamet, taking special interest in a chapter addressing “the problem” with acting training. Theater geeks will delight in references to method acting and emotional memory — and names like Stanislavsky, Meisner and Strasberg.

David Vining, Alyson Maloney, Rusty Ferracane, Maren Maclean and Staci Robbins in Circle Mirror Transformation (Photos: John Groseclose)

But those who see the Actors Theatre production of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which runs April 22-May 8 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix, may understand and appreciate Mamet’s insights more than most.

Because “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which won the 2010 Obie Award for “Best New American Play,” captures the earnest folly of four students who participate in theater games (much like those Mamet tersely dismisses in his book) during a community center theater class.

The only real thing I know about acting is that I know nothing. But I do have assumptions, interests and curiosities related to the craft and those who embrace it. And profound respect — for art, artist and audience.

I expect some of my curiosities will be satisfied by coupling a reading of Mamet with experiencing “Circle Mirror Transformation.” But I suspect others will be fueled — which is just how I like my theater.

More games from the cast of Circle Mirror Transformation

The cast of “Circle Mirror Transformation” includes several seasoned Valley actors — including David Vining (James), Rusty Ferracane (Schultz) and Maren Maclean (Theresa). My daughter, Lizabeth, studied with Maclean at both Arizona School for the Arts and Scottsdale Community College.

I rarely ask Lizabeth about her acting classes because it feels a bit like therapy to me. Theater is her space, her vibe, her tribe. But maybe I’ll get a better sense of the transformative nature of theater by watching the talented cast of “Circle Mirror Transformation” playing games.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Obie Awards and here to learn who just won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Coming up: “Theater” versus “Theatre”

From Senegal to Seeger

Michael J. Miles performs on banjo at the MIM this Wednesday

I’m told there’s a gentleman who has quite the diverse banjo repetoire, and will be playing seven of these babies Wednesday night at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix — in a concert dubbed “From Senegal to Seeger.”

He’s Michael J. Miles — musician, composer and musical playwright. Think J.S. Bach. Woody Guthrie. And wordsmiths like Walt Whitman too. They’re all part of this picker’s performance art.

Michael J. Miles sports an impressive banjo collection

Miles’ concert is described as a sort of “social and political portrait of America.” And it makes me wonder. Is there some odd alignment of banjo playing with brilliance?

I ask because only yesterday morning I witnessed Renaissance man Steve Martin playing banjo on CBS News Sunday Morning. Martin also spoke of his experiences with art and his newest novel, titled “An Object of Beauty.”

The banjo has its own special sort of beauty

If you’ve never considered the banjo itself, or the music it makes possible, an object of beauty — it might be time for you to experience the banjo up close and personal.

Perhaps at the MIM Museum Encounter this Wed, Dec 8, at 11:30am or 2:30pm. It’s an opportunity to “meet Miles and hear his entertaining mix of music, history, literature, politics and humor.”

Miles makes a serious fashion statement with this banjo

MIM Museum Encounters are free with museum admission, so you can explore the MIM collection of banjos and other instruments while you are there.

And it won’t cost you a thing to jump online and watch the Steve Martin segment on yesterday’s CBS News “Sunday Morning” show — as well as their hour-long webcast.

If you conjure images of “King Tut” or “Pink Panther” when you think of Steve Martin, you’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. He’s also author, musician, art collector and more.

Martin makes his own "Peace Corps" fashion statement

I love his description of writing — really three simple elements — which is part of the interview you can listen to by clicking here. I’m off to curl up with “An Object of Beauty” now, so I can enjoy the theory put into practice.

The upcoming Miles concert also got me thinking about Arizona Theatre Company’s next production — “Woodie Guthrie’s American Song.”

It runs Dec 30, 2010-Jan 16, 2011 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix, and features “songs and writings by Woody Guthrie.”

Fans of folk and theater will appreciate this ATC offering

The “play guide” is already available online, and it looks to be stellar. It’s my next read after I’m done musing over Martin.

I’m also rather smitten with Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 work titled “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.” Turns out Springsteen plays a mean banjo. Check out this version of “Fever” featuring Bruce on banjo if you doubt me on this one.

Some heard Springsteen play folk during concerts at ASU Gammage

Watch for a future post exploring more of the beauty of the banjo — and ways you can introduce your children to the richness of American folk music, past and present.

— Lynn

More proof that banjo players are brilliant

Note: If you’re a fan of American folk music, I hope you were tuned to PBS last night for “My Music: Folk Rewind” featuring folk singers of the ’50s and ’60s. It reminded me that the online PBS gift shop is another great resource for holiday shopping.

Coming up: “Narnia” from books to big screen, Art adventures: Arizona Science Center, Hippies hit ASU Gammage in Tempe