Tag Archives: Tempe events

Million dollar moments

Austin Cook (center) with 2012 Camp Broadway youth at ASU Gammage in Tempe

Dozens of kids attending this year’s Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage saw Wednesday night’s performance of “Million Dollar Quartet,” then spent time with cast members and other fine folks who work on the show. The opportunity to interact with performers and other theater professionals is part of each summer’s “Camp Broadway” experience.

Camp Broadway participants enjoying lunch at ASU Gammage

Before enjoying a buffet lunch featuring cold cuts, burgers, assorted desserts and even some healthy stuff, campers in small groups of a dozen or so rotated through various stations. Three with ASU Gammage professionals who addressed marketing, technical elements of theater and such — plus another one with several members of the “Million Dollar Quartet” team.

Campers learned how the show’s set gets assembled in each city, how musicians manage tricks like playing a piano set behind them or standing on a double bass, how cast members prepare for their roles and plenty of other tricks of the trade. Also that equipment used in “Million Dollar Quartet” is all new but designed by 1950s specifications so it gives a genuine ’50s sound, and that the whole set weighs about 10,000 pounds.

Smiling faces participating in this year’s Camp Broadway in Tempe

During lunch, cast members took turns answering questions for eager campers, counselors and ASU Gammage VIPs. Each talked about how they caught the theater bug, shared a bit about where they’re from, discussed their college background and offered some sage advice.

Parents dream of moments such as these for their children — when grown-ups they admire share guidance not so different from their own, but more readily accepted because it didn’t come from mom or dad. Find your passion, team MDQ told them. Work hard. Practice. Be disciplined. Treat fellow theater folk (and all folk) with respect. Ignore the naysayers. Be yourself. Believe in yourself.

L to R: Lamont, Marie, Cook, Ferris, Presney and Krug from the first “Million Dollar Quartet” national tour during a Camp Broadway event at ASU Gammage

Kelly Lamont (Dyanne) recalled her first performance at the age of three or four. Think “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Alyssa Marie (u/s Dyanne) spoke of doing her Molly thing in “Annie” as a seven year old. Austin Cook (u/s, Jerry Lee Lewis) discussed his experience “on the classical side,” which started with an “Amahl and the Night Visitors” gig when he was 11.

Lee Ferris (Carl Perkins) admited he was all about baseball until a choir teacher suggested he try out for “Guys and Dolls” — while John Michael Presney (u/s Carl Perkins, Asst. Stage Manager) shared a tidbit from his 2nd grade performance in “Will Rogers Follies.” Seems his big entrance was popping out of a box. “I got stuck,” he told the campers, “in front of 2,000 people.”

John Michael Presney (R) with Camp Broadway campers at ASU Gammage

Stage Manager Michael Krug got his first backstage experience during a college program in technical theater. “I’ve never been a performer,” he shared, “because I can’t sing, act or dance.” After revealing that he’d rocked the Elephant Bird role as a fifth grader in “Horton Hears a Who,” Krug took some good-hearted ribbing from cast members — who pounced on his offer to show them the tape.

I was seated during lunch next to a Juilliard-trained musician named Steve, one of two music directors working with this year’s campers. The other hails from Pace University, where our daughter Lizabeth is a sophomore. He offered plenty of pearls, including one that’ll be a relief to parents who can’t afford oodles of voice lessons or private coaching for their child. Just sing a lot, he suggested, because using the muscles makes them stronger.

Camper and counselor enjoying Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage

One of the younger campers assumed I was a performer, and sweetly suggested that I sing for him. I assured him he’d be better off if I didn’t, then made the rounds to various tables — asking campers at each, “What’s the best thing about Camp Broadway?” Answers ranged from “everything” to “it’s awesome” — and lots of campers told me it was the chance to learn singing, dancing and acting in one place.

I also asked several of the campers how they’d heard about Camp Broadway. “My Nana made me come,” one told me. But that was last year. Returning this year was her idea. Another told me her mom signed her up, and that she plans to return next year now that she’s smitten with all things musical theater. There’s more to life, she says, than Beyonce and Mariah Carey.

Lee Ferris talks with youth participating in this year’s Camp Broadway

Several of the campers I chatted with described Camp Broadway as a great opportunity for self expression, adding that they feel especially free to be themselves in the theater setting. Some plan careers on stage or behind the scenes, and several expect to take lessons learned during Camp Broadway to school and community theater auditions in the coming year.

Everyone affiliated with “Million Dollar Quartet” did a remarkable job interacting with the campers. All were patient, friendly and genuinely engaged in sharing their knowledge. During lunch, they took time to talk with campers individually, pose for photos and autograph items from show programs to Camp Broadway t-shirts.

Alyssa Marie with a happy camper at ASU Gammage in Tempe

You can see “Million Dollar Quartet” at ASU Gammage through Sunday. Click here for ticket information, and watch for news of next year’s camp because slots tend to fill quickly. Following ASU Gammage on social media is a great way to get the scoop before word of camp dates and various promotions hits the streets.

— Lynn

Coming up: Broadway meets cruise ship?

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12


An old married couple

“La Cage Aux Folles” is one of the best musicals I’ve seen at ASU Gammage (Photo by Paul Kolnik/Courtesy of ASU Gammage)

They weren’t technically married, of course, since same sex marriage was strictly verboten when Brooklyn-born Harvey Fierstein (book writer for “Newsies” currently on Broadway) wrote the book for “La Cage Aux Folles.” But the musical’s two main characters — a transvestite dubbed Zaza and his merely gay partner named Georges — aren’t all that different from the rest of us long-wedded couples. They’re facing sacrifices for a child raised together, empty nest syndrome, everyday squabbles and the swift pace of time.

A revival of “La Cage Aux Folles” featuring George Hamilton as Georges and Christopher Sieber as Albin (aka Zaza) is currently on tour — and opened Tuesday night at ASU Gammage in Tempe. The marvels of Arizona weren’t lost on the spunky drag queen who did a bit of pre-show entertainment. Seems no one raised a hand when asked about black Jewish lesbians in the audience, prompting the performer to praise our state for its diversity in marvelously mocking fashion.

Such is “La Cage Aux Folles” — a show unappreciated by the timid yet adored by theater trollips. It’s showy, over-the-top (and sometimes nearly-nothing-on-top) fare full of outrageous humor about life’s little imperfections. Though some surely consider its subject matter profane, few musicals speak as convincingly of the sacred nature of family.

The musical opened on Broadway nearly three decades ago, yet it’s especially relevant nowadays as gay couples seek the right to be legally wed. But never fear. This is no mere morality tale. It’s a splashy bit of musical theater that left me feeling Tuesday night like I’d been transported straight to Broadway.

Lizabeth donned her purple “I’m Not Dead Yet” t-shirt for the occasion, an homeage to Sieber’s “Spamalot” gig. He’s also appeared in “Shrek” — but Lizabeth remembers him best as the widowed father in “Two of a Kind.” Think ABC meets Olsen twins. She was especially excited to meet Sieber after the show, and I’m wishing now that we’d brought along a beach ball and thick Sharpie pen. You’ll get the ball reference once you’ve seen the show.

From start to finish, everything about this production of “La Cage Aux Folles”  is magnificent. Lush lighting (Nick Richings), set (Tim Shortall) and costume design (Matthew Wright). Flawless hair and make-up design (Richard Mawbey). Kicky orchestrations and dance arrangements (Jason Carr). And a live band whose trumpet player gets plenty of toes tapping.

I especially enjoyed Sieber’s performance. The man is funny beyond belief. Also vocals by Michael Lowney, who plays the couple’s son Jean-Michel. His request that Georges and Albin straighten up their act to impress his finance’s conservative parents is at the heart of “La Cage Aux Folles.” In the end, they do plenty of housecleaning.

Lizabeth suggested the show is best for “mature” 13-year-olds and up. Though things like whips and pasties might go right over the little ones’ heads amidst all the rhinestones and ostrich feathers. It’s best, I suspect, to take just the high school and up set. Or a couple of girlfriends decked out in feather boas and sparkly ankle bracelets.

— Lynn

Note: Lizabeth also recommends “The Birdcage,” a hilarious film version of the “La Cage Aux Folles” story starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (also Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest), and featuring music by Stephen Sondheim.

Coming up: Pandora tales, Art meets oncology

Touching history

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Plenty of little ones were touching history during my recent visit to the Tempe History Museum. One mom looked on as her daughter pretended to ride various old-time vehicles spied in the museum, and another watched her son give an impromptu performance on a small stage near a pair of grown-ups enjoying a computer presentation of ASU’s role in preserving biodiversity.

The Tempe History Museum, dubbed the Tempe Historical Museum until completion of its renovation two Februaries ago, was founded by the Tempe Historical Society. They first opened it to the public in 1972. It was housed at the time in the east wing of the Tempe Public Library, which has since become the museum building. The museum also operates a restored Queen Anne Victorian house called the Petersen House Museum.

Folks who approach the library near the corner of Southern and Rural Roads will see the word “MUSEUM” in giant silver letters. Each of the letters is six feet tall and five feet wide — and weighs more than 500 pounds. The powder-coated metal is 3/4 inch think and has an anti-graffiti finish.

While planning renovations, the museum worked to include several “touch points for a good exhibit” — including ease of wayfinding and layering of information. Also lighting both comfortable for visitors and consistent with conservation requirements.

It’s clear when strolling through the museum that they achieved several additional goals as well — integrated multi-media, a personal connection with visitors, visual presentations well-matched to content, effective educational strategies, recreational value and multiple perspectives in terms of age, race and such.

But don’t tell the little ones that. Let them think it’s simply a cool place to find totem poles, old-fashioned vehicles, dress-up clothes and a play pit called Little Devil’s Stadium filled with soft colorful shapes. There’s plenty of interest to adults as well, and places to sit and linger over books or keep an eye on the kiddos.

The main exhibition hall includes several theme areas designed to demonstrate the ways Tempe is distinct, diverse and dynamic. There’s “College Town,” “Building Our Community,” “Living Together” and “Surviving in the Desert.” Those of you who’ve been in the Valley for a while will recognize several familiar faces — including that of Colleen Jennings-Roggensack of ASU Gammage — among those gracing giant hanging squares inside the museum.

The museum’s Community Room currently houses an Arizona Centennial photo exhibit, curated by local photographer Dick George, which “tells of the people, events and trends that have shaped Tempe over the past 100 years.” Its Changing Gallery features an exhibit about the history of rodeo and a trio of Arizona brothers, the Finley boys, who hailed from a ranching family and rose to national rodeo fame from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The Tempe History Museum also offers two online exhibits — “Doors to the Past: Preserving Tempe’s Architectural Heritage” and “Buffalos, Bulldogs & Bowl Games: 100 Years of Football in Tempe.” I’ll have to tell my hubby about that last one since attending bowl games was a family tradition before he headed off to college in California. Our daughter Jennifer, a student at Arizona State University, would get a kick out of all the museum’s nostalgic Sun Devil fare.

The February calendar for the Tempe History Museum looks plenty fascinating. This month’s “Third Thursday Night Cafe at the Museum” features Bruce Rittman sharing a bit about harvesting lipids produced by photosynthetic bacteria for biodiesel production. A concert celebrating Black History Month takes place at the museum Sat, Feb. 25 at 6pm. It’ll feature gospel, folk, jazz and soul tunes — and a reading of MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech” by Elmer Green. Also works by artists in the black community.

The museum hosts a monthly series of lunchtime talks presented by the Tempe Historical Society, and a special concert for children and families takes place next month. Folks can click here to learn about these and other upcoming events at  the Tempe History Museum.

When you visit, make time to explore artwork exhibited at the Vihel Activity Center adjacent to the museum, where you can also pick up information about all sorts of programs and activities presented by the City of Tempe, and the Tempe Public Library. The library is home to an entire floor dedicated to children, youth and families.

In a single outing, you can touch art, literacy and history.

— Lynn

Coming up: Time at the Tempe Public Library, Exploring Scottsdale’s Little Red Schoolhouse

Photos: Lynn Trimble

Madcap musings

Madcap Theaters located in Centerpoint on Mill in Tempe

“Geeks’ Night Out” comes to Tempe this week as the Arizona SCITECH Festival meets “Third Thursdays” in Tempe’s Mill Avenue District — and the fine folks at Madcap Theaters host an Allied Paranormal Investigations team who’ll be “showing the equipment they use in researching potential hauntings.”

MADCAP's mission is providing affordable community-based performance space

Other “Geeks’ Night Out” happenings, taking place at various Tempe locations, feature everything from robotics to astronomy — plus a pop culture trivia competition. Think “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek.” Folks can dress up like their favorite inventor or don the geek version of business attire for a tech job fair.

Harry Potter meets musical theater at Madcap Theaters in Tempe this month

A little something called “It’s a Musical Showcase” comes to Madcap Theaters for just two shows next weekend. It was conceived and created by a pair of ASU theatre majors, and it features fare you’ll have a hard time finding elsewhere — including a work from “A Very Potter Musical.”

“It’s a Musical Showcase” includes 14 songs, but only the first of two acts is dubbed “family friendly” so parents concerned about such things can opt for having the kids leave at intermission. Featured shows include “Chicago,” “Rent,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Wicked,” “Spring Awakening,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Avenue Q,” “Moulin Rouge” and more.

This view of Madcap's snack bar demonstrates that perception is everything

A digital arts festival called “PLAY” comes to Madcap Theaters next month thanks to UrbanSTEW. The festival “celebrates the union of art and technology” — and this year’s theme is “disability perception.” It’ll feature music, dance, activities and exhibits exploring human limits and abilities. Special guests include Crossing 32nd Street, Dulce Dance Company and ASU’s laptop orchestra.

There's plenty of artwork to enjoy in and around Madcap Theaters in Tempe

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., a professor of animal science at Colorado State University best known to most for her advocacy on behalf of those living with autism, comes to Madcap Theaters in March for an Autism Society of Greater Phoenix event that also features Dianne Craft, M.A., CNHP, of Child Diagnostics in Denver.

Three large rabbit sculptures surround a pond near Madcap Theaters

Grandin is a proponent of neurodiversity, the author of many works (including “Animals Make Us Human” and “Animals in Translation” with co-author Catherine Johnson) and the subject of a semi-biographical film (“Temple Grandin”) starring Claire Danes that was released by HBO Films in 2010.

Mellow Mushroom near Madcap Theaters is full of art ala skateboards

Those who favor venues with diverse “off the beaten path” offerings have a friend in Madcap Theaters. A geeky friend, perhaps. But a friend nonetheless. Learn more about upcoming events, included those noted above, by visiting Madcap Theaters at www.madcaptheaters.com.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for details about the Autism Society of Greater Phoenix 13th Annual Autism/Asperger’s Conference, and here to explore Mellow Mushroom offerings.

Coming up: A trio of Tempe galleries, Hands-on history

Another night with “South Pacific”

South Pacific runs through Jan. 15 at ASU Gammage

It’s been more than fifty years since my mother-in-law saw a revival of “South Pacific” at the New York City Center. Neither my husband James nor his sister Julie had been born yet. And the work, which raises themes of racism, was much closer in time to everyday clashes between Americans taking different sides on race-related issues.

The musical, which is based on a 1947 James Michener novel titled “Tales of the South Pacific,” premiered in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama the following year. A “South Pacific” film was released in 1958, which Glenna also enjoyed. But she wasn’t in the house for the “South Pacific” concert held at Carnegie Hall in 2005. That production starred Reba McEntire as Nellie and Brian Stokes Mitchell as Emile.

My daughter, Lizabeth, has long been a Broadway buff — and I think we may have watched the Tony Awards with James’ parents in 2008, the year a revival of “South Pacific” earned seven Tony Awards, including best musical revival. The ceremony that year included a cast performance of three songs from the show — “Nothing Like a Dame,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “A Wonderful Guy.”

The 2008 revival played at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, where I saw “War Horse” with Lizabeth just last year. Its opening cast included Kelli O’Hara as Nellie, Paulo Szot as Emile and Matthew Morrison (now known to tweens as Mr. Schuester on FOX’s “Glee“) as Lt. Cable.

I first saw a live production of “South Pacific” with Lizabeth many years ago, during an earlier tour that included ASU Gammage in Tempe. The current tour of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific,” recommended for ages 8 and up, is being performed at ASU Gammage through Sun, Jan. 15.

Marcelo Guzzo (Emile) and Katie Reid (Nellie)

Both Glenna and Tom attended the opening night performance, so I asked Glenna to share a few thoughts about the show. With so many lawyers in the family, I wasn’t surprised by her description of the sets as “effective.” And though she felt some of the acting was a bit stiff, Glenna shared that she really enjoyed the music.

I suspected as much knowing that Emile is played by Marcelo Guzzo, who has a long list of opera credits. Glenna shared that Cathy Foy-Mahi’s performance as Bloody Mary was “really good.” She’s a Hawaiian actress whose stage credits include “Les Miserables” (Mdme. Thenardier) and television credits include ABC’s “Lost” and CBS’s “Hawaii 5-0.”

Folks who attend tonight’s performance can stay after the show for “TalkBack Thursday” with 99.9 KEZ — enjoying insights from cast and crew members. Families who prefer afternoon to evening performances have both Saturday and Sunday matinees to choose from.

When you attend, watch for 7-year-old Cole Bullock from New Jersey, who makes his professional theater production debut in the role of Jerome. Also 8-year-old Hannah Isabel Bautista, from San Francisco, who plays Bloody Mary’s assistant. Kids love seeing other children perform on stage.

Glenna tells me they’ve already got tickets for the Feb. 15-March 11 run of “Wicked” at ASU Gammage, but confessed that she’ll need to do a bit of homework before attending. I have a friend, Alan Handelsman, who can help with that. He’s seen “Wicked” eleven times in seven cities — and he’s written a guest post for the “Stage Mom” blog that’ll  go up later this month.

— Lynn

Note: Other shows coming to ASU Gammage this season include “Green Day’s American Idiot,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” and “Million Dollar Quartet.” Click here for details.

Coming up: Rock & roll — for a cause

A veteran’s take on “South Pacific”

Thanksgiving Follies scene from Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific on tour, which comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe Jan. 10-15, 2012 (Photos: Peter Coombs)

When the touring production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe in early January, Valley audiences will enjoy a cast that includes Vietnam veteran Robert John Biederman, who describes his portrayal of Captain Brackett as “a salute to all the veterans in the audience.”

Biedermann was a naval officer working in cryposecurity, and his father was a captain during World War II. He praises “South Pacific” for its portrayal of something central to the experience of serving in the military — camaraderie between service members, and shares that he wears his father’s military dog tags during every performance.

Hammerstein and original director Joshua Logan adapted stories from James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” when writing the book for “South Pacific” — which features music by Rodgers and lyrics by Hammerstein. Biedermann praises the revival’s director for “taking the storyline so seriously” — treating the piece as “a straight show with music.”

Marcelo Guzman as Emile de Becque and Katie Reid as Nellie Forbush

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” follows two World War II romances in which race plays a significant role. “Racial issues are front and center with this musical,” reflects Biedermann. “My favorite word in the show,” says Biedermann, “is when Nellie says colored.” Seems Nellie falls for an older man who’s been widowed, but gets cold feet after learning his children had an Asian mother.

Meanwhile, an island mother dubbed “Bloody Mary” lures a young sailor named Joe to court her daughter Liat. The song “Happy Talk,” says Beidermann, is actually the mother’s way of saying “I want you to take my daughter so she doesn’t have to go through what I went through.”

Cathy Foi Mahi as Blood Mary in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific

“Racial issues exist now as they did in World War II,” says Biedermann. “It should make you feel uncomfortable,” says Biedermann. “It’s all about how you were raised.” Apparently songs like “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” weren’t well accepted by some folks in the American South when the musical opened in 1949.

There’s plenty that’s lovely and light in the musical “South Pacific,” but those looking for deeper meaning will surely find it. And maybe it’ll serve to remind us all that only 1.7 million of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II are still with us, and that there’s much we can learn from their stories.

Biedermann says he’d love to welcome WWII veterans who see the show backstage, but you’ll have to check with ASU Gammage on how they handle such things. Click here to learn more about the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and here to learn more about the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.

— Lynn

Note: “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe Jan. 10-15, 2012. Click here for show and ticket information.

Coming up: Valley youth tackle “Les Miserables”

In & Out of Oz

Detail of a mural at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City

I felt I’d walked right into Oz last month when I entered the Gershwin Theatre to enjoy the Broadway musical “Wicked” with my 18-year-old daughter Lizabeth. Giant murals of scenes from “Munchkinland” and the “Emerald City” line an expansive theater wall. Props from the original film are exhibited inside the theater. Families gather at a special photo booth for pictures set in the land of Oz. And there’s no shortage of green — or sparkle.

We’ve seen the musical “Wicked” several times now, and will happily see it again at every opportunity. The touring production returns to ASU Gammage next year for a Feb. 15-March 11 run. Tickets go on sale Nov. 28. So while others are distracted by “Black Friday” sales, Broadway lovers will be waiting for “Green Monday.”

Folks familiar with books by Gregory Maguire are eagerly awaiting his Nov. 14 appearance at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe — where his new book titled “Out of Oz” will be featured during a discussion, Q & A and booksigning. It’s the final installment of his four-part “Wicked Years” series.

Other books in the series include “Wicked,” “Son of a Witch” and “A Lion Among Men.” It’s his first book that inspired the Tony Award winning musical “Wicked.” In “Out of Oz,” a once peaceful and prosperous Oz is “knotted with social unrest” and “wracked by war.”

I’ve always found the social justice piece of “Wicked” its most fascinating strain, so I’m eager to read Maguire’s tale of “the Emerald City mounting an invasion of Munchkinland.”

Still, “Wicked” is for most the tale of two witches — one who sparkles and shines while enjoying glowing popularity, and other scorned for her green skin and less-winning ways. It’s a morality tale with important lessons about friendship and the perils of judging those around us. But first and foremost, it’s a magical spectacle of stagecraft and storytelling.

— Lynn

Note: “Wicked” is one of many shows participating in the 2012 “Kids Night on Broadway” program in NYC. Click here for details. Click here to learn about the wicked women of Goosebottom Books (and watch for a future review of two new titles). And click here for a sneak peek at the “Storytellers 2012” calendar featuring Gregory Maguire.

Coming up: Broadway’s “Theater Hall of Fame,” If you give a mouse a musical…