Tag Archives: Tempe theater

Stray cat meets sparrow

Our family cat, Pinky, was a stray kitten with searing blue eyes and tiny gnashing teeth before we rescued her from the roof of a local school that borders a park where she used to play.

Nowadays Pinky loves to sit by a window near the kitchen table where I write. It gives her the best view of all those birds who find our backyard a welcoming habitat. Hummingbirds. Quail. Wrens. Grackles.

When I heard about a play titled “Sparrow” making its Southwest premiere later this year, I did a little homework and discovered — thanks to the Arizona Bird Committee — that Arizona is home to all sorts of sparrows. Fox Sparrow. Swamp Sparrow. Lincoln’s Sparrow. And more.

But Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe is bringing a different sort of sparrow to our neck of the woods. It’s a play titled “Sparrow” that originated at The House Theatre of Chicago in 2007 — a work conceived by Nathan Allen and written by Chris Matthews and Jake Minton. “Sparrow” is the tale of a young girl with special powers.

Emily Book is an elementary school student — the sole survivor of a school bus crash that leaves her hometown devastated. She moves away, only to return for her senior year. It’s a painful reminder, and few are happy to see her. What unfolds next will surprise and stir you.

The Strat Cat Theatre audition notice describes “Sparrow” as a “very physical, ensemble-based work” in which many actors play multiple roles. It’s storytelling intertwined with music and dance, plus sci-fi and graphic novel sensibilities. Reviewers have likened it to “Mean Girls,” “Carrie” and “Wicked.”

With direction by Stray Cat founding artistic director Ron May, “Sparrow” should prove edgy yet accessible, like his production of “Columbinus” a couple of seasons ago. I’m eager to experience all four of this season’s Stray Cat productions — including “Milk, Milk Lemonade,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” and “Heddatron.”

In the meantime, I have my own cat to keep watch over the world with me.

— Lynn

Note: “Sparrow,” which is recommended for teens & up, runs Sept 23-Oct 8 at the Tempe Performing Arts Center in the Mill Avenue District.

Coming up: Zoot suit tales, From ukes to clogs, Art in motion

Update: Head to Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Phoenix this Thurs, July 28 at 1pm for a “Bird-a-palooza” with the Arizona Animal Welfare League. Click here for details.

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


Touring shows with a Tony Awards® twist

Jackie Burns performing the role of Elphaba in Wicked (Photo by Joan Marcus)

In a perfect world, we could simply hop the light rail (or Elphaba’s broom) and hitch a ride to NYC for the latest and greatest Broadway productions.

Thankfully, there’s a plan B — attending touring productions of Broadway shows at three Valley venues during the 2011/12 season.

Theater League’s “Broadway Series” includes four shows that’ll be performed at both Mesa Arts Center and the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix

My Fair Lady,” coming to Arizona Jan 31-Feb 19, 2012, earned six Tony Awards® (including best musical) in 1957 and one in 1976 (for best actor in a musical).

The “Broadway in Your Backyard” series at ASU Gammage in Tempe features seven shows. ASU Gammage also presents three special engagements, including “Wicked” — a musical that earned three Tony Awards® in 2004 (best actress in a musical for Idina Menzel, costumer designer and scenic designer).

Other Tony Award® winners coming to ASU Gammage include “West Side Story,” “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific,” “Green Day’s American Idiot,” “La Cage Aux Folles,” and “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Kyle Harris and Ali Ewolt performing in West Side Story (Photo by Joan Marcus)

West Side Story” earned two Tony Awards® in 1958 — one for best choreographer (Jerome Robbins) and another for best scenic designer. The revival earned a 2009 Tony Award® for best actress in a musical. The touring production of “West Side Story” opens the 2011-12 Broadway season at ASU Gammage on Sept 27.

The touring production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” comes to ASU Gammage Jan 10-15, 2012. The revival earned four 2008 Tony Awards® — for best revival (musical), actor, lighting design and director.

The original “South Pacific” earned nine 1950 Tony Awards®, including best musical, actor (musical), actress (musical), score, libretto and director. Also best supporting or featured actor (musical), supporting or featured actress (musical) and producers (musical).

Green Day’s American Idiot” — which earned two 2010 Tony Awards®, for scenic design (musical) and lighting design (musical) — takes to the ASU Gammage stage April 24-29, 20102.

La Cage Au Folles” earned six Tony Awards®, including best musical, in 1984. Also actor (musical), book (musical), director (musical), score and costume designer. One revival earned 2005 Tony Awards® for best revival (musical) and choreographer.

Douglas Hodge earned the 2010 Tony Award for best actor in a musical (Photo by Uli Weber)

The most recent revival received three 2010 Tony Awards® — for best musical and director. Also best actor (for Douglas Hodge). The touring production comes to ASU Gammage May 15-20, 2012.

Million Dollar Quartet” rounds out the 2011-12 “Broadway in Your Backyard” series at ASU Gammage June 5-10, 2012. It earned a 2010 Tony Award® for best actor in a featured role (musical).

I hadn’t imagined, while watching last year’s broadcast of the 2010 Tony Awards®, that I’d be able to enjoy touring productions of three winning musicals right here in the Valley so soon thereafter.

But I’m thrilled that’s the case, and even more excited now to watch the 2011 Tony Awards® ceremony knowing that several of the shows being honored this year may soon find their way to Arizona.

— Lynn

Note: ASU Gammage is sponsoring a Tony Awards® contest, with a very nifty prize for the winner. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: A conversation with Arizona’s only Tony Awards® voter

Conversations with Cosette

“My mother is a music teacher and my dad plays bass.” So began my conversation with 10-year-old Katherine Forrester, one of two young actresses who’ll perform the role of “Little Cosette” during the touring production of “Les Miserables” coming to ASU Gammage Jun 7-12.

I’d asked about her interest in musical theater, and invited her to share a bit about how she got involved in performing. Forrester says she “began singing for free” at age three, and started “singing professionally” at age six — with her mom accompanying her on piano.

“When I was little I always asked for an agent,” recalls Forrester. “I got one when I was seven.” Her agent made the “Les Mis” connection and Forrester, who hails from Toronto, went to NYC to audition.

Katherine Forrester, one of two actresses performing the role of Little Cosette in the production of LES MISERABLES coming to ASU Gammage in Tempe June 7-12

“I didn’t think I’d get the part,” recalls Forrester. But she got the call the next day during the bus ride home. Forrester says she “came in” two or three more times. They had her perform “Castle on a Cloud” and sing various harmonies. “Then they measured four of us,” she recalls.

She learned by phone that she’d landed the role. “I was so excited,” recalls Forrester. “I needed to go into the bus washroom and squeal!” Nowadays she’s spending more time on the bus, and on stage. She hopes her dog “Daisy” will be able to join her on tour at some point.

After getting the call, Forrester called her grandmother first. “Everybody was so excited for me,” recalls Forrester, who dreams of a career in film or theater. For now, she’s being homeschooled “on the road.” She’s “doing a regular curriculm” for fourth grade, and her favorite subject is science.

Forrester says the touring life is better than she expected. “I get to see lots of new places and people.” Her favorite stop so far is Ft. Lauderdale, because that’s where she first saw the ocean. “It’s like summer every day,” she says of Florida. Forrester also enjoyed seeing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

Kathleen Forrester as Little Cosette in LES MISERABLES (Photo: Deen van Meer)

Forrester alternates performing the role of “Little Cosette” with Anastasia Korbal. “When we aren’t Cosette,” she says, “we are little Eponine.” Forrester says she’d love to perform other roles in “Les Miserables” when she is older — and perform in “Wicked” too. She plans to attend college, with a focus on singing.

Turns out Anastasia Korbal has fond memories of Ft. Lauderdale too. That’s where she celebrated her 11th birthday with cupcakes, balloons and all the usual fanfare. But Korbal’s journey to the stage began around the age of three, when she began taking jazz, ballet and tap lessons.

“I kept asking to go,” recalls Korbal — who says her mom took her just to see what it was like. “I’ve been dancing ever since then,” muses Korbal. She remembers watching movies like “Annie,” then “picking a character and playing it at the house the next day.”

She auditioned for a community theater production of “The Sound of Music” at age five, landing the role of Gretel — a role she performed “several other times.” She went from performing in community theater to performing in regional theater.

Her first Broadway touring production was the 35th anniversary tour of “Annie.’ Korbal says she performed the role of Molly for nine months. Nowadays, she’s enjoying the “Les Miserables” tour and doing schoolwork with a tutor on the road.

“I love doing this because it’s getting to be a different person than who you are,” reflects Korbal. She says live theater is more fun than doing a movie or television because “every night is different” — and “anything can happen.” Good audiences are rewarding, she says, because they leave her feeling like she’s done her job.

Like Forrester, Korbal would love to perform an adult role in “Les Miserables” one day. She’d also love to do “Mary Poppins.” Korbal plans to study theater in college because “if you love something, that’s what you should do for a living.”

The company of the new 25th anniversary of LES MISERABLES (Photo: Deen van Meer)

Both Forrester and Korbal share that “Les Miserables,” though set during the French Revolution, is about something more. Forrester describes “Les Miserables” as “a lot of stories in one story.” Korbal says the musical “is really about getting through tough times.”

“It’s about taking what comes,” says Korbal, “and making the best of it.” She attributes the longstanding popularity of “Les Miserables” to its “strong message” and “phenomenal music.”

Forrester says that folks like me who’ve seen the show several times will love seeing the newest production because of the “awesome special effects.” The show is good for all ages, says Korbal, noting that young children can enjoy it without understanding it all — though she recommends telling children the story before they see the live production.

With any luck at all, older teens who see the show will run right home and beg their parents for a copy of the 1862 Victor Hugo novel that inspired the musical. Little ones will be inspired to try singing, dancing or community theater. And grown-ups will pause to reflect on the power of forgiveness.

— Lynn

Note: An open casting call (for girls ages 6-12) for the roles of “Annie” and the orphans in an upcoming production of “Annie” takes place June 12 in NYC, according to www.annieorphans.com.

Coming up: Women of Broadway, Musical theater memoirs

From peach to poodle

I headed out Saturday to see the opening performance of “James and the Giant Peach” at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. It’s being presented by Theater Works’ Youth Works through Feb 20 — and it’s a truly charming take on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name.

I ran into a fellow stage mom at the box office, who told me to “take a lot of pictures of the aunts.” A lovely idea but impossible because my camera is in NYC for a week with my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth.

Zane Reisert (Old Green Grasshopper) and Evan Arganbright (James)

After the show, I hung around to chat with cast and family members — including a young actor named Evan Arganbright who performed the role of “James.”

He reminds me of Lizabeth during her early years with Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale.

For a time, it’s all about the cute factor — and Arganbright has it.

I’ll share a bit more of his story, and a review of “James and the Giant Peach” in a future post.

On my way home, I got a call from my 21-year-old son, Christopher, who finished a volunteer gig early and was waiting for the teen taxi.

I picked him up and we headed to Tempe to get my 19-year-old daughter Jennifer, an ASU student who still heads home on weekends for laundry, tech support and life’s little essentials like Dr Pepper.

We got to Tempe just before 4pm — and a lightbulb went off. I dropped Christopher off at a burger joint and headed back to the Tempe Center for the Arts, where Childsplay is performing “Go, Dog. Go!” (based on the book by P.D. Eastman) at 1pm and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays through March 6.

Scene from a former Childsplay production of "Go, Dog. Go!"

I got to TCA in the nick of time, and took a seat near one of three houses (the dog house) that anchor the set.

“Go, Dog. Go!” is performed “theater in the round” style, so preschoolers were seated all around the circular floor-level performance area.

They were giggling nearly non-stop, as were more than a few of the grown-ups sitting in rows behind them.

Both “James and the Giant Peach” and “Go, Dog. Go!” are performed in relatively small spaces — and even feature somewhat similar lighting for scenes with a starlit sky. One is done with a giant set piece (a rotating peach) in the center of the space, while the other features three houses around the perimeter of the performance area.

Each production puts a unique spin on things. The “James and the Giant Peach” set includes a screen showing puppetry mirroring the action of the play. The “Go, Dog. Go!” set extends to the theater’s first balcony — where a character named Hattie (sporting some serious pink) glides along while asking, “Do you like my hat?”

I had to duck out during the “Go, Dog. Go!” intermission to take care of some things for my own kids, but stopped on the way to admire the books, CDs and even pink poodle purse at the Childsplay display tables on the way out.

I’ll share more about the performance, and the educational lobby display, in a future post. I expect to see the show again with Lizabeth once she’s done with college audition travels.

It’s just as well, I suppose, that I got called away early. I fear my own uproarious laughter, more like snorting really, was a bit too much for the more subdued grown-ups in the audience — though someone from Childsplay did laud my “setting a good example” for those less inclined to let go and let dog.

Before scurrying out of the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts, I was lured by visions of glass in the venue’s dedicated exhibit space — stumbling first on a trio of works by Angela Cazel Jahn, co-founder and former artistic director for the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.

Today she’s part of the “eye lounge” artist collective in downtown Phoenix. Cazel Jahn also is a dedicated stage mom, in the most positive sense of the word, and I hope to share more of her story in a future post as well.

TCA's exhibit of glass art features several intriguing mixed-media works

The current TCA Gallery exhibit also features works coupling glass with neon, metal and other intriguing materials.

The exhibit space is modest in size with a very intimate feel–making it a perfect introduction for children to the world of art exhibits and museums.

My final stop before getting Jennifer and going home was a longtime Mill Avenue haunt called “The Shoe Mill” — where we found a rugged but stylish pair of black leather boots that we photographed via cell phone for Lizabeth. How odd, I thought, that a teen surrounded by NYC shopping options might find the finest boots back home in Tempe.

Eventually the three of us made our way home, happy to be off our feet and out of the cold (by Arizona standards) weather. Soon the washing machine was humming and we were waiting word from Lizabeth about her first day of auditions.

But that’s a story for another day — and it’s her story, not mine, to tell.

The little girl who once would have joined me for a day of peaches and poodles is making her own way in the world of theater, and I couldn’t be more proud of her hard work, talent and passion for the craft.

— Lynn

Note: Lizabeth has studied with each of the actors performing in Childsplay’s “Go, Dog. Go!” — which makes watching them perform even more meaningful as a mom. Click here to learn about Childsplay summer classes. Click here to learn about Theater Works summer camps. Click here to learn about “Glee” camp with “Yellow Dog” actor Kristen Drathman. Finally, click here to learn about the 2011 RAK Camp Fair featuring diverse camp options for Valley children and teens.

Coming up: Valley teachers talk theater

Valley stages feature holiday fare

I met this great kid named Jake that I run into every now and then — always eager to learn about his next acting adventure. Lately I get the same polite answer every time I ask.

Piglet and Pooh from the 2009 VYT production of A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail

It’s “A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail” presented by Valley Youth Theater in Phoenix.

I like to believe my mind is simply in holiday denial rather than admitting the memory might be fading a bit with the years. And I appreciate that Jake always shares his news graciously and cheerfully as if for the first time.

You can see Jake and plenty of other talented Valley youth performing Dec 3-23, in one of many Christmas theme shows appearing on Valley stages during the next several weeks.

Childsplay in Tempe, a professional company presenting theater for young audiences and families, brings back last season’s hit featuring Junie B. Jones of storybook fame.

“Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” is playing now through Dec 24 at the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts.

Comedies make for great holiday stress relief, and East Valley Children’s Theatre is presenting a piece by Barbara Robinson that we don’t often get to see on stage.

It’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” — being performed Dec 2-12 at Mesa Arts Center — which recounts the antics of a bunch of kids who really had no business being cast in a Christmas show.

I love seeing shows at the MAC because I so often stumble on street fairs, museum events and other lively happenings in the area. As with the Herberger Theater Center and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, a little walking takes you a whole lot of places.

Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria presents its first original musical, “Merry Christmas Frankenstein,” from Dec 3-19. They describe it as a sort of “Nightmare  Before Christmas” meets “Young Frankenstein.”

Kids like Jake get so excited when others come to see them perform — putting a great deal of time and energy into theater that can transport us from the too often rushed and worried times of the season.

Remember Valley theater productions as you’re planning activities to enjoy with friends and family this season. Your attendance, appreciation and applause means so much to those who create, craft and perform the work.

When the youth at your local schools, religious settings and community organizations present holiday fare — whether visual arts, music, dance or theater — please go and support the cause. And consider a one-time or ongoing gift of time or money.

The arts created by those alongside and around us is a gift to the community that lasts through every season…

— Lynn

Note: Check the print and online editions of the Raising Arizona Kids magazine calendar for more holiday events and activities suitable for families, and kindly comment below if you know other another holiday production our readers might enjoy. Finally, remember that museums and performing arts venues often offer great holiday gift selections, and that tickets to upcoming performances make unique gifts for teachers, family members, friends and others.

Coming up: Holiday music for Valley families

Check out this free event happening tonight!


I’m posting this week about holiday arts events and opportunities, rather than posting a ‘this week in the arts’ sort of roundup. But here’s an event taking place this evening that’s free and open to the public, and sounds like a perfectly lovely way to unwind before “turkey day.”

First chance, last chance

Leave the kittens at home for this baby...

“Does this play make me look fat?” That’s the teaser for a Neil LaBute play opening this weekend as Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe begins its ninth season. It’s your first chance this season to experience the edgy and enlightening work of these creative cats, led by the master of all feline funny business — Ron May. Grab a date or group of friends and leave the kittens at home for this baby, a play that’s heavy on dueling dialogue and relationship revelations.

This weekend is your last chance to see the season opener for the Southwest Shakespeare Company. It’s an original adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy  — “Blood Royal” by Michael Flachmann. Most relationships don’t stand a chance in this play, which could easily be subtitled “Reasons to be petty.” “Blood Royal” is full of men (and a few women) with swords who aren’t afraid to use them, especially if it means securing a royal crown. It’s another option for the teen and up crowd.

Grab some girlfriends for his one...

It’s also your last chance to get in on some festive fundraisers benefiting important arts organizations in Arizona. Tonight the Women’s Metropolitan Arts Council (WoMAC) holds its annual “It’s In The Bag” event to benefit the Phoenix Art Museum. Tomorrow night in Tucson the Arizona Theatre Company holds its “Gala 2010: A Night In Lights” at the Temple of Music and Art. The featured performer at the ATC event is “rising star” Megan Hilty, who played Glinda in “Wicked” and Dora Lee in “9 to 5.”

If supporting scholarships for music students is your thing, you can head to South Mountain Community College tonight for a classical music concert to aid student scholarships. It features two SMCC faculty members. Mezzo soprano Isola Jones performs arias from Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and Saint-Saens. Pianist Henry Rose performs works to include “Preludes” and “Etudes-Tableaux” by Rachmaninoff.

This evening is your only chance to enjoy a free dance performance at the ASU Galvin Playhouse in Tempe (which welcomes the touring production of “Young Frankenstein” this week as it opens the 2010-2011 Broadway Across America Arizona series). The new work (still a “work in progress”), which includes mature content and themes, is co-presented by the ASU School of Dance and ASU Gammage. Dean Moss’ “Nameless forest” explores identity and perception via performance, dance, video, audio and visual design.

A wonderful day for family play...

Saturday in Sedona the whole family can enjoy the “Celtic Harvest Festival” from 10am to 8pm at Tequa Festival Marketplace. The festival features entertainers from diverse Celtic cultures, performances by Sedona-area children who have studied with teaching artists (in music, dance, piping and storytelling) and a children’s courtyard with “fun activities for children of all ages.” Master of Ceremonies for the event is Senator Tom O’Halleran.

Saturday evening in Tucson families can enjoy “A Mexican Celebration” presented by the Arizona Symphony Orchestra. The 7:30pm event takes place in Chowder Hall on the University of Arizona campus, and will feature the music of popular Mexican composers including Chavez, Revueltas and Galinda.

My daughter Jennifer is keen to get over to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe tonight to hear three teen parnormal authors read from and discuss their work. I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze in time to be the dessert mom for a Saturday rehearsal of Lizabeth’s school musical. I still can’t bring myself to buy cupcakes or other treats rather than making them myself.

Another fun pick for families...

If you head over to Changing Hands at 10am on Saturday morning, your kiddos (and you) can enjoy one of their many events for children — an “Explore-A-Story” with Childsplay based on Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” series. Childsplay is performing “A Year With Frog and Toad” through Oct 16 at Tempe Center for the Arts — so you have plenty of chances to see it. But why wait?


Note: For a comprehensive listing of activities for children and families, visit the Raising Arizona Kids magazine online calendar. Always call event presenters before attending to confirm date, time, location, age recommendations, cost and other details.

Coming up: Focus on film, Easing on down the road

Childsplay photo pictures D. Scott Withers, Dwayne Hartford and Katie McFadzen in “A Year With Frog and Toad” (photo by Heather Hill)

Sneak peeks

Looking for a taste of Valley theater? Check out these “season previews” offering a sneak peek at upcoming shows…

Trent Kowalik (Billy) and Ballet Girls-Photo by Alastair Muir

“The ASU Gammage Progressive Broadway Across America-Arizona 2010/2011 Season Preview” comes to ASU Gammage on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.

It’s your chance to enjoy a video presentation spotlighting 2010/2011 shows–seven offerings which range from “Hair” to “Fiddler on the Roof.”

"Hair" 2009 revival cast-Photo by Joan Marcus

ASU Gammage also presents three special engagements this season–to include the classic musical “Les Miserables.”

"Barricades" from "Les Miserables"-Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench

Their season preview event takes place Mon, Aug 2, from 6-8pm, and admission is free. They ask only that you RSVP to rsvp@asugammage.com or 480-965-5062 by Sun, Aug 1.

ASU Gammage bring Shrek, the Grinch, and Beauty and the Beast to the Valley this season

The event includes live “sneak-peek performances” from “Billy Elliot the Musical” and Dreamworks’ “Shrek the Musical”–as well as “complimentary refreshments, free food from La Bocca Pizzeria and a chance to win prizes.”

Just a few weeks later, you can enjoy a free sneak peek of Childsplay’s upcoming season at the “Childsplay 2010-2011 Preview Party.”

Childsplay presents "The Year of Frog and Toad"

It’ll be held Sat, Aug 21, from 10am-2pm at their Sybil B. Harrington Campus of Imagination and Wonder, located at 900 S. Mitchell Dr. in Tempe.

The event includes not only a sneak peek of season offerings, but also “family activities involving stagecraft, theatre games and hands-on fun.”

"Junie B. Jones" returns to Childsplay this season

What better way to discover which shows most interest your children than taking them along to sample the season’s upcoming fare?

If you go, let me know.

I’d love to hear what you and your family are looking forward to seeing this season…


"Go, Dog, Go!" performed by Tempe's own "Childsplay"

Note: If your arts organization or venue is holding a season preview event, drop a line to rakstagemom@gmail.com and let me know.

Coming up: Sneak peek at fall theater classes for children and teens–featuring everything from “Fancy Nancy” and “Harry Potter” to “Musical Theatre” and “Acting Technique.” As always, stay tuned to local theater companies for news of special master classes and educational programs.

Update: The Mesa Arts Center presents their season kick-off party Fri, Sept 10, from 6-10pm at Mesa Contemporary Arts, their visual arts exhibit space featuring five galleries. The event will include performances by founding resident companies, live outdoor entertainment, artist demonstrations, a Native American marketplace, a book signing by Jana Mashonee and special appearances.