Tag Archives: Utah Shakespeare Festival

The Story of Hansel and Gretel

EVCT opens a musical called “The Story of Hansel and Gretel” June 14 at Mesa Arts Center (Pictured L to R: Rachel Primrose as Gretel and Leonel Gallego as Hansel)

Fairy tales and fables are big business these days. Soon “Snow White and the Huntsman” will be working the movie theater crowds who’ve already enjoyed a taste of twisted storytelling ala TV shows like “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm.” I do better with the latter since human faces morphing into menacing figures isn’t the sort of imagery I want to carry around in my head.

Emily Trask (L) as Portia and Tony Amendola as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” (2010). Photo by Karl Hugh. Courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Our youngest daughter Lizabeth chatted with the actor behind one of my favorite “Once Upon a Time” characters during last weekend’s Phoenix Comicon. She first met Tony Amendola during one of our annual trips to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where he rocked the role of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” For some, he’s best known as today’s television version of Geppetto — but others consider him a sci-fi icon.

Despite all the modern-day takes on fairy tales and fables, I’m still partial to enjoying them in books or on stage. Hence my delight upon learning that East Valley Children’s Theatre in Mesa is presenting a musical production based on one of my favorite tales — Hansel and Gretel. Remembering our oldest daughter’s performance in “Hansel and Gretel” at Greasepaint Youtheatre still brings a smile to my face.

East Valley Children’s Theatre performs “The Story of Hansel and Gretel” June 14-24 at Mesa Arts Center. They’re one of several resident companies at MAC. Others include Ballet Etudes, Mesa Encore Theatre, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Sonoran Desert Chorale, Southwest Shakespeare Company, Symphony of the Southwest and Xico.

Nowadays Jennifer studies cultural anthropology at ASU

Mesa Arts Center holds a free “Educator Preview Night” featuring arts and culture offerings for elementary, junior high and high school students on Mon, Aug 23. It’s designed to introduce educators to a wide range of arts and culture resources for the classroom. Think museum experiences, live performance art and more.

Educator Preview Night begins with MAC campus tours, drinks and treats, goodie bags and door prizes from 4:30-5pm. A preview of their “Performing Live Season for Students,” featuring a “surprise performance,” takes place from 5-6pm. From 6-6:30pm educators can enjoy “desserts and entertainment,” plus the chance to pre-register for “National Geographic Live!” and “Performing Live for Students” before other folks get a shot at them.

— Lynn

Note: Phoenix Comicon 2013 takes place May 23-26, 2013 and the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 51st season opens June 21

Coming up: Art meets shopping, Easing on down the road, Dance recital roundup

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Going rogue?

I've always got my eye out for art -- like this "Right Eye from an Arthropoid Coffin" (1539-30 B.C., Egypt) recently spotted at the Brooklyn Museum in NYC

I feel a bit rogue sometimes — writing for an Arizona magazine, but finding such delight in covering NYC arts and culture. So I decided maybe it was time to share with readers in both states, plus others, my rationale for marrying the two. The initial lure, of course, was our youngest daughter Lizabeth. Like many born and raised in Arizona, she’s chosen to further her arts education in NYC — so I visit several times a year in “mom mode.”

But the bridge between Arizona and NYC (plus Chicago and other communities with a heavy arts footprint) is a two-way street. Many who teach and create art in Arizona communities hail from NYC or other parts of the country, and I enjoy giving voice to the places and spaces that’ve nurtured the gifts enjoyed by Arizona art lovers.

Art is all around and deep within us. Traveling without covering regional arts and culture would be like refusing to breath another city’s air. Suffocating. Rather than distracting Arizona readers from the beauty of our own arts bounty, I hope my writing “on the road” inspires a greater appreciation for the multitude of marvels here at home. Photos from a children’s museum in Manhattan or Las Vegas might inspire a family to visit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix or the Tucson Children’s Museum. So it’s all good.

Sometimes it feels like the art is keeping an eye on you -- like "Curious and Curiouser" by Mary Lucking and David Tinapple in the Arizona Science Center lobby

I’m fortunate to have lots of “Stage Mom” readers in NYC, and hope my blogging on both states’ offerings inspires them to consider the depth and breadth of Arizona arts and culture. We get plenty of bad press, and I’m privileged to cover what’s best about our state. Young poets, skilled playwrights, talented musicians, inspiring dancers, gifted actors. Also arts educators in our schools, museums and various community venues. Tourism takes place in both directions — and I’m an unapologetic missionary for the Arizona arts scene.

I suppose some of my kinship with NYC was born of years attending touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage. I take special delight on reporting from NYC about shows I’ve seen on Valley stages — plus shows that’ll likely head our way during future tours. Only seeing “War Horse” performed at Lincoln Center in NYC enabled me to appreciate how fortunate we are that it’ll gallop into ASU Gammage during their 2012-13 season.

Some people seem to spy art wherever they go -- like this "Untitled" (1961) by Lee Bontecou that's exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum

Some assume that Arizonans are settling for mediocre on-stage and museum fare, but trips to NYC have heightened my appreciation for local offerings. Sometimes I find things that Arizona could use a lot more of — like arts and culture originating in Africa. Other times, I find modest NYC exhibits of Native American or Latino artworks that make clear the excellence of Arizona collections.

Stumbling on the Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s “Pattern Wizardry” in NYC years after I’d taken my children to enjoy the traveling exhibit at Mesa’s Arizona Museum for Youth reminded me, like Dorothy in her ruby red slippers, that you needn’t head over the rainbow to find what’s good and right in the world.

Still, we know that plenty of Arizona families travel — making choices when they do about where to invest precious resources like time and money. In an amusement park world, I’m keen on reminding parents to consider arts and cultural destinations too. Youth theater in San Diego. Orchestral concerts in Los Angeles. Public art in Las Vegas. Dance performance in Orlando. It’s all part of upping their appreciation for aesthetics, and the arts and culture industry so critical to a healthy American economy.

Teach your kids to look for art wherever they go -- like this eye detail on the glass house by Therman Statom located just outside the SMoCA young@art gallery in Scottsdale

It’s easy to take Arizona arts and culture for granted, forgetting just how exceptional our own theater companies from Childsplay to Valley Youth Theatre can be. Seeing touring productions from other parts of the country often reminds me that some of the country’s best artists live right here among us. Wowed as I was by a touring Kennedy Center production of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” performed a while back at Higley Center for the Performing Arts, it confirmed my suspicion that Childsplay in Tempe routinely achieves the same high quality of theater performance for students and families.

Seeing works performed during the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City each summer always makes me more committed to attending Southwest Shakespeare Company productions here at home. Admiring works of glass art at the Brooklyn Museum last week left me eager to explore more glass art here at home. Similarly, performances enjoyed here in the Valley up my appreciation for works by artists in other places. During my last trip to NYC, I spent an evening watching local arts programming from Thirteen WNET New York Public Media — eager to watch a show about young poets after covering state Poetry Out Loud finals here in the Valley.

Comparing and contrasting are essential to the craft of theater criticism and other elements of arts reporting, so I’d be foolish to check my memories of places like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the door when entering “Stage Mom” mode. The more I experience, the more I have to share with Arizona readers. “Going rogue” has a lovely ring to it, but there’s a circle to what I do — and Arizona will always be my center.

— Lynn

Coming up: Let’s talk “Bully”

Got scripts?

New works festivals present great opportunities for writers and audiences

Jason Tremblay of Austin won last year’s EVCT aspiring playwrights contest with “Queen Zixi of Ix, The Story of the Magic Cloak” — which was performed by East Valley Children’s Theatre just last month. It’s the adaptation of an L. Frank Baum story about two young children forced to live with a greedy aunt who moves them from country to city in search of work — and the adventures that help them bring happiness and prosperity to everyone in their new land.

Second place in last year’s EVCT playwriting contest went to Drew Ignatowski of Gilbert for “Moonprince,” and third place went to Texan Bobbi A. Chukran of Leander for “Princess Primrose & the Curse of the Big Sleep.” Cash prizes go to the top three winners each year, and the winning play is produced by EVCT (assuming it meets their criteria for performance). The deadline for 2012 submissions is Fri, March 15.

New Carpa Theater Co. recently issued a call for scripts inspired by the legacy of the civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers Union and contemporary social justice issues. They’re looking for works to present during a short plays festival they expect to hold in late May/early June as well as October. Think 5- to 10-minute stage plays, monologues, play excerpts and performance pieces. Scripts are due April 20, and can be submitted in either Spanish or English.

James E. Garcia, producing artistic director for the company, notes that eight to 10 pieces will be selected by a panel of seven local playwrights, writers and producers for staging at the festival. Additional works may also be presented for festival goers. Garcia describes the festival as “a non-partisan, grassroots, community-based project” designed to give theater artists and audiences “an opportunity to express their concerns regarding some of the most compelling human and civil rights issues of our time” — including those effecting immigrants, women and people of color.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is now considering plays for its 2013 New American Playwrights Project. Scripts submitted for consideration must be postmarked by Nov 1, 2012. Three works (all with mature content) are being presented during the 2012 series directed by Charles L. Metten — “The Greater Love” by Frankie Little Hardin, “Turquoise Wind” by Kurt Proctor and “Play Desdemona” by Daniel Hintzsche.

Those of you who favor watching new works rather than writing them can enjoy the 15th annual Hormel New Works Festival being presented July 8-22 by Phoenix Theatre. The festival features staged readings performed by professional actors.

Phoenix Theatre also holds a “2nd Draft Series” designed to further the development of select plays presented during the Hormel New Works Festival. Three plays will get the “2nd draft” treatment in coming weeks and months — including Richard Warren’s “Pollywogs” (March 24), Kurt Shineman’s “Mother’s Milk” (April 21) and Scott McCarrey’s “The Wilds” (May 19).

The Arizona Women’s Theatre Company presents its 6th annual Pandora Festival of New Works May 18-20 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It features full-length plays, one-act plays and 10-minute plays written by Arizona women.

Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale is home to the “New Play Series and Reader’s Theatre.” Up next in their new play series is “4” by Terry Youngren (March 17). Their next reader’s theater will be presented April 23 by Drea Pruseau.

A Childsplay world-premiere read of Dwayne Hartford’s “The Color of Stars” comes to The Temple Lounge in Tucson Sat, April 14 as part of the Arizona Theatre Company’s Café Bohemia” series. The play’s described as “a touching story about life in America during World War II with modern-day parallels about the costs of war both overseas and at home.”

Folks who prefer seeing plays fully staged and polished will be pleased to know that “The Color of Stars” is being performed by Childsplay April 22-May 20 at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts.

— Lynn

Coming up: Frankly speaking, So you want to be a playwright…

Romeo, Romeo…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lynn

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

Coming up: Doing time

The course of true love

Cast of the 2012 Utah Shakespeare Festival tour of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

“The course of true love never did run smooth.” Or so Lysander tells Hermia in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — the play chosen by the Utah Shakespeare Festival for its 2012 tour, which hits several Arizona venues in coming days.

Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012 touring production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

The 2012 touring production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is just 45 minutes long, and followed by a 15 minute post-show discussion with the actors. Schools can opt to add workshops in stage combat, performing Shakespeare’s text and character development through improvisation for an additional charge.

Four schools are part of the Arizona leg of this year’s tour — El Capitan School in Colorado City (Feb.21), Valley Vista High School in Surprise (Feb. 27), Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood (Feb. 29) and Winslow High School (March 1).

The touring company also performs twice this week for Valley students — at Higley Center for the Performing Arts (Feb. 23) and Chandler Center for the Arts (Feb.  24).

Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012 touring production of "A Midummer Night's Dream"

The Utah Shakespeare Festival touring production also makes its way to Nevada, Utah and Idaho this year. It’s a different production than the one performed during their 50th anniversary season in Cedar City, Utah — but features complete costumes, sets and theatrical lighting.

Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012 touring production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Also the most important element of any Shakespeare work — the words. Somehow they managed, during last year’s tour, to perform a truly compelling 45-minute version of “Macbeth.” So never fear that they’ll pull off a marvelous mini-“Midsummer.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season, which features eight works including “Hamlet,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Les Miserables.” Click here to read their comprehensive study guide for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Coming up: Broadway rocks!

Photos courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival

I really stepped in it this time…

Sarah Agnew, Robert O. Berdahl and Luverne Seifert in "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" by Arizona Theatre Company (Photo: Tim Fuller/ATC)

I’m not sure what “it” was — but it did a little number on my right ankle that’s had me rocking a lovely black boot secured by icky Velcro straps for weeks.  Might have been that last trip to Mesa Arts Center, when something possessed me to haul out the high heels, and I came home feeling a bit like the wobbly-legged wonders pictured above.

I slowed my pace for a spell until graduating this week to a fabric brace and sneakers. Best I missed opening night in Phoenix for Arizona Theatre Company’s production of “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps,” because their openings tend to attract a rather elegant bunch.

Sarah Agnew, Jim Lichtscheidl and Luverne Seifert in Arizona Theatre Company's "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" (Photo: Tim Fuller/ATC)

Instead I hobbled over just last night for my third encounter with the show. I first saw “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” performed at ASU Gammage by a national touring company. Next I enjoyed a production at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where I sometimes take short getaways with my youngest daughter Lizabeth.

I’d be up to 117 steps now if the show had anything to do with actual steps — and probably in a full body cast. But thankfully, “39 Steps” actually refers to a clandestine organization of spies. Not something I’m likely to join since I’m sticking out like a sore foot these days.

Jim Lichtscheidl, Robert O. Berdahl and Liverne Seifert in Arizona Theatre Company's "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" (Photo: Tim Fuller/ATC)

Hitchcock directed a 1935 film titled “The 39 Steps,” which was loosely based on a 1915 John Buchan novel called “Thirty-Nine Steps.” After nearly 1oo years, the story is still going strong, though everyone who crafts a new film or stage version adds their own spin.

Staged adaptations typically included homages to assorted Hitchcock works. The Arizona Theatre Company production, an adaptation by Patrick Barlow, opens with the clacking sound of an old-time film projector after someone sounding like Hitchcock runs through the usual bit of theater etiquette.

Barlow’s adaptation, being performed at the Herberger Theater Center through Feb. 26, is a pastishe — an artistic work that cobbles together several earlier incarnations of a piece. It’s got elements of the novel, Hitchcock film and Broadway production — and it’s enormously clever (though a tad too cheesy at times).

The production features four actors performing more than 150 roles. Robert O. Berdahl plays Richard Hannay and Sarah Agnew plays the major female roles (Annabella, Pamela and Margaret). Actors Jim Lichtscheidl and Luverne Seifert, dubbed “the Clowns,” play every other role.

All excel in physical comedy and dialects, delivering the detail that’s key to farce feeling truly funny. It’s directed by Joel Sass, who stretches most scenes beyond the typical level of absurdity expected with such fare.

Sarah Agnew, Jim Lichtscheidl and Robert O. Berdahl in Arizona Theatre Company's "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" (Photo: Tim Fuller/ATC)

“Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” begins as a mild mannered-man trying to enjoy an evening of theater meets a mysterious woman. Her tale is taller than most, and deadlier too. Soon Mr. Hannay finds himself ensnared in a web of intrigue spiraling out of control. You might say that he’s the one who really stepped in it.

The show is a perfect introduction to farce for folks who’ve yet to experience this particular genre of comedy. You don’t have to follow every little plot twist to enjoy it. But if that’s your vibe, you’ll be pleased to know that both Arizona Theatre Company and the Utah Shakespeare Festival offer online play guides for “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.”

Robert O. Berdahl in Arizona Theatre Company's "The 39 Steps" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

Those of use who’ve seen it several times find something new in each viewing. We catch more of the Hitchcock references. Appreciate differences in the ways best-loved scenes are handled. And relish each actor’s fresh take on the frolicking misadventures.

The friend I took along Sunday night loved the way various set pieces rolled in and out, including Highland pole dancers (not that sort of pole) and a bevy of sheep. Set design for this production is by Richard Hoover, who earned a 1999 Tony Award for scenic design — for his work on a production of Tennessee Williams’ “Not About Nightingales.”

Thoughtul music choices and sound design anchor this production in nostalgia, and the generous use of shadows adds a lovely element of surprise. Lighting design is by Barry Browning, sound design is by Reid Rejsa and shadow puppetry is by Michael Sommers.

There’s more sexual inuendo in this production than others I’ve seen — and more peaks and valleys in terms of pacing. Still, it’s a delightful romp.

Teens who love spy novels and thrillers may be intrigued to see a work based on earlier incarnations of the genre. Adults who adore “take me away” comedy will find plenty of on-stage foibles to distract from their own. No need to wear high heels when you go. Just enjoy the onstage danger from a distance, and let someone else step in it this time.

— Lynn

Note: The New York run of “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” ended on Jan. 16, but you can still click here to read their study guide.

Coming up: Local high school performs “Beauty & the Beast”

Shakespeare meets Grand Canyon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

CGU performed "Amahl and the Night Visitors" last December

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

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

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

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

— Lynn

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

Coming up: Beware the green elixer