Tag Archives: West End

Ode to the Oliviers

Scene from "Matilda the Musical" featuring characters Matilda and Mrs. Phelps (Image: Quirk Books). The show earned seven 2012 Olivier Awards.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Sunday’s Lawrence Olivier Awards in London thanks to a live online broadcast that’s got me appreciating all the modern technology I’ve typically scoffed at until now.

I was just a teen when the awards, first dubbed The Society of West End Theatre Awards, originated in 1976, but married and in graduate school when they became the Lawrence Olivier Awards in 1984.

In between, I studied for a year in Europe — but spent most trips to London exploring museums and architectural wonders rather than theater offerings. One of many oversights committed during my youth.

The awards are run by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which commissioned sculptor Harry Franchette to create the award that’s an elegant take on the young Lawrence Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937.

I was struck by several aspects of the ceremony and its broadcast. Though the SOLT’s partnership with MasterCard is evident, there were no tacky commercials or other interruptions we accept too readily as American television viewers.

Instead, breaks during various portions of the ceremony were filled with live performances — of works nominated for an audience award — on a beautiful outdoor stage surrounded by theater fans.

The BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award, voted for by the public, went to “Les Miserables” — a musical Arizona audiences can enjoy at ASU Gammage come September.

I was struck as well by the tasteful fashions worn by presenters, nominees and recipients — despite the ceremony’s lovely lack of obsession over such things. Way to rock the flats, “Matilda” girls. You’ll need those ankles for future roles.

“Matilda the Musical” led the list with ten nominations, and waltzed away with seven awards. The Royal Shakespeare Company production is based on Roald Dahl’s charming tale.

The musical’s director noted early in the ceremony that “productions are like children” — sharing that he’d still love both if one of two nominees he directed was chosen best new musical. Later, the award went to “Matilda the Musical.”

There’s a point in the musical, he explains, when Matilda pummels three times into her pillow — then looks up and shares the final bit of the story. Seems it’s “a metaphor for the healing power of imagination.”

“Matilda the Musical” director Matthew Warchus then delivered my favorite remarks of the evening — All kids have it. We all have it. Our educational system should promote it more. That was the gist of it — but there’s more.

Creative imagination, says Warchus, is the key to surviving life and improving it for all of us. It’s more important, he reflects, than science, math and testing — perhaps even literacy.

His riff made me wonder — Might more children achieve the literacy we so value if reading and writing were pressed more often into the service of creative imagination rather than the mere consumption of content?

They’re heady things, these British award shows. Words and ideas loom larger than the flashy sorts of sets and such we seem to favor for award shows on this side of the pond. Dry wit and genuine humility trump the faux and flashy.

Sunday’s ceremony included special recognition of the 60th anniversary of “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap” — which continues to enjoy the theater world’s longest continuous run.

Seems Christie grandson Matthew Prichard, who shared remarks during the presentation, was given rights to the show for his ninth birthday — but admits to feeling fonder at the time of the gift with two wheels. Prichard notes that he gives income earned on the show to lots of charities.

I learned of the Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which serves more than 12,000 students each year, during remarks from its founder — which inspired me to explore other outreach efforts like the SOLT’s own “Autism and Theatre” program.

The Society of London Theatre presented two special awards during this year’s ceremony — one to Dame Monica Mason, honoring her career with the Royal Ballet, and another to lyricist Sir Tim Rice.

Rice shared reflections on the journey of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from school show to musical theater sensation, and his reluctance to make the original “Jesus Christ Superstar” album — also noting that NYC audiences are fonder by far of current “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” revivals than NYC theater critics.

My own budding theater critic, Lizabeth, had perfectly lovely things to say about both shows — but did share that seeing Ricky Martin shake his bum during “Evita” was rather the low point of it all. I’ll have to add seeing a slew of West End theatre productions together to my bucket list.

While I adored every performance during Sunday’s Olivier Awards show, a few will likely live longest in my memory — a stunning pas de deux that should be required viewing for all those “Dance Moms” settling for sickening alternatives to actual artistry, the vocal performance of a haunting song from “Whistle Down the Wind” that I first heard when Lizabeth performed it during a Greasepaint Youtheatre fundraiser, and the lavish “Circle of Life” from the cast of “The Lion King” — which made me remember the magic of seeing the musical with Lizabeth long before her NYC theater adventures.

I’ll be more mindful of the bridge between Broadway and the West End thanks to that one magical evening I felt honored to be part of the virtual audience for the 2012 Olivier Awards. London, anyone?

— Lynn

Note: Click here to see the full list of Olivier Award winners and highlights from the ceremony — plus here to enjoy West End news reported by Broadway World.

Coming up: Musings on “Smash” and “New York 22”


Musings on “Les Mis” at the movies

Our daughter, Lizabeth, has grown up at the crossroads of classic and contemporary Broadway — appreciating everything from Les Miserables and Chorus Line to In the Heights and Into the Woods.

We spent Wednesday night at the Riverview Cinemark Mesa 16

Wednesday night we did one of our favorite musicals together — Mesa-style, as the Cinemark Mesa 16 theater presented a special event for a single-evening of musical theater magic.

We saw the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert — presented by Cameron Mackintosh in association with Universal Pictures.

We last enjoyed his work at ASU Gammage, where we saw the Disney and Cameron Mackintosh production of Mary Poppins — a surprisingly spectacular telling of a story I once considered merely fair rather than fabulous.

We expected a full crowd for Wednesday’s movie event, arriving more than an hour before showtime. Turns out that only a mom and daughter duo snuggled under a blue fleece blanket dotted with multi-color snowflakes beat us to it, claiming the front and center seats I so often covet.

We used the extra time to explore the Mesa Riverview — a retail center you may know only by its most visible tenant – Bass Pro Shops (a nifty place when you’re shopping for the campers and fisherfolk in your life).

They’ve a good selection of restaurants and shops you won’t find in many other places.

There’s a Scout Shop for all things Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and an indoor pool inside one of three sites for Hubbard Family Swim School (their outdoor pool in Phoenix is a longtime favorite among Valley swimmers both casual and competitive).

Our favorite that night was Yodipity Yogurt, which sports ten yogurt flavors and dozens of possible toppings it’s hard to find elsewhere. We sat coloring pictures at a long counter where guests can string up their artwork using metal clips along a wire washline of sorts.

In a spacious courtyard outside the cinema entrance, there’s a fountain with an artistic flair — plus oodles of pristine white benches what make for some serious relaxation on a fair-weather afternoon or evening.

The Cinemark in Mesa also presents The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD events

We were pleased to find the theater nearly full when we returned, though rather dismayed by the gentleman who’d settled into the seat clearly sporting Lizabeth’s “Wild Things” sweat jacket. Happily, she asserted herself and reclaimed the spot she’d chosen early on.

The evening was special for several reasons, including the relative rarity of our time alone together outside the confines of dirty dishes or looming deadlines. Also the theater’s spectacular sound sytem that left me feeling each cast, chorus and orchestra member was right there with us in Mesa.

And the opportunity to see Nick Jonas, viewed by too many as a mere pop idol, return to his Broadway roots with such a mature performance in the role of Marius (Jonas played Gavroche in Les Mis on Broadway, but these aren’t his only theater credits). 

I must say, however, that there was nothing lovely about the lip-flapping and laughter of the the three teen girls seated behind us during the Les Mis concert presentation.

It’s all good and fine to get all tingly when Marius kisses Cosette, but I like Liz’s advice on this one: Just keep it to yourself. Listen, appreciate and respect the work.

Shows this spectacular don’t happen by accident — and it was Victor Hugo, not Nick Jonas, who first gave us Les Miserables. More history, ladies. Less heart throb — please.

Les Mis is one of those rare shows we can never get enough of. The concert performance we saw that evening in Mesa will soon be available on DVD.

No fan of Les Mis should pass up the chance to experience it, preferably on a big screen surrounded by fellow Les Mis aficionados.

For those eager to experience Les Mis live for the first or umpteenth time, Valley venues present at least two opportunities in the current season.

Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria presents the school edition of Les Mis April 15-May 1, 2011 — giving me a whole new appreciation for tax day. (A change from the originally scheduled run.)

The Broadway touring production of Les Mis comes to ASU Gammage July 7-12, 2011. I loved it there the first time and I expect to love it again.

The June timing couldn’t be better for those of us gift shopping for graduating seniors, June birthday babies, romantic occassions like first dates or anniversary celebrations and such.

I guess Lizabeth won’t be too terribly surprised with her 18th birthday gift…

— Lynn

Note: When you think movie theaters, think St. Mary’s Food Bank — which will be accepting frozen turkey and non-perishable food donations  as well as cash donations at select Harkins Theatres and other sites on “2010 Super Saturday” — Sat, Nov 20. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: The year in arts

Theater trips to NYC or London

Soon we’ll be sending our Broadway baby (that’s a whole other story) to the East Coast for her first experiences with New York City and Washington, D.C.  She’s traveling with a small group of high school students (and chaperones) touring the two cities together during spring break.

I suspect the highlight of the trip for Lizabeth, a 16-year-old junior who’s majoring in theater arts, will be seeing her first production on Broadway. She’s hoping for “Next to Normal,” a show she finds fascinating for a host of reasons—including a strong personal connection to the subject matter and a deep respect for the artistry of all those who bring it to life.

I got a little ticket trigger happy one morning and decided to search for “Next to Normal” tickets online—just to see whether there’s even a remote chance that Lizabeth might be able to get tickets if her group, or at least one fellow traveler, seems game for taking in this particular show.

Tickets are, in fact, available—and you can only imagine my dismay in having to let them slip away since it makes no sense to buy anything at this point. It was even harder than letting the online Ticketmaster clock run out on Bon Jovi tickets when I realized we’d need the money for Lizabeth’s trip.

 “Next to Normal”—an original musical from the director of “Rent” that “explores how one suburban household copes with crisis”—was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2009.

The award for best orchestrations went to Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt for “Next to Normal” (and to Martin Koch for “Billy Elliot, The Musical”), while the award for best original score (music and/or lyrics) went to composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey.

This helps to explain why I’m so enamored by the music and lyrics whenever I’m lucky enough to pry the original Broadway cast recording from Lizabeth’s hands.

The recording features the six-member cast and a seven-member band (conducted by Charlie Alterman) featuring piano, keyboard, cello, violin, drums and percussion as well as electric and acoustic basses and guitars.

Alice Ripley received the award for best performance by a leading actress in a musical for her portrayal of the mother, Diana. I can only imagine how exciting it would be for a young actress to see someone so talented, for whom she has such admiration, perform live on Broadway—so I’ll be keeping every last one of my fingers and toes crossed on this one!

In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying the touring production of another relatively new musical called “Avenue Q,” coming to ASU Gammage this week as part of the Broadway Across America series. “Avenue Q” garnered three Tony Awards—best musical, best score and best book—in 2004.

Did you know that Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, Executive Director for ASU Gammage and Assistant Vice President of Cultural Affairs for ASU, is Arizona’s only Tony Award voter? She gets to spend plenty of time in New York, seeing Broadway shows wearing a multitude of hats (including that of modern dancer).

The fine folks of ASU Gammage have arranged a three-day trip they call the “Broadway Adventure Tour to New York City,” designed to give participants a “rare and unique look at the behind-the-scenes of New York and Broadway.”

The ASU Gammage tour runs Friday through Sunday, June 4th to 6th, and includes a two-night stay at the Millennium Hotel in the theater district, two Broadway shows (patron choice—plus house seats obtained directly from the producers), and more.

For an additional cost, travelers can attend the 2010 Tony Awards on Sunday, June 13th at Radio City Music Hall (then hit a post-ceremony celebrity party). You can learn more, or jump right in, by calling Mollie Trivers of ASU Gammage at 480-727-0005.

Fountain Hills Community Theater is having their annual “Adult Theater Trip” to London May 16th to 22nd. The trip includes a seven-night stay at the Strand Palace Hotel adjacent to the Thames, best available tickets to four West End shows, and more.

Folks on this trip can enjoy an optional day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, with tickets to a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. More information is available online and by calling 480-837-9661, ext. 3.

Phoenix Theatre is offering a “Springtime Theatre Tour to London” April 24th to May 1st. The trip includes a six-night stay at a first-class hotel, three theater productions (including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies”), and trips/tours of various theater landmarks.

Learn more about the Phoenix Theatre trip to London by visiting them online or contacting Beth Reynolds at 602-889-5299 or e.reynolds@phoenixtheatre.com.

Best I not attend, I suspect, because trying to get me back on a westbound plane could get ugly.

But if any of these trips are calling your name, you’d best get a jump on things right away. Travel dates are rapidly approaching and space is limited. Before too long, it’ll be too late for trip sponsors to accept any more travelers.

If you know of other Valley arts organizations coordinating trips to destinations known for spectacular arts and culture, let us know so we can help spread the word…


Coming up: Conversation with Ted Neeley of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Tips for enjoying the Phoenix Art Museum with children, Musings on arts organization ‘wish lists,’ Dance locals and legends