Tag Archives: Wicked

A “Gypsy” tale

I’ll never forget a pair of shows produced many years ago by Phoenix Theatre. One was “Into the Woods,” with a cast that included D. Scott Withers as the Baker — who’s now performing in the Phoenix Theatre production of “Gypsy.” The other was “Will Rogers Follies” — a show that’s long been my own personal “one to beat” in the world of splashy musical theater fare. Sunday’s matinee of “Gypsy” gave me that “Will Rogers Follies” feeling all over again, and I loved it.

I was hoping that Lizabeth, who’s been fortunate enough to study theater with Withers and perform in a production he directed, would be able to join me for “Gypsy” — but she’s spending spring break in NYC rehearsing for a Pace University production of “Our Lady of 121st Street.” So I invited a friend, whose arts and culture creds far outweigh my own, to come along.

She loved the costumes (Cari Sue Smith). I loved the lighting (Mike Eddy). Also music direction (Alan Ruch) and scenic design (Robert Kovach). We both loved the choreography (Mollie Lajoie), and agreed that the best number in the show is “All I Need Is the Girl,” performed by Peter Marinaro (Tulsa) — whose bio should sport one additional line: The cutie pants who can dance. My line, not hers. She waxes more poetic. I just wanna rhyme.

L to R: Kathy Fitzgerald (Rose) and Jenny Hintze (Louise) in "Gypsy" at Phoenix Theatre

Three other performers delivered especially strong performances, including Withers (Herbie) and Jenny Hintze (Louise). Also Kathy Fitzgerald, who performs the role of stage mother Rose. Lizabeth and I saw her last gig — the Broadway production of “Wicked” (Madame Morrible) — where she was the perfect embodiment of misguided mean. She brings the same beautiful bite to Rose, with singing chops a bit too grand for smaller stages. Her  “Some People” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” rival renditions by several Broadway greats.

People read Rose differently depending on their own life experiences. It’s hard to justify her selfish, hard-driving ways. Still I felt the emphathy Fitzgerald hoped to convey. Rose’s own childhood was ugly, and left her wounded in ways most of us can scarcely imagine. She wanted so desperately to be together instead of alone. To scratch out her own shot at fame while helping her daughters escape the life that’d carved “victim” across her heart.

Still, Rose modeled some important coping skills for her daughters — humor, hard work and undying optimism.” I can’t help wondering how much better any of us might have fared under similar circumstances. Michael Barnard’s direction is a kaleidescope of sorts — revealing complicated facets of characters where others might settle for simple stereotypes.

L to R: Kate Shein (June) and Kathy Fitzgerald (Rose) in "Gypsy" at Phoenix Theatre

It helps when you’re working with brilliant material. “Gypsy” features book by Arthur Laurents, music by Julie Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Consider it a “musical fable” suggested by the memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, the oldest of two daughters the real-life Rose did her best to shove into show business as the craft of vaudeville was falling away to the craze of burlesque.

“Gypsy” feels especially relevant in a day and age that elevates stage mothers to reality show stardom. But there’s something more — the undercurrent of change within the theater biz itself, no less profound today than it was in Rose’s day. Consider, my friend suggested, the ways of Lady Gaga. What’s talent without terrific packaging? Once there was burlesque. Now we have branding.

Phoenix Theatre has long been the cornerstone of classic musical theater in the Valley, but it’s seamlessly transitioned in recent years to contemporary fare like last season’s “Avenue Q.” They’re presenting “Spring Awakening” with Nearly Naked Theatre in June, and opening the 2012/13 season with “Spamalot.”

This and other 2012/13 offerings were revealed in a short black and white film shown on a small screen in the theater before an orchestral medley of “Gypsy” tunes opened the show. They include “Defending the Caveman,” “S’Wonderful: The New Gershwin Musical” and “a reimagining” of “Our Town.” Also a new musical revue called “Love Makes the World Go Round” (“Gleeks” will dig it) — and a little something they can’t yet name but describe as “a menagerie of  crazies.” Don’t expect Tennessee Williams.

— Lynn

Note: The cast of “Gypsy” includes several talented young actors — another great reason to see the show. Phoenix Theatre performs “Gypsy” through April 1, and their “Cookie Theatre” production of “Charlotte’s Web” opens at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale on April 14.

Coming up: Got scripts?


Broadway Rocks!

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna in Mamma Mia! (Photo: Joan Marcus)

He’s young. He’s hip. But will conductor Joseph Young don the spandex jumpsuit to conduct a bit of music from “Mamma Mia” featured in this weekend’s “Broadway Rocks!” concerts performed by The Phoenix Symphony?

I think not — but it is fun to imagine all the fashion options knowing they’ll also be playing selections from “Rent,” “Dreamgirls,””Jersey Boys,” “Hairspray” and “Wicked.” Pointy hat, anyone?

The Phoenix Symphony performs “Broadway Rocks!” at Symphony Hall Feb. 24-26 — with a Sunday matinee for those of you who like to take the kiddos to such things but still believe in proper bedtimes.

Jackie Burns as Elpheba in Wicked (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The concerts are perfectly timed for who plan to see “Wicked” at ASU Gammage — which features favorites from “Defying Gravity” to “For Good.” Practice your “toss, toss” hair flipping now so you’re ready for the big night.

“Broadway Rocks” also includes selections from “The Wiz,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King,” “Hair,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Chess.” Even music from “Jekyll and Hyde,” which I’ve always found especially moving.

It features performance by The Phoenix Symphony Chorus as well as three vocalists — Christiane Noll, Virginia Woodruff and Doug LaBrecque. Lovely choices, but I’ll still be missing D. Scott Withers, whose campy “Edna” stylings in the Phoenix Theatre and Arkansas Repertory Theatre productions of “Hairspray” were delicious.

Van Hughes (Johny), Scott J. Campbell (Tunny) and Nicci Claspell (The Extraordinary Girl) in American Idiot (Photo: Doug Hamilton)

Two touring productions of Broadway shows with a rock and roll vibe are headed our way as well. The Theater League production of “Rock of Ages” comes to two Valley venues April 10-15, and the national tour of “American Idiot” comes to ASU Gammage April 24-29.

Come fall, The Phoenix Symphony will present a concert called “Wicked Divas.” It’s being performed Sept. 28-30 as part of their 2012-13 season “Pops Series” — and feature vocalists Ali Mauzey and Nicole Parker, who’ve both performed in “Wicked.” The concert will include music from “Gypsy,” “Ragtime,” “Titanic,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Carmen” and “Wicked.”

Maybe I’ll pass them my short list of favorite Broadway men — say Mandy Patinkin and Andrew Rannells — in case they want to give equal time to a few of the guys. Or they could just make my daughter Lizabeth’s day by bringing out her favorite trio of J. Pierrepont Finches — Daniel Radcliffe, Darren Criss and Nick Jonas.

— Lynn

Note: The 2nd annual “Symphony Stroll,” presented by Phoenix Symphony Allegro, takes place Sat., Feb. 25 from 4-7pm. Click here for details.

Coming up: Art awakenings

Update: The Carolyn Eynon Singers perform “Broadway Showstoppers from Berlin, Bernstein and Sondheim,” with special guest and narrator David Barker, Feb. 24 & 25 at Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale.

Beware the green elixer

These students attended a performance of "Wicked" at ASU Gammage last week

Beware the green elixer. Those of you who’ve seen the musical “Wicked” get the reference. So do busloads of Valley students who attended a recent touring performance of “Wicked” at ASU Gammage in Tempe. If you want kids to learn important life lessons, try lecturing less and hitting the theater more.

I got to wondering, after encountering all those wide-eyed and audibly enthusiastic students at “Wicked” the other night, what’s to be learned from this tale of two witches. For starters, I suppose, I should stop calling them “witches” — because “Wicked” clearly demonstrates the dangers of name-calling.

It’s a tale of bullying gone bad, and the way things spin out of control when those who should be upstanders choose to be bystanders instead. Hating or fearing someone because of skin color is wrong. But so is elevating the unworthy to positions of great power, and pseudo-reverence born of fear.

Some of the best “Wicked” one-liners concern history — making a great jumping off points for student discussions. Why would someone imply that history is a collection of lies, or suggest that truth is merely what we’ve all agreed to? If we challenged students to cite examples of such things, what would they come up with?

And what of being popular — or having all our dreams come true? “Wicked” makes clear the inherent risks of each, plus the dangers of silencing diverse voices. In “Wicked” it’s a highly intellectual goat who loses his voice, but the moral holds true for people too.

There’s real whimsy in the use of language throughout “Wicked” as words get adapted, twisted and recreatified — making the musical an homeage of sorts to word play and the sheer joy or crafting language. I’d love to see a big stack of student essays written to reflect a “Wicked” way with words.

Folks who doubt the economic impact of the arts could learn a little something from “Wicked” in the math department. “Wicked” reports that more than 16 million people have seen the show on Broadway or a national tour, and the show “has grossed more than $1.8 billion for its North American companies.” Beware of those hocking the “cut arts funding” elixer.

Consider the number of cast, crew and creative team members it’s taken to perform “Wicked” all these years. Then think about the extraordinary number of teachers standing behind them. The ethereal shades of purple lighting and seamless scenes featuring airborn actors that wowed me at ASU Gammage last week take real prowess in science and engineering.

We don’t consider such things while experiencing “Wicked,” of course. But they’re worth noting in an age when arts education is going the way of Doctor Dillamond. I’m thrilled that Valley schools are sending students to see productions like “Wicked” — and happier still to know that these students are the next generation of audience members, theater professionals and arts supporters.

— Lynn

Chaperones (right) joined the fun as Valley students enjoyed "Wicked" at ASU Gammage last week

Note: ASU Gammage presents Camp Broadway June 4-8 for youth ages 10-17. Learn more about this and other summer camps for children and teens by attending the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Camp Fair — taking place Feb. 25 & 26. Click here for Camp Fair details.

Coming up: I really stepped in it this time…

Once upon a stage mom

The mother of all stage mothers, “Mama Rose,” has been portrayed by plenty of legendary actresses in stage and screen versions of the musical “Gypsy.” Ethel Merman. Angela Lansbury. Bette Midler. Patti Lupone.

When “Gypsy” opens at Phoenix Theatre next month, Kathy Fitzgerald will perform the role. I’m eager to see it after enjoying Fitzerald’s truly exceptional performance as Madame Morrible in “Wicked” on Broadway last October with my daughter Lizabeth.

Fitzgerald has also performed in “9 to 5,” “The Producers,” and “Swinging on a Star” on Broadway — plus plenty of Off-Broadway and regional theater productions.

Before moving to Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and 12-year-old daughter Hope, Fitzgerald spent seven years performing on Valley stages. So working with Michael Barnard, who’s directing “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre, is nothing new.

Phoenix Theatre presents the musical "Gypsy" March 7-April 1

“Mama Rose” is often vilified for pushing her daughters Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc into show business. But Fitzgerald says she admires her “incredible drive and passion,” noting that she “pushed and pushed her girls” hoping to give them options not open to most women during the 1920s and 1930s.

“In some ways,” reflects Fitzgerald, “I respect her stength and tenacity.” Fitzgerald notes that “Mama Rose” did everything for her girls and was, in some ways, a pioneer. “Her life,” says Fitzgerald, “was way more tragic and flawed than it’s depicted in this musical.”

Today’s best known stage moms are another story. Fitzgerald says she has a hard time understanding why the mothers of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms” put their girls through so much melodrama. Seems the pay is poor for cable shows, though plenty of scenes may live on in digital world forever.

Fitzgerald says she’d “never want to be like” the moms who star on “Dance Moms” — whose nasty neuroses and futile fights typically take place in front of their kids. Having issues is one thing. Airing them in front of your children is another. Sharing them with millions of viewers is just plain creepy.

Daughter Hope is plenty busy with her academically rigorous school, according to Fitzgerald, who adds that neither she nor her husband would let Hope do the theater thing at this point. “There’s plenty of time for that later,” quips Fitzgerald.

Her own childhood was a bit different, however. “My dad ran a theater in L.A.,” says Fitzgerland, “and my mom was pretty pushy too.” Though her own mother died when she was just 15, Fitzgerald says “she knew that I was supposed to be an actor.”

Whether you’re a stage mother (in the best or worst sense of the word), or simply someone who enjoys watching others do the stage mother thing, seeing the musical “Gypsy” is a must.

“Gypsy” debuted on Broadway in 1959 featuring book by Arthur Laurents, music by Stephen Sondheim and lyrics by Jule Styne. It was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. It’s based on a memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee.

“Gypsy” is regarded by Fitzgerald and many others as “one of the best musicals of all time.” Its best-known songs include “Let Me Entertain You,” “Together Wherever We Go” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” The music, says Fitzgerald, “is genius.”

— Lynn

Coming up: Trends in marketing Broadway

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

My “Wicked” ways

Alan Handelsman has seen the musical Wicked 11 times in seven cities

Guest post
by Alan Handelsman

Yes, “Wicked” is among the best musicals of all time in many categories — music, book, lyrics, plot, characters, staging, sets, dancing. Have I left anything out?

But that is not the main reason I have seen “Wicked” 11 times in seven different cities. (So far. I’ll see it once again when it returns to ASU Gammage.)

I am not bragging when I tell you this. I keep going, and listening to the recording, mainly because I see or learn something new or exciting every time. Maybe it is because I’m slow, but I choose to think there is that much to experience, on many levels.

Those who say “Wicked” is simply about the friendship of two girls are missing a lot of original and sophisticated insights into many aspects of our human experience. Not just friendship, but relationships of all types, as well as politics, psychology, celebrity, history, and the nature of good and evil.

Here are some of the things I’ve seen as I’ve experienced this show again and again. If you see “Wicked” more than once, you will have the time to look for these things. Maybe it will take you fewer than 11 times to enjoy all that “Wicked” has to offer.

A major thing for me is the show’s view of the relationship between good and evil. Notice that the “wicked” witch isn’t all that wicked, and the “good” witch isn’t very good at all, especially at the beginning. Most of the characters are a combination of good and evil. The show’s fantasy world has taught me about real life.

Like many people, I can be very judgmental, and “Wicked” has helped me become more accepting and forgiving. I have learned that – while not always best friends – good and evil seem to be inseparable, we all have some of each, and things aren’t always what they seem.              

I always enjoy seeing Elphaba show Glinda how to be good as their friendship grows strong. Did you notice that when you first saw the show? As I watched “Wicked” for about the fifth time, it suddenly became clear to me that every time Glinda got what she thought she wanted, she felt worse. It took Glinda a whole show to learn to be careful what she asked for, and it took me five times longer.

Each time through, I change my mind as to what is the turning point of the show. Maybe there are several.

I always enjoy how the political statements are presented with subtlety and humor, which makes them very effective. (An example of a more heavy-handed approach would be “Billy Elliot.”)              

As I realized that the last scene is simply a continuation of the first, I was able to experience the beginning of the show in a new way. It was a new perspective that only came from knowing all that was to happen. There are many other examples of statements and behaviors that foreshadow future events, which become fun to identify with the advantage of hindsight.              

There were several times when I got caught looking at the wrong part of the stage, and I missed something interesting, funny or important. If you missed it the first time, be sure to focus on Glinda and Elphaba at the end of “What Is This Feeling.” Also, Elphaba’s appearance at her sister’s home was visually stunning. I didn’t see it the first time, but I’ve seen it many times since.

When asked, “Which was the best production?” I cannot give a simple answer. For example, the singing Elphaba in New York was the best, but the best acting Elphaba was at ASU Gammage. The best acting Wizard was in L.A., the best singing Wizard in Chicago and the best dancing Wizard at ASU Gammage.              

Watching different casts, I find it fascinating to see how much an actor can bring to a role, and even change a character. Sometimes it is the delivery of one line, or even just a word or gesture. The first Elphaba I saw smiled after the song “Just For This Moment” when she said she felt “wicked.” That quick smile gave a dimension to the character that no other Elphaba has duplicated since. Maybe next time.

In most productions, the performances, both singing and acting, have been excellent. I’ve only seen one bad Glinda, one mediocre Elphaba and one Fiero who may have been dancing through life, but had a little trouble dancing through the show.              

You may notice that while all the music sounds like “Wicked,” the style of each song changes to match the characters and the action, and serves the story well. The melodies and harmonies are beautiful and compelling, but for me the best musical aspect is the rhythmic vitality. No matter the speed, the music is always moving forward. The best way I can describe this driving rhythm is that after 30 years of being a pit musician playing woodwinds, “Wicked” is the only show in which I’d want to play the drums.              

The show’s lyrics flawlessly and simultaneously advance the plot and establish character. Stephen Schwartz manages to do this in a way that is both poetic and humorous – not an easy task. His use and intentional misuse of the language is masterful.

One fun thing I sometimes look for is how and when they hook up Elphaba for her “ascent” just before the end of the first act. It is not something you would even want to notice the first time.

After all of this, is there another reason to see again? I’ll let you know after I see it the 12th time.

Alan Handelsman and his wife Anita live with their bunny in Scottsdale. Retired after 30 years as a musician, Handelsman is now a perfectly non-wicked hypnotherapist whose prior review gigs include serving in the first class of ASU Gammage Goers.

Note: Wicked” will be performed Feb. 15-March 11 at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Click here for show and ticket information.

Coming up: More fun with Stephen Schwartz musicals

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