Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit or rebel against the trappings of the season, you’ll find your fun downtown with a few of Phoenix’s quirkier activities. Adults-only theater pushes the envelope with A Bloody Mary Christmas while unique Christmas light tours appeal to all ages, and puppetry and dance shows keep kids jolly.
Ballet Arizona offers the usual fairies and sugarplums at Symphony Hall with its spectacular, highly acclaimed production of The Nutcracker (through December 28), reinvented a few years ago by artistic director Ib Andersen. Tchaikovsky’s familiar music performed by The Phoenix Symphony can’t be beat, and a family four-pack includes parking, premium seats, a photo with the Sugarplum Fairy and hot cocoa.
If you prefer the music of a different Russian, try Snow Queen at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West (through Dec. 21), choreographed by Frances Smith Cohen and presented by Center Dance Ensemble. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale comes to life with melodies by Sergei Prokofiev. Take a midday work break, buy or bring your lunch, and sample the Lunch Time Dance Theater option for only $6.
In addition to the occasional wickedly subversive 18+ puppet slam, Great Arizona Puppet Theater provides a steady stream of funny shows for children young and old. The Night Before Christmas (through December 28) features joyful music and stories.
For those who love cinema, FilmBar offers a glorious month full of movies in an intimate 70-seat venue with the added bonus of a beer and wine bar (alcohol with popcorn — what could be better?). December’s options include The Captive, The Babadook, Bad Santa and Free the Nipple (both on the Naughty & Nice Film Series), Awake: The Life of Yogananda, and the incomparable Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Foreign films include Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador) and Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le metro as a double feature. And don’t miss Opera at FilmBar — December 19 brings Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, starring a sparkling Joyce DiDonato and the yummy Juan Diego Flórez.
The calendar’s packed at Crescent Ballroom, where Cocina 10’s food and drink are complemented by the stories of Chow Bella’s Eating Christmas (December 16). For a canned food donation you’ll hear food-themed tales of holiday adventure (for ages 21 and older). Otherwise, try “Life’s a Drag. Party Like a Queen” (December 18) with interactive games, “Truth, Drag or Dare,” and drink specials all hosted by Olivia Gardens.
Phoenix Theatre serves a full plate of seasonal cheer with Holiday Classics From Screen to Stage (December 18-21), when Arizona Opera singers croon holiday favorites from films like Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, Love Actually, A Charlie Brown Christmas and more. Vocalist Dennis Rowland takes the stage with the Greg Warner Project and special guest Diana Lee for the Holiday Jazz Cabaret (December 22-24) and a range of Christmas classics. And you’re sure to have a jolly holiday with Mary Poppins (through December 28), an eye-popping fast-paced feast of color, song, dance, and special effects including Valley favorite Toby Yatso as a tap-dancing, levitating chimney sweep.
Back in the realm of adults-only entertainment, Space 55 pulls out all the stops for the fifth year of A Bloody Mary Christmas (through December 21), in which Sun City retirees sing, dance, and battle a heartless homeowners’ association. Set to original music by Dangerville and Samson Says, Bloody Mary showcases Toni Jourdan, Lee Quarrie, Paula McKenny and Bob Peters. 7 Minutes Under the Mistletoe (December 20) gives local performers their seven minutes in the sun with an opportunity to do whatever they want — interpretive dance, dinosaur burlesque, competitive doughnut eating, action figure battles…even naked stage magic. Who knows what you’ll see?
Other Space 55 shows include Storyline: A Winter’s Tale (December 19), part of a monthly storytelling showcase, and Resolutions! A new show for an old year (December 31), a good warm-up for your New Year’s Eve party or downtown’s Flannel Ball.
“Hip Historian” Marshall Shore brings a big yellow school bus to The Clarendon Hotel as the launch point for his Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23). “We cruise through Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa,” says Shore. “I curate for the most jaw-dropping displays that I can locate.” Join in the caroling and live music with your very own kazoo (provided), or sit back and enjoy Shore’s talents as a storyteller while you see commercial, private home and religious displays.
If you go:
- Ballet Arizona: The Nutcracker (through December 28)
- Center Dance Ensemble: Snow Queen (through December 21)
- at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West, 222 E. Monroe
- visit centerdance.com or call 602-252-8497
- Great Arizona Puppet Theater: The Night Before Christmas (through December 28)
- in the GAPT’s lovely renovated historic 1929 LDS 2nd Ward Church, 302 W. Latham
- visit azpuppets.org or call 602-262-2050
- 815 N. 2nd St.
- visit thefilmbarphx.com or call 602-595-9187
- Crescent Ballroom and Cocina 10
- 308 N. 2nd Ave.
- visit crescentphx.com or call 602-716-2222
- Phoenix Theatre
- 100 E. McDowell Rd.
- visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151
- Space 55
- 636 E. Pierce St.
- visit space55.org
- “Hip Historian” Marshall Shore: Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23)
Schedules are subject to change. For more holiday diversions visit DowntownPhoenix.com:
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
Phoenix Arts Groups Announce the Formation of the New Central Arts District
A group of Phoenix arts organizations coordinated their efforts and today officially launched the new Central Arts District. In a unanimous effort by the burgeoning art institutions located in the area between 7th Street and 7th Avenue, Roosevelt and Virginia Streets, leadership of these organizations envisioned the opportunity to distinguish the extraordinary concentration of arts in the new district and embrace the businesses within it. The formation of the Central Arts District will provide a platform for these esteemed arts institutions to continue their work with a higher visibility and collaborate with one another on progressing the arts and culture in Central Phoenix. With four of the State’s largest arts and cultural organizations within these borders and the recent investment of over $60 million in the neighborhood, the sheer concentration and impact of their presence in the community merits the creation of the new Central Arts District.
Vincent VanVleet, Managing Director of Phoenix Theatre and a chief contributor to the Central Arts District movement said, “We are infinitely excited to embrace this artistic core and more cohesively promote our neighborhood as the new Central Arts District to Phoenix’s citizens and patrons, tourists, and indeed the world. Great people reside in and visit great cultural cities. Phoenix is a thriving cultural city with an arts community in the midst of a rebirth. The Central Arts District collective represents an estimated 2,000 annual events and exhibits contributing to this arts renaissance in Phoenix.”
Ms. Leah Fregulia Roberts, Head of the Arizona School for the Arts, is especially excited about the opportunity this poses for her students. “Within the new Central Arts District, established arts organizations inspirit local arts and culture creating an exciting place to live, work, visit, play and most importantly, learn. It is an unparalleled experience for Arizona School for the Arts students to become embedded in the cultural life of our city.”
Edward Cook, Co-President of McCarthy Cook & Co., owners of Viad Corporate Center which is also home to the Playhouse in the Park added, “We are excited to embrace and support this extraordinary concentration of the cultural jewels of Phoenix with the creation of the new Central Arts District. In honor of this new district and our continued support for the arts, we are pleased to announce that Viad Corporate Center will soon be renamed Central Arts Plaza.”
Gail Browne, Executive Director of The Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture added that “The City of Phoenix is pleased that so many arts and culture organizations have come together to create the Central Arts District. This coordinated effort will enhance the visibility of arts and culture groups that are thriving in this area. It will also stimulate further cultural development and foster synergies between arts and culture and other businesses. Moreover, this kind of place-making bolsters our collective sense of civic pride.“
The following organizations are founding members of the new Central Arts District: Phoenix Theatre, Viad Corporate Center, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Center for the Arts, Heard Museum, Arizona Opera, Playhouse on the Park, Phoenix Community Alliance, Arizona School for the Arts, Hance Park Conservancy, and Metro Arts High School.
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An Afternoon Adventure in High Rise Living and Midtown Lifestyle
The Midtown Museum Neighborhood Association is proud to announce the first Annual Midtown Urban Living Tour. Slated for November, 2nd from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm, the tour will feature some of Midtown’s finest high rise buildings.
The Urban Living Tour will showcase homes in seven celebrated Midtown communities. Tour goers will have the rare opportunity to explore: Artisan Lofts on Central, Chateau on Central, Villa del Coronado, Regency House, Tapestry, One Lexington and Executive Towers.
In true urban fashion, we encourage tour goers to enjoy the convenience of riding the Light Rail for travel between communities. There will be bike racks at each property for cyclists and pedi-cabs available for easy transportation. After exploring high-rise living stop for a bite at one of the many excellent restaurants found in Midtown.
As significant as it is in the development of Phoenix, Midtown gets less attention in the history books, perhaps because it represents an “in between” phase between the city’s original settlement and the tremendous outward growth that followed. Today, this sector of Downtown is home to a bustling business district, world-class museums and culture, fine restaurants, lush parks and a diverse mix of housing options. We invite you to see for yourself why Midtown is the crossroad of live, work and play in Phoenix.
Images courtesy of Midtown Museum Neighborhood Association
If You Go
Where: Park your car at Park Central Mall and walk, bike or take light rail.
When: Saturday, November 2, 3:00 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Cost: Before Saturday, buy your tickets online for $12.00. Day of event tickets will be available for $15.00 at Park Central Mall.
Although the new venue’s gala grand opening isn’t until October 26, Phoenix Theatre opens the doors of its 250-seat black box theater for the off-Broadway hit Ruthless! The Musical this weekend, turning the spotlight on a split-personality child star.
“Outrageous, but in a funny way” is how Phoenix Theatre Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard describes the campy show. “It’s done with such a heightened style…it sort of parodies those great old films,” he says. “Part of it’s like the movie The Women, or like Gypsy, or…All About Eve…or Mommie Dearest…so they were smashing all of these different shows together.”
“So if you know those movies,” he continues, “…it’s really fun on that level. It’s not offensive in any way…but it’s quirky and it’s bizarre, and it’s more of a black comedy humor than straight-across humor, because…I mean, the little girl is a little demon child …she’s like The Bad Seed.”
The comically disturbing role of Tina Denmark is shared by 11-year-old Riley Glick and 12-year-old Alex Kirby, both sixth-graders at Arizona School for the Arts and past veterans of Valley Youth Theatre. Glick also landed a role in the national tour of the Broadway show Dr. Seuss’ [sic] How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, which she’ll repeat this holiday season.
Invited to join the cast of Ruthless by Barnard, who knew her work from Phoenix Theatre’s production of Gypsy, Glick plays a character described as “adorably diabolical.” Is it fun to portray a monster? “Yeah, I like it a lot,” she says with a laugh. “I mean, she really has a sweet vs. evil side, and she can flip any second, so it’s…fun because you get to show a lot of different emotion while you’re playing the role.” Glick continues, “It’s kind of Gypsy, but opposite…so it’s the little girl that’s pushing it rather than the mom.”
With a concert producer and an art director for parents, Glick was accustomed to behind-the-scenes creativity when she began her career in the role of a baby spider in Charlotte’s Web at Desert Stages Theatre. “She went to a play when she was three,” explains her mother, Ronna Glick. “Yeah, and I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” says Riley. “But then my parents made me wait ‘til I was four.”
More than 30 shows later, Glick enthusiastically describes a few special effects from her role in Ruthless. “So I baton-twirl in the show, and I do a couple of tricks…that’s a lot of fun, and that’s more on the sweeter side of Tina,” she says. “But when she gets to the more evil side, I throw a knife.” In a somewhat regretful aside, she reassures me, “Not really, though.”
“This is definitely an adult show,” Glick continues. “I mean, there are bad words in it.” Says Barnard, “The worst word that’s used is ‘bullsh*t’…and somebody gets called a b*tch once, and somebody gets called ‘assh*le’ once.” He pauses for a moment to consider. “I would totally say that an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old could find it funny…it’s just quirky fun…and the characters are very colorful.”
The cast of Ruthless includes longtime Valley favorites like Johanna Carlisle, Debby Rosenthal as stage mother Judy Denmark, and Rusty Ferracane in the drag role of flamboyant manager Sylvia St. Croix. A four-piece cabaret band plays just offstage — still clearly visible in the cozy confines of the black box.
Glick declares, “I promise you, when you walk out of that theater, you will not regret coming to see the show.” Barnard agrees. “If you’re looking for some laughs and…not just the same old fare…just when you think you’ve figured it out, it…keeps changing gears on you.” He concludes, “So it’s really not quite ‘til the bitter end that you know exactly what all’s happened and what transpired.”
“And I think you’ll really dig the black box,” Barnard adds. “We want to do…sort of like an off-Broadway type of material [in the new venue]…the gamut from quirky little musicals to aggressive niche musicals, comedies, or dramas; performance art, little musical revues, cabaret-style stuff…sometimes very heart-wrenching pieces that are…not for the masses…really interesting, provocative.” He cites productions like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Spring Awakening as recent examples.
“There’s a whole different kind of energy that happens…off-Broadway…. There’s usually a whole different kind of audience there, too…whether they’re a thrill-seeker, whether they’re a risk-taker, whether they’re politically-minded, whether they’re romantically inclined…” he says. These are audiences willing to venture beyond traditional shows.
“I think also half the fun or enjoyment of seeing an off-Broadway piece…is the conversation that’s stimulated by it.” Barnard continues purposefully, “And Lord knows…that’s one thing that theater can do…to provide reasons for communication and socialization in conversation, because we’re becoming so much more…isolated as we go into our telephones, into our computers…” He smiles and tips his head slightly. “It’s nice when you can put that phone down and just talk face to face…’Well, why’d you think that?’ or ‘I didn’t understand this part’…it asks you to have a reaction to it, so that you can converse about it.”
Managing Director Vincent VanVleet explains that the company’s carefully planned ongoing capital building campaign funded the new black box and the airy atrium connecting the two performance spaces.
He reminds me that, after 93 years, Phoenix Theatre is “one of only three professional theaters left in Phoenix presenting local productions.” Growth is vital, and audiences expand in more comfortable surroundings.
Other improvements and plans accompany the new black box: a private donor lounge, a small area set aside for group ticket patrons, an inviting 45-foot bar, and the atrium’s huge glass wall, which can be fully opened to the courtyard.
Staggered curtain & intermission times will optimize use of the expanded bathrooms. “It’s not lost on us that women are the primary purchasers of beverages and gift cart items, so if they’re standing in line they’re also not buying,” says VanVleet. “They’re the primary buyers of tickets, too.”
Theatergoers will take advantage of additional opportunities to attend performances, he says, especially expertly-staged off-Broadway-style productions. “People who buy the arts buy more arts, so we’re not in competition with any of the other companies in town,” VanVleet continues. “The data suggests that the more you go, the more you go.”
If you go:
- Phoenix Theatre’s Ruthless! The Musical continues through September 29 — tickets at phoenixtheatre.com or 602-254-2151
- Bonus: The Broadway Brat Karaoke Party on Wed., Sep. 18, at 6:30PM — free, but tickets required (also at phoenixtheatre.com or 602-254-2151)
- Phoenix Theatre’s season in the Black Box Theatre:
Theater-goers looking for fresh repertoire sated their hunger earlier this month with a daring, historically-based production justifiably billed as “sexy-pants.” Phoenix Theatre pushed beyond its standard line-up of expertly-staged Broadway musicals to offer Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, giving audiences a sample of the provocative works planned for the troupe’s new black box venue in the coming season.
In the fledgling years of the United States of America, the hot-tempered and fiercely patriotic Andrew Jackson rose from obscurity to become the seventh President, following John Quincy Adams and preceding Martin Van Buren. Along the way, Jackson’s controversial path included defeating the British as a general in the War of 1812, serving as first governor of Florida, fighting accusations of an adulterous relationship with his own wife, establishing the Democratic Party, defending his contentious policies leading to the forced relocation of Native Americans, and representing Tennessee in Congress.
Impressively, he was also beloved by the American public, winning the popular vote. Jackson was elected by a tremendous margin in 1828, but his victory in the Presidential race was overshadowed by the death of his beloved wife Rachel.
Jackson’s action-packed life story is fascinating, but is it the stuff of theater? Phoenix Theatre took a well-justified, successful gamble with its run of Bloody Bloody AJ performances, which ended June 23. “This isn’t an encyclopedic account of Jackson’s life,” said director Ron May. “You’re not getting a stage version of a Wikipedia page. There are a handful of blatant anachronisms cozied up right next to historical fact,” he continued. “But for the most part what happened, what he did, is dead-on.”
May has made his name in the Valley theater scene both as an actor in shows like Nearly Naked Theatre’s Fuddy Meers – including ovation-winning scenes with a sock puppet — and as Stray Cat Theatre’s founding Artistic Director, offering works like The Dianalogues, columbinus, and Learn to be Latina. May has also directed for Actors Theatre and Black Theatre Troupe.
Bloody Bloody AJ is an emo rock play with music (as opposed to a full-bore musical), peppering action, quirky narrators, and impassioned monologues with “angry young men singing about how unfair life is, and angsting and angsting and angsting” — the very definition of the genre, according to May.
He’s always drawn to the works of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, who also wrote Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant and Heddatron for their theater troupe Les Freres Corbusier in New York. ‘They have a wicked sense of humor, an enormous awareness of pop culture, and an off-the-wall sense of theatricality,” declared May.
“[Bloody Bloody AJ]…does for history what ‘The Daily Show,’ for me, did for daily news — made it accessible, interesting, relevant, and a hell of a lot of fun,” said May. “America at the time was a young nation — kind of prepubescent, still trying to find its footing.” He continued, “Andrew Jackson ultimately becomes its mouthpiece — the best front man you could possibly have for an ‘emo nation.’” May added, “The show is like an insane mash-up of ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ ‘South Park,’ and a Fall Out Boy concert.”
Actor Joe Kremer described the play as “like a parallel universe. It’s in the history, but it’s all these modernizations of language…. He [Jackson] says stuff like ‘This sucks!’” (some of the most PG-rated dialogue in the show, which carried provocative “mature audience only” warnings).
At the same time, the piece revealed glimpses of Jackson’s personal and ideological vulnerabilities, bolstered by the pleasantly enjoyable shock of Caleb Reese’s clear, melodic voice in the title role, which pointed to his nine-year run with busy local cover band The Instant Classics.
Joe Kremer played multiple parts in Bloody Bloody AJ, including Jackson’s political rival Henry Clay and the Native American statesman Black Fox, who negotiated many of Jackson’s treaties.
“Henry Clay’s just kind of funny, and just like an old, grumpy politician…I would call it ‘My dad in a bad mood on a Sunday morning,’” he said, laughing. “Black Fox is a lot more stoic, and…at the end of the show, very serious.” Kremer concluded, “Black Fox is more me, where Henry Clay is more of a portrayal of a character — let’s put it that way.”
As for using Kremer in the role, May said, “The show was written so that non-Native actors could play the Indians, but…[the] biggie is making sure we represent the Indians in the show in a way that isn’t offensive, doesn’t simmer in stereotype.”
Regarding the production as a whole, Kremer said, “It’s tight jeans, big boots…. When you wear it [the costume]…it’s this eyeliner feeling.” He continued, “I think that’s the big difference — I mean, you could do a show about Andrew Jackson and the 1800s…just based on what’s there…but how fun would it be?”
Kremer said, “I have a 16-year-old daughter…there is no way I could get her to sit…and watch a documentary about Andrew Jackson. It just wouldn’t happen.” He chuckled wryly. “But I could get her to sit in the show and…actually be interested in who he is and what he did and…‘Wait a minute – what did he do? Indians? Why would you do that to people?’”
He started his acting career in Nearly Naked Theatre’s 2002 production of Equus, starring with May in Fuddy Meers and Take Me Out and working under his direction in The Laramie Project and other shows. The actor’s credits include Noises Off, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Much Ado About Nothing, [sic], and, most recently, Phoenix Theatre’s run of Our Town.
It was a bit of a jump turning from Thornton Wilder to Andrew Jackson, admitted Kremer. “How different is it? Uh, wow… I don’t know how to describe it without some drug reference,” he said with a grin, “because…it’s kind of going from this realm of seriousness…to just this constant thing of laughter…so it’s a very different vibe.”
“Going from drama to comedy…it hits a tightrope, because you come into it still in that dramatic role. It’s difficult, but it’s doable,” continued Kremer. “One of the things we did with Our Town…we took away a little bit of the reverence,” he said. “So once the reverence is gone, going between those two is pretty easy, because they’re [both] shows, they’re just a little different, and you have to just pay attention to what’s in the text, and that’ll guide you into good places.”
Watch for May’s upcoming productions at Stray Cat Theatre and other venues around the Valley. In October, you’ll have a chance to see Joe Kremer as a conflicted Chicago police officer in the dark, gritty comedy A Steady Rain by Keith Huff, produced by Actors Theatre.
- More about the historical Andrew Jackson from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center
- Phoenix Theatre’s upcoming 2013-2014 season
- Stray Cat Theatre
- Actors Theatre