Tag Archives: MTV

Musings on “The Book of Mormon”

I headed out with my daughter Lizabeth Tuesday evening for opening night of “Les Miserables” at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

It’d been 24 hours since my last “Les Mis” fix — enjoyed Monday night thanks to another PBS broadcast of the 25th anniversary concert.

One can never have enough “Les Miserables” — as evidenced by the tear-strewn faces and standing ovation in Tuesday night’s packed house.

I feel the same way about a new musical titled “The Book of Mormon,” which I’ve adored since I first learned of its existence — long before it shot to the top of every critic’s list and became the toughest ticket to land on Broadway. We pre-ordered the CD, a birthday gift for Lizabeth, and I’m working my way through the complete book and lyrics for the show now.

By the time we snag tickets to the show, I’ll have memorized it a million times over. For now, the best I can do is experience it vicariously through Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and Arizona’s sole Tony Awards® voter. We chatted about the show by phone on Monday as she readied for a busy week of business in New York City.

I started by asking whether she’s a big fan of “South Park” despite suspecting her time for television viewing is nearly nil. “I have a 20-year-old daughter,” she reminded me. Seems she felt a bit saddened after Isaac Hayes left the show — reportedly a reaction to an episode about his religion, Scientology.

But she sounds like a serious convert to “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway — which features book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez. Parker and Stone created “South Park” and Lopez is best known to many for his work on the musical “Avenue Q.” Parker serves as the show’s co-director, along with Casey Nicholaw (also its choreographer).

“The Book of Mormon” is nominated for 14 Tony Awards®, and Jennings-Roggensack expects it’ll “walk away” with ten awards. “There’s no way ‘The Book of Mormon’ isn’t going to win best musical,” she says. So I asked her why. “It’s a really well-crafted musical,” shares Jennings-Roggensack — describing it as “a musical on steroids.”

“Both directors did an amazing job,” shares Jennings-Roggensack. She’s also wowed by the show’s impressive dance numbers, describing the first two numbers in “The Book of Mormon” as “Disney-esque.” Still, the musical contains some seriously explicit material, so parents need to check age-restrictions and recommendations before attending.

The youngest of my three children — all shielded from “South Park” with the best of intentions — turns 18 on Wednesday. So we have lots of time to make up for in the explicit lyrics department, and I’ll share more thoughts in tomorrow’s post on my own journey “from Sondheim to South Park.”

So what does the popularity of “The Book of Mormon” signal for the wider world of musical theater? “There’s a lot of different territory for new musicals,” reflects Jennings-Roggensack. She’s seeing “a growing focus on new works” with “less emphasis on the re-creation of existing musicals.”

Jennings-Roggensack hails the “big multiracial cast” of “The Book of Mormon” — reminding theater goers that there’s more to the storyline than the lives of two young Mormon missionaries. Their travels take them to Uganda, and “there’s the whole issue of Uganda and Africans — and the delicateness of that whole topic.”

Lizabeth’s great fear is that the original cast will leave the show before we get to see it. Our one chance for a while will be the last week of June, when we’re there for college orientation. But even single tickets are hard to come by for shows before August, and I’m pretty sure James would frown on me staying in NYC that long.

Conversations with “The Book of Mormon” cast members during a Tony Awards®-related luncheon presented by MTV Networks lead Jennings-Roggensack to believe that they’re committed to staying with the show at least through the end of the year. She even suggested that Josh Gad (Elder Cunningham) — nominated for a best actor Tony Award® — seems open to joining the show on the road.

But how likely, really, is an Arizona stop for such a controversial show? Arizona is second only to Utah in number of Mormon citizens, obesrves Jennings-Roggensack. Still, she thinks “The Book of Mormon” could succeed here — assuming enough community outreach took place ahead of time.

When “Angels in America,” a controversial work set during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, was touring the country, it enjoyed a well-received run at ASU Gammage — after Jennings-Roggensack and her colleagues had 68 different conversations with community groups sensitive to some of its content.

The more folks know about “The Book of Mormon,” the less concerned they may be, suggests Jennings-Roggensack. Though she describes the musical as “wickedly funny” and “very irreverant,” she says that “in the end it’s all about faith, finding your faith and faith sustaining you.”

– Lynn

Note: While Lizabeth celebrates her 18th birthday on Wednesday, the character “Stan” from “South Park” will be celebrating his 10th birthday. Tune in to Comedy Central for the new “South Park” episode titled “You’re Getting Old,” which promises to “change everything” for Stan and the South Park gang.

Coming up: From Sondheim to South Park

We ♥ teachers

Tackling the rumblings of some Wisconsin legislators who seem to believe that public school teachers are living large off taxpayer dollars, Jon Stewart put together a little ditty titled “Cribs: Teachers Edition” inspired by the real “Cribs” series on MTV.

It follows correspondent Samantha Bee as she visits the New York City homes of two public school teachers — only to discover that both women do, in fact, have a bathroom (albeit tiny) and a closet (nearly empty).

But it doesn’t stop there. One has a futon, while the other has a dishwasher. One even lets her daughter have a small bedroom rather than sleeping in the bathtub. You can see how wildly out of control these teachers have become.

I’m guessing plenty of Arizona teachers don’t fare nearly as well. So I was thrilled to learn that the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is offering free admission to teachers during March 2011.

Someone who appreciates teachers? That's music to my ears! (Photo: Lynn Trimble)

The complimentary admission applies to “all Arizona K-12 teachers, registered student teachers, school principals, and home-school educators who present a school-issued ID or (for home-school educators) an affidavit of intent at the Guest Service desk upon entering the museum.”

“Each educator can bring one guest (of any age) for free,” according to MIM education manager Sarah Weber — who coordinates school field trips and other education programs at the MIM. “The offer is good,” adds Weber, “for any day in March 2011.”

But teachers, beware. You’ll be tempted to buy a few treats at the Cafe while you’re there, much to the dismay of all those naysayers who think the taxpayers might be better served if you ate out of restaurant reject bins.

And you’ll probably even explore the Museum Store in search of gifts for special occasions or materials for your classroom — proving to detractors that you have way too much spare change and time on your hands.

So remember to explain, if asked about your musical journey around the world, that the Musical Instrument Museum waived their admission fee for you. We certainly wouldn’t want our own state legislators thinking that Arizona teachers make enough to enjoy local hotbeds of global arts and culture.

– Lynn

Note: The Musical Instrument Museum also has a Music Theater – so if you like what you see the day you visit, consider a return trip to share global music with family and friends.

Coming up: Perspectives on public broadcasting

Burning questions

Sunday night’s presentation of the 83rd annual Academy Awards left me with plenty of burning questions…

How did they wrestle enough gold from Glenn Beck to make all those Oscar statues? Will we ever actually see Florence’s machine? Who does costuming for Helen Bonham Carter’s off-camera wardrobe?

Can we recruit Mr. Pricklepants and Mrs. Potato Head to host next year’s Oscars? Who knew pregnant and purple was such a powerful combination? And when will I learn to say “JC Penney” and “Tim Gunn” in the same sentence without weeping?

I’ve also got lots of burning questions about Valley theater productions…

Who is the unfortunate 11th Jew who didn’t make it into Andy Warhol’s silkscreened “top ten” list? Why does technology conspire against me every time I try to interview playwright Josh Kornbluth? And how do I get my own “autobiographical monologist” gig?

How are all those folks over at Phoenix Theatre doing in the mastery of puppetry department? Are gay puppets made or are they just born that way? When will “Toy Story” be a Broadway musical so Toby Yatso can land the part of “Woody?” And what do you do — really — with a B.A. in English?

If famed actors Lunt & Fontanne were alive today, which network would carry their reality show? MTV? Bravo? Lifetime? What would all those “Design Stars” say about their tendency to confuse set design with interior decorating? And why were nine chimneys never enough for them?

Finally, a few notes to self…

Attend all future films starring actors who thanked their mothers. Buy a big girl phone so even acts of God won’t imperil interviews with really cool people. Do whatever it takes to wipe the image of Javier Bardem in a near-yellow tux out of your mind. And keep an eye on young Valley actors who may one day walk that famous red carpet.

– Lynn

Note: My three groups of questions for Valley theater companies refer to the following productions: “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” (Actors Theatre, March 4-20), “Avenue Q” (Phoenix Theatre through March 20) and “Ten Chimneys” (Arizona Theatre Company, through March 6).

Coming up: “Macbeth” on the road, Art adventures: Roosevelt Row

Musings on “mature content” musicals

I finally broke down and watched the movie “Shutter Island” with my 17-year-old daughter recently after someone who’d seen it mentioned how much she’d probably enjoy it.

I’m one of those quaint parents who’s not a big fan of the under-17 set seeing movies with an R-rating, although Lizabeth saw plenty of “mature content” musicals before turning 17.

Folks who watch “Glee” will recognize the actress in this poster from “Spring Awakening” on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

She’s seeing “Spring Awakening” for the second time this week when it returns for two nights only to ASU Gammage.

Last time it toured in Tempe, we surprised her with tickets for on-stage seating — since rows of audience members sit stage left and stage right for the entire production.

This time around we’ll enjoy it together from seats in the house — and it’ll be our second “mature content” musical for the week.

About the time this gets posted, we’ll be seeing “Next to Normal” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego.

Lizabeth first saw “Next to Normal” at the Booth Theatre during a high school trip to NYC and DC last year, but Alice Ripley didn’t perform the night Lizabeth attended.

We’re thrilled to be seeing Ripley perform in the touring production — and will offer more musings on our return.

People often ask me what theater material is and isn’t appropriate for certain ages. My answer to this mirrors my take on most parenting issues. It depends on the child.

Families have different values. Children have different sensitivities. And everyone has a different take on art.

When I spoke a while back with Paris Bradstreet, a member of the touring cast for “Spring Awakening” at ASU Gammage, she noted that primetime television offers far more violence and sexual content than the plays and musicals folks fear as too racy.

Touring cast of “Spring Awakening” (Photo: Andy Snow)

Since we spoke, MTV has started airing a weekly series called “Skins” — billed as “a journey throughout the lives of nine high school friends stumbling through teenage adolescence.”

Think partying with drugs and alcohol, trading sexual favors, popping pills, reading porn and more.

Pay attention when theater offerings have content advisories, but do more digging.

Sometimes the things parents fear, like the brief and barely lit nude scene in “Hair,” are far more tasteful than what your kids are seeing on television or in movie theaters.

Bradstreet observes that “mature content” fare often sails right over the heads of younger children.

If your tween or teen is old enough to know when a character is simulating sexual activity (with self or others), it’s unlikely the thought of sex has yet to cross his or her mind.

And as the mom of a teen who has seen everything from “Rent” to “Avenue Q,” I can assure you that no Broadway show has ever inspired her to run right home and start swearing up a storm or sneaking out at night for some sinister purpose.

Touring cast of “Spring Awakening” (Photo: Andy Snow)

If anything, it’s taken the glamour away from activities that would otherwise derive power from their mystery.

Who wants to raid a liquor cabinet after watching the mother in “August: Osage County” drink herself into oblivion? Who wants to shoot heroine after seeing a drug user in “Rent” contract AIDS?

I hadn’t realized, when we rented the movie “Shutter Island,” that it involved a mother killing her children. I only recall the slick little DVD case warning against language, cigarette use and nudity.

Apparently it’s the smoking killers who most offend. But all is well if they’re fully clothed.

I wasn’t entirely sure after watching “Shutter Island” that I’d made the right call.

But I am sure that much of what our tweens and teens experience via television, video games and the Internet is far more rude and crude than anything I’ve ever seen in a work of musical theater.

– Lynn

Note: One of the best ways to gauge the age-appropriateness of content is to view something for yourself before deciding whether it’s okay for your child or teen. If you check with friends, ask enough of them to get a good sampling of opinions — which will give you more insight than a single thumbs up or thumbs down.

Coming up: Good clean fun with children’s theater, All things “Alice,” Spotlight on Sedona

Update: ASU Gammage has just announced special pricing for certain tickets to “Spring Awakening.” Use the code “SPRING” when ordering tickets in price levels 1-3 (excludes balcony seating; additional fees apply). Offer not valid on previously purchased tickets or in conjunction with any other offers. Tickets available from ASU Gammage and Ticketmaster.

“The violin chose me…”

Daniel Bernard Roumain - Photo by Leslie Lyons

Charles Darwin. Lady Gaga. Starbucks. Sydney Opera House. Homeless Basketball. Abraham Lincoln. Children of Haiti.

A quick scan of his bio only served to increase my intrigue with the work and play of Haitian-American composer, performer, violinist and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain – also dubbed DBR.

My daughter Lizabeth and I met Roumain a few years back when Roumain served as an artist-in-residence at Arizona State University.

She was nearing a decade of violin study and performance, and he was graciously working with several students from Arizona School for the Arts.

Recently we chatted about his own foray into the world — he might say “worlds” — of music. I began by asking Roumain when and why he started playing. Was violin his choice, or something his parents chose for him?

Daniel Bernard Roumain - Photo by Leslie Lyons

“The violin chose me,” he quipped — leaving me to wonder how exactly such a thing might be possible. Seems he was in kindergarten when he walked by a room in which the 6th grade orchestra was practicing.

Hearing the violin was all it took. “It called to me,” recalls Roumain. He asked the music teacher if he could play, but the teacher explained that students didn’t start playing at school until first grade.

The teacher suggested he come back the following day. Roumain suspects the teacher never expected him to return. But he did — and he got the okay to play.

Because his earliest violin lessons were at school, there was no charge. But eventually Roumain progressed to weekly private lessons, getting his first violin during 5th grade.

At first Roumain practiced just an hour or so a day — but admits he eventually hit six to eight hours a day. It hardly seems possible until you read reports that put teen technology use at nine hours a day.

Still, practice should never be a chore. “Music should always be fun,” shares Roumain. Who can really say what we will be when we grow up? There’s no reason to pressure young children when it comes to making music.

“When I grew up in Florida,” recalls Roumain, “music was everywhere.” Now music is scarce in American schools. “What’s becoming,” wonders Roumain, “of all the musicians, all the music, the world will never know?”

A violin certainly can’t speak to a child who never hears it.

Still, Roumain feels it would be “presumptuous” to offer a single “magic bullet” sort of solution to declining arts programs in our schools. It’s something parents, educators and community members have to work out in the context of a larger question.

What really comprises the ideal education — the perfectly balanced school day?

Daniel Bernard Roumain - Photo by John Walder

Roumain, age 40, is the father of 18-month-old Zachary. He’ll be faced soon enough with evaluating arts offerings from a parent perspective.

The composer likens music to a “medicine” or “anecdote” in a world where “there are so many ills.” Music, he reflects, is like exercise. “It can never hurt or harm you.”

While he’d like to see every child exposed to music, Roumain says parents need to give children the freedom to forge their own relationships to it. Some will want to play night and day. Others will want to play casually. Others will want to attend concerts. And some are perfectly happy to listen to CDs.

And while schools can choose to reduce art offerings, Roumain is convinced that they lose something in the process — believing that decreased art programs in recent years are related to increased school violence.

“Music,” says Roumain, “is as vital as a school lunch.”

Roumain, who was born in 1970, recalls growing up with a diverse record collection — including music by ABBA, Al Stewart, Bach, Beethoven, The Jackson 5 and Stravinsky (the alphabetizing was his own).

As he got older and went to more concerts, Roumain listened to everything from Prince to Dizzy Gillespie. MTV was in its early days, and a lot of music contained political themes.

Roumain is a fan of the many technologies that make it possible for kids to hear more music, and more types of music, today. He speaks of watching a Lang Lang performance on television with his wife and son over a meal, of listening to the radio during long driving jaunts.

Today his personal favorites include Rhianna and Jay-Z. To get the Lady Gaga reference, you’ll have to read his bio. At home, he says, the family listens to “everything from Bieber to Bach.”

Roumain brings his own passionate blend of music, art and movement to ASU Gammage in Tempe on Sat, Feb 5. There’s a 7pm show for the kids, and a 9pm show for adults.

Daniel Bernard Roumain - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

He’ll be presenting a world premiere titled “Symphony for the Dance Floor,” featuring “the raw uncompromising photography of Jonathan Mannion” and DBR music “inspired by hip-hop, electronica and symphonic sound.”

The work is choreographed by Millicent Johnnie with lighting design by Miriam Crowe and direction by D.J. Mendel. Roumain describes it as “an ecstatic journey” traveled with “a soundtrack of our time.”

“I have hope,” reflects Roumain. “And hope is America’s greatest national resource.”

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “Symphony for the Dance Floor” and other “Gammage Beyond” events presented by ASU Gammage in Tempe. And check your local PBS listings for days/times you can see “Children of Haiti” — a film for which DBR wrote the soundtrack — which will help you learn more about Haiti as we all remember the 2010 Haiti earthquake one year later.

Coming up: A touring production of “A Chorus Line” comes to Mesa and Phoenix this week

Photos from www.dbrmusic.com