Family Blogger Staci’s review of Tomás

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Shaped greatly by the likes of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, I believe I continued to be a writer into my adult life because I was fortunate to have some amazing influences that guided me to become the best I could be. I can’t imagine adding a language and cultural barrier to the odds of achieving greatness, so I related to Tomás and the Library Lady, however I also reveled in his tenacity and ability to overcome obstacles.

Tomás brought to life, a character that children could easily relate to, as a role model. He was a determined dreamer, and while he had fears of failure, he used his vivid imagination to grow in so many ways throughout the story.

Even though his family was poor, they were loving, supportive and hard-working—coupled with the friendship he honed with a librarian in his small Iowa town, he learned not only how to be a good person, but how to have a breakthrough with language and learn to read in English. That new ability allowed him to be swept away from the chicken coop his family resided in, to magical places through the words in his books. The Librarian often let him borrow books and even gifted him a journal to write his own adventures in.

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The life of Tomás is a true and amazing tale of an unlikely hero who changed the world through strength and a love of learning—he never forgot his roots and remained humble, crediting that Librarian for her devotion to making learning fun.

I was impressed with the depth of characters in this show, my daughter and her friend accompanied me, and their reaction was insightful. Both commented on how motivated Tomás was to learn, but teachers had been cruel and impatient with his language fluency. They remarked that finding the Library Lady meant he had someone who was teaching him on “his terms” and showed him ways to make learning not only bearable but amazing!

Library Lady Actress Liz Polen said, “My mom has always inspired me through her patience and understanding. She has always been endlessly patient with me throughout all my different struggles as a kid to now as an adult. And she has always displayed deep understanding of all people that she comes into contact with, always trying to learn about who they are and what is important to them.

Tomás Actor Enrique Guevera added, “My voice teacher at ASU has helped me understand a lot about myself and my craft. She has instilled in me that perfection does not exist, but that we can always strive for it in an effort to better ourselves.”

And that was the moral of this story—to accept others as they are and help them strive to learn new things. The acting in this play highlighted that beautifully. I remember visiting libraries as a child and feeling the excitement of where a book would take me to. With modern technology I often worry my kids won’t experience that same anticipation. But, today, watching this play, I realized there is still so much more about a book, then a tablet or a phone can provide.

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As Polen put it, “I don’t think anything can compare with one’s imagination. There is a joy that is particular to reading books that you experience when you are immersed in a story and transported to a different world. I also think the benefit to interacting with an actual librarian is that they can respond to you as a human and guide you based on your interactions.”

Guevera mirrored her sentiment, “It’s healthy to have face to face interactions, especially as children. While the internet is an excellent source of information, there is so much a child can gain from developing creative and social skills.”

Oh, and…library books smell so good! 😉 – Tomás.

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Our first ever trip to the Theatre! by Family Blogger Jessica

Last Saturday we had the opportunity to go to our first ever Theatre production! We took the boys to see The Phantom Tollbooth put on by Childsplay. It was such a fun experience all the way around. We had never been to the Tempe Center for the Arts and boy where we in for a treat!

You can see the beautiful building from the freeway driving in and the boys got so excited seeing it! It is the coolest building. Klyde kept saying “I’m so excited” & “Best day EVER!“. When we pulled up to the building it did not disappoint. It is so beautiful! We enjoyed checking out the building and the grounds. Its right on the Lake so we had a good time checking out the water and they had the coolest water feature the boys played in till it was time for the show to start.

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We got to attend the pre-show and see some of the puppets that are in the show. WOW! Such detail was put into making those and they truly are a work of art! We got to have some snacks and look out over the beautiful lake. It was a great time to review the story with our boys. We had been reading the book Phantom Tollbooth to get us ready for the play and that made it so much more exciting for all of us.

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The theater was so cool! The boys loved looking over the balcony. The only bad thing about where we sat was once the play started it was kind of hard for the boys to see over the railing since they are so short. So Klyde had to sit upright at the edge of his seat to get a good view. Luckily it didn’t bother him too much.

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Klyde was so excited! He loved everything about it!

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The boys and I waiting for the play to start!

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The boys waiting for the play to start. We ended up taking our baby and he was a champ! Slept the whole time. The cool thing is they have a room for kids that are fussy you can take them into and still get to see the play and not miss anything!

The play was AMAZING! The actors were perfect for each of their parts and I was curious how they were going to make the puppets work and it was so good! It followed the storyline perfectly and hit all the main/important parts from the book.

The main character Milo found a tollbooth in his room and it takes him to a make believe world. This is where all the cool puppets come into play. He meets a humbug and Tock a dog with a clock in the middle of his body. They go on several adventures to different cities to finally return the 2 princesses back to the kingdom. It really kept us on our toes the enter time!  The run time was about 50 min so it’s perfect for young kids.

One thing I especially loved was how they taught lessons throughout the story. Like when Milo was at a feast and he realized he was going to have to “eat his words” literally! It taught the kids that you can do hard things even when it seems impossible! The most important lesson was to use your words wisely and for good.

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The actors did a Q&A after it was over and it was really cool. It made it seem more intimate when they did this.

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Like seriously! How cool is the Humbug puppet!

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Milo is in the purple. He was so good! Also the spelling Bee puppet.

This really was such a great family activity. Our boys are already planning our next trip back to the theatre and want to see every production Childsplay puts on. We can’t wait for the next show!

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The Phantom Tollbooth was a gift to my kids and a gentle reminder to me as a parent by Family Blogger Lisa

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was a family favorite from my childhood. My brother gave me the hardcover book and I swear I read it more than a dozen times. I was thrilled when I learned that Childsplay Theatre was going to do the production as part of its 2017-2018 Storybook Season for Families.

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As a parent of two boys, ages 10 and 11, I can attest that sometimes school and homework can be a challenge. Especially as young boys start to assert their independence and blossom into whom they’ll become. My boys and I read The Phantom Tollbooth as a bedtime story during the summer. We jumped at the opportunity to attend the opening show at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts.

What a treat we had! First, we attended a pre-show opportunity with the cast, and puppet and costume designer Rebecca Akins. She introduced us to the challenges of planning and building unique costumes and puppets for this particular play. With five cast members acting out dozens of characters, how do you do it? With enough puppets and costume changes to leave the crowd in awe.

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The Humbug was our personal favorite. As one of the main “characters,” he never left the stage. The Humbug had such personality thanks to cast member Tony Latham, who helped The Humbug come to life before our eyes.

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During the play, the cast did such a fine job in retelling this childhood classic. The props for the Dictionopolis marketplace presented by Kate Haas in were so clever. The prop team placed attention to every detail to make sure the visuals showcased the humor of the scene and exaggerated the play on words of the book. They accomplished this while making the letters easy to read for young and old eyes in the audience.

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Milo, played by Rudy Ramirez, and Tock, played by Micha Jondel DeShazer, were an excellent pair. They had the same synergy you imagined when reading the book. Their friendship develops quickly and after such an impactful journey to rescue Rhyme and Reason, the audience got misty-eyed when Milo had to say his good-bye to Tock and return home.

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At the end of the play, the cast thoughtfully facilitated a Q&A session with the audience. I loved how they engaged with the younger kids to help synthesize the material and enhance their learning experience. My favorite commentary was shared by Debra K. Stevens when she spoke about King Azaz’s gift to Milo. It was a box with all the letters of the alphabet.

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“In this box you’ll find all the words I know,” he said. “Most of them you’ll never need, some you’ll use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made of these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn is to use them in all the right places”. — King Azaz

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With two boys trying to find their way in this ever-more-complicated world, this reminder to choose our words wisely and be open-minded, to seek to understand in everything we do, was a gift to my kids and a gentle reminder to me as a parent.

As we were leaving the theatre, my boys asked if we could read the book again. YES, OF COURSE. Why? They identified with Milo and related to his journey and the ups and downs that life can present.

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It was all possible because of the talented Childsplay Theatre cast and Director Dwayne Hartford, who thoughtfully brought this story to life. I’d highly recommend this performance for any student who wants to be inspired or a parent who wants to highlight the opportunities that the world of art and science, language and math, can provide for their child.

This production of The Phantom Tollbooth affirms Childsplay’s mission to create theatre so strikingly original in form and content that it instills in young people an enduring awe, love and respect for the medium, thus preserving imagination and wonder, those hallmarks of childhood that are keys to the future.

I couldn’t agree more.

“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” is a delightfully raucous rock musical.

“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure”
Theater Blog Post by Keith Mize

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“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” is a delightfully raucous rock musical.  Presented by the Childsplay Theatre and performed at the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts. This musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic has something for everyone. Kids will enjoy the journey Alice takes them on through Wonderland where they will meet many of the colorful characters in the original Carroll classic. Everyone will love the rock music reminiscent of the fast paced Disney songs kids and adults have grown to love. It may surprise you to know that all the music is actually played by the actors in the play, which makes the show a live music show as well as a wonderful play.  I was very pleased to see an amazing array of musical instruments played during the show.  If you take your kids to the show challenge them to count how many different musical instruments they can spot, you will be surprised.

The cast of actors brought life to this musical performance of classic Carroll chaos. The dancing, singing and musical performance was a real triple treat as well as a testament to the skill and dedication of this ensemble. Michelle Chin plays young Alice and does a spot on job bringing the ever inquisitive Alice to the stage. I especially liked how Alice’s cat Dinah was included via some creative puppetry (think Jim Henson) by Katie McFadzen.  My favorite songs were “Keep Your Temper”, “Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee”, and “(You’ll Never Be A) Red, Red Rose”.  Tommy Strawser played a marvelous caterpillar as well as Tweedle Dee. Fans of the band Tenacious D are really going to love Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee’s battle ballad, played by Tommy Strawser and Kyle Sorrell. “(You’ll Never Be A) Red, Red Rose” was a fabulously flamboyant song that pushed the attitude meter off the gauge.  The entire cast really put a musical flare on a cherished classic that worked so well.

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I would be remiss if I did not mention all the people behind the scenes, far too many to mention by name, who use their extensive musical and creative talents to bring this rock & roll adventure to life.  The set design (Aaron Jackson) and costume design (Connie Furr Soloman) were brilliant. The way Alice was depicted falling down the rabbit hole was amazing; and the costume and wig designs were truly Broadway worthy, an explosion of color and whimsy, what you might expect if Carroll and Seuss had a child.

The performance run time is approximately 85 minutes with no intermission.  On a practical note have young kids visit the restroom prior to the start of the play and as we parents say “try”.  Once again the Childsplay did not disappoint. My family had a wonderful afternoon at the theater and encourage anyone with young children or grandchildren not to miss this musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic.

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