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.

Jodee’s Childsplay’s The Grumpiest Boy in the World

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Boys and grumpiness are two things our family knows a bit about. Contrary to popular belief, boys have a lot of emotions and expressions. They can even be dramatic. (Gasp!) Without knowing much about the story, I was excited to see that Finegan Kruckemeyer’s The Grumpiest Boy in the World addressed the emotional self of boys. Something in the directness of the title had my kids interested and amused. They immediately dubbed the play “King Grump” and called it that for weeks before we even saw the show. Of course, boys don’t only feel degrees of anger, but that was a relatable start. Director Jon Gentry put together a vibrant, energetic show that explores a lot of big feelings, using big characters and big laughs, and a tiny cast with minimal costumes and set pieces.

The narrative is about Zachary, an ordinary 9-year-old boy with a terrible problem–he feels that his “normal” is killing him. He imagines himself the scientific example of everything extraordinarily dull and soon determines he must discover a place where he is different. His plan is to go the the most outrageously odd place in the world (of his imagination) where he would be the only person of his kind. He embarks on this adventure and finds, to his frustration, that no matter how curious the characters he meets, he strangely shares things in common with them.

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Though it was opening day on the Studio stage of the Tempe Center for the Arts, we were actually seeing a performance polished over months of playing at schools around Arizona. The entire set was designed to fit in a large van. This simplicity made the set even more like a child’s imaginative play space. A single backdrop with pictures reminiscent of vintage circus posters looked a bit like a famous sideshow. When props began appearing through the flap in the middle, I no longer noticed the pictures; the colors, costumes and characters took center stage. As Zachary travels, each place was built with simple set pieces, like chairs, stools, coat racks and a trunk.

The show opens with physical comedy by the lively Bobby Shook (Dad/Scientist 2/Other).  His routine is part of setting the stage, which was cleverly accomplished. The Childsplay productions we have seen have all used amusing physical theatre to engage the audience. It works to capture my children’s attention every time. My family, along with all the other audience members around me, were laughing from shortly after the lights went up.

With so many characters to be and places to go, Shook and the hilarious Caroline Wagner (Mum/Scientist 1/Other) were constantly in motion, changing costumes and scenes. They used a variety of colorful voices and movement. My youngest really loved the Voice of Impending Doom character and thought that was the funniest part of the show. Another favorite was the boyish Tony Latham as Zachary. My boys easily identified with the “big feelings” (as we call them at home) that seemed to fill Latham’s whole frame.

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Inventive use of puppetry and costuming by Elizabeth Ihlenfeld multiplied a cast of three into a colorful assortment of characters. Most of our questions were about the costumes that identified the roles. The cast was kind enough to explain details of the larger costumes during the after-show Q & A.

With so many performances previous, I was not surprised that the 45-minute show went off without a noticeable hitch. Maybe the Giant had to advance the sound cue twice on the laptop, but Shook is so interesting to watch, the action could have been part of the comedy. Stephen Christensen’s sound design, accessed by an onstage laptop, worked well and is certainly economical with space.

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While I think the message was about finding what make us different, it was also about the commonalities that we use to better relate to others. Some of the things we share are emotions and desires that are familiar to all kinds of people, be they Hairy, Giant, or exceedingly grumpy.  Zachary’s common ground with others helped him make friends, who later aided him in his pursuit of his goal to be the ultimate in grumpiness.

I recognized the familiar narrative of adventure and discvery, where the hero realizes important things about himself in the process of telling his elaborate expedition. It was a little reminiscent of Max’s voyage in Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. One of my boys came home ready to write his stories. The show’s storytelling inspiration might just be a tool to help him learn more about his own strengths.

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The show was an enjoyable family experience, from before the show with the 360° Experience and as we laughed while sharing our favorite parts on the drive home.  After all of the fun, I came away feeling that when we focus on telling stories about our lives and dreams, we can see the patterns that reveal our unique traits. I hope my kids get that, too.

My family was generously provided tickets in return for a review. The opinions expressed are entirely those of myself and my family.

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