Monday, February 27, 2012

Show & Tell Review: Clifford The Big Red Dog - LIVE!

Show & Tell Review: Clifford The Big Red Dog - LIVE!

Clifford The Big Red Dog – LIVE! opened a storybook onto the stage of the Fox Cities P.A.C. and invited the audience to jump on in.

Emily Elizabeth and her big red dog Clifford sang and danced their way into the hearts of this mother’s two young daughters with the aid of brilliant set and lighting design.

The home of Emily and her family was vibrantly and playfully colored like the page in a child’s coloring book – or simply the world as seen through the eyes of a young girl who hopes for nothing more than a dog as her new best friend.

With a multi-talented touring cast of artists playing numerous roles, this show’s artistic triumphs include creating Emily Elizabeth’s world as it would appear to her and to her audience – including my theater companions, my four and three-year-old daughters.

“Her bed has wheels!,” exclaimed one daughter as the other was too transfixed on the luminous lighting design of the scene changes to say a word.

Notable to creating the world of Clifford was the Clifford suit and puppet design by The Puppet Kitchen. Clifford’s love for his new family was felt with every true-to-life scratch and sneeze. The two-man costume created the spring in the step only a new puppy has – even if he is the world’s most giant family pet.

“He’s bigger than even the daddy!,” explained my three-year-old upon witnessing Clifford’s overnight growth spurt.

Clifford The Big Red Dog – LIVE! was an excellent choice as a first staged musical for a four and three-year-old. Appropriate in length, lesson and theatrical wonder, this show stayed true to the Clifford books and movies while finding innovative and creative ways to introduce children to the wonder that is the live performing arts.

During this performance of Clifford The Big Red Dog – LIVE! I saw a marvelous family musical on the stage and witnessed two of my children falling in love for the first time – with the theater.

“I’m clapping so hard,” my four-year old whispered. “I just can’t clap any harder!”

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Introducing Your Youngsters to the Performing Arts

Families in the Fox Cities are in for a treat at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center with both Clifford The Big Red Dog– LIVE! and Mary Poppins right around the corner. Tickets are still available for both titles, so we thought we'd share some ideas to make the show fun for the whole family.

Pick the Right Show for Your Kids
Nobody knows your kids like you do, and thinking about a child’s attention span is a great place to start. Broadway’s smash-hit Mary Poppins is a remarkable theater event, but if your little one can’t make it past 8:00 p.m., you may want to to plan for a matinee performance. Visit for details like run times to help you select shows that fit your family.

Help Them Understand
Live performances are exciting, but they can also be a bit overwhelming. Talk to your kids about what they can expect at the theater from finding their seats to seeing the characters they love onstage. Let them know it’s okay to laugh, dance and have fun, but they might miss important parts if they talk during the show. They’ll take their cues from you, so get ready to have some fun!

Look for Study Guides
For most family-friendly performances, the Fox Cities P.A.C. offers study guides to help parents and teachers expand the live theater experience beyond the show. Click "Behind the Scenes" on the show page to find coloring sheets, discussion questions, and other ideas to help the arts come alive for your kids before and after the show.

Community Engagement Activities
For many family shows, the Center invites ticket holders to free community engagement activities. This weekend, ticket holders for Clifford the Big Red Dog – LIVE! will have the chance to meet the Fox Valley Humane Association’s ambassador dog Wilma, create their own Clifford ears, make a friendship bracelet and more. Check to find out if a community engagement activity is tied to your next performance!

The performing arts are a great way to spend time with the family and introduce your children to new and exciting possibilities. Plus, you'll create memories that last a lifetime. Do you remember your first live performance?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mission in Action: Local Events Serve the Community

As a nonprofit organization, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s mission to serve as a gathering place for the community drives every event. Whether it’s hosting a big blockbuster Broadway show, presenting a daytime education performance or hosting a community event, the mission comes to life in many different ways.

In the next few weeks, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is pleased to welcome the Boys & Girl’s Club’s Vintage in the Valley (February 24), Appleton Medical Center’s Laughter is the Best Medicine (March 2) and the 11th Annual Wildwood Film Festival (March 3).

Boys & Girls Club of the Fox Valley presents
Vintage in the Valley
- February 24

Join the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley to celebrate an unforgettable evening of wine, amazing food and great friends… all to benefit more than 14,000 local youth. The annual Vintage in the Valley event returns to the dazzling Fox Cities Performing Arts Center as the premier wine and cheese tasting event in the Fox Valley!

Enjoy an enchanting evening of sampling over 200 varieties of select wine, gourmet cheeses, indulgent hors d'oeuvres and succulent desserts while being serenaded by the lovely Water Edge Jazz Trio. Each guest will receive a bag of surprises as a memento of your 2012 Vintage in the Valley experience!

Appleton Medical Center & Community Hospice Foundation present
Laughter is the Best Medicine - March 2
America's famed comedy troupe, The Second City, is coming to town in its one of a kind "Laugh Out Loud Tour." From the legendary company that launched the careers of Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray and more, comes the next generation of the comedy world's best and brightest in an evening of sketch comedy and Second City’s trademark improvisation. Your ticket to the performance will help others and you’ll enjoy a great night of hilarious laughter!

Be sure and buy your tickets early for this one night only performance! Net proceeds from the performance will be directed to the Appleton Medical Center Foundation and Community Hospice Foundation and will benefit patients and their families receiving cancer and hospice care through the services provided by ThedaCare.

11th Annual Wildwood Film Festival - March 3
The Wildwood Film Festival returns to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for its 11th Annual event. Every year the festival presents a mix of genres, and there is truly something for all interests. The films submitted range from drama to comedy and from animation to music videos. All films are submitted from current or former Wisconsinites regardless of where they currently live. Some are beginners, and others have been pursuing film for many years. The festival limits all films to thirty minutes or less, so each showtime will have many pieces to catch the interest of the audience. Originally created to showcase Wisconsin filmmakers, the tagline of "Celebrating Wisconsin Film Talent" is as true today as ever.

Find out more about these events, and order your tickets today at!

Show & Tell Review: Doubt: A Parable

True to its name, Doubt: A Parable leaves its audience with plenty to think about when the night is over. It’s a simple story with no clear answers. Set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School, in the Bronx, in the early 1960s, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt delivers an intense 90-minute story that keeps the audience almost breathless in anticipation of what is to come.

When the iron-fisted school principal, Sister Aloysius, learns from a younger nun and teacher, Sister James, that Father Brendan Flynn has had a one-on-one meeting with the school’s only African American student, Donald Muller, she immediately jumps to the conclusion that Father Flynn’s intentions were less than pure. When confronted, Father Flynn denies any wrongdoing saying that he caught the boy drinking the communion wine and was trying to save him the embarrassment of being removed from the altar boys.

Sister James is relieved by Father Flynn’s explanation and believes him. Sister Aloysius, however, is not satisfied and calls Donald’s mother in for a conference. Donald’s mother reveals to Sister Aloysius that the boy is continuously beaten while at home and expresses her desire to get him through the school year when he will move on to the high school. She begs Sister Aloysius to let him be.

When Father Flynn threatens to have Sister Aloysius removed if she doesn’t back down, she tells him that she has called his last parish and has learned of past infringements. Again, Father Flynn declares his innocence. When she refuses to believe him, Father Flynn calls the bishop asking for a transfer. He receives a transfer and a promotion. Learning this, Sister Aloysius reveals to Sister James that her phone call was a lie, and she is left with nothing but doubt.

Sister Aloysius is not the only one left with doubt. Since no clear answers are given, the audience is left to make its own assumptions. Was Sister Aloysius the iron-fisted, unchangeable cold person we thought she was … or was she a hero, protecting and defending the children in her school? Was Father Flynn the gentle, kind-hearted pastor … or was he a monster and a child molester?

The minimal cast of four is perfectly suited for their roles and delivers the story as if there were dozens of characters in the production. As serious as this topic is, the performance was peppered with small doses of humor that contributed to the believability of the characters. Additionally, the simple set and lack of scenery changes allowed the audience to focus on the story without distraction. The clever use of lighting contributed to the feel of the stage and gave the impression that scenery was changing even when things barely moved.

My initial reaction to this play and its simplistic nature was that it was lacking the “wow” factor. And, if you compare it to a musical like Cats or Phantom of the Opera, I suppose it was. I didn’t leave the Center exhilarated and over stimulated. I left deep in thought – and I’m still thinking about it today. The bottom line is the cast of Doubt delivered a flawless and powerful performance that left me with far more to think about than any other production I’ve seen. The more I think about it, it didn’t lack that “wow” factor. It was there. I just needed to see it for what it was. And, if there is one thing I learned from Doubt … don’t jump to conclusions or make premature judgments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Show & Tell Review: Doubt: A Parable

I believe it is the TV show “Law & Order” that uses the advertising tagline of “Ripped from the headlines.” Although first written in 2004, writer John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable could very easily use the exact same marketing line. With the current events that have occurred in the last six months or so – Bernie Fine, Jerry Sandusky, and the Milwaukee Catholic church scandals to name a few - Shanley’s play proves to be incredibly prescient.

The Montana Repertory Theatre did an excellent job bringing a difficult story to life on the stage of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. The story takes place in the Bronx, during the 1964 school year. Actor Brendan Shanahan performs admirably as Father Flynn, a priest accused of having an “unhealthy relationship” with an 8th grade boy. Suzy Hunt does an amazing job as Sister Aloysius, his accuser. The crux of story revolves around the actions of Father Flynn. Sister Aloysius believes he has sexually abused an 8th grade boy and is determined to prove it. Heavily hamstrung by the Church’s power structure and society’s beliefs in general, Sister Aloysius does what she can to get Father Flynn to admit his wrongdoing and to put a stop to his actions.

The play opens with Father Flynn at the pulpit giving a sermon that centers around doubt. If a theater goer has no idea about the general story of the play, the sermon proves to be an excellent piece of foreshadowing. If a theater goer does have that knowledge, the sermon immediately gets your mind thinking about what this man has done and how personal his sermon is. It works as an excellent way to draw the audience in from the get go. From the opening moments, I was sucked in. The rest of the play did not disappoint.
Though the subject matter of the play is difficult and uncomfortable, it is presented on stage with a tastefulness that is far from offensive. The abuse “act” does not occur on stage. There are no lurid descriptions. There is no offensive language. Just a good, albeit tragic, story.

Going into this performance I was expecting a heavy, depressing story. I had serious questions about how the topic of sexual abuse was going to be presented. In my mind I could see it going 800 different directions. And most of those were bad. I should have learned by now that the Fox Cities P.A.C. would allow for nothing worse than a great production. The Montana Rep did an excellent job with Shanley’s play, which on the surface, appears to be about a priest that molests a boy. Having seen the play, it is about so much more – faith, trust, friendship, the church, race, parenting, teaching, women’s place in society, moral obligations, perseverance, monsters, and more. Doubt: A Parable is set in 1964, but it could easily be updated to 2012. All it would need is a few costume changes and the nuns to be depicted as teachers. Everything else could pretty much remain the same. It would be just as powerful.

The scenery used for the play is definitely minimalist. A desk, two chairs, and a bookshelf remain onstage for the duration and are used for Sister Aloysius’ office. Fifteen feet away are two benches and two small bushes used to represent a courtyard area. A back drop hangs behind the set pieces to close off the rest of the stage. It’s this backdrop, along with some good lighting, that provided some of the most poignant moments of the play. There were times during the play where the backdrop acted as a mirror and reflected the actors onstage. It seemed to provide a commentary to the conversations occurring - characters needed to look at themselves in the context of what they were saying. It was one more subtle layer added to what the play was about. 

Lighting was used well throughout. It almost seemed to reflect the mood of each scene. It was more subdue during personal conversations and became brightly intense during tense discussions, especially during the courtroom drama-like climax. (It wasn’t set in a courtroom but the movie buff in me wanted so badly for Father Flynn to shout, “You can’t handle the truth!”) I think the lighting also served to enhance the feeling of loneliness of Sister Aloysius and her fellow nun Sister James. The characters, sat spotlighted in one small area while the rest of the stage remained ominously dark.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ll come right out and say it… I really enjoyed the performance. A tough subject to be sure, but it was handled in a humanistic manner that screamed “real life.” The touches of humor that ran throughout were as surprising as they were well-placed, and worked well in balancing out the heavy issues being tackled. If you ever get a chance to see a performance of Doubt: A Parable, I recommend you go. It won’t necessarily be what you’d expect, but it will be a good show.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tickets to Stayin' Alive!

Are you a fan of The Bee Gees' music? Stayin’ Alive will be recreating the magic next Saturday, February 25 at the FoxCities P.A.C. with a tribute to Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb.

Would you like to see the show? Post a comment below with your favorite song for a chance to win two tickets to Stayin' Alive. Check back Monday to find out if you're the lucky winner!

Congrats to BeeGeesRock and LovePAC. You were selected at random, and have won 2 tickets to Stayin' Alive at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton this Saturday! Please email your name and contact info to by 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22 to claim your prize.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Creative Minds Behind Doubt: A Parable – John Patrick Shanley

Next Tuesday, February 21, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center will present Doubt: A Parable performed by the Montana Repertory Theatre. The play centers on controversy within a Catholic school set in 1965, where the strict Sister Aloysius suspects there may be a dark side to the charismatic Father Flynn. But is hard-headed Sister Aloysius protecting children from harm, or is she falsely accusing an innocent man of a shocking abuse of power and trust?

There are more layers to this incredibly powerful play, and you may find even more to enjoy with a closer look at the playwright, John Patrick Shanley. His own life and those of his friends and family have taken shape in many of his plays, and as Alex Witchel wrote about Shanley in The New York Times, “the curse of having a writer in the family is that everything - sooner or later - becomes material.”

About the Playwright
Born in 1950, John Patrick Shanley grew up the youngest of five children in an Irish-Catholic family in the Bronx neighborhood of East Tremont. His father, a meatpacker, was an Irish immigrant, and the neighborhood was home to similar working-class Irish and Italian families. “It was extremely anti-intellectual and extremely racist, and none of this fit me,” the playwright revealed to The New York Times, recalling that he was “in constant fistfights from the time I was six,” though he asserted he rarely picked the fight himself.

Shanley spent the first eight years of his formal education at a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Charity. He went on to the all-boys Cardinal Spellman High School, where he rebelled against strict, no-nonsense priests, spending time every week in after-school detention. He next attended a private Catholic school in New Hampshire, where he began to thrive as teachers encouraged his writing talents. After briefly attending New York University, Shanley enlisted in the Marine Corps. Following his service in the Vietnam War, he returned to NYU and graduated in 1977 as the valedictorian of his class.

Shanley had already started writing plays. In his early twenties, he later recalled, “I tried the dialogue form, and it was instantaneous. I wrote a full-length play the first time I ever wrote in dialogue, and it was produced a few weeks later.” By the early 1980s he had written a half-dozen works, and some of the one act plays were staged together in a late 1982 production titled Welcome to the Moon. Featuring fanciful characters and props, the play explored themes of love and love’s absence. Critics were less than kind.

He had somewhat better luck with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, a play about two star-crossed lovers who meet in a seedy Bronx bar, which was produced in New York and London in 1984 and toured with the Louisville Festival.

Next, Shanley turned to writing a screenplay based on his experiences with voluble Italian-American families. The resulting film, Moonstruck, starred Cher and Nicolas Cage. A strong supporting cast and interesting subplots centering on love and infidelity rounded out the work, which won Shanley the 1987 Academy Award for best screenplay. Following Moonstruck, Shanley had little success in Hollywood. "The January Man" and "Joe Versus the Volcano," despite the presence of big-name stars, were panned by critics and did poorly at the box office. He was more successful with his script for HBO’s "Live from Baghdad," which won a 2003 Emmy Award.

Shanley’s playwriting during this time included Italian American Reconciliation (1988) and Beggars in the House of Plenty (1991), featuring the dysfunctional characters who had become the hallmark of his work. In 2001 Shanley became involved with New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company, where his play Where’s My Money? was staged.

Doubt, A Parable began its off-Broadway run in November 2004 and went on to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre the following March. The play earned outstanding praise from critics and the most impressive honors for which a playwright could ever hope: the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award® for best play of the 2004-2005 season. Shanley adapted his play for the screen, and in 2008, the film, directed by Shanley and starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, was released to critical acclaim. The movie’s many awards included an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay and a Golden Globe for best screenplay.

A world premiere, fully-staged production of Shanley’s new play, Pirate, was one of the highlights of Vassar & New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater 2010 summer season.

For more information and tickets to Tuesday night’s performance, visit

Montana Repertory Theatre (
Encyclopedia of World Biography (
The New York Times (

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Show & Tell Review of Million Dollar Quartet

Lori was at Million Dollar Quartet this week and shared the first Show & Tell video review.
Check it out!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Show & Tell: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Their name says it all: the Shabalala’s were destined to sing. If family names speak at all, it’s no surprise that Joseph Shabalala, the founder and leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and four of his sons, followed that path.

In his 52nd year leading his family and four other members (two of whom are also brothers), Joseph shares his music, culture, and spirituality with the world. Offering audiences the sound of “peace, love, and harmony,” this enlightening troupe arrived this Wednesday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

Taken from their new album, “Songs From a Zulu Farm,” most songs told stories of life in Ladysmith, the hometown of Shabalala and the namesake of the company. From the humorous story of a pesky ankle-nipping chicken to a prayerful melody to chase away the clouds, Ladysmith Black Mambazo fluently translated South African daily life into infectious a cappella music. Without interference by instruments or distortion of technology, the lucid voice of the Mambazo’s soared with open clarity and honesty. Joseph Shabalala, who writes and arranges the music, also conducted the group, though he shared this honor with Sibongiseni – his youngest son and a relatively recent Mambazo member. Sibongiseni lead with a sincere voice and obvious enjoyment, and his effervescence shone through the music. 

The family aspect of Ladysmith Black Mambazo lent itself well to the dynamic of the group. Even sitting rows away, the seemingly tangible connection between performers radiated from the Mambazo’s synchronized movements and uplifting message of hope. The amalgam of nine individual voices into one deep, sonorous tone filled the theater and enraptured the audience. While the esoteric syllables and interwoven clicks and calls were foreign, the clear spirit and rhythms of each song beguiled listeners of all backgrounds and ages. In addition to the Shabalala’s native Zulu tongue, the Mambazo’s performed in English, from the soothing, “Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain,” to their famous 1985 collaboration with Paul Simon titled, “Homeless,”both of which were met with glorious admiration by the audience. 

Beyond the earnest message and soulful singing, Ladysmith Black Mambazo offered a performance laced with cheeky shenanigans. Histrionic dancing and playful mockery from all nine performers garnered laughter, cheers, and whistles from the lively audience and displayed the Mambazo’s endearing brotherhood. 

Joseph Shabalala was right. It truly was an experience filled with peace, love, and harmony.

Show & Tell: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

One of the best parts of living in Appleton is minutes from our doorstep my teenage son and I can walk through the doors of the Fox Cities P.A.C. and be immediately transported transcontinentally as we were last night with the South African a cappella sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Their incomparable, distinctive musical style allowed us to temporarily leave our surroundings and immerse ourselves in a night of song, education, and entertainment.

Last night’s performance combined songs from two distinct South African musical traditions. A majority of the songs came from their most recent album, “Songs from a Zulu Farm,” which the group’s seventy year old founder and lead singer, Joseph Shabalala, drew upon traditional farm songs from his childhood. “Yangiluma Inkukhu” (Biting Chicken) and “Wemfana” (Bad Donkey), among others, demonstrated their playful side with songs dedicated to youthful wonderment of birds, animals and forces of nature. Young and old equally enjoyed the pieces which featured vocalizations of chickens, donkeys and other farm animals amidst chants and call-outs in their signature, multi-layered style. Intermixed with “Songs from a Zulu Farm” album, they performed pieces from the musical tradition they are more notably known for, those of the South African mining song rhythms, like the iconic “Homeless.”

Their music is as organic as that which they sing about. As cultural ambassadors of song, their lyrics focusing on nature, love, and social issues, which transcend cultural boundaries and reminds us beauty exists all around us in the quotidian of life.

As a cappella group, there is nothing to hide behind. They bare themselves to us. My son, a percussionist, was most impressed with the group’s ability to use their voices percussively and in the absence of instrumentation, create it so simply, beautifully and uniquely with clucks, whistles, rhythmic clapping and other tools they have developed over the fifty-two years of making music in a style which is uniquely their own. As they combined their music with traditional dance moves, we marveled at the agility, not only of the younger members, but more impressively, for the members of the group who are nearing their 70s, with their high kicks and dances of athleticism.

What is clear is Ladysmith Black Mambazo has broken, and continues to break, musical boundaries with no end in sight. Last month they released their newest album, “Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Friends,” a two-disc collaborative set of music in virtually every genre with artists from around the globe. Averaging nearly one recorded album every year, combined with an abundance of young talent in the group of nine (four of the nine are Shabalala’s sons), assures me the next time I see them in concert, which would be my fifth time, will be as equally enjoyable and fresh as it was the first time nearly twenty years ago.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Discover Doubt: A Parable with Insights from the Cast

On February 21, Montana Repertory Theatre will tackle faith, trust, mendacity, friendship and the Church with a deft and insightful touch at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center with Doubt:A Parable. 

It’s 1964 and the impressionable Sister James reports a dubious exchange between a young student and the charismatic Father Flynn to the strict principal of St. Nicholas Church School. Sister Aloysius, unsatisfied by an elementary explanation, seeks the truth within a cloak of suspicion, mistrust and doubt woven together in a Tony® Award-winning play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley.

Here’s what the cast has to say about Doubt!

Q. Doubt deals with some very serious accusations. How much of the play really focuses on allegations within the Church? 

Caitlin Mcrae While the story of Doubt: A Parable takes place within the Catholic Church, it serves as an illustration of the reality that we, as humans, are often quick to assign blame and judgment. Or, on the opposite side of the argument, we avoid taking a stance. We avoid speaking up for fear of being wrong, and, in doing so, we risk allowing dire problems to continue.

Q. Doubt is largely a character drama, pitting Father Flynn against Sister Aloysius. Which character do you think the audience connects with most? 

Sarina Hart I personally believe the character that audiences will connect with the most is Sister James. She is the audience's voice in the show. Her struggle with the situation is what the audience itself is going through.

Brendan Shanahan Sister Aloysius has that voice of suspicion then accusation before the audience hears anything to the contrary and they, for the most part, go right along with her. Once that seed of doubt is implanted in their minds it’s hard to change it. However, there is a good portion of the audience that will be pulled in both directions along with Sister James from scene to scene, which is what makes this play so good.

Q. How does preparing for a national tour differ from producing a show for your home theater?

Brendan Shanahan Touring is unique in that we don't just come to the theater, perform the show and go home. We work and live with the company members and that's really where the term “theater family” becomes very tangible. And with this particular, thought provoking play, it will be fascinating to see the differing reactions from region to region.

Q. How do you hope audience will react to this play?

Sarina Hart I hope they gasp with astonishment. I hope they shake their heads with incredulity. But mostly, I hope they leave the theater without having their mind made up. 

Brendan Shanahan Applause and standing ovations, of course. I hope the audience is willing to think about and discuss the larger themes of the play. Not just "did he do it or not."
Without a doubt, this play will have you on the edge of your seat! To learn more, visit