They Shall Not Grow Old – Film Review

The timeline leading up to the making of director Peter Jackson’s first world war documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, is an interesting one. Jackson’s grandfather, Sgt. William Jackson was English and fought in World War 1. As a boy, the director-to-be would hear stories of life in the trenches, stories he would never forget. They gave the youngster an emotional perspective that many of a newer generation rarely experienced. In recent interviews Jackson has made in order to publicize the film, he’s remarked several times how it was always an ambition to make a film about the subject.

So, when in 2012 the UK government formed an arts program titled 14-18 NOW, created to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, an idea to make a film was developed. Once the Imperial War Museum and the BBC became involved, in 2015 they grouped together and approached the filmmaker about the project. Would he be interested? After realizing he would have access to over a 100 hours of unseen footage taken during the war, including more than 600 hours of recorded testaments from soldiers who had fought on the front line, Jackson accepted. Three years later, the production was finished. The director took no fee. He dedicated the documentary to his grandfather. The ending result is something quite remarkable.

The process used is fascinating. The original footage of British soldiers filmed while in Europe was shot in monochrome without sound. At only 13 frames a second, when viewed, people and objects moved in that fast-paced, Chaplinesque style. You could see what was happening but the limitations of the turn-of-the-last-century technology rendered an emotional distance between the viewer and what was being viewed. It was like watching moving antiques.

With the technical wizardry that Jackson and his down under company have developed, the director created something ingenious. First, he digitally inserted extra frames per second, bringing those 13 up to the regular 24. On playback, the process created a smoother and more realistic sense of movement. The visual grain of wear and tear was then digitally removed. Next, the black and white footage was colorized, adding an extra layer of depth. Sound effects of cars, guns, and all kinds of background ambient noises were added. But here’s where things became really inventive.

Jackson hired lip-readers to watch the found footage and write what they thought the men on the screen were saying. Once lines were scripted, voice-over talents were brought in to read and record those lines. After all the new elements were finally incorporated together, watching the footage again, what was once a jerky, silent, monochrome, 13 frames a second film suddenly sprang to life. The effect is nothing short of astonishing.

They Shall Not Grow Old has no narration. There are no date stamps, no time perspectives. It’s not a history lesson. Instead, what you’ll hear are recordings of eye-witness accounts, soldiers who were there and who recorded comments for the archives once the war was done. Like the footage, Jackson and his team plowed through 600 hours of old recordings, digitally cleaned them to make them sound new again, then had them flow together throughout the film, usually corresponding with something we’re seeing.

For the first thirty minutes, the documentary maintains the original black and white look with images boxed into the center of the screen. “I don’t regret experiencing it,” says one voice, adding, “I wish I hadn’t.” “It made me a man, yes it did,” says another.

War is declared, and both men and boys are encouraged to sign up. Britishers, Enlist Today! declares a poster. “England couldn’t possibly lose,” states a soldier. “An enemy of England was an enemy of mine,” states another. The sign-up age was supposed to be no younger than 19, but many boys who had no clear idea of what they were in for were happy to lie in order to join. Several of the voice-overs relate how, as an underage enlister, recruiters would tell them to walk out of the office, turn around, then come back in and tell the army they were 19.

After receiving their often ill-fitting uniforms – “I was in the army for four years and only had the one uniform,” says a soldier – we follow the men across the channel to the continent. And it’s then when the visuals change. Like Dorothy after the lengthy sepia-toned introduction that changes to color once she lands in Oz, the small boxed, black and white imagery broadens wide as color sweeps across the screen. What a moment ago looked like old-time news reports was suddenly a live event. Sounds from the front flood in, soldier’s faces take on a depth never before seen, and voices are overheard. With the addition of 3D lenses, you’d swear you were witnessing events that were filmed just days ago.

Technical aspects aside, the documentary’s strength is that it’s not a patriotic flag-waver. The horrific realities of fighting and trying to survive in horrific trench conditions are all on full display. We see the problems with lice and how the mud turned to a thick syrup that clung to everything, day after day. Soldiers talk of the sickly smell of death that permeated the air around them as comrades in arms are seen rotting, their decaying bodies twisted in shockingly bizarre positions. The Great War was clearly anything but.

Though perhaps what surprises the most is what happened to many of the men once the war was finally over. The color drains, the widescreen narrows, and the visual boxes once again, and the men return what was left of their uniforms and re-enter civilian life. Only there were no jobs. Folks back home who had no clear vision of what conditions were like on the western front were happy to see family members back but had little interest in talking about it. Employers would often declare that ex-servicemen were not wanted. “I had no commercial value,” states a voice-over. “People didn’t seem to realize how terrible the war was,” states another.

In Britain, the film was shown on BBC 2 on November 11 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that officially ended the fighting. Copies of the film were sent to all schools across the United Kingdom for free.

Stateside, the film will be shown at select theatres as a special presentation with Fathom Events on December 17 and December 27. You must go. The film is astonishing.

MPAA Rating: NR            Length: 99 Minutes


To find out more regarding locations and tickets CLICK HERE for Fathom Events website

Posted in Film

Swimming with Men – Film Review

In his native Britain, Welsh actor Rob Brydon is a household name. The actor, comedian, impersonator, and BBC TV game show host is probably best known stateside as the other guy co-starring with Steve Coogan in The Trip to Italy and The Trip to Spain. In the new genteel comedy from England, Swimming with Men, he’s the lead.

Bryson plays Eric Scott, an accountant, a numbers guy with a mid-life crisis. Like thousands of others who every morning face the daily grind of a wearying commute into the city, Scott sits at his desk surrounded by percentages, interest rates, and ledgers until the clock tower seen through his office window strikes six. He then sighs, shuts down his computer and leaves, ready to face that commute back to his life in the suburbs once again. Sometimes, before going home, he’ll stop off at the local swim baths for a few quick laps to help him wash away the tedium of the day.

Occasionally he’ll notice a small group of other men practicing synchronize swimming, but they’re getting it wrong. Being a wiz with formulas and math equations he offers them a quick piece of advice. The team’s membership consists of an uneven number. It needs to be even. “If you want the move to work,” he states as he brushes past them, “You have to lose a man.”

But instead of dropping a member, the motley crew of swimmers have a meeting and decide to offer Scott a place on the team. That should make the numbers even. Plus, from their point-of-view, it’s clear Scott needs help. Sensing that things may not be going well on the home front for the lap swimming accountant, the would-be synchronizers approach Scott and make the offer. “We don’t let just any dickhead join,” declares team member Colin (Daniel Mays).

With a job he hates and a marriage that may be falling apart, the numbers guy feels a sudden kinship with the swimmers – each appear to have some unsettling home front business of their own – so he accepts the invitation to do some whirling and twirling and a few scissor-kicks and joins the men, just for the fun of it. Plus, with an invitation to be a part of the synchronized swimming world championship for men in Milan, Italy, the team with its new member starts taking their after-hours training seriously.

For anglophiles who regularly watch PBS or subscribe to the streaming service Brit Box, there are plenty of recognizable faces in the cast. Jane Horrocks, best remembered as the ditzy secretary Bubble on TV’s Absolutely Fabulous, plays Scott’s wife Heather, a newly elected councilwoman making headlines by fighting imposed cuts to a library. “See the missus is causing trouble,” says an office colleague to Scott, pointing at the local newspaper. Plus, there’s a funny turn from Charlotte Riley as Susan, an employee at the swimming pool who joins the men as the team’s coach, even if she considers them to be “The most broken, flawed bunch of twats I’ve ever met.” Susan’s a likable mousy type until her inner Mr. Hyde emerges. “You bastards!” she suddenly yells as a form of motivation. When a team member tells her his thighs are hurting from all the exercise, she growls in his ear, “Enjoy the burn!”

There’s a formula to the film that can’t help but echo the rhythms of The Full Monty and others of its ilk. An unlikely bunch of men group together, form a team, enter a contest, train hard, and against all odds, take on other country heavyweights in the hope of winning a world championship. Here when the team takes its swim training to another level, they’re accompanied by a rock version of Rule Britannia. At the airport, they walk as one in slo-mo towards the gate, and when it comes to the championship contest itself, they enter the pool to the strains of a rock instrumental that sounds not altogether dissimilar to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, followed by Tom Jones and This Is a Man’s World.

Had the film’s subplot regarding Scott’s suspicions about his wife, her council member career, and the possibility that she might be having an affair with her boss felt developed, his jealousy and the way he acts towards her could have seemed more reasonable than they appear here. It’s hard to sympathize with a man who behaves as rash as Scott does, making him and his actions less likable than the film wants him to be.

Surprisingly, the film is inspired by a true event. In 2003 the Swedish Stockholm Art Swim Gents were formed as a protest against what they described as ‘the meaningless of life.’ In other words, like Eric Scott’s character, they were all having a mid-life crisis. In 2007 they actually won the Men’s World Championship – yes, it really exists – and in 2017 when Swimming with Men was filmed, they regrouped to play themselves in the movie.

Ultimately, while Swimming with Men may be lightweight, it amuses, even if there are no big laughs. When Scott first joins the team, he’s told the rules. Rule number one: No one talks about swim club. “What goes in the pool, stays in the pool,” he’s instructed. And when talking to his son Billy (Spike White) about his new hobby, Scott says, “I want you to be proud of me.” “With what?” asks an incredulous Billy. “Swimming with men?”

MPAA Rating: NR             Length: 96 Minutes

Posted in Film

Roma – Film Review

When the online streaming service Netflix expanded its operations and ventured into producing and supporting its own exclusively made films, the Cannes Film Festival declared a new ruling. It decided not to allow the subscription service or any other streaming service to participate in its schedule. The organizers insisted that Cannes wanted to preserve the traditional way of watching and making films.

The ruling received a lot of support, most notably from director Steven Spielberg. In fact, the celebrated American director went on to insist that Netflix films were not deserving of Oscar nominations, either. Director Alfonso Cuarón disagreed. His new and most personal of all his films, Roma, is presented by Netflix.

Cannes never screened Roma, but once both the director and Netflix reluctantly agreed to show the film in some theatres before its online streaming date, it was able to compete in other prestigious film festivals. After its world premiere at The 75th Venice International Film Festival where it won the festival’s highest honor, The Golden Lion, Roma was screened at the Telluride Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, and the Toronto Film Festival, where it received high praise and positive reactions.

With a setting that takes place in 1970 and ‘71, director Cuarón has drawn on his own family life, as he remembers it, as a child raised in the middle-class area of Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood. It’s a love letter to the domestic worker employed by his family. The film is dedicated to Libo, Cuarón’s family servant who helped raised him. She is still alive and remains a part of the family today.

In the film, the young worker is Cleo (non-actor Yalitza Aparicio). Cleo works for Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and her husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) in a household that also includes four children, Sofia’s mother, Teresa (Veronica Garcia), and another maid. Cleo cleans, cooks, serves the meals, takes the four children to and from school, puts them to bed and wakes them the next morning. She’s more than simply a maid, she’s family.

In order to recreate the homes and streets where Cuarón was raised, the director’s attention to detail is monumental. The home’s interior in which the film’s family lives is a practical recreation of the director’s own family home, including the furniture, the design of the individual rooms, right down to the smallest of objects on the shelves. Even the cars parked outside on the street are the same makes and models of vehicles Cuarón remembered were parked there when he was a boy.

But rather than creating a story with a traditional three-act construction to relate those memories and use them as a background to tell an involving dramatic tale, here the background is the tale. In a mostly plot-free narrative, the director observes day to day life by slowly unveiling certain unconnected events that occur throughout the year – an earthquake, a childbirth, a shoreline rescue, and a recreation of the Corpus Christi Massacre as viewed from the relative safety of a second-floor window – with a fade out suggesting nothing more than life ever going onward. It’s like a beautifully shot re-enactment of a documentary. You share time with Cleo and you get to like her, but you learn little from her or about her.

Knowing its history and being only too aware of the rapturous praise the film has already garnered from reviewers and critics around the country, it’s difficult to enter the Spanish language film without a certain degree of influence or expectation based on the overwhelming positive thoughts of so many others. Once seen, it’s also not difficult to understand why many consider Cuarón’s Roma to be the work of a master craftsman while calling the film itself a masterpiece. And technically, much of it is. The meticulous nature that went into every frame of this 70mm widescreen, black and white beauty is clearly evident from the opening shot to the last. Plus, the dreamlike quality of its telling is quite seductive. If you’re not careful, it can lull you into believing you’re seeing something considerably more profound than it is.

But a personal involvement in the making of a film to the degree that Cuarón invests in Roma (in addition to directing, he wrote, produced, edited, and was even his own cinematographer) does not guarantee that all the choices a director makes are necessarily the right ones. In Roma’s case, the decision to make the film without plot and present events in terms of a naturalistic slice-of-life keep us at arm’s length. Throughout, as the camera slowly pans from one carefully framed position to another, giving us the unusual luxury of exploring the screen and taking everything in, there’s an unmistakable feeling of a living, unseen presence behind the lens, ever guiding our attention. It’s a deity who happens to be Alfonso Cuarón. We’re seeing his childhood through his eyes in the beatific style he would like to remember them. But he fails to acknowledge that audiences need to be more than just witnesses, they need to be engaged.

Certainly, the earthquake grabs attention. Plus, the childbirth sequence is compelling, and the drama of the shoreline sequence where both sight and the clarity of sound as roaring waves crash against a woman who cannot swim is momentarily riveting. But other lengthy sequences become questionable. What value is there in seeing repeated prolonged shots of dog poo? And exactly what is meant by viewing a man singing at great length in the foreground lost in his own world while others around him are rushing by each other trying to quell a forest fire?

For most of the time during this visually stunning cinematic slice-of-life you’re passively observing things from a distance; only occasionally are you drawn in. And at 135 minutes, that’s a pretty thick slice.

MPAA rating: R             Length: 135 Minutes

Posted in Film

A Christmas Carol (2018) – Theatre Review: Hale Centre Theatre, Gilbert

At Christmas time, entering Hale’s seasonally decorated theatre-in-the-round in Gilbert is like walking into the center of Victorian London. To the north you’ll see St.Pauls Cathedral, to the south it’s Westminster and the tower of Big Ben, and on both the east and west sides, the walls are decorated with houses and London business establishments, such as J. Odom’s Spirits. And in the center where the action will soon take place, standing on a raised platform is a uniformed London town crier, or bellman, a uniformed officer of the court, who greets everyone with a warm “Merry Christmas” as you check your ticket stub and search for your seat.

Throughout the year, David Dietlin, owner and President of Hale Centre Theatre, shares producer and casting director credits with his wife Corrin. But at the beginning of the season, he changes caps. Since 2003 when the theatre first opened and presented its first production of A Christmas Carol, Dietlin has directed every one.

The version used for Hale’s annual production is from a script faithfully adapted by Ted Lehman. It’s not simply a case of following the arc of the original work, the dialog, while edited, is practically verbatim. Lehman’s script even includes moments usually omitted from other productions, including the business gentlemen talking about Scrooge’s death and whether they’ll go to the funeral or not, though they never mention his name. They refer to the miser as Ol’ Scratch, a Victorian nickname for the devil.

There’s also the business of Bob Cratchit’s daughter Martha playing a trick on her father on Christmas Eve, pretending she won’t be home and hiding; Scrooge’s nephew Fred playing a game of ‘Yes and No’ on Christmas Day with friends; the gloomy, sinister future sequence of Old Joe giving money to the ladies who steal the bedclothes from Scrooge’s deathbed, curtain rings ‘n all. There’s even the book’s short foreword from Dickens himself that introduces the production in a voice-over as the house lights dim. Many of those instances are either trimmed are absent from other presentations altogether, but Hale’s production has them all.

In fact, Lehman’s script adheres to the original so closely, those odd moments when the production veers slightly away, as minor as they may be, can’t help but be noticed. The two charity gentlemen who call on Scrooge for a Christmas Eve donation conduct their business with him in the street, not in his office where the scene usually takes place. And when the Ghost of Christmas Present calls the old miser “You silly little man,” and drinks from a concoction called The Milk of Human Kindness, Lehman has taken these not from Dickens but from the 1970 Leslie Bricusse screenplay for the big screen musical Scrooge.

While the play and its presentation may be the same one you saw last year and the year before, what keeps Hale’s annual production seemingly fresh are the small but important differences director Dietlin incorporates into A Christmas Carol with each new version. Depending at what particular time of performance you’re seeing the show, as the play begins, the town crier rings his bell and loudly declares, “It’s eleven o’clock and all is well!” And if seeing Hale’s production is an annual event for you, you’ll notice a slight difference in the design of Scrooge’s bedchamber in the northwest balcony. This year the framed Dickens portrait – a nice touch – is in a different position on the wall. This allows for some new special effects to occur. Prior to Jacob Marley’s ghostly appearance, objects fly off the mantelpiece while Scrooge’s haunted wall clock lights up and spins wildly out of control.

As with previous years, the schedule for the show consists of a single evening performance Tuesday and Wednesday, two on Thursday and Friday, and a whopping four on Saturday, beginning at eleven in the morning. This continues from now until the final two performances on Christmas Eve, Monday, December 24. Many performances are already sold out. Because of the exhausting demands on the actors, there are not one but two separate casts performing on alternate days known as either the Green Cast or the Red Cast. What you’re seeing is essentially the same production, but with different faces, plus two distinct different leads playing Ebeneezer Scrooge.

In the Green Cast, the old miser is played by Rob Stuart in his debut, while the Red Cast sees the return of comedian and local Fox TV morning personality Cory McCloskey. For the purpose of this review, it was the Red Cast production attended where a virtually unrecognizable McCloskey commanded the floor with a performance he so clearly relishes. His Scrooge might be a little more animated than the one as described by Dickens, but within the context of a theatre-in-the-round where an actor has to be seen and heard by all four sides of the arena, it works. Plus, when Scrooge wakes on Christmas morning a changed man, that excitable high-energy of a reformed man giddily drunk on his own happiness is so thoroughly pleasing, you’ll feel like rushing the center and wishing him a Merry Christmas yourself.

Presenting any show in the round and making it effective to the point that you forget you’re no longer watching a more regular proscenium arch production is not easy; certain shows simply don’t lend themselves well to adaptation. Yet with A Christmas Carol, the theatre has perfected its in-the-round presentation. After doing it annually for fifteen years, Hale Center Theatre has crafted a winning formula. And if there’s one thing certain, David Dietlin clearly has a love for the Charles Dickens novel; you sense it throughout in the details of the play. God bless us, indeed.

A Christmas Carol continues at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert until Christmas Eve, December 24

Pictures from previous productions courtesy of Nick Woodward-Shaw

Posted in Theatre

A Christmas Story: The Play – Theatre Review: Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre

For adults, Christmas is when we reflect. A time for nostalgia. It’s the season where we glance back at previous years and try to recreate in the present what made the ones in the past seem so magical and exciting.

When film director Bob Clark adapted the short stories of satirist and radio personality Jean Shepherd, combined them into a screenplay and made the 1983 film A Christmas Story, he tapped into the average American family nostalgic factor in a way no other film had previously achieved. Little wonder the story of the Parkers from fictional Hohman, Indiana has become such a seasonal classic.

With its 1940s, mid-western setting, A Christmas Story is the way we like to remember a family Christmas, even if we never really experienced it in quite the way the story suggests. The success of the piece is that it makes us believe that’s how it was.

Performing now until December 23 at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre is the Philip Grecian adapted play of A Christmas Story, where Christmas, lovely, beautiful, glorious Christmas, is just around the corner, and young Ralphie Parker (Owen Brady) knows exactly what he wants. It’s the Red Ryder Carbine Action Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells the time. The problem is, Ralphie knows what his mother (Wendy Claus) is going to say. “You’ll shoot your eye out.” So the young boy’s challenge is clear. Somehow, he needs to convince his parents that the rifle with that thing that tells the time is exactly what he needs. And there are just a few weeks left in which to do it.

What follows is a series of family misadventures consisting of younger brother Randy (Ronin Feldman) impersonating a pig in order to eat his food, Ralphie’s Old Man (Peter Cunniff) winning a ‘major award,’ the conflicts with the class bully, Scut Farkus (Bear Golden), the tongue on the school’s frozen pole affair with Schwarts (Xander Zeeb) and the hapless Flick (Luke Chakmakian), and a trip to Higbee’s department store for a quick word with the big guy himself. If anyone can get Ralphie his beloved rifle in time for Christmas, it’s Santa. And unlike the film, there’s even a hint of a love interest involving Helen Weathers’ (Ava Sandifer) best friend, Ester Jane Alberry (Ava Sandifer) who rescues Ralphie’s glasses just when he needs them the most.

Like Theatre-in-the-Round where not every show lends itself for adaptation, not every play works as effectively when adapted for presentation in a small, intimate setting. Desert Stages’ Actor’s Cafe can be impressive when its production requires the one set, particularly here at the company’s new location in Scottsdale’s Fashion Center where Harkins Movie Theatres used to be, but when the story requires extra areas that the restrictive space can’t supply, no matter how creative or inventive director Rick Davis tries, he’s up against too much.

When the schoolboys gather around the schoolyard pole, or when Miss Shields (Stephanie Vlasich) is handing out classroom assignments, no matter how the lighting design changes, things can’t help but look as though everything is occurring inside the Parker’s living room. Plus, when the Old Man talks outside in the street with the neighbors while admiring the prize he won, the whole scene is played as voices-off with Mother left alone on stage by the window while trying to react and show how mortified she is at the tasteless thing in the living room window. The same thing occurs when Ralphie and Randy visit Higbees; we never see the department store Santa, it’s all played off-stage in voice-over.

What works, however, is Scot Claus’ narrator. As a radio presenter and commentator, author Jean Shepherd had a unique style and a distinctive voice. In the play, that same style is used, only instead of just hearing the narrator, here you see him. Claus plays Ralph as a grown man. In that nostalgic way of looking back, the storyteller enters and talks directly to us. He’s his own Ghost of Christmas Past, wandering among the characters as though they’re visions of things that have already happened.

As written in Grecian’s adaptation, the narration usually comes across as heavy-handed, more like a lengthy monolog with support from a cast acting out some of the things the narrator is telling us. But in this production, that’s exactly what’s needed. Like Shepherd’s radio work, Claus, with his enthusiastic, animated delivery under Davis’s guidance, creates a theatre of the mind. It’s this production’s greatest strength. Even if our suspension of disbelief can’t always be done when characters walk across the Parker’s living room without successfully suggesting they’re elsewhere, Claus conjures images of life and how it used to be with words. He’s not only the center of the play, he’s the single element that holds the whole production together.

A Christmas Story continues at Scottsdale Desert Stages until December 23

Posted in Film, Theatre

A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail (2018) Special Report – Valley Youth Theatre, Phoenix

This past Friday evening, Valley Youth Theatre opened its doors to the company’s 23rd production of the musical adventure A Winnie The Pooh Christmas Tail. Fifteen local performers, all under eighteen, star in what has become Phoenix’s perennial holiday favorite.

Speaking to VYT’s Producing Artistic Director, Bobb Cooper, when asked why does VYT return to author A.A. Milne’s beloved characters every holiday season, he replied, “The reason we continue to present this special story, year after year, is that it has become a holiday favorite in Phoenix. And because it appeals to all people of all ages, parents bring their children to this show to introduce them to live theatre and to create or carry on family traditions. In fact, because we have produced this wonderful musical for so many years, we now see many of our former cast members bringing their children – and even their grandchildren – to see what they were a part of as a child.

Sponsored by Dan and Ann Nahom and sponsored in part by Sherman & Howard, the theatre is transformed into a winter wonderland. It’s Christmas Eve, and Eyeore is feeling down. Of course, he always feels down, but on this Christmas Eve things are worse. He’s lost his tail. One day it was there, the next, gone. His best friends, the ever-friendly and always willing to help, Pooh Bear and the devoted Piglet decide to help while enlisting the aid of a take-charge Rabbit, the ever bouncy Tigger, loving mother Kanga, her little Roo, and the young boy whose imagination gives life to all of his favorite nursery room characters, Christopher Robin. Owl will later become involved, but at this point in the mystery we really shouldn’t give too much away.

At what point did he decide that the show would become a yearly tradition? From the beginning?

Bobb: “I knew the show would be a perennial hit in 1996, my first year with VYT. That’s when I saw how accepted and loved this production was here, in the Valley.

What does he think is the reason behind the continuing appeal of this particular musical adventure?

Bobb: “I think the continuing appeal of this show is, first, the universal appeal of the songs and story. Everyone from babies to great-grandparents enjoy the way this particular show makes them feel and how it truly celebrates the spirit of the holidays. Next, the characters. For a hundred years, Milne’s Hundred-Acre friends have been beloved around the world. In fact, I recently saw Disney’s Christopher Robin and fell in love with them, all over again.”

And finally, when casting each new production, what qualities does he look for in the youth actor who will play Pooh?

Bobb: “Oriana Valcamp is reprising the role of Winnie-the-Pooh for the second year in a row. She has that one special something that all of our Winnie-the-Poohs have possessed, a heart for the character, the story, and the audience.”

Both fifteen-year-old Prescott Smidt (Christopher Robin) and sixteen-year-old Oriana Valcamp (Winnie-the-Pooh) reprise their roles from last season. Prescott is a Freshman at Arizona School for the Arts and has appeared in three previous VYT productions. Oriana is a Junior at Arcadia High School and has been involved in as many as seven previous VYT productions. Both have appeared on stage and worked on the technical crew.

Other cast members, all between the age of seven and seventeen include Elizabeth Evans (Roo), MaKenna Jacobs (Kanga), Nathaniel McNamara (Rabbit), Vivian Paige Nichols (Piglet), Brooke Nielsen (Owl), Carson Roubison (Tigger), Samantha Stinnett (Eeyore) and six Woodland Friends.

Former cast members of this production include now-famous actors Emma Stone (Eeyeore and Rabbit) and Kimiko Glenn (Piglet and Rabbit).

The production is directed and choreographed by former VYT member, Ashley Stults. Music is directed by Tristan Peterson-Steinert and has been reworked to include guitars and drums for the first time. Sound design is provided by Brian Honsberger, costume design by Karol Cooper, lighting and scenic design by Bobb Cooper, who also produced the show, and the Production Stage Manager is Joycelin Jacobs-Schwartz.

“As we celebrate our 30th Season,” concludes Bobb, “I can’t think of a better way to honor what VYT brings to the Valley than this ongoing lesson of love.”

A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail performs now until December 23 at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 North First Street in Phoenix

For tickets and more information CLICK HERE for the official VYT website

Posted in Special Report