Wednesday, October 01, 2014


Group Free
BEST PUPPET SHOW FOR ADULTS
Avenue Q at Phoenix Theatre
C is definitely not for “cookie” in Broadway’s zany, furry and occasionally perverse monster hit, Avenue Q. While any musical that contains such witty ditties as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet Is for Porn” is bound to elicit laughs, vocal powerhouses Emily Mulligan-Ferry and Toby Yatso made Phoenix Theatre’s 2014 remount a rip-roarious, R-rated delight. An intimate new venue and fanciful handmade puppets – some with impressively plush assets – added to the onstage magic. 100 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-254-2151, phoenixtheatre.com
 

BEST NATURAL WONDERS
Curious Nature
We’ve spent far too long collectively drooling over the coffins, bones and medical ephemera shown on Science Channel’s Oddities and wondering why such a shop doesn’t exist in Phoenix. Enter Curious Nature, a bizarre little Roosevelt Row shop decked with animal skulls, terrariums and wet specimens. The ever-changing lineup of merchandise is a draw; pop by on any given day and you might spot freeze-dried bats, towering selenite crystals or a bisected fetal pig to add to your secret stash (shh, we won’t tell). 610 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 623-688-1144, curiousnatureshop.com

 

BEST NON-TRADITIONAL SPORTS TEAM
ASU Sun Devil Quidditch
Author J.K. Rowling’s fanciful writings birthed a fantasy world of dragon-smiting wizards, butterbeer and Triwizard tournaments. And while the existence of hippogriffs or Dementors is unlikely, Hogwarts’ signature sport found a home at muggle colleges including Arizona State University. The game is a mix of rugby, basketball and soccer, with faux broomsticks carried between the players’ legs and a live person playing the Golden Snitch. ASU’s Sun Devil Quidditch made it to the world championship this year, leaving several of the college’s more mainstream sports teams in the dust. asuquidditch.com

 

BEST PLACE TO PRACTICE YOUR SWING
Fatcat Ballroom Dance
There’s no jive speak or zoot suit required at Fatcat’s Tuesday night swing practice –  just $7 and a willingness to get jiggy with strangers. The night begins with an hour-long guided lesson on East Coast Swing, with partners rotating every few minutes to get a feel for the new steps (and each other). Afterward, guests kick up their heels and flare their dresses with several hours of freestyle dancing in the dark. 3131 E. Thunderbird Rd., Phoenix, 602-324-7119,  fatcatballroomdance.com

 

BEST FLEXIBILITY TEST
Bendy Babes Stretch at Scandalesque
Scandalesque’s resident contortionist, Cleodora, teaches gals how to stretch and do splits like a pro at her weekly drop-in class, and at just $17 each, there’s little risk if you find your gams don’t want to cooperate. For those who desire ultimate flexibility, Cleo also offers periodic 9-week Private Dancer Intensives that culminate in a live performance with Scandalesque’s Diamond Dolls troupe. 210 S. Fourth Ave., Phoenix, 623-239-1696, scandalesque.com

 

BEST STAGE MAGIC
FairyWorlds! by Southwest Shakespeare Company
What fools the mortals are who failed to catch Southwest Shakespeare’s colorful and creative retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Set under the stars, the lush flora and unique foliage of Desert Botanical Garden made for a perfect backdrop to The Bard’s tale of love, mischief and meddling fairies. Artistic director Jared Sakren’s vision of sprites twinkling in LED lights and circus performers spitting fire was enough to delight patrons and gods alike. 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, 480-941-1225, dbg.org

 

BEST ADAPTIVE REUSE PROJECT
The Newton
Locals were a bit concerned when Venue Projects began tearing apart the iconic Beef Eaters building brick by brick last year – after all, Jay Newton’s eatery had been a Valley staple for 45 years. While much of the wood paneling, rotting beams and leather booths couldn’t be salvaged, Venue and John Douglas Architects stayed true to the original by keeping an original brick fireplace and incorporating ephemera including part of the original sign into the new building. The reimagined Newton remains a community gathering place, with tenants including Changing Hands Bookstore and Justin Beckett’s Southern Rail. 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, thenewtonphx.com

 

BEST HOME TOUR
Street of Dreams 2013
Envy may be a deadly sin, but it’s one that was easily forgiven at last year’s Street of Dreams tour at Whitewing at Germann Estates. More than 40,000 people toured the six luxury homes on display, which ranged from a rustic casa with distressed wood and barrel-vaulted brick ceilings to the tricked-out media room and cozy backyard oasis of E&A Custom Homes’ Chateau Moderne. Granted, most browsers couldn’t afford the furnishings in one room of these mega mansions, but sometimes it’s nice to see how the other half (or the 1 percent) lives. 2697 E. Germann Rd., Gilbert, whitewingdev.com

 

BEST AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
Arizona Opera Onstage Experience
Audience participation is a given at magic shows and comedy clubs, but opera is generally a performers-only affair. But last year, Arizona Opera allowed season subscribers to purchase a $100 upgrade to their tickets to appear onstage in the dramatic Italian opera Il Trovatore. Granted, there was no singing involved, but for most, it was thrill enough to don a velvet cloak and appear in Azucena’s Gypsy Caravan. 1636 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-266-7464, azopera.org

 

MOST INNOVATIVE YOGA STUDIO
The Yoga Hangout
The name of this Northwest Valley yoga studio isn’t just a reference to being a chill place to wind down. Practitioners literally suspend themselves from the walls using a specially designed Hang system. In addition to three levels of aerial yoga designed to increase flexibility and stretch the spine, The Yoga Hangout offers advanced inversion workshops and $12 drop-in ballet barre classes. 3830 W. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Phoenix, 480-335-5922, theyogahangout.com

 

BEST DINNER THEATER
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Hearken back to a bygone era with dinner and a show at Arizona Broadway Theatre, where your ticket includes a multi-course meal tailored to the show you’re watching – Asian fusion for South Pacific, Cajun cuisine for Big River, and even fanciful finger foods for kid-friendly shows like Peter Pan. Be sure to arrive early so you can take in ABT co-owner and muralist Penelope Klaphake’s “portrait” of Broadway in the 1930s – a majestic mural spanning the lobby. 7701 W. Paradise Ln., 623-776-8400, Peoria, 
azbroadwaytheatre.com

 

BEST “PAGE” POETRY SERIES
{9} the Gallery
You get two series for the price – free – of one at {9} the Gallery, a downtown art gallery, coffee shop, meditation space and mixed-media venue. On the second Friday of every month, Caffeine Corridor, hosted by poets Bill Campana, Shawnte Orion and Jack Evans, takes over the gallery for a raucous open mic followed by readings by featured poets. On the fourth Friday of every month, the Phoenix Poetry Series, hosted by poets Rosemarie Dombrowski and Nadine Lockhart, showcases the best  poets from around the Valley, with occasional guest spots by touring national and international poets. Slam poets are welcome in both series, but poems aren’t read “battle”-style. Parking is free in an adjacent lot. {9} the Gallery, 1229 Grand Ave., 602-258-0959, Phoenix, 9thegallery.com/poetry

 

BEST ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM
Deer Valley Rock Art Center
You can play Indiana Jones at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center, arguably Phoenix’s most transportive museum and home to the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the Valley. Explore the 47-acre expanse of Sonoran Desert Preserve on foot, taking in the native flora and fauna and trying your hand at deciphering the symbols left by our Hohokam and Patayan forebears at the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site. Confused? Head to the indoor exhibit, where knowledgeable docents answer questions and kids can experience ancient Native American life in a play space designed to mimic an archaic village. 3711 W. Deer Valley Rd., 623-582-8007, Phoenix, dvrac.asu.edu

 

Best Live Music Venues
WEST VALLEY
SO Lounge
Sports bars dominate the West Valley, and SO Lounge is one of few clubs catering to fans of live music. There are regular open mic nights, along with frequent performances by the likes of local rapper Mega Ran, as part of the “Cypress Lounge” series. The sake shots are pretty popular, too. 10630 N. 59th Ave., Glendale, 623-202-5995   

EAST VALLEY
Yucca Tap Room
Local music is on tap every night here, from psychedelic garage rockers The Love Me Nots to acoustic Americana act Ghetto Cowgirl to Valley hip-hop MCs at the weekly “Blunt Club” event. Also on tap: 28 beers. 29 W. Southern Ave., Tempe, 480-967-4777, yuccatap.com

CENTRAL PHOENIX
Crescent Ballroom
A few fantastic music clubs call downtown home these days, but Crescent rises above with its mix of national (X, Peter Murphy) and local (Dry River Yacht Club, Dead Hot Workshop) acts. And the  food menu in the club’s embedded Cocina 10 was developed by Chris Bianco. 308 N. Second Ave., 602-716-2222, crescentphx.com

NORTH PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE
Joe’s Grotto
Recently, this place has been packed several nights a week with local hip-hop artists under the umbrella of Valley-based promotion company Respect The Underground, but it’s always been a hotspot for heavy metal shows, too, bringing in national acts like Chimaira and Hawthorne Heights, along with Phoenix-based shredders like Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson. 13825 N. 32nd St., 
602-992-1007, joesgrotto.com

 

BEST WAY TO DRINK AND DRIVE
TopGolf
Open later than some nightclubs, this next-generation athletic facility marries the orderly repetition of an urban driving range with the spirited splash of a Scottsdale party venue. In lieu of a boring same-old fairway, there are brightly-colored “target zones” and scoreboards. Instead of mellow retirees in ill-fitting shorts, there are cocktail waitresses. “Hey, let’s go hit some golf balls,” is a mixed-company buzz-kill if we’ve ever heard one, but where Top Golf is concerned, we could actually see it work. It’s like Dave & Buster’s for the Callaway set. 9500 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale, 480-240-2402, topgolf.com

 

CHEAPEST TAX SERVICE
Pyle Adult Recreation Center
It seems astounding, but some people enjoy doing taxes. So if the volunteer accountants at this Tempe senior center want to skillfully help people of all ages boost their refunds, plus keep their info so it’s even breezier next year – all for free – who are we to deny them? Show up to make your appointment same day or later; the service is offered every Monday from early February to tax day. 655 E. Southern Ave., Tempe, 480-350-5211

 

BEST EXTENSION PROGRAM
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
How is ASU’s adult education program better than college? A) They ditch general classes and go straight to the juicy stuff: “Literary Rivals: Faulkner vs. Hemingway,” “The Search for Life in the Universe,” “Snapshots from Tribal Religions.” B) Classes are short, inexpensive, and often taught by world-renowned professors. C) They’re for adults age 50+ (read: hipster-free). D) No tests. The answer is E) All of the above. lifelonglearning.asu.edu

 

BEST EXPERIMENTAL THEATER  
Arizona Theatre Company’s Café Bohemia
A salty, brash retelling of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. A fantastical satire about international surrogacy. A flamenco-infused meditation on bullfighting from an award-winning local writer. Café Bohemia brings a season of raw play readings up close and personal to a small audience that prefers its drama diverse, bold and fresh. Check arizonatheatre.org for the 2014-2015 monthly lineup.

 

BEST POETRY SLAM
Lawn Gnome Publishing
Thanks to the efforts of Lawn Gnome owner Aaron Hopkins-Johnson, Phoenix won the bid to host the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam this October 9-11. But every Thursday at 8 p.m., you can watch performance poets sling similes, verbs and literary allusion alfresco behind this Downtown bookstore. Performances are always lively, with a mix of seasoned slammers and rookie rhymers, plus newbie audience members acting as judges. 905 N. Fifth St., Phoenix, 602-682-5825, 
lawngnomepublishing.com

 

BEST FESTIVAL FILMS FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE FILM FESTIVALS
No Festival Required
Let’s say you’re a cinephile who dislikes the flesh-pressing atmosphere of so many film festivals. But you’d still rather see a movie about Danish comedians visiting North Korea or a documentary biopic of actor Jack Soo than the latest Michael Bay blockbuster. This screening series, curated since 2002 by Steve Weiss at local arts venues ranging from PAM to SMoCA, is your answer – all the art, 90 percent less schmooze. nofestivalrequired.wordpress.com

 

BEST MUSIC FESTIVAL
Viva PHX
Move over, Austin, Texas – Phoenix is fixing to rival your annual SXSW festival with Viva PHX, a single-night sonic soiree spanning 15 venues across Downtown Phoenix. The inaugural 2014 festival drew tens of thousands of fans, and featured 70 artists across a gamut of genres, from national acts like rap legend Sir Mix-A-Lot and indie rock band Pinback to local faves like DJ Z-Trip, Black Carl and Zero Zero. Venues range from popular clubs like Crescent Ballroom to an outdoor stage at CityScape to the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center. In other words, it has that venerable “something for everyone” appeal. The 2015 event is slated for Saturday, March 15. vivaphx.com

 

BEST BAND
The Sugar Thieves
No knob-twisting. All soul. The Sugar Thieves embody the energy of early rock and soul music, harking back to an era when “making a record” simply meant making music while somebody recorded it, auto-tune and overdubs be damned. Singer Meridith Moore’s voice recalls the honey-smooth crooning of Billie Holiday, while guitar player and vocalist Mikel Lander channels the gravelly stylings of Tom Waits. The band’s talent quotient gets a big boost from multi-instrumentalist Shea Marshall (lauded as one of the Valley’s premier jazz organists and saxophonists, among other things), drummer David “Creamy” Libman, and bassist/steel pedal player Jeff Naylor, who does double duty in Brazilian funk band Delta Nove. The Sugar Thieves’ fourth self-produced and self-released album, Sugar in the Raw, composed of acoustic tracks, will reportedly be released sometime this year. sugarthieves.com

 

BEST RADIO STATION FOR LOCAL MUSIC
KWSS 93.9 FM
Describing KWSS gets hyphen-heavy pretty quickly: Scottsdale-based, non-commercial, low-power, under-the-radar. But this independent radio station also has a singular, superlative selling point: local. Aside from ASU’s unlicensed station, The Blaze 1330 AM, which has a very limited broadcast area, KWSS is the only station in the Valley that plays local music. Though the station’s official format is “independent, pop, alternative rock,” KWSS branches out with shows like “Mostly Vinyl” with Arizona music historian John “Johnny D” Dixon (rare soul and funk, including copious cuts from local artists) and the morning show, “TMI,” which features a daily “Top 5” local song list. Valley bands can submit their MP3s to the station for possible airplay. If listeners like what they hear on a show like “TMI,” the song could go into regular rotation. And that’s how you do great terrestrial radio, old school-style. kwss.org

 

BEST BIG BOX THEATER COMPANY
Desert Stages Theater
Its fabulous Art Deco facade isn’t the only thing that makes Desert Stages Theater stand out. Since its founding in 1995, the company has expanded its complex to include multiple stages and an arts academy that hosts summer camps for young actors. With 136 seats, the main theater makes an intimate venue for viewing productions like the Cullity Hall series, which features family-friendly  favorites like Oliver! and Footloose, as well as children’s theatre productions such as Charlotte’s Webb with an original music score by late Desert Stages founder and artistic director Gerry Cullity and a ragtime rendering of Cinderella. The second stage theater, The Actor’s Cafe, holds 60 seats and is used for long-running, small-cast productions like I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Upcoming productions include One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (through Oct. 26) and The Wizard of Oz (Nov. 14-Dec. 21). 4720 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-483-1664, desertstages.org

 

BEST INDEPENDENT THEATER COMPANY
Black Theatre Troupe
The only professional African-American theatre company in the Four Corner states, Black Theatre Troupe relocated from their old space on Roosevelt Row to the nearby Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center in February 2013. It was a long time coming for the independent company, which was founded in 1970 on a mandate to “educate, enlighten, and entertain a diverse, multi-cultural audience by using local, regional and national talent with the emphasis on providing exposure to black culture and ideology.” Their upcoming season stays in line with those virtues, and includes Radio Golf, the final play in August Wilson’s ten-play series detailing the African-American experience in the 20th century (through October 12); and Conviction, set in a prison with music from composer Billy Strayhorn (Duke Ellington Orchestra) as the sonic backdrop (Feb. 6-27, 2015). 1333 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 602-258-8128, blacktheatretroupe.org

 

BEST MUSEUM FOR KILLING A WHOLE AFTERNOON
Musical Instrument Museum
If there’s a Louvre of music, this is it. MIM is massive (200,000 square feet comprising two floors) and perhaps the Valley’s most-lauded museum (three Trip Advisor certificates of excellence and a nod as one of the top five “20 Best Museums for Families Across the USA” from USA Today). The sheer size demands a day if you’re going to see everything, which includes “Geographical Galleries” with displays of instruments and costumes from all over the world; a “Mechanical Music Gallery” featuring automated (“self-playing”) pianos, zithers and music boxes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and the main attraction, the “Artist Gallery,” an awe-inspiring collection of iconic instruments that includes everything from the guitars of Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton to Dick Dale’s surf board. 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-478-6000, mim.org

 

BEST NIGHTCLUB FOR 30-SOMETHINGS & UP
RSVP Social Lounge
Getting swanked up and hitting the Scottsdale bar scene is a young person’s game, generally. But not always. Just south of the Indian Plaza nightlife cluster – the home of El Hefe Mexican, Bottled Blonde and other volume-consumption bars, affectionately dubbed “shit show row” by social media scenester Kourtney Mei – resides RSVP Social Lounge, a relatively laid-back magnet for revelers of a “certain age.” Instead of Coronas, you’ll find whiskey. Instead of shirtless “bros,” you’ll find Blue Point oysters. Perfect for us geezers. 4301 N. Civic Center Plz., 480-386-4588, rsvpsocialclub.com

 

BEST BOBBLEHEAD
Arizona D-back Zombie
A publication less gracious than this one might suggest that a zombie, like the handsome fellow handed out at Chase Field this past August 8 – an 8-3 loss to the Pirates, by the way – is an excellent physical manifestation of the lifeless on-field performance delivered by the D-backs this season, or for the level of plodding mindlessness required to maintain one’s fandom this year. But that’s not us.

 

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