Since we were mere babes, we've tentatively unwrapped each chocolate bar, hoping that famed golden ticket was inside. Alas, we've been left only with empty pockets and stern lectures from our dentist. Regardless, we'll enjoy reliving our cavity-filled childhood at the production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starting Friday, July 2, at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre-West, 5247 East Brown in Mesa. Though the idea of a whimsical millionaire with a child fixation might be all too familiar for some, director Thomas Rainey says it's all in good fun. "Roald Dahl didn't hate kids or anything because he puts them through trauma in the book, nor does Wonka," says Rainey, who also plays the eccentric candy maker. "He shows kids how not to behave, and it's merely a lesson-teaching tool." Tickets are $15, which includes a buffet lunch. The production runs through August 6; performance times vary. Call 480-325-6700 or see www.broadwaypalmwest.com. --Benjamin Leatherman
THIS PLAY'S THE THING
The Taming of the Shrew and Cardenio Shakes(peare) up Sedona
He never endured a season in the Phoenix sun, but Shakespeare understood the perils of the "heat-oppressed brain." Valley hot heads can flee the desert caldron (and dull the daggers of the mind) for Sedona's Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, where Shakespeare Sedona's summer season opens Thursday, July 1. Two productions -- The Taming of the Shrew (the Bard's fiery love/hate story) and Cardenio (discovered relatively recently, it's hyped as Old Will's great lost drama) -- run in repertory through July 16. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Call 928-203-9381. --Jill Koch
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? offers up drinking, disfunction
Truly great theater leaves audiences with much to absorb. Take Edward Albee's emotionally brutal play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which inspired an equally brutal movie, which inspired an even more brutal drinking game. Here's the plot: Each player is assigned a character and takes a swig every time said character drinks (which happens plenty) or engages in any number of "bonus" behaviors, i.e., whenever George calls Honey "angel boobs" or "monkey nipples." By the time the curtain falls, so will we.
Fill a flask, call a cab, and raise a toast to high culture: The Shakespeare Theatre presents Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- the heart-warming story of George and Martha, the marrieds who put the "diss" in dysfunctional -- Friday, July 2, through July 17 at Phoenix Theatre's Little Theatre, 100 East McDowell. Call 602-796-2038 for tickets, $15. --Jill Koch
Concert series plays it cool
If rock were like jazz, there would be nary a rock band standing. With jazz, talented musicians who've never met can huddle over sheet music and, pretty soon, will be grooving on a core key as each musician alternately pops off an impromptu solo. Try that with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and Keith Richards would be clubbing Bill Wyman over the head (yes, even posthumously) during the extemporaneous bass solo. Luckily, all heads will go un-clubbed when ASU's Kerr Cultural Center hosts the "It's All About Jazz" concert series every Wednesday in July. The flavor for the first concert, on July 7, is family freestyle, as the Moio Brothers -- drummer Dom and guitarist Bill -- kick out the jams with saxophone prodigy Lucas Pino. Tickets are $14, with discounts for students and seniors. Visit www.jazzinaz.org or call 480-596-2660. --Niki D'Andrea
Country legend Merle Haggard performs at Dodge Theatre
Merle Haggard tamed that cruel bitch known as the interstate plenty during his career. But don't expect the outlaw country musician to turn his latest tour into a stump session for either Dubya or Kerry. The 67-year-old legend is remaining neutral, because there's no fooling his fans. "If I was to support one of those politicians, they'd know I was a liar. I've got Republicans and Democrats in the Church of Merle Haggard, and I have to honor that," he says. "We're gonna have services out there in Phoenix at . . . what's the name of the joint there?" It's the Dodge Theatre, Merle, where you'll preside on Friday, July 2, over a flock yearning for music that hasn't been prepackaged by certain media conglomerates. "With Clear Channel, if somebody breathes the wrong way, they'd edit it out," Haggard says. "You gotta fit a certain criteria for them. My belly button's got hair on it, so that leaves me out." Amen. Services begin at 8 p.m. at 400 West Washington. Tickets are $28 to $75. Call 602-379-2888. --Benjamin Leatherman
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