Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Musicals, Comedy, Drama and Something Brand New at IWU in 2018-19

The School of Theatre Arts at Illinois Wesleyan University has announced five shows (and one "To Be Announced" notice) for its 2018-19 season, with two musicals, one drama, a Shakespeare comedy, a dance concert and a new piece to be written and directed by a SOTA senior.

For the Jerome Mirza Theatre, the first show offered in the fall will be Stop Kiss, Diana Son's 1998 play about two women who meet, start to fall for each other, and kiss on the street, with a whole lot of fallout afterwards because of that one small kiss. The scenes in Stop Kiss are played out of order, with Son telling her story in pieces as fragmented as the lives of the two women. Professor Nancy Loitz will direct this story of love and compassion trying to find a way in today's world.

Next up in the Mirza, Professor Jean Kerr will direct the Broadway musical Curtains, which ran for over 500 performances at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in 2007 and 2008. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards, with David Hyde Pierce winning Best Actor in a Musical for his performance as a Boston police lieutenant who just happens to be a major fan of musical theater. The plot's afoot when he is called upon to investigate a murder that happened during the curtain call for a very bad musical in an out-of-town tryout. The score of Curtains was written by the legendary Kander & Ebb, with the book by Rupert Holmes, who won a Drama Desk Award for his efforts. Curtains has a curious creative history: Kander and Holmes provided additional lyrics after the death of Fred Ebb, and the entire show is based on an idea from Peter Stone, who also passed away with only part of the story finished.

Spring at the Mirza will feature A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's fantasy of fairies and mortals mixing it up in the woods, directed by Visiting Professor Christopher Connelly.

The spring season will finish up with the annual dance concert, directed by Sheri Marley, in the Mirza Theater.

Two other shows have been announced for the E. Melba Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre. The "To Be Announced" show, written and directed by Nick Valdivia, a senior in Design & Technology, will fill the Lab Theatre in the fall, while Violet, a musical drama based on the short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts, with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics and book by Brian Crawley, will take the Kirkpatrick space in the spring, in a production directed by Associate Professor Scott Susong.

Violet has a history both on and Off-Broadway, with a Playwrights Horizon production in 1997 that won best musical honors from the Lucille Lortel and Drama Critics Circle awards along with a special Obie for Jeanine Tesori, and then a one-night Encores! staging and a Broadway production in 2014 that starred Sutton Foster, Colin Donnell and Joshua Henry. Foster played Violet, a bitter, wounded young woman who suffered a terrible accident when she was a child. Violet's last hope is that a TV evangelist on the other side of the country can heal her horribly disfigured face, so she gets on a bus to find her miracle. Along the way, she meets (and plays poker with) two soldiers who have their own stories to tell. Violet is set amidst the byways and highways of America in 1964 and its score reflects that setting with bluegrass, blues and gospel styles.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Krannert Center Announces 50th Anniversary Season

The University of Illinois' Krannert Center for the Performing Arts began its life as an artistic venue in April 1969, after a gift of 16 million dollars from Herman and Ellnora Krannert.

As Krannert Center press materials frame it, the Krannerts' "belief in the intrinsic value of the arts, their bold vision for the future, and their passionate loyalty to the University of Illinois helped bring into being what is widely considered the nation’s leading university-based performing arts center."

To spotlight its 50th anniversary, Krannert Center is launching a two-season celebration that will include "friends, colleagues, artists, and patrons past and present" along with projects from music, theater and dance units under the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

What's in store? "Patrons can expect boundary-pushing commissioning projects and new works, beloved familiar faces alongside new rising stars, invigorating performances from university faculty and students, and time for reflection, inspiration, and merriment—including a special April 2019 weekend that will mark the 50-year anniversary of Krannert Center’s opening."

An opening party on Friday September 7 launches the celebration, with "a high-energy gathering five decades in the making that will feature a musical lineup of Ranky Tanky, Baracutanga, AJ Ghent, Mucca Pazza, and CU’s own New Orleans Jazz Machine. Food and beverage sales, a vintage car display on Goodwin Avenue, and an invitation to dress from a decade of choice—1960s to the future—will round out this annual favorite, made even better by a free admission price."

They've also announced that the 2018-19 season will include events like the Los Angeles Master Chorale performing the Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter), living legend Itzhak Perlman, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the Great Hall, as well as many other events and artists, from The Builders Association presenting the Krannert Center-supported Strange Window: The Turn of the Screw to Ann Hampton Callaway and Susan Werner, two cirque troupes and Ballet Folklórico de México and Russian National Ballet Theatre. You can browse all those options here.

If you're interested in Illinois Theatre, the producing arm of the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, they will open their season on October 4 with Wendy Wasserstein's An American Daughter, directed by Tom Mitchell for the Studio Theatre. Wasserstein's play deals with a woman descended from Ulysses S. Grant who is being considered for the position of Surgeon General.

Next up is the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with performances from October 18 to 28 in the Colwell Playhouse. That will be directed by J.W. Morrissette, who took on Stephen Sondheim's Assassins at Krannert last year. Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for Forum, while Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart wrote the book for this farce based on the work of Plautus. Sondheim's lyrics promise "comedy tonight" as a slave named Pseudolus, played by the likes of Zero Mostel (on Broadway and in the film), Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg (both in the late 90s Broadway revival), wheels and deals to try to win his (or her) freedom.

November will see The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, Peter Weiss' 1966 Tony winning play about revolution and class struggle, both in the theater and in the world. Directed by Laura Hackman for the Studio Theatre, Marat/Sade is scheduled to play from November 1 to 11, 2018.

Ike Holter's Hit the Wall opens the new year in the Studio Theatre, with performances set for January 31 to February 10, 2019. Robert G. Anderson directs Holter's "sweaty, messy, sexy" take on the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which includes a live band and a "multivoiced narrative."

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephen's award-winning play based on the best-selling book by Mark Haddon,will play in the Colwell Playhouse from February 28 to March 10. Haddon's book offers the story of an autistic boy who goes on a journey to find out who really killed his neighbor's dog, with the stage production using all the tools of drama, from lights and set pieces to sound and choreography, to create the world as the boy experiences it. Latrelle Bright directs for Illinois Theatre.

The season finishes with Because I Am Your Queen, a devised "feminist fantasia in one act" created by Mina Samuels, that imagines a collection of dramatic women, like Hermione from Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, Victor Hugo's Lucretia Borgia, Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart and Euripides' Medea, spending a day together at a spa. Samuels will work with Tectonic Theatre Project founding member Barbara McAdams, who will direct, using Moment Work to further develop the piece in conjunction with U of I theater students. Because I Am Your Queen reigns in the Studio Theatre from March 28 to April 7, 2019.

For more information on these shows as well as the entire 2018-19 lineup at Krannert Center, visit the site here. Tickets for the new season will go on sale Saturday, July 14, at 10 am, and you may purchase them at, call 217-333-6280 or by visiting the box office at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Tony Nominations 2018

It's that time again, when Tony nominators offer their lists of the best and brightest in Broadway shows.

On the play side, there's new work by Ayad Akhtar and Lucy Kirkwood, revivals of Albee, Kushner, O'Neill and Stoppard, and the hotly anticipated Harry Potter shows, while the musicals range from something sweet and silly--SpongeBob SquarePants--to something deep, meaningful and moving in The Band's Visit.

This year's awards ceremony will be hosted by pop stars with Broadway connections, with Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban doing the honors on June 10. Bareilles wrote the score for Waitress (and popped in to play the lead for a couple of shifts) and contributed some songs to the SpongeBob SquarePants musical, for both of which she's earned Tony nominations, while Josh Groban was nominated for his leading role in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

Here's the complete list of nominees:

The Children by Lucy Kirkwood
Farinelli and the King by Claire van Kampen
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by Jack Thorne
Junk by Ayad Akhtar
Latin History for Morons by John Leguizamo

Angels in America by Tony Kushner
The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill
Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan
Three Tall Women by Edward Albee
Travesties by Tom Stoppard

Glenda Jackson, Three Tall Women
Condola Rashad, Saint Joan 
Lauren Ridloff, Children of a Lesser God
Amy Schumer, Meteor Shower

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Tom Hollander, Travesties
Jamie Parker, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King
Denzel Washington, The Iceman Cometh

Susan Brown, Angels in America
Noma Dumezweni, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Deborah Findlay, The Children
Denise Gough, Angels in America
Laurie Metcalf, Three Tall Women

Anthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Michael Cera, Lobby Hero
Brian Tyree Henry, Lobby Hero
Nathan Lane, Angels in America
David Morse, The Iceman Cometh

Marianne Elliott, Angels in America
Joe Mantello, Three Tall Women
Patrick Marber, Travesties
John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
George C. Wolfe, The Iceman Cometh

Miriam Buether, Three Tall Women
Jonathan Fensom, Farinelli and the King
Christine Jones, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Santo Loquasto, The Iceman Cometh
Ian MacNeil & Edward Pierce, Angels in America

Jonathan Fensom, Farinelli and the King
Nicky Gillibrand, Angels in America
Katrina Lindsay, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Ann Roth, Three Tall Women
Ann Roth, The Iceman Cometh

Neil Austin, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Paule Constable, Angels in America
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, The Iceman Cometh
Paul Russell, Farinelli and the King
Ben Stanton, Junk

Adam Cork, Travesties
Ian Dickinson, Angels in America
Gareth Fry, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Tom Gibbons, 1984
Dan Moses Schreier, The Iceman Cometh

The Band's Visit
Mean Girls
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical

My Fair Lady
Once on This Island

Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady
Hailey Kilgore, Once on This Island
LaChanze, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Taylor Louderman, Mean Girls
Jessie Mueller, Carousel

Harry Hadden-Paton, My Fair Lady
Joshua Henry, Carousel
Tony Shalhoub, The Band’s Visit
Ethan Slater, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical

Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Renée Fleming, Carousel
Lindsay Mendez, Carousel 
Ashley Park, Mean Girls
Diana Rigg, My Fair Lady

Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
Alexander Gemignani, Carousel 
Grey Henson, Mean Girls
Gavin Lee, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical
 Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit

Michael Arden, Once on This Island
David Cromer, The Band’s Visit
Tina Landau, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical
Casey Nicholaw, Mean Girls
Bartlett Sher, My Fair Lady

Tina Fey, Mean Girls
Kyle Jarrow, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical 
Jennifer Lee, Frozen
Itamar Moses, The Band’s Visit

Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Frozen
Jeff Richmond & Nell Benjamin, Mean Girls
Adrian Sutton, Angels in America
David Yazbek, The Band’s Visit
Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper & Rob Hyman, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, Plain White T's, They Might Be Giants, T.I., Domani & Lil'C, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical

Christopher Gattelli, My Fair Lady
Christopher Gattelli, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical 
Steven Hoggett, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two 
Casey Nicholaw, Mean Girls
Justin Peck, Carousel

John Clancy, Mean Girls
Tom Kitt, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical
AnnMarie Milazzo & Michael Starobin, Once on This Island
Jamshied Sharifi, The Band’s Visit
Jonathan Tunick, Carousel  

Dane Laffrey, Once on This Island
Scott Pask, The Band’s Visit 
Scott Pask, Finn Ross & Adam Young, Mean Girls 
Michael Yeargan, My Fair Lady
David Zinn, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical

Gregg Barnes, Mean Girls 
Clint Ramos, Once on This Island 
Ann Roth, Carousel 
David Zinn, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical
Catherine Zuber, My Fair Lady

Kevin Adams, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical 
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Once on This Island 
Donald Holder, My Fair Lady 
Brian MacDevitt, Carousel 
Tyler Micoleau, The Band’s Visit

Kai Harada, The Band’s Visit 
Peter Hylenski, Once on This Island 
Scott Lehrer, Carousel 
Brian Ronan, Mean Girls 
Walter Trarbach and Mike Dobson, Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical

Chita Rivera
Andrew Lloyd Webber

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY Opening This Week at Community Players

Playwright Tracy Letts won the Pulitzer Prize for his blistering August: Osage County, a family drama laced with the kind of deep, dark humor that comes from people who've learned from birth how to push each other's buttons. August:Osage County pushed a few buttons of its own; after its premiere at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, it went to Broadway where it picked up five Tony Awards, including Best Play, and then made it to the big screen, with a star-studded cast that included Meryl Streep as Violet, the take-no-prisoners matriarch of the Weston clan, Sam Shepard as missing patriarch Beverly Weston, and Julia Roberts as their oldest daughter Barbara.

Since it first lit up the stage, August: Osage County has been quite popular, with theaters across the country anxious to dive into this story of three generations of family dysfunction. There are all kinds of good roles for actors to get their teeth into, and the three-story home that houses the disparate members of the Weston family and their in-laws, plus a Native American caregiver, a local sheriff, and an extra fiancé, is almost a character of its own. Although many theaters just don't have room for that much real estate, it doesn't stop smaller theaters, like the Station in Urbana, from getting creative. As it happens, August: Osage County is currently playing in those cozy confines, in a production directed by Mathew Green.

At Community Players Theatre, where the play opens this week, scenic designer Jeremy Stiller has a more expansive space to work with, and he's just the kind of designer who will make good use of it. Director John D. Poling is at the helm with a cast that includes Kevin Yale Vernon as viper-tongued Violet, Alan Wilson as her husband Beverly, and Abby Scott, Michelle Woody and Wendy Baugh as their daughters Barbara, Ivy and Karen. Len Childers appears as Barbara's estranged husband, who has left her for a younger woman, with Hannah Blumenshine as their teenage daughter, Brett Cottone as Sheriff Gilbeau, who dated Barbara when they were young, and John Bowen as Steve, Karen's shady fiancé. In another family unit, Anne Cook will play Mattie Fae, Violet's sister, with Randy Offner and Nathan Brandon Gaik as her husband and son. Connie Blick takes on the role of the Native American housekeeper who sees a lot more than is probably healthy.

This is not a sweet or gentle piece of work and you are advised that it contains adult language and situations. Community Players is asking for mature audiences only to attend this production.

August: Osage County opens at Community Players with a preview performance at 7:30 pm on May 3, with evening performances to follow at 7:30 pm on May 4 and 5 and 11 and 12, and Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm on May 6 and 13. For more information, click here. If you are ready to buy tickets, you can do that here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Celebrating Remarkable Women: SEVEN from Coalescence Theatre Project

This weekend, Coalescence Theatre Project will present the Central Illinois premiere of the play Seven, a collection of pieces by award-winning women playwrights focusing on "true stories of seven women who bravely fought for the well-being of women, families, and children around the globe."

Called "a riveting piece of documentary theatre," Seven was created from personal interviews with women from around the world who have "triumphed over huge obstacles to create major changes in human rights in their home countries." From Afghanistan to Cambodia, from Guatemala, Ireland, Nigeria and Pakistan to Russia, these women take on domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty, education, peace and equality as they tackle the most human of human rights.

As the play's logo puts it, "Seven celebrates remarkable women changing the world."

Seven's playwrights are Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith and Susan Yankowitz, and the actresses performing their words for Coalescence include Jennifer Cirillo, Anastasia Ferguson, Gayle Hess, Elaine Hill, Nancy Nickerson, Claron Sharrieff and Irene Taylor.

This production, directed by Marcia Weiss and produced by Don Shandrow, will be presented at the Normal Theater on April 21 at 3 and 7:30 pm and April 22 at 7:30 pm. It is a joint presentation by the Normal Theater and Prairie Pride Coalition.

For more information, visit the Coalescence event page or this page devoted to Seven the play, with bios of the women and their playwrights, a gallery of images, and other details on where Seven has been and where it's headed. Anna Deveare Smith, who is probably the best-known among the playwrights for exactly this kind of theater, contributed the piece on Nigeria's Hafsat Abiola, who founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy to promote education and leadership opportunities for young women across Nigeria. Abiola became a human rights activist after the murder of both her parents, activists themselves. It's her kind of story that lights up the fire in Seven.

Tickets for Seven range from $5 to $7 and can be purchased in advance at the Normal Theater or at the door the day of the show.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Legendary BALM IN GILEAD Opens Tomorrow at ISU

Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead occupies a special place in American theater history. It was Wilson's first full-length play, establishing him as a major voice in the 60s off-off-Broadway movement at  La Mama and marking a seminal point in off-off-Broadway history. It also created a major moment for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre when company member John Malkovich directed a production of the play in 1980, putting a national spotlight on Steppenwolf and actors like Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney, Glenne Headly, Jeff Perry, Joan Allen, John Mahoney and especially Laurie Metcalf, whose amazing monologue lit up the stage.

Since most of Steppenwolf's ensemble came from Illinois State University, a new production at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts makes perfect sense. It's a nod to ISU theater history, to some of its most notable alumni, and to the kind of rock-and-roll theatrical style that drove those alums into the national consciousness.

John Tovar directs the ISU Balm in Gilead that opens tomorrow night at 7:30 pm, with a large cast that includes Angie Milton as Darlene, a wounded, naive newcomer to the grungy all-night diner in Manhattan where the action is set; Steve Carr as Joe, a small-time drug dealer with a big problem and a big debt; Troy Schaeflein as Dopey, a junkie and something of a narrator; Tori DeLaney as Fick, a down-and-out addict; Betsy Diller as Ann, a former teacher turned street hooker; and Jack VanBoven, Dylan Dewitt and AnneMarie Owens as the cafe's manager, cook and server. Tino Avila, Abbie Brenner, Parker Carbine, Rashun Carter, Krystina Coyne, Taylor Eaves, Christian Frieden, Jeremy Gavin, Rondale Gray, Mikey Hendrickson, Malachi Hurndon, Will Olsen, Sarah Seidler, Clare Ellen Supplitt, Al Vitucci, Bobby Voss and Asa Wallace round out the ensemble as assorted users, pushers, hustlers, drunks, bad guys and whores who hang out there, with Katie Capp, Rachel Katz and Josephine O'Shaughnessy as a trio of rowdy children who make a scary Halloween run through the disarray. 

Balm in Gilead runs at the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts from April 13 to 21, with evening performances at 7:30 pm and a matinee on April 15th at 2 pm. For more details or to reserve tickets, contact the CPA box office at 309-438-2535 between the hours of 11 am and 5 pm on weekdays. You may also purchase tickets online at Ticketmaster.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Gunderson and THE BOOK OF WILL Win Top Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award

Over the weekend, the American Theatre Critics Association announced the 2018 winners of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Awards, which shine a spotlight (and reward) playwrights for professionally produced work premiering outside New York City. With the top award and two citations, the Steinberg/ATCA Awards give out a total of $40,00 each year, making the awards the largest national new play program of its kind. Every year, they are announced on the Saturday of the last weekend of Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson continued what has been a banner year, as she was the recipient of the the top award of $25,000 and a commemorative plaque for her play The Book of Will, which premiered at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts last year. Gunderson's scenario takes place after the death of Shakespeare, when two of his friends--Henry Condell and John Heminges--attempt to preserve his plays for posterity. As the Denver Center frames it, "the two actors are determined to compile the first Folio and preserve the words that shaped their lives. They’ll just have to borrow, beg and band together to get it done. Lauren Gunderson weaves a hilarious and heartfelt story inspired by the true story of Shakespeare’s First Folio."

In a world with so many Shakespeare festivals eager to produce work that involves him* and a playwright with a good deal of buzz right now, it seems likely you will see The Book of Will somewhere near you very soon. The Book of Will has been published by Dramatists Play Service.

Molly Smith Metzler's Cry It Out, an insightful look at how new motherhood affects three very different women (and one man), took a $7500 cash prize, along with Ike Holter's The Wolf at the end of the Block, a searing drama about a crime outside a boarded-up Chicago bar that underlines the jagged gulf between people of color and the police. Cry It Out premiered at last year's Humana Festival, while The Wolf at the End of the Block was presented by Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens Theater. You can find Cry It Out at Dramatic Publishing, while The Wolf at the End of the Block is scheduled to be published by Northwestern University Press along with Holter's entire seven-play Chicago cycle.

The other finalists were Linda Vista and The Minutes, both by Tracy Letts, and Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith.

At the same event at the Humana Festival, Chelsea Marcantel's Airness, a breezy and energetic look at an air guitar competition, was named this year's winner of the M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award recognizing an emerging playwright.

*For recent work involving Shakespeare as a person, see: Lee Hall's Shakespeare in Love, coming to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival this year, after productions in London, the Stratford Festival in Canada, Chicago, etc.; Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, a smash at Illinois Shakes in 2014 after it, too, played at the Stratford Festival and Chicago Shakes; and Bill Cain's Equivocation, a previous Steinberg/ATCA winner from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.