Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Score One for the Girls: THE WOLVES at the Goodman's Owen Theatre

Against all kinds of obstacles, women in theater have thrown down the gauntlet on more than one front. Freedom from harassment, decent access to directing, design and stage management jobs, consideration for women playwrights and actors when artistic directors are choosing their seasons... It's all on the table. And it only makes sense. If you look around when you go to the theater, you already know that audiences are more likely to be made up of women. But how have theaters responded? Is anything getting better? From my perspective, the answer is yes and no. Locally, we've seen some progress*, a continuation of good work**, and a decided retreat into Same Old Same Old White Guy Theater***. But Chicago's Goodman Theatre has taken the ball and run with it, with programming like Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves, directed by Vanessa Stalling, who earned her MFA in directing at Illinois State University.

The Wolves is a wonderful choice, an inside look at a team of girls playing soccer and what's important to them. Stalling is the perfect director for it, too, with her emphasis on the physical side of theater, and appreciation for women on stage who can "look strong, be aggressive or take up space." That is exactly what these soccer players do as they run through practice, joke around, pick at issues they may not exactly understand, vie for playing time, and struggle with things like friendship, teamwork, sexuality, parents and mortality. None of it is revolutionary, just new, because somebody is finally listening in to teenage girls who find joy in strength and competition, pushing and kicking their way in a world that isn't all that welcoming.

DeLappe's script uses overlapping, fragmented dialogue that kicks around in a much less disciplined fashion than the drills the girls are running, veering from global atrocities to yogurt, yurts, tampons and maxi pads with breathless speed. Both the dialogue and the action are choreographed and tricky, but Stalling keeps her actors on their toes throughout the play and together, they drive the narrative perfectly. Whether or not any of these women actually played soccer during their high school years, they've brought their skills up to a level that reads like the real thing. Their stamina and focus are amazing.

As #46, Erin O'Shea stands out both with her soccer prowess as well as her acting, delivering emotional depth as an outsider who can't quite figure out the social cues that come so easily to her teammates. ISU grad Cydney Moody is a delight as #8, the more naïve one who falls apart when she finds out that the national tournament will be in Tulsa instead of Orlando, while Sarah Price makes smart girl #11 a real treat. I also enjoyed Isa Arciniegas as the no-nonsense captain of the team, Taylor Blim as a sweet girl who shows signs of an eating disorder, Angela Alise as the stressed-out goalie, Mary Tilden as a goofball whose jokes don't exactly land, and Aurora Real De Asua and Natalie Joyce as the most socially advanced of the bunch. Meighan Gerachis arrives late in the game, but she makes quite an impact with a heartbreaker of a monologue.

The Wolves is staged in the round (or rectangle) in the Goodman's Owen Theatre, with the audience up close to the action. Set Designer Collette Pollard has created a simple but effective space lined with artificial turf and surrounded by netting that allows for in-your-face athletics. Mikhail Fiksel's sound design and Keith Parham's lighting design add a blast of energy, as well.

Because it has proved so popular, The Wolves has been extended past its original end date. That means you can still see it through March 18 if you can get a ticket.

By Sarah DeLappe

The Owen Theatre at the Goodman Theatre
February 9 to March 18, 2018

Directed by Vanessa Stalling
Set design by Collette Pollard
Costume design by Noël Huntzinger
Lighting design by Keith Parham
Original music and sound design by Mikhail Fiksel
Dramaturgy by Kristin Idasak

Production Stage Manager: Nikki Blue
Soccer Skill Building Coach: Katie Berkopec

Cast: Angela Alise, Isa Arciniegas, Taylor Blim, Aurora Real De Asua, Meighan Gerachis, Natalie Joyce, Cydney Moody, Erin O'Shea, Sarah Price and Mary Tilden

* Illinois State University has done excellent work in spotlighting plays by women, people of color and from authors outside the United States, in its last two seasons. In Urbana, the Station Theatre is devoting most of its current season to women playwrights and women directors.

** New Route Theater in Bloomington-Normal continues its mission of giving a voice to underrepresented communities and ethnically and culturally diverse playwrights. 

*** Heartland Theatre has just announced a new mainstage season that will be 100% white male voices, after two seasons with paltry representation (a play by Anna Zeigler in 2017 and book and lyrics by Tina Landau in this year's Floyd Collins are the sole contributions of women) and more than double the number of roles available to men over those seasons.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

American Theatre Critics Announce Steinberg/ATCA New Play Finalists

The American Theatre Critics Association has released the names of the six finalists for the 2018 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, which spotlights playwrights for professionally produced work premiering outside New York City. The Steinberg/ATCA Awards hand out $40,00 each year, making these awards the largest national new play program of its kind.

This year's finalists are The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler, Linda Vista by Tracy Letts, The Minutes by Tracy Letts, Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith, and The Wolf at the End of the Block by Ike Holter. Chicago is strongly represented in this group, with two plays from Letts that premiered at Steppenwolf, Smith's play from the Goodman Theatre, and Holter's play, which was presented by Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens.

Here's how the ATCA committee describes the plays chosen:
The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, about the efforts of Shakespeare's contemporaries to preserve his words after his death, "fires on all cylinders" according to one panelist. Said another, it "wrestles with big questions: Why we create and how we deal with death? What constitutes a legacy? And how a surpassing love for something bigger can make every sacrifice worth it." It's "all the more impressive given that we know how the story will end." "And it's funny — genuinely funny — in a way that feels contemporary and yet not cynical." The Book of Will had its world premiere at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler focuses on the bonds and barriers between two new mothers across a backyard and across class differences. According to panel members, it is "heartbreakingly original in wrestling with issues of female friendship and class and privilege while still being a story about two people one quickly feels strongly about." "Their challenges come across as very real and accessible without being trivialized." Cry It Out premiered at the Humana Festival.

Linda Vista by Tracy Letts focuses on "a man-child who is lonely and wants to be loved — while remaining too immature to do the work involved in making that happen." With, according to a panelist, some of the "smartest, funniest dialogue of any play this year, it also features female roles exceptionally fresh and well crafted." "Letts runs it out of control and then brings it back," said another. It features, "smart observations on marriage, fatherhood, and aging" and, noted yet another, "It's like getting smacked with a metal ruler while someone's telling jokes." Linda Vista premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

The Minutes, also by Tracy Letts, reads like "this is Grover's Corners and Winesburg, Ohio through the eyes of Shirley Jackson." It's "a very weird roller coaster ride" through an absurd town council meeting that leads to "a magnificent tribal reveal soaked in the saddest truth about humanity." "I could see where this would be an actor's and director's dream with a WOW finish." The Minutes also premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith "compellingly takes us into the mindset of the masses of refugees fleeing wars and other violence and their struggle against great odds to survive and escape." It's about both "the price of immigration, and the importance of identity, with a second act that feeds on the first act in clever ways but takes us in a new direction." "I was also moved," said one panelist, "by the identity crisis at the heart of the play—the hunger to reclaim a self and name that no longer belong to you." It conveys "a great deal about how worlds apart people can be, how different their ideas of how to help." Objects in the Mirror premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

The Wolf at the End of the Block by Ike Holter is, according to one panelist, "a play I can't get out of my head, from one of the most exciting emerging voices in American theater." It "melds gorgeous, often comedic dialogue into a very dark reality" in "a play that matters." Centered on a beating outside of a Chicago bar, it's "honest about how flawed the would-be heroes of the piece are — refreshing, given the amount of paint-by-numbers agitprop out there right now." Presented by Teatro Vista, The Wolf at the End of the Block premiered at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater.
These six finalists were selected from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from across the country.  To read about the history of the Steinberg/ATCA awards and see past winners, click here.

The top award of $25,000 and two citations of $7,500 each, plus commemorative plaques, will be presented April 7 at the 2018 Humana Festival of American Play at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Oscars, Year 90, Now One for the Books

In a year when some of the biggest Oscar drama happened on the red carpet, with lots of speculation that the major stars would be sidestepping E! network's Ryan Seacrest, things shaped up pretty well and pretty much as expected inside the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony. Jimmy Kimmel was an affable host, the proceedings went along smoothly with no major gaffes, and there were undoubtedly a lot of ties for prizes at Oscar parties.

In the biggest categories, Guillermo del Toro and his Beauty and the Beast story, The Shape of Water,  emerged victorious, scooping up Best Picture and Best Director to go with awards for its score and production design.  

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won two of the big acting awards with Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell, while first-time producer/director/screenwriter Jordan Peele walked away with the Best Original Screenplay trophy for Get Out and 89-year-old James Ivory became the oldest Oscar winner ever with his win for his adapted screenplay for Call Me By Your Name.

Adding a little more fuel to the fire that real (as opposed to fictional) characters are more likely to win awards, Gary Oldman won Best Actor as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour and Allison Janney added to her awards season sweep as Tonya Harding's horrible mother in I, Tonya.

Dunkirk won for its film and sound editing as well as sound mixing, while Blade Runner 2049 picked up awards for its cinematography and visual effects.

Disney/Pixar's Coco won as Best Animated Feature, with songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez winning with their sweet song "Remember Me" from that film. 

And here's your complete list of winners:

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green, Logan
James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist
Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, Mudbound

Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water
Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

"Mighty River" from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige
"Mystery of Love" from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens
"Remember Me" from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
"Stand Up for Something" from Marshall, Diane Warren and Common
"This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Carter Burwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

DeKalb Elementary 
The Eleven O’Clock 
My Nephew Emmett 
The Silent Child 
Watu Wote/All of Us

Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, Baby Driver
Jon Gregory, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Tatiana S. Riegel, I, Tonya
Lee Smith, Dunkirk
Sidney Wolinsky, The Shape of Water

Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Joel Whist, War for the Planet of the Apes
Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould and Neal Scanlan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover and Gerd Nefzer, Blade Runner 2049
Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus, Kong: Skull Island
Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Alex Gibson and Richard King, Dunkirk
Ren Klyce and Matthew Wood, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Mark Mangini and Theo Green, Blade Runner 2049
Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira, The Shape of Water Julian Slater, Baby Driver

Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater and Tim Cavagin, Baby Driver
Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke and Brad Zoern, The Shape of Water
Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett and Doug Hephill, Blade Runner 2049
Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo, Dunkirk
Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker and Michael Semanick, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Consolata Boyle, Victoria and Abdul
Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread
Jacqueline Durran, Beauty and the Beast
Jacqueline Durran, Darkest Hour
Luis Sequeira, The Shape of Water

Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau, The Shape of Water
Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis, Dunkirk
Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola, Blade Runner 2049
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Beauty and the Beast
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Darkest Hour

Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard, Victoria and Abdul
Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick, Darkest Hour
Arjen Tuiten, Wonder

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Opening Tonight: RHINOCEROS at IWU

Eugène Ionesco was really big in the 70s, when I came of age. My junior high theater teacher assigned two of his plays (The Lesson and The Bald Soprano) for a whole semester's worth of class work. I seem to recall Ionesco in my French textbook, including an image of a nose shaped like a circular stair. And I saw (and fell in love with) Rhinoceros when another high school used it for its contest play. There was no actual rhinoceros in that one, just puffs of dust as they supposedly ran by and physical work by the actors whose characters turned into them. The 1974 movie starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, who'd played the same role in the 1961 Broadway production, also eschewed real rhinoceroses in favor of Mostel chewing the scenery. But the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis built immense rubbery rhino outfits for their production in the 80s. And that, too, worked like a charm. Or a rhinoceros.

Whether Illinois Wesleyan University is giving their prop and costume people a rhino-sized workout remains to be seem. But their own Rhinoceros, that timely parable about regular people inexplicably embracing the beasts inside (and outside) to go along with the crowd, opens tonight at 8 pm at the Jerome Mirza Theatre at McPherson Hall on the IWU campus.

Here's how IWU's press materials describe their take on Rhinoceros:
The sublime is confused with the ridiculous in this savage commentary on the human condition. A small town is besieged by one roaring citizen who finds himself turning into a rhinoceros and who proceeds to trample on the social order. As with any "disease," more citizens become infected. "An allegory for our times." - The New York Times "It’s satirical humor, combined with its provocative theme and surprisingly moving ending, results in an evening that is strange, disturbing and arresting." - New York Post
The IWU Rhinoceros stars Chris Woodley as Berenger, a listless young man who is nonetheless a holdout from rhinomania; Will Mueller as Jean, his more punctilious friend; and Maya McHowan as Daisy, the woman Berenger loves. Brooke Emmerich, Holden Ginn, Melissa Iheakam, Paola Lehman, Jean Salgado, Juna Shai, Megan Spencer, Cami Tokowitz, Tuxford Turner, Travis Ulrich, Robert Wilson and Libby Zabit will make up the rest of the rhino-ravaged town.

Rhinoceros runs from February 27 to March 4, with performances at 8 pm Tuesday through Saturday and a matinee at 2 pm on Sunday. You can order tickets online here or call the box office at 309-556-3232.

Monday, February 26, 2018

MR. BURNS Electrifies at ISU

Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play has been around since 2012, but it seems even more timely now than it did then. Are we edging closer to the kind of apocalypse Washburn envisioned? Probably. As other playwrights and authors continue to grapple with the end of the world, Washburn is the only one that uses The Simpsons, blending pop culture, humor and wit into her dystopic nightmare.

Washburn opens with a small group of survivors after some kind of nuclear meltdown. They are sitting around a fire, trying to occupy themselves by retelling a classic Simpsons episode, the one where Sideshow Bob plots to kill Bart by trapping the whole family on a houseboat. That's the "Cape Feare" episode, riffing on Cape Fear, the 1991 movie remake of the previous Cape Fear from 1962. As the survivors in Mr. Burns focus on the fragments of "Cape Feare" they can remember, they also drop desperate pieces of information about their current reality, the one where whole cities lie empty, supplies are limited, almost everyone is dead or missing, and the few who are left are wary of everyone else, guns at the ready.

From this minimalist beginning, we move seven years into the future for Act II, where the campfire group from Act I plus a few new friends are part of a traveling troupe of players whose stock in trade is now performing "Cape Feare," complete with commercials for things like chablis and Diet Coke, goodies they remember from their pre-meltdown life. We learn there are other rival companies trying to monopolize The Simpsons turf, lines from the show have become a sort of currency, and surviving is still a cut-throat business.

And in Act III, 75 years farther along, we see just how far this storytelling odyssey has taken humanity, as they now use Simpsons characters like Homer and Bart in a grand mythic pageant. The Simpsons -- or at least a version transformed, overwritten and mixed up by 75 years of retelling -- has become the ritual and scripture of the new world, layered with new meaning to try to make sense of what happened way back when.

By the end, Illinois State University's production of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play plays like Greek tragedy, liturgy and Simpsons cosplay put in a blender, and that's exactly as it should be. Director Kristin L. Schoenback keeps the pace humming, with the necessary snap and crackle to hold an audience over three acts, and a strong overall vision of how and why we build stories.

The entire company is strong, doing equally well with the spontaneity of the early going and the stylization of the end. Thomas Russell and Johanna Kerber carry the narration nicely in Act I, while Megan Compton and Owen McGee step up as wannabe actors in Act II, and Sarah Ford and Everson Pierce face off sharply in Act III.

Scenic designers Allison McCarthy and John C. Stark, costume designer Amanda Bedker, lighting designer Laura Gisondi and properties manager Nick Chamernik make valuable contributions to the edgy and striking visual landscape that shifts from a dark campfire to a quick-and-dirty world of found objects and then a golden temple. I'm not sure who was responsible for the masks, but they're pretty nifty, too.

Choreographer Mattilyn Nation and fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt deserve credit for keeping things moving when they need to, and sound designer Morgan Hunter, music director Pete Guither and "chart hit" composer Jordan Coughtry up the ante on the aural side.

All in all, this Mr. Burns is provocative and snarky, with all the jagged pieces in place. It's also a helpful reminder to start memorizing Simpsons episodes now. You may need them in the coming nuclear apocalypse.

By Anne Washburn
Music by Michael Friedman. Lyrics by Anne Washburn

The School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University
Westhoff Theatre
February 16 to 24, 2018

Director: Kristin L. Schoenback
Music Director: Pete Guither
Choreographer: Mattilyn Nation
Fight Choregrapher: Paul Dennhardt
Scenic Designers: Allison McCarthy and John C. Stark
Costume Designer: Amanda Bedker
Lighting Designer: Laura Gisondi
Sound Designer: Morgan Hunter
Dramaturg: Nicole R. Kippen
Properties Master: Nick Chamernik
Chart Hit Composer: Jordan Coughtry
Assistant Director: Asa Wallace
Stage Manager: Kiara Irizarry

Cast: Paige Brantley, Erika Clark, Megan Compton, Sarah Ford, Emily Franke, Josh Harris, Lauren Hickle, Johanna Kerber, Emma Lizzio, Owen McGee, Daija Nealy, Everson Pierce, Pat Regan, Cody Rogers, Thomas Russell, Deanna Stewart and Caitlin Wolfe.

Running time: 2:30, including two 10-minute intermissions.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

ASSASSINS Is a Misfire at U of I

In Look, I Made a Hat, Stephen Sondheim's book that collects and discusses lyrics he wrote from 1981 to 2011, he talks about the genesis of the show Assassins, which he describes as a "book musical masquerading as a revue, featuring nine of the thirteen assassins who have attempted to kill the president of the United States."

It's an odd idea for a musical, perhaps, to look at the infamous assassins who have slithered around the underbelly of America, but no stranger than murderous women in Chicago in the 20s or the midlife  crisis of an Italian director or Sondheim's own forays into loony bin inmates and a barber consumed with razor-sharp revenge. But perhaps because its subject matter seemed "a little wrong," Assassins was produced off-Broadway first, at Playwrights Horizon, in 1990, with a cast that included Victor Garber, Terrence Mann and Debra Monk among its assassins. It's been steadily produced since then, with a very strong production at Urbana's Station Theater all the way back in 1992, and a splashy revival on Broadway in 2004 that earned a Tony for Michael Cerveris. Along the way, through London and San Jose and St. Louis, Assassins has been adjusted a bit here and there, including the addition of a song, but its basic structure, that book musical masquerading as a revue, remains constant.

Sondheim called John Weidman's book "a collage," and that's as accurate as anything, mixing people from different times in American history, working within its own time and space, overlapping pointy, sharp-edged pieces of the American Dream with gunpowder and fried chicken, with a sense of the theatrical infusing its grimy deeds. At its heart, it's a small musical, one that works just fine in a black box theater. (See: Station Theater production mentioned above.) That means it should be fine in the University of Illinois Studio Theatre in Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. And yet... It isn't.

Director J.W. Morrissette and scenic designer Daniela Cabrera rely on thin candy-cane-striped scaffolding and a circular stair set against the east side of their black box, with seating on the other three sides. There are signs and ephemera scattered here and there, with big dollar signs or "the right to bear arms" or other evocative phrases painted on set pieces, strings of twinkly lights, and a nine-piece orchestra tucked under the narrow platform that spans the top of the scaffolding. Unfortunately, Morrissette has chosen to play significant scenes on that gallery, up there next to the ceiling, which is hard to light and hard to see from major portions of the audience. And the orchestra is pitched too loud and too close, often drowning out singers valiantly trying to negotiate Sondheim's lyrics. Since this is a show that tells its story through its lyrics, that's a big problem.

Morrissette has the benefit of MFA actor Jordan Coughtry as John Wilkes Booth; Coughtry has the vocal and acting skills to make his part of the narrative really sing. Yvon Streacker is also good as Guiseppe Zangara, the man who tried to kill FDR, and the other members of the ensemble have good moments, but they are too often hampered by staging that leaves them isolated and distant from their fellow players and choreography that seems chaotic and messy. As a result, the pace and the individual characterizations suffer.

I saw the show on opening night and it may be that the pieces will gel as it continues its run, that everyone will settle in and find the truth instead of indicating the drama in their characters. I hope so. Assassins is too good a show for missed opportunities.

Assassins continues through February 11 at the Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana. Although there is currently a waiting list for every performance, there were quite a few empty seats on the night I saw the show, which should mean there's a chance you'll get in from that waiting list.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Community Players 2018-19 Season

Community Players Theatre has announced plans for its 2018-19 schedule, opening the season with Peter and the Starcatcher in September of 2018 and finishing it with The Addams Family musical in July of 2019. Their season is the usual mix of plays and musicals, with one Tony-Winning Best Musical (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), one musical based on characters from cartoons (Addams Family), one play based on characters from another beloved play (Starcatcher), one play based on a beloved American novel (Little Women), one musical based on a movie from the 90s (The Wedding Singer) and one play that spawned a movie in the 90s (A Few Good Men).

Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elice's freewheeling, let's-put-on-a-show take on Peter Pan, spun off from a novel with a very similar name (Peter and the Starcatchers) written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Although it features music by Wayne Barker that was nominated for a Tony, it isn't really a musical and it was also nominated as Best Play in 2012. It won a Tony for Best Featured Actor Christian Borle, who played the villainous Black Stache. As described on the Community Players site, "From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the depths of greed and despair… and the bonds of friendship, duty and love." Auditions for Peter and the Starcatcher will take place July 9 and 10, with performances from September 6 to 16, 2018.

Next up is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the Broadway musical that played for 964 performances and won six Tonys in 1964, with another 156 performances and two Tonys in 1972 and 715 performances and one more Tony in 1996. In the original Broadway production, star Zero Mostel, featured actor David Burns, director George Abbott, producer Hal Prince, writers Burt Shrevelove and Larry Gelbart and the show itself all won Tonys. Stephen Sondheim's songs ("Comedy Tonight," "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," "Lovely") were part of the Best Musical award even if he didn't get singled out for his score. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum takes comedy back to its roots, combining situations from time-tested, 2000-year-old comedies of Roman playwright, Plautus, with the infectious energy of classic vaudeville." With auditions in September, Forum is set to open November 1 and run through the 18th.

To open 2019, they'll be back in play territory with Little Women, which is not the 2005 musical, but a 1996 drama version of Louisa May Alcott's Civil War era novel adapted for the stage by Marisha Chamberlain. There have been any number of takes on Alcott's story of the five March sisters growing up and figuring out who they are against the backdrop of war, loss and love, with actresses as different as Katharine Hepburn, June Allyson, Susan Dey, Winona Ryder and Sutton Foster all taking on Jo, the second-oldest, who dreams of becoming a writer. Maya Thurman-Hawke played the role last year in a three-episode Little Women from the BBC. "Interlaced with warmth, family loyalty and traditional values, all these important events provide us with a better understanding of our own lives. Penned by Louisa May Alcott 150 years ago, this much-loved classic tale’s message is still relevant for audiences today." Look for Little Women auditions in November 2018 and performances January 10 to 20, 2019.

The main character in the original film version of The Wedding Singer was a schlubby 80s guy who made his living, such as it was, performing at weddings. On Broadway, stars Stephen Lynch and Laura Benanti took on the roles played by Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore on film, with a new score written by Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics), plus two songs -- "Somebody Kill Me" and "Grow Old With You" by Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler. Herlihy wrote the script for the movie and co-wrote the book for the Broadway show with Beguelin. This is how Players describes the plot: "It’s 1985, and rock star wannabe, Robbie Hart, is New Jersey’s favorite wedding singer. He’s the life of the party until his own fiancée leaves him at the altar. Shot through the heart, Robbie makes every wedding as disastrous as his own. Enter Julia, a winsome waitress who wins his affection. As luck would have it, Julia is about to be married to a Wall Street shark, and, unless Robbie can pull off the performance of a decade, the girl of his dreams will be gone forever." With all the big hair and crazy dances you'd expect from the 1980s, The Wedding Singer will play from March 7 to 24, 2019, with its auditions scheduled for January.

On the big screen, A Few Good Men was famous for Jack Nicholson snarling "You can't handle the truth," but Aaron Sorkin's 1989 Broadway play featured Tom Hulce, Megan Gallagher and Stephen Lang in the roles Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Nicholson took on film. The play also put Sorkin on the map and paved the way for critical successes like The West Wing, The Social Network, Moneyball and Molly's Game. A Few Good Men centers on court martial proceedings where two Marines face possible court martial stemming from the death of a fellow Marine at Guantanamo Bay. "The Navy lawyer, a callow young man more interested in softball games than the case, expects a plea bargain and a cover-up of what really happened. Prodded by a female member of his defense team, the lawyer eventually makes a valiant effort to defend his clients and, in so doing, puts the military mentality and the Marine code of honor on trial."After auditions March 11 and 12, A Few Good Men will be up and running May 2 through 12, 2019.

Ooky and spooky, The Addams Family musical had its try-out in Chicago in 2009 with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth playing Gomez and Morticia. After some tune-ups and fixes from bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and composer Andrew Lippa, The Addams Family hit Broadway in March, 2010. It focuses on parental and marital issues as Wednesday comes of age and falls for a regular boy, while Mom and Dad deal with their own romance going stale. Meanwhile,  Uncle Fester is in love with the moon, Mama, Pugsley and Lurch are up to no good, a host of Addams ancestors are swirling around the rafters, and Wednesday's boyfriend's uptight parents are caught in the middle. As Players would have it, "Everything will change for the whole family on the fateful night they host a dinner for Wednesday’s ‘normal’ boyfriend and his parents." This one gets three nights of auditions -- May 11, 12 and 13, 2019 -- with performances set to start July 11 and finish up July 28, 2019.

For details and information, visit the season announcement page at the Community Players website.