Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ANGELS IN AMERICA, From National Theatre Live in London to Movie Screens

When you see a play or musical you really love, your reaction may be that you never want to see another production of it, that that one was perfect and you don't want to impose any new production over your memories of the perfect one. Or you may want to see as many different productions of that show as possible. Follies? Arcadia? I'll go see either of them anywhere I can manage. Good, bad or indifferent, there is no production of those shows I will not try.

Angels in America, Tony Kushner's two-part "gay fantasia on national themes" that sweeps together Mormons, Jews, Reagan Republicans and the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, falls into that category. I saw both parts -- Millennium Approaches and Perestroika -- on stage in New York and in Chicago in the early 90s. The Broadway and touring productions were very different, but each was deeply personal, deeply political, heartbreaking and fabulous in its own way. I also loved the small-but-mighty Angels directed by Steven M. Keen for Urbana's tiny Station Theater. And the all-star version version on HBO. Yes, I've struggled through several college productions that didn't send me and found myself unable to get to farther-flung Angels that were very warmly received.

This month, we all have the chance to meet another Angels when Fathom Events and National Theatre Live bring the current London production from the National's Lyttelton Theatre, directed by Marianne Elliott, with Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn and Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, to movie theater screens all over Great Britain and the United States. Part One: Millennium Approaches, airs this Thursday, July 20, with Part Two: Perestroika the following Thursday.

You can find a theater near you at this link. There's nothing in Bloomington-Normal, but in the just-about-50-mile range, you can find the Willow Knolls 14 in Peoria or the Savoy 16 outside Champaign-Urbana. Both theaters are showing both parts of Angels in America at 7 pm on their respective Thursdays and you can purchase tickets now.

If you'd like to read more about Angels in America at the National or see videos, interviews and photos, check out this page at the National Theatre website.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Emmy Nominations 2017

When Emmy nominations were announced yesterday, I had two reactions: The race for Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series or Movie may be the strongest Emmy race in history, and what the heck is wrong with Emmy nominators when it comes to The Leftovers?

Master of None
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Will Atlanta sneak in and upset Veep and Modern Family, the perennial contenders? Does anyboy really care what Modern Family does at this point?

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Tracee Ellis Ross, Blackish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Allison Janney, Mom
Pamela Adlon, Better Things 

Can anybody take down Julia Louis-Dreyfus? Ever?

Donald Glover, Atlanta
Anthony Anderson, Blackish
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
William H. Macy, Shameless
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets

Emmy voters love streaks, and Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent is one of them. Even though the show itself isn't nominated this year, don't bet against a third straight win for Tambor.

Vanessa Bayer, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep
Kathryn Hahn, Transparent
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Judith Light, Transparent 
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live

AKA the Saturday Night Live category. I'd pick Anna Chlumsky, who has been fantastic on Veep from the get-go, but I think an SNL player will take it. Probably McKinnon again.

Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep
Matt Walsh, Veep

It's lovely to see Tituss Burgess's name, if not Ty Burrell's. Burrell is back for the eighth time in a row. Yes, he's good, but he's not that good. It doesn't matter -- Alec Baldwin is going to win for his recurring role as our current president on Saturday Night Live.

The Crown
The Handmaid’s Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us
Better Call Saul
House of Cards

Who will win? Probably The Handmaid's Tale, although Stranger Things has been buzzy, too, just not as recently as The Handmaid's Tale. But where is The Leftovers? I've asked that for the past few years to no avail. This last season was the best of all and really, really deserved a nomination.

Claire Foy, The Crown
Keri Russell, The Americans
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

Elisabeth Moss and The Handmaid's Tale have made a huge impact on this year's TV landscape. I can't imagine anyone but Moss winning, although Claire Foy's QEII was impressive, too.

Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul

It's fantastic to see Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia make the list from This Is Us, which bowed to excellent ratings and critical reaction last season. I'd probably vote for Matthew Rhys from The Americans, long overlooked by Emmy voters, but it's hard not to go with Brown, who was note-perfect all season. And then there's Anthony Hopkins. The TV Academy loves its Brits as well as its movie stars. Hopkins is both. As well as an Oscar winner. 

Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things  
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Chrissy Metz, This Is Us
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale 

There should be enough awards to give one to each of the actresses in this outstanding category. They're all that good. I'd probably go with Samira Wiley, but Ann Dowd is hard to overlook.

Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Ron Cephas Jones, This Is Us
Michael Kelly, House Of Cards
 John Lithgow, The Crown
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Ron Cephas Jones has my heart in this category, even though I'm bummed not to see Michael McKean's name for Better Call Saul. Just don't give it to John Lithgow, please. His Winston Churchill was OK, but that's it, and he has been way over-rewarded by the Emmys in the past.

Big Little Lies
Feud: Bette and Joan
The Night Of

I thought Big Little Lies was stronger work all around than Feud and I'd love to see the former win, even as I expect the latter to take the Emmy.

Black Mirror
Dolly Parton’s Christmas Of Many Colors: Circle Of Love
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Sherlock: The Lying Detective
The Wizard of Lies

Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette and Joan
Carrie Coon, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime

The battling divas of Feud take on the wounded modern women of Big Little Lies. I thought Kidman and Witherspoon were more impressive than the campy Feud ladies, and neither Lange or Sarandon really captured the screen legend she was portraying, but... Lange wins a lot, even in bad roles. Still, it could be anybody's prize in this jam-packed category.

Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
John Turturro, The Night Of
Ewan McGregor, Fargo
Robert De Niro, The Wizard of Lies
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Lying Detective
Geoffrey Rush, Genius

I'm expecting Ahmed or Turturro to win. McGregor really doesn't belong with the others; his dual roles on Fargo were pretty lame when all was said and done.

Regina King, American Crime
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies
Judy Davis, Feud: Bette and Joan
Jackie Hoffman, Feud: Bette and Joan
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Wizard of Lies

Laura Dern was beyond amazing, although Jackie Hoffman was pretty great, too. I'd be happy with either of them winning.

Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies
David Thewlis, Fargo
Alfred Molina, Feud: Bette and Joan
Stanley Tucci, Feud: Bette and Joan
Bill Camp, The Night Of
Michael Kenneth Williams, The Night Of

There isn't a bad choice in the bunch. Skarsgard and Thewlis were both creepy, scary and terrific in their roles.

The Amazing Race
American Ninja Warrior
Project Runway
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Top Chef
The Voice 

This is one category where I am always bemused. Why so much love for The Voice and The Amazing Race? I have no idea. I'd say give the award to newcomer RuPaul's Drag Race.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Late Late Show with James Corden
Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Real Time with Bill Maher

Go, Samantha Bee!

Wanda Sykes, Blackish
Carrie Fisher, Catastophe
Becky Ann Baker, Girls
Angela Bassett, Master Of None
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live

Riz Ahmed, Girls
Matthew Rhys, Girls
Dave Chappelle, Saturday Night Live
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Saturday Night Live
Tom Hanks, Saturday Night Live
Hugh Laurie, Veep

Alison Wright, The Americans
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away with Murder
Ann Dowd, The Leftovers
Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black
Shannon Purser, Stranger Things

Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
BD Wong, Mr. Robot
Hank Azaria, Ray Donovan
Denis O’Hare, This Is Us
Brian yree Henry, This Is Us
Gerald McRaney, This Is Us

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party
Gordon Ramsay, Masterchef Junior
Alec Baldwin, Match Game
Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway
RuPaul Charles, RuPaul’s Drag Race
W. Kamau Bell, United Shades of America

Antiques Roadshow
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Fixer Upper
Lip Sync Battle
Shark Tank
Who Do You Think You Are?

Born This Way
Deadliest Catch
Gaycation With Ellen Page
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked
United Shades Of America With W. Kamau Bell

Carpool Karaoke Primetime Special 2017
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Presents Not The White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Louis C.K. 2017
Sarah Silverman: A Speck Of Dust
Stephen Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale: Who’s Going To Clean Up This Sh*t?

Hairspray Live!
The Oscars
Super Bowl LI Halftime Show Starring Lady Gaga
70th Annual Tony Awards

The Emmy Awards will be presented by CBS on Sunday, September 17.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Philip Dawkins and NEW PLAYS FROM THE HEARTLAND Starting Tomorrow

The Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland project -- combining a one-act playwriting contest with staged readings and a master class for the winning playwrights as well as a public forum to allow the prominent playwright who selected the winners to interact with the Bloomington-Normal community -- is back this week at Heartland Theatre.

The festivities begin tomorrow night at 7:30 pm when Philip Dawkins, this year's playwright in residence, offers his remarks and takes questions on the art of playwriting in a forum that is free and open to the public. You may remember Dawkins' name from the play Failure: A Love Story, a musical tragicomedy in verse performed at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in 2013 after a successful run at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater. Dawkins is also the author of Miss Marx: Or the Involuntary Side Effect of Living (Strawdog Theatre -- Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work), The Happiest Place on Earth (Side Show Theatre/Greenhouse Theater Center), Le Switch (About Face Theatre, The Jungle), Charm (Northlight Theatre), The Homosexuals (About Face Theater) and the musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches with composer David Mallamud (Children’s Theater Company, Minneapolis). His lyrical, whimsical style makes him a unique voice in American theater.

The three winning New Plays from the Heartland will be performed as staged readings beginning at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday, directed by Heartland artistic director Rhys Lovell. This year's winners are Golden Land by John Adams of Richmon Heights, Missouri; All Sewed Up by Marty Seigel of Bloomington, Illinois; and Annabelle's Last Stand by Todd Wineburner of Pontiac, Illinois. Here's what Heartland has to say about each of the plays:

GOLDEN LAND by John Adams, Richmon Heights MO
A chance meeting in New York in 1904 illustrates that the apple seldom falls far from the tree. The age-old conflict between the disenfranchised and the privileged plays out on a tenement stoop on a hot summer day.

ALL SEWED UP by Marty Seigel, Bloomington IL
Owners of a small-town business and the town manager go head to head against a high-powered corporation. The lingering smoke from an old flame can’t mask a critical flaw that will bring one side down.

ANNABELLE’S LAST STAND by Todd Wineburner, Pontiac IL
A house is not just bricks and mortar; it’s dreams and memories too. And that’s worth fighting for, as a sheriff who is reluctant to exercise his authority soon learns.

For more information on the Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland, Philip Dawkins or the winning plays, you can visit Heartland's website for the full scoop. Please note that this new-play festival is made possible by the Town of Normal Harmon Arts Grant and sponsored by Paul and Sandra Harmon.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Q Brothers' I HEART JULIET Sold Out for the Summer at Illinois Shakes Fest

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival is reporting that I Heart Juliet, the Q Brothers' hip-hop version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set to play 11 performances this summer as part of the Festival season, is completely sold out.

Westhoff is a smaller venue than the stage at Ewing Manor, so it's not surprising it would sell out even if the other shows in this summer's season -- A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Amazing Cymbeline -- still have tickets available. No word on how many seats are still open, however, so it's probably best to get your tickets secured now. Keep in mind that season tickets are out, since I Heart Juliet is full, so you will be looking for single tickets to the other two.

A waiting list has been started in case they get any cancellations or additional performances are added to accommodate the interest. You may reach the Festival box office at 309-438-2535 to be added to the waiting list or to ask about Midsummer and Cymbeline tickets. You may also visit the Illinois Shakespeare Festival website for updates and to browse your performance options.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Your Chance to Catch FALSETTOS on Screen in Bloomington July 12, 15 and 16

The recent Broadway revival of Falsettos -- the William Finn and James Lapine musical about a gay Jewish man named Marvin, his ex-wife, his son, his new lover, his psychiatrist (who is smitten with Marvin's ex) and the two lesbians next door -- ended its run at the Walter Kerr Theatre on January 8.

To share the Falsettos joy with those who didn't get to see it in New York, Live from Lincoln Center and Lincoln Center Theater are bringing a filmed version of the show to cinemas nationwide starting July 12.

That means we can all share the Falsettos experience, as Marvin falls in love with Whizzer, his new boyfriend, his son Jason prepares for a bar mitzvah, and ex-wife Trina tries to navigate this new world, with some funny stuff and some very sad stuff, offering a portrait of some of the highs and the lowest lows imaginable for gay men in 1979, when it's set. The 1992 Broadway production won Tony Awards for its score and book, with five more nominations, and the recent revival was nominated for five more, including nominations for its Marvin (Christian Borle), Trina (Stephanie J. Block), Whizzer (Andrew Rannells) and psychiatrist Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz).

We have two options to experience Falsettos in Bloomington, with New Vision Ovation Cinema Grill off Towanda-Barnes Road and Wehrenberg Galaxy 14 on Wylie Drive both offering screenings. Falsettos shows up on the Ovation screen on July 12, 15 and 16 and at Galaxy 14 on July 12 and 16.

For more details or to get your tickets now, or if you are looking for showings in other places than Bloomington-Normal, you can visit this Falsettos page at Screen Vision.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Family Drama, Musicals and More at Community Players in 2017-18

Ready or not, it's time to think about fall seasons at area theaters. Community Players announced their 2017-18 season earlier this month, with season tickets now available. What's up at Players as we move into fall?

Arthur Miller's complex family drama, All My Sons, opens September 1, with performances through the 10th. Bruce Parrish will direct this "gripping classic by a master playwright," which "explores the father son dynamic and the corruption of the American Dream." Miller took the idea for the play from a newspaper account about a World War II scandal involving defective aircraft engines used in military planes. In the play, which is set in 1947, we meet Joe Keller, who was accused of selling a flawed part for aircraft engines that resulted in the death of 21 pilots. He was cleared, but that isn't the whole story. His wife Kate is in denial, both about Joe's part in the scandal and about her son Larry, who has been missing in action for several years. Younger son Chris also went off to war, but he has returned, and his realization that his father is not the man he thought he was forms the central conflict in the play. Parrish will hold auditions for All My Sons on July 17 and 18. You can see details on characters and casting here.

The November choice is the musical Sister Act, based on the 1992 movie with Whoopi Goldberg as a wannabe diva who goes on the lam -- hiding in a convent -- after she witnesses a crime. She is a force to be reckoned with in the confines of the convent, but her musical talent gives her a chance to bond with the sisters. Marcia Weiss will direct this one, with auditions in September and performances November 2 to 19. Alan Menken wrote the music for the Broadway musical version of Sister Act, with lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner.

If you need to lighten up your January, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), may be just the ticket. This funny, fast and furious race through the works of Shakespeare, with the history plays as a football game and Hamlet in 30 seconds (and then in 30 seconds backwards), has been very popular since the three men (Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield) who created the Reduced Shakespeare Company and launched The Complete Works at Edinburgh's Festival Fringe in 1987. Look for auditions for this three-person (usually three-man) show in November and performances January 11 to 21, 2018. Brett Cottone will helm the Reduced Shakespeare madness for Community Players.

After that, it's Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fractured fairytale musical that offers a different look at the magical obstacles facing Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (the one with the beanstalk), a childless Baker and his Wife, a pair of charming Princes, and a Witch who has a thing about her garden. Into the Woods premiered on Broadway in September 1987, with a well-received revival in 2002. Those two productions earned a total of 20 Tony nominations; the show was named Best Revival along with awards for its score, book and lighting design, and best actress Joanna Gleason, who played the Baker's Wife in the original production. Into the Woods will be on stage at Players from March 8 to 25, under the direction of Sally Parry.

Then we're back to scalding family drama -- with some very black comedy at its heart -- in the form of Tracy Letts' blistering August: Osage County, focusing on the messed-up members of the Weston family. Entertainment Weekly called it "Southern-fried familial dysfunction" and that's as good a description as any. August: Osage County premiered at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater in 2007, followed by a Broadway run that earned five Tony Awards, incouding Best Play. It also won a Pulitzer Prize for Letts. August takes the stage from May 8 to 14, 2018, directed by John D. Poling.

The season finishes up with family-friendly Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the perennial favorite from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice that tells the Biblical story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, who can read dreams to predict the future. His 11 brothers are not happy about their dad's favoritism, spurring a nasty plan that sends Joseph into Egypt as a slave. He may start out with nothing, but he ends up interpreting dreams for the Pharaoh and rising to power and influence before once again coming face to face with his brothers. Aimee Kerber will direct this pop-rock musical in performance from July 5 to 22, 2018.

Season tickets are now available, either by downloading the order form at the top of this page or this page. For more information, you can try the box office at 309-663-2121 or email boxoffice@communityplayers.org.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Young at Heartland Takes the Spotlight June 23 and 28

It's always a hot ticket when the Young at Heartland troupe of senior actors perform. Every summer, they take the stage at Heartland Theatre for two showcases that highlight their acting and writing talents.

Young at Heartland's actors, all over 55, will perform at Heartland Theatre on Friday June 23 at 1 pm and Wednesday June 28 at 7:30 pm. There are no reservations and no set price; they simply ask for a donation at the door. And yes, it's a popular event, so you are warned to get there early -- at least 20 minutes before curtain, when the doors open -- if you want a good seat.

No word on what they'll be performing in this year's program, which represents the culmination of a two-month acting workshop led by veteran director Sandra Zielinski, but I can see what looks like chefs, clowns, firefighters, a matador, a bunch of Wizard of Oz characters, and a bevy of fans and fanatics in this year's photo. (Click on the image above to see a larger copy.) The scenes and short plays these actors perform were all written just for them by current and former YAH colleagues.

Young at Heartland was founded by Ann B. White and continues under her leadership, with two semesters of workshops and performances each year. Ann is the one holding her pom pom high (fourth from the left) in the photo above. She was recently named one of eight area "Women of Distinction" by the YWCA of McLean County for her stellar work with Young at Heartland.

For more information on Young at Heartland, click here. You can also see their entire schedule of area performances here.