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.

Monday, June 19, 2017

IWU School of Theatre Arts Announces Mainstage Choices for 2017-18

Illinois Wesleyan University's School of Theatre Arts has announced via Facebook what will be on stage for the mainstage part of their 2017-18 season. No dates yet and the official IWU Theatre page is still showing last year's schedule, but at least we know what we'll seeing if not exactly when. I'm guessing checking back on that page periodically should yield a schedule at some point.

If the order of the photos indicated the order of the shows, first up will be Dancing at Lughnasa, Brian Friel's wistful, haunting memory play set in County Donegal in Ireland in 1936.  The Lughnasa in Dancing at Lughnasa refers to the August harvest festival. The five Mundy sisters are struggling to get by, from the eldest, Kate, a tightly wound schoolteacher, to Christina, the youngest, who has a child but no husband or other means of support. Their lives only get more difficult when their older brother, who'd been a Catholic missionary and chaplain in Africa, returns for unspecified reasons, but has trouble mentally balancing the world he left behind and the one he's reentered. Christina's son Michael is the narrator of the play, standing in for Friel. He appears as an adult to step back into the action of his childhood. Dancing at Lughnasa was first produced at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, thereafter transferring to London, where it won the Olivier Award for Best Play in 1991. On Broadway, it also took the Tony for Best Play, along with awards for director Patrick Mason and Best Featured Actress in a Play for Brid Brennan, who played Agnes, the shy, tentative sister somewhat overshadowed in the middle of the family, in its Dublin, West End and Broadway productions.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 musical South Pacific comes next in the picture scroll. Everybody knows "Some Enchanted Evening," "Bali Hai" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," right? Based on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, this South Pacific features music by Rodgers, lyrics by Hammerstein and book by Joshua Logan, telling the stories of Americans stationed on islands in the Pacific. There's Navy nurse Nellie Forbush, who faces her own prejudices when she falls in love with a French plantation owner named Emile de Becque who has mixed-race children; a squadron of rowdy Seabees led by Luther Bills; and Lieutenant Cable, a forthright young officer in the midst of dangerous missions and a love affair with a native woman. As a child, I remember thinking Nellie was an idiot for her bigotry against two kids who were half-Polynesian, but that's the point of South Pacific, that our prejudices are not innate or logically justifiable but "carefully taught." The original Broadway production won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and piled up ten Tony Awards, including winning Best Musical along with awards for its book, score, director, producer and scenic design, and sweeping the acting categories, with wins for leads Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, who played Nellie and Emile de Becque, and featured actors Myron McCormick, who played Billis, and Juanita Hall, who played Bloody Mary, the enterprising mother of Cable's beautiful love interest.

Next on the list in Eugene Ionesco's absurdist drama Rhinoceros, wherein the citizens of a French town inexplicably start turning into stampeding rhinoceroses. One by one, they sprout horns and hoofs, as a lone man, Berenger, tries to hold out against the onslaught. Rhinoceros was written in 1959 and is widely regarded as a cautionary tale about how mass movements like Fascism and Nazism can take over and turn people who were once reasonable human beings into fanatical monsters. In other words, it's perfect for our current international political landscape. Although actor/producer/director/mime Jean-Louis Barrault played Berenger in the original French production and Laurence Olivier took the role in London, it was Eli Wallach who made Berrenger (now with an extra R) his own on Broadway, with Zero Mostel as his intellectual friend John (originally Jean) who turned rhino in front of his eyes. In the showier role, Mostel was the one who won the Tony as Best Actor. In the 1973 film, Gene Wilder played a new version of Berenger called Stanley, with Mostel reprising his role.

In a real change of pace from the politically and personally provocative to just plain fun, the last show in IWU's mainstage season is the roller disco musical Xanadu, based on the 1980 film that starred Olivia Newton-John as a Greek muse. On Broadway, Kerry Butler took the Newton-John role, while Cheyenne Jackson played the man she's trying to inspire. Douglas Carter Beane spruced up the book from the film script, adding more mythology and a whole lot of parody to send up the campy movie. Along with the roller skates, songs from the movie like the title song and "All Over the World" came with it from screen to stage, with added hits like "Have You Never Been Mellow?" and ELO's "Strange Magic." Click here to see Jackson, Butler and the rest of the cast perform "Don't Walk Away" on the Tonys.

In case you're wondering, it was Kelli O'Hara who was nominated but did not win the Tony for the 2010 revival of South Pacific, whose poster image you see up top, while Kerry Butler -- the blonde in the poster just above -- was nominated but did not win for Xanadu in 2008.

Watch this space for more details on all these shows as dates are added. Check here for IWU's Laboratory Theatre schedule once that's added.

Monday, June 12, 2017

DEAR EVAN HANSEN Wins Big at Lackluster Tony Awards


After last year's Hamilton-a-palooza, I suppose any Tony Awards ceremony would've been a let-down. But this year... Yeah, it was really a let-down. Most of that stemmed from host Kevin Spacey, who seemed more interested in showcasing himself than the various winners and nominees. One more impression and I was going to throw something. Do the people who are in love with Dear Evan Hansen even know who Johnny Carson is?

Don't get me wrong. There were a couple of fun performances -- Bandstand and Natasha, Pierre et al. looked like fun and had a lot of energy -- and some more-than-worthy wins, like the marvelous Gavin Creel for the revival of Hello, Dolly! and Illinois' own Laurie Metcalf for A Doll's House Part 2. I was also happy to see Kevin Kline win his third Tony, with this one 36 years after his last. In case you're wondering, he last won as the lead actor in a musical for The Pirates of Penance back in 1981 and before that, as a featured actor in a musical for On the Twentieth Century in 1978. All he needs is featured actor in a play, and he will have the acting categories covered.

I also loved that the authors of nominated plays got the spotlight to introduce their own plays instead of dragging out some unrelated hockey player or Hollywood star. Playwrights Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel should've been on Broadway well before this, so let's applaud the fact that we got to see them on the Tony stage if only to introduce their plays. More of that, please!

On the downside, it's a travesty that James Earl Jones received his Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement during a commercial, along with sound designers Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, who received a special Tony for their work on The Encounter, the folks from Regional Tony winner Dallas Theater Center, and Isabelle Stevenson humanitarian award winner Baayork Lee. I'd rather see any and all of them ten times over than Kevin Spacey's impressions or the Rockettes.

Here are your nominees, with winners in bold and listed first:

BEST MUSICAL
Dear Evan Hansen
Come From Away
Groundhog Day
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

BEST PLAY
Oslo by J.T. Rogers
A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Indecent by Paula Vogel
Sweat by Lynn Nottage

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Hello, Dolly!
Falsettos 
Miss Saigon 

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
Jitney by August Wilson  
The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
Present Laughter by Noel Coward
Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly! 
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly! 
Denée Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 
Christine Ebersole, War Paint 
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen 
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen 
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly! 
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos 
Jenn Colella, Come From Away 
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter 
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House, Part 2 
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Jefferson Mays, Oslo

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2 
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Michael Aronov, Oslo 
Danny DeVito, The Price 
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes 
Johanna Day, Sweat 
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll's House, Part 2
Condola Rashad, A Doll's House, Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away 
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen 
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day 
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly! 

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent 
Sam Gold, A Doll's House, Part 2 
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly! 
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY
Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Leslie James, Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll's House, Part 2

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day
David Korins, War Paint
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
David Gallo, Jitney
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Howell Binkley, Come From Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll's House, Part 2

BEST SCORE
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen
David Hein and Irene Sankoff, Come From Away
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Tim Minchin, Groundhog Day 

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL
Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen  
David Hein and Irene Sankoff, Come From Away
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Danny Rubin, Groundhog Day 

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand 
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day 
Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen 
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand 
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

And that's all she wrote for the Tony Awards of 2017. Let's hope that's also all she wrote for Kevin Spacey as a Tony host.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Encores' GOLDEN APPLE Is Delicious

From time to time, my friend Jon Alan Conrad is inspired to write a guest piece for this blog, which makes me very happy indeed. Jon is always insightful and immensely knowledgeable. Who wouldn't be delighted to offer a forum for his writing? 

Here's Jon's take on The Golden Apple, which he recently saw as part of the Encores! series at New York City Center.


We lovers of musical theater finally saw our long-standing wish granted in May 2017, when the series "Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert" marked the end of its 24th season with a production of The Golden Apple.

For an explanation of "Encores!" I'll save space by referring to my previous column about an earlier production of theirs, commenting in addition that their events long ago stopped being "concerts" in any sense beyond the orchestra's presence onstage. (Apparently their standard Playbill caveat, that the performers might carry their scripts, now contractually frees them from actually doing so.) As to "our wish," naturally I can't speak for everyone. But subscribers, watching the list of "Encores!" titles (here  -- or here, if you enjoy a quiz format) mount up over the seasons, have indulged in a fan's privilege and dreamed up lists of future possibilities. And although we've seen some gratifying rarities over the years -- St. Louis Woman, Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Paint Your Wagon are four that they also recorded -- many wish lists (Cynthia Nixon's, for one) kept The Golden Apple at the top.

The Golden Apple itself? It's a collaboration between lyricist John Latouche (remembered for his contributions to Cabin in the Sky and Candide) and composer Jerome Moross (probably best remembered for epic movie scores like The Big Country. There's no speaking, or even operatic talk-singing (recitative); it's all in song forms, ranging from that sweeping Americana sound heard in Moross's movie work to vaudeville, blues, soft-shoe, and ragtime.

And that's not all. In this compact two-hour opera-musical, Latouche and Moross retold the Iliad and Odyssey, setting it in Washington State (near our own Mt. Olympus) around 1900. At the start, the boys come home from the Spanish-American War to small-town contentment, until farmer's daughter Helen runs off with traveling salesman Mr. Paris in his hot-air balloon. The guys, having pledged to take care of her, troop off to the big city to bring her back. She returns with husband Menelaus readily enough at the start of Act II, but that leaves the men still far from home, susceptible to the perils of the Odyssey -- Calypso, Scylla-Charybdis, Sirens, Circe -- embodied as the temptations of the coming century -- status, wealth, sex, power -- until everyone has vanished except Ulysses, who comes to his senses and returns home to Penelope.

All this playful classicism was catnip to the critics when The Golden Apple opened at the Phoenix Theatre in March 1954 (one of the first off-Broadway musicals) as part of its repertory season. A transfer to Broadway to capitalize on its cult popularity with a longer run seemed a good idea, but after opening at the Alvin Theatre in April, it managed only 125 performances, leaving behind the published play and a highly truncated recording of highlights, mementos that fail to convey its stature and expansive musicality. But surviving photos and accounts suggest a jewel of an original production, elegantly designed and directed, and cast with great care. The folksy tunefulness in Act I creates a lovely picture of small-town life, blossoming into expansive moments like Ulysses and Penelope's duet of marital contentment, "It's the Going Home Together," or Helen's sultry seduction of Paris (and a favorite of song stylists ever since), "Lazy Afternoon." Then in the new big-city atmosphere of Act II, vaudeville specialties (starring the folks from Act I in new guises) pop out, like the slick vaudevillian "Scylla and Charybdis" routine promoting the stock market, and the hula-flavored enticements of "Goona Goona Lagoon." An interlude with the waiting Penelope gives us the soaring aria "Windflowers," and the final unsure reunion the impassioned duet "We've Just Begun." By the end, we've had a colorful experience that retold a classic tale in a witty way, and we've also learned something about ourselves. What more could you ask for?

Somehow, while other ambitious shows from the 1950s remain well-remembered, and while regional opera companies search for popular-flavored classics to fill out their seasons, nobody seems to know about, or want to produce, The Golden Apple. Even the recent release, at long last, of a full-length recording, welcome as it is, hasn't seemed to change this situation much.

So the Encores! production meant more than just the chance to see an insider's seldom-seen title: it showed the world what a fine piece of writing it is, and maybe it can persuade managements to stage more productions of it, and let its take its rightful place among the masterpieces of popular musical theater.

Presentations like the one I saw on May 13 (partway through a run of seven performances) will go a long way toward raising awareness of it, and promoting a wider fondness for it. It was certainly given the full treatment, with the biggest chorus the series has employed, multiple costumes for everyone, some evocative if skeletal sets, and no cuts whatever. Michael Berresse, having brightened several past entries as a performer, directed with fine attention to both character and theatrical effect (aided by choreographer Joshua Bergasse), and the Encores! Orchestra sounded its customary best under Rob Berman's reliable baton, doing justice to Moross's own orchestrations (assisted by Hershy Kay), among the most gorgeous written for the theater.

Some Encores! productions have provided all-star casts to enjoyable effect (like their No, No, Nanette with Rosie O'Donnell, Sandy Duncan, Beth Leavel, Charles Kimbrough, and Mr. Berresse), but The Golden Apple followed the other possible pattern, assembling an ensemble cast suitable for a real production. (And thereby eliciting a fleeting wish that they could just stay together and settle in for a long run.) There was not a single weak element anywhere, so instead of coming up with a varied series of commendations for every name in the cast, I'll link to a personnel list, a photo gallery , and two montages of in-performance videos to give the details and establish the general excellence. That will allow the mention of just a few outstanding participants without seeming to criticize the others. For instance, the sinister Hector Charybdis who appears in Act II as mayor and guide to temptation was suavely embodied by Jason Kravits, familiar as countless sleazy lawyers and judges on television but clearly an old hand with a top hat and a cane. The trio of local "goddesses" (Miss Minerva, Mrs. Juniper, and Lovey Mars) whose rivalry ignites the plot, and who transform into temptations in Act II, were delightfully embodied by Alli Mauzey, Ashley Brown, and Carrie Compere. Ryan Silverman supplied a mellow baritone and the right reckless confidence as Ulysses. Especially memorable were two actresses new to me: Lindsay Mendez (well known to fans of Wicked, but not previously to me), sultry and giddy as needed for Helen, and Mikaela Bennett (unknown to most of the audience, I dare say, as her Juilliard graduation was still a week in the future) bringing a richly soaring soprano to Penelope. Both ladies had the special spark that can make time stand still -- a most welcome illusion, because I didn't want the show to end, ever. Let's hope that everyone's local theater company becomes motivated to schedule a production next year.

Monday, May 29, 2017

SPEECH & DEBATE on Screen (on iTunes)

A film version of Stephen Karam's Speech & Debate is now available to rent through iTunes. Karam wrote the screenplay for the film based on his own play, which opened Off-Broadway in 2007 as part of the Roundabout Underground initiative.

Speech & Debate, the play, has been well-performed since then, including at Urbana's Station Theater in 2008 and at Illinois State University in 2011.

Speech & Debate involves three teenagers in Oregon, none of whom exactly fit in. Diwata is overflowing with the desire to PERFORM!, Howie is gay and looking for a way to express that at a hostile school and Solomon sees himself as a crusading journalist. Together, they revive their school's moribund debate club to expose the hypocrisy and perfidy of the adults around them. By turns, they're funny, wounded and outrageous, especially when they perform a musical with a witch from The Crucible time-traveling to meet a gay, teenage version of Abraham Lincoln.

Sarah Steele, an actress you may recognize from her role as Marissa Gold on The Good Wife, played Diwata in that Roundabout production ten years ago, and she is back as Diwata for the movie. She's joined by Liam James (The Family) as Solomon and Austin P. McKenzie (he played Melchior in the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening on Broadway) as Howie.

Karam and director Dan Harris have opened up the stage play, which showed only the three high school students and one adult, at least far enough to include space for actors like Skylar Astin, Roger Bart, Janeane Garolfolo, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kal Penn, Gideon Glick (who played Howie in the original production), and Lin-Manuel Miranda as part of the tableau.

All that, for $3.99 on iTunes.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Coming Soon: 2017 Illinois Shakespeare Festival Opportunities & Options

If it's almost summer, it's almost time for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. If you haven't purchased tickets yet, there's still time to choose single seats or a season pass. And a call just went out for volunteer ushers, which may also get you in to see the show.

Here's the scoop on what's happening this summer:


A Midsummer Night's Dream is up first with a preview performance on June 28 and official opening night on the 30th. After that, you'll find 16 more performances in the theater at Ewing Manor through August 11. This Midsummer is directed by Robert Quinlan, head of the MFA directing program at Illinois State University. Quinlan's previous Illinois Shakespeare Festival credits include Richard II and Macbeth. Festival favorite Tom Quinn leads the cast as Bottom, with Jordan Coughtry as Puck, Thom Miller as Oberon, Nisi Sturgis as Titania, and Jesse Bhamrah, Susie Parr, Raffeal A. Sears and Emily Wold as the four Athenian lovers lost in the forest.


Next on the agenda is not just any Cymbeline but an adaptation for six actors created by Chris Coleman called Shakespeare's Amazing Cymbeline. The ensemble consists of Coughtry, Miller, Quinn, Sears and Sturgis and Patrick Toon, under the direction of Andy Park, who also directed Peter and the Starcatcher and Failure: A Love Story in Festivals past. The preview for Amazing Cymbeline happens on June 29, with performances on stage at Ewing Theater from July 1 to August 12.


The Q Brothers return to the Festival with I Heart Juliet, "bringing their incredible energy, humor, and hip-hop verse to Shakespeare’s timeless masterpiece, Romeo & Juliet." You might've seen the Q Brothers' take on Two Gentleman of Verona called Q Gents back in 2015. This time, ISF Artistic Director Kevin Rich is at the helm with a cast that includes the Q Brothers Collective (GQ, JQ, Jax and Pos) and ten members of the Festival company. I Heart Juliet opens July 9 in Westhoff Theatre on the ISU campus, continuing at Westhoff till August 8. For all the details, click here.

If you're wondering who's who on the design team this year, look for Joe C. Klug as scenic designer for all three shows, with Dan Ozminkowski as lighting designer and Kieran Pereira in charge of sound design. Splitting up costume design duties, Nicholas Hartman will conceive the wardrobe for Amazing Cymbeline, Christina Leinicke for I Heart Juliet and Tyler Wilson for Midsummer.

In addition to these three shows, you'll have five chances to see The Improvised Shakespeare Company and Wednesday and Saturday morning performances of the fairytale Sleeping Beauty under the Theater for Young Audiences umbrella.

And about that volunteer usher opportunity... You can wear what you want, pick your dates (with some flexibility), and even see the show for free, as long as seats are available. Read more about it here. If ushering sounds like something you'd enjoy, contact ISF House Manager Dave Hansen at dlhans1@ilstu.edu.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What's Up from Prairie Fire the Rest of 2017

Prairie Fire Theatre's 2017 season is well underway, with their Champagne Gala last month and this month, the return of the children's opera project that tours area schools. After that, they'll finish up 2017 with a classic musical later in the summer and a revue about romantic hopes and mishaps in the fall.

This year's children's opera, once again written by Nancy Steele Brokaw, is The Last Book on Earth, and it involves three young friends intent on saving all the books in the world from a dark force called The Blank. There's a magic bookshop, storybook villains, hidden talismans and something called A Dangerous Book that our heroes must leap into to begin their mission. The Last Book on Earth has already performed two public performances at the Normal Public Library and the Unitarian Universalist Church, with the third scheduled for tonight at 6:30 pm at the Bloomington Public Library. For more information, click here.



In August, Prairie Fire returns with The Most Happy Fella, the 1956 Frank Loesser musical that "tells the heart-stopping story of unlikely love that blossoms in Napa Valley." Its original Broadway production was nominated for six Tony Awards, but it was the 2014 City Center Encores! production with Shuler Hensley, Laura Benanti and Cheyenne Jackson that impressed critics like the New York Times' Ben Brantley. You'll recognize the song "Standing on the Corner," the one where the guys are "watching all the girls go by," in Loesser's "sweeping, seamless and intricately layered score." Performances are scheduled from August 3 to 6 in Westbrook Auditorium inside Illinois Wesleyan University's Presser Hall.

And the last show of the Prairie Fire season will be Starting Here, Starting Now, a Maltby and Shire revue made up of story songs on the general subject of love and romance. In the first act, we hear about the challenges of finding love in the city, while the second turns to people who have stumbled in pursuit of romance but have hopes of new beginnings. It will be performed on October 20 and 21 in IWU's Young Lounge in the Memorial Center. (The image you see here is from the 1977 off-Broadway original cast recording. That production starred Loni Ackerman, Margery Cohen and George Lee Andrews.)

The Prairie Fire box office is available at 309-824-30476.