Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Slings and Arrows" Offers Outrageous, Hilarious Fortune

As we head into the last week of our local Shakespeare Festival, I have been having fun augmenting my experience, first with Jane Dentinger's "Winter's Tale" mystery novel and now with a Canadian TV series (three seasons, six episodes each) called "Slings and Arrows."

My friend Ron introduced me to "Slings and Arrows," which concerns the crazy backstage happenings at a fictional (and quite dysfunctional) Canadian Shakespeare festival that seems to be based on the Stratford Festival. After the first episode, I was completely smitten. The series is funny, fast and brimming over with outrageous theater people as well as inside info on how art and commerce battle it out. It benefits from terrific performances from Paul Gross (famous for "Due North" and the short-lived TV version of "The Witches of Eastwick") as Geoffrey Tennant, a talented director and actor who is dragged back to this "New Burbage Festival" even though he is madder than a hatter (and madder than Hamlet, regardless of hawks and handsaws); Gross's real-life wife Martha Burns as his former love and leading lady who is still hanging around New Burbage, now playing Gertrude instead of Ophelia; Stratford Festival regular Stephen Ouimette as Oliver Welles, the artistic director who once betrayed Geoffrey and sold out his art; and Mark McKinney, one of the Kids in the Hall, as bean-counter Richard Smith-Jones, whose secret love is "Mamma Mia" instead of "Much Ado."

"Hamlet" is the focus of the first season, as Oliver gets drunk and gets hit by a truck, Geoffrey is lured back to New Burbage to replace him and direct the same play that drove him crazy years ago AND contend with an untested and unsure Hollywood star playing Hamlet, a la Keanu Reeves, all while Oliver keeps haunting Geoffrey at every turn, not unlike Hamlet's dad in the play. Oh, and Geoffrey tries to figure out how to get Oliver's skull on-stage as Yorick. And there's a subplot involving Rachel McAdams as a New Burbage newbie; she took this "Slings and Arrows" role just before she broke out in "The Notebook."

Season Two has "Macbeth" as its main play, with Geraint Wyn Davies ('Forever Knight') as an ambitious leading actor with ego issues. There's a little "Romeo and Juliet" on the side, as directed by an avant garde doofus. (Don McKellar, part of the team behind "The Drowsy Chaperone," shows up as that doofus, Darren Nichols, every season.) Off-stage, Ellen (Martha Burns) has tax troubles and Richard (Mark McKinney) gets involved with a new marketing initiative helmed by Colm Feore as a New Age nutball named Sanjay.

And Season Three moves on to "King Lear," as a legendary actor (played by legendary Canadian actor William Hutt, who spent 39 years at Stratford) comes out of retirement to play the role, and a beautiful newcomer (played by Sarah Polley) as his Cordelia. Meanwhile, Geoffrey is acting crazier than ever, Geoffrey and Ellen struggle to make their relationship work, and Richard Smith-Jones finally gets a musical in the line-up.

I am happy to tell you that all three seasons are on DVD (as you can see by the "complete collection" box above), making them easily accessible. So far, I have shared the "Slings and Arrows" experience with quite a few friends, and they've all loved it, too.

Revisiting the episodes has made me love this series even more. Season One is the best, no question, with Paul Gross at his best as whacked-out Geoffrey, Rachel McAdams absolutely lovely as Ophelia and Luke Kirby spot-on as the wannabe Hamlet, but the other two have their joys, as well. All along the way, there's plenty of madness and outrageous fortune to spread around.

If only we could get another season. After all, there's Much Ado and Tempest and Othello and plenty of other Shakespeare with issues for Geoffrey & Co. to explore.

I just can't recommend "Slings and Arrows" highly enough. If you like Shakespeare, if you've ever hung out with crazy theater people, if you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at summer rep... "Slings and Arrows" is for you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"The Winter's Tale": Building a Mystery

When my friend Jon and I were discussing "The Winter's Tale," a production of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival that I had just seen, he mentioned "The Queen Is Dead," a mystery novel by Jane Dentinger that deals with her heroine/sleuth, an actress named Jocelyn (AKA Josh) O'Roarke, returning to her college campus to play the role of Hermione. O'Roarke fills the role as a favor after her mentor, an amazing actress and teacher who was set to play Hermione, dies unexpectedly. Everybody thinks it was a heart attack, but Josh is suspicious. So now Josh has to negotiate her way through the intricacies of a possible murder investigation, along with academic in-fighting, a flood of old memories of her own days on campus, strange currents among her colleagues and friends, and still somehow take on the tricky role of the ill-used wife and mother in "The Winter's Tale."

I thought I'd read all of Dentinger's backstage mysteries (mystery + theater = perfect for me), but this one didn't ring any bells. So I quickly purchased a copy and read it, mostly as a way to see how Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale" fits into a mystery.

The good news is that Dentinger does indeed use "The Winter's Tale" and its plot to inform her own. There are crucial clues in the play (that I'm guessing most readers will figure out long before Josh O'Roarke and her hot policeman pal, Gerrard, do in the book) as well as some fun information about how O'Roarke intends to play the role and how the pieces come together on stage.

So far, so good. But the bad news is that I found this the least interesting of Dentinger's mysteries just as a mystery, with O'Roarke herself coming off much less appealing than in the other books. I admit I loved "Who Dropped Peter Pan?" as much for its method of murder (i.e., somebody arranging to drop an actor who is flying through the rafters as Peter Pan) as its send-up of a vain star/producer who never should've been playing Peter Pan in the first place. But in that one, I don't recall ever finding myself annoyed with Josh as a character. In this one, on the other hand... When she and her old roommate, Francis Mary Findley, get together, what seemed like cheeky irreverence and zippy slang before suddenly feels forced and way overdone. I'm afraid that continues throughout the book, and while Dentinger clearly intends for me to think her heroine is perfect and charming and wonderful and the Best Actress Ever as well as the Best Friend Ever and the Smartest Girl Ever, well, I just wanted to punch her and tell her to get over herself. That's not a healthy relationship between Heroine and Reader.

Still, the view of what goes on behind the scenes, from how to move your fall to upstage a hammy scene partner to how a costumer might take revenge on an actress he doesn't like, is quite amusing. The murder weapon is also creative, and again, I liked how she used the issues in "The Winter's Tale" (not even the obvious ones) to sculpt her plot.

When it comes to learning more about "The Winter's Tale" in a painless, pop fic way, "The Queen Is Dead" serves nicely.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite," Soap Style, in Ottawa

Remember last year, when Walt Willey of "All My Children" fame came back to his home town of Ottawa, Illinois, to perform "Arsenic and Old Lace" with the lovely Julia Barr, also of "All My Children"?

He's baaaaaack! This year, with Taylor Miller (who was the Nina half of the Cliff-and-Nina supercouple in the AMC golden days) as well as Kale Browne, who played Sam Rappaport on "One Life to Live" as well as roles on "Another World" and, of course, "All My Children." Willey, Miller and Browne will each take one piece of Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite," portraying the crazy people who check in and out of the same suite in New York's Plaza Hotel.

In the first act, Visitor From Mamaroneck, Browne will play opposite Ottawa high school teacher Mary Fennessy Morgan as a couple trying to recreate the bliss they felt on their honeymoon years ago.

Next up is Visitor from Hollywood, with Willey himself as a Hollywood producer who meets up with his old girlfriend, now a suburban housewife. The old girlfriend will be played by Minooka's Erica Quirk.

And in the last act, Visitor from Forest Hills, Miller plays the mother of a nervous bride who's locked herself in the bathroom and won't come out, with Willey's producing partner Kim "Howard" Johnson, as her husband.

Performances of "Plaza Suite" with these soap vets and local actors will take place at the Ottawa High School auditorium on July 29, 30, and 31. Tickets are available through the Ottawa Visitor’s Center at 815-434-2737 or through their website. There's more info here and here.

A Peek Backstage at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival

I'm not sure if the idea of backstage (and other) tours is new to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival this year, but it's new to me, at any rate. They currently offer backstage, scenic design and costume tours on selected evenings, all about an hour and a half before the show itself. The cost is $10, these tours are conducted by members of the acting company, and the backstage tour gives you a chance to see the green room, dressing rooms, and even the stage from the actors' vantage point.

Last night I took my first-ever backstage tour, along with my aunt, my cousin and my husband. It was very warm, so maybe that's why it wasn't quite as long as billed. (The info says 50 minutes and it was really only about 30.) But it was fun to find out how Ewing Manor came to be and get a look at the back side of the lovely theater where I've seen so many shows. Our tour guides, actresses Jessie Dean and Melisa Pereyra, were entertaining and illuminating. One caveat: There are stairs involved. My aunt wasn't game for the steps, but she enjoyed getting to sit out the costume part and watching Illinois Shakesfest action happen around her, nonetheless.

We also got a glimpse of Romeo and Juliet (Dylan Paul and Laura Rook) warming up and Sampson/Old Capulet (Nile Hawver) carrying his clothes. What fun!

So, all in all, I would definitely say I am a fan of this inside scoop stuff, and now I'm anxious to try out the other tours. Ten bucks worth? You bet.

A view of the lawn at Ewing Manor.

"The 39 Steps" All in Good Fun at the Station in Urbana

If you've seen Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps," you know there's already humor built into this familiar "man erroneously accused goes on the run to prove his innocence" story. "The 39 Steps" was early in Hitchcock's career, and he was working on getting the right tone for his somewhat snarky hero, the saucy love interest, some sexy innuendo, and all those spies and doublecrossers who have our hero in their crosshairs, all the elements that Hitchcock would get perfect in his later films like "North by Northwest." That means things in "The 39 Steps" come off a little odd at points, making it a perfect choice to really send up and make fun of.

When English comedian, actor and playwright Patrick Barlow took on "The 39 Steps" as a four-actor stage piece, he put the focus directly on the humor. Half the joke is how the two people called "clowns" in the credits can play a ton of roles, swiftly abandoning and grabbing hats and capes and accents to change identities, while the other half is about just how silly the film story was, with its opening in a music hall with the oddball Mr. Memory act, the strange notion that hero Richard Hannay would let "Miss Smith" and her scary accent come back to his flat with him with no preliminaries, the sinister Scottish farmer and his much-younger wife who seem like they should be in a totally different movie, the unpleasant girl in heels who goes tottering through the moors handcuffed to our hero; and the fact that the answer to "What is the 39 Steps?" makes no sense even when it's spelled out at the 11th hour. There's a whole lot of potential for comedy there.

Barlow's creative, crazy version of "The 39 Steps" became a big hit in London's West End in 2006, and subsequently on Broadway in 2008. Critics called it "rollicking fun" and "absurdly enjoyable."

Even this kind of "39 Steps" has to be scaled down considerably for a space the size of Urbana's Station Theatre, but it's to director Mathew Green's credit that he uses those limitations to make it even funnier and sillier. Yes, it's still "rollicking fun" and "absurdly enjoyable." And by the time leading man Rob Zaleski and "clown" Mike Prosise go romping across plain black boxes (gently flapping their jackets to indicate wind) to play out a chase across the top of train cars, you know "The 39 Steps" is in good hands. Zaleski does good work throughout as the debonair Richard Hannay, unfairly accused of murder, with Katie Baldwin going slinky, Gothic, and snappy in turn as various femmes (fatale and otherwise) in the piece, and Prosise and Mikel L Matthews Jr. absolutely hilarious with their shape-shifting antics. The hats alone are worth the price of admission, although Matthews' villainous professor and Prosise's bizarre Mr. Memory are pretty funny even without headgear.

"The 39 Steps" continues at the Station Theatre through this weekend and next, with all performances at 8 pm. For details and ticket information, click here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weekend Update #2: Godspell at Vale

I'm not absolutely positive, but I think "Godspell" may just be the first professional musical I ever saw on stage. I know I saw it in Chicago in approximately 1972, with a cast that included Joe Mantegna as Judas and Richard Gilliland as Jesus. You may remember Gilliland from a slew of appearances on episodic TV in the 80s and 90s, including a guest stint on "Designing Women," where he met his wife, actress Jean Smart. He was great as Jesus and definitely made an impression on me as a 16-year-old. I have to confess, I don't remember Mantegna's performance. Judas wasn't as cool as Jesus in those days, apparently.

But I do have a soft spot for "Godspell," with its sweet, bright Stephen Schwartz score and earnest book by John-Michael Tebelak. The pieced-together, hippy-lite costumes and pop Jesus Freak* stylings that fueled "Godspell" made it seem fresh, youthful and fun.

The plot of "Godspell" covers familiar territory, moving from John the Baptist to the Crucifixion, telling a few parables from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke along the way, all accentuated by modern pop songs with lyrics taken right from the hymnal. "Day by Day," the simple song about trying to lead a life closer to God, became a Top 40 hit after the film version of "Godspell."

I'm curious how a show that seems so deeply rooted in the 70s will play in the new millennium, and how Vale Community Church and its Vale Community Players will interpret it. "Godspell" comes to Vale, 1304 Morrissey in Bloomington, this Thursday and Friday, July 28 and 29, at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, July 30, at 2:30 pm. Interested? You'll find more information here. You can also contact or call the church office at 662-8508.

Tickets are $5 and available for purchase at the ticket office at Vale Community Church during regular church office hours or 45 minutes before the performance.

*Yes, that's what we called it in the 70s, without any pejorative connotations. It referred to a sort of counter-culture Christianity with an overwhelming belief in positivity, inclusion, love, peace and social change.

Weekend Update #1: Schoolhouse Rock Live at Miller Park

The first annual Miller Park Summer Theater Camp will present "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" this weekend and next, with shows at 7:30 pm July 29-31 and August 5-6.

"Schoolhouse Rock Live!" is a show built around the ABC Saturday morning show from the 70s and 80s (revived in the 90s), where kids could learn about grammar (who doesn't remember "Conjunction Junction"?), science, math, history and civics, with catchy songs and bright colored animation to make it all seem fun and cool.

To put on "Schoolhouse Rock Live!," the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts teamed up with the Miller Park Theater to offer something called the Spotlight Theater Camp for children from 8-18. This theater camp has been holding workshops and classes since July 5th to show students "every aspect of the show from technical theater to choreography and voice in addition to traditional rehearsals."

Director Rhys Lovell cast actors Ryan Tipton, Terrance Watson, Ashley Genung, Shelby Voyles, Kayla Kubinski and Kathryn Langdon to tell the "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" story, involving a young teacher named Tom who is looking ahead to his first day of class with a good deal of trepidation. But then, as he watches TV to relax, helpful characters pop up all around him, reminding Tom of just how much he already knows as they sing about everything from verbs and numbers to voting rights and how a bill becomes a law.

If you saw and sang along to "Schoolhouse Rock!" when you were young, you'll want to be sure to introduce your own children to the phenomenon now. It's free, it's fun, and it's "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" at Miller Park.

July 29-31
August 5-6
7:30 pm

Miller Park
1020 South Morris Avenue

FMI, click here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Joel Shoemaker Takes On HAIRSPRAY at Eastlight

My friend Joel Shoemaker has been cast in Eastlight Theatre's Production of "Hairspray," the John-Waters-by-way-of-Marc-Shaiman-Scott-Wittman-Mark-O'Donnell-and-Thomas-Meehan stage musical. I am not all that familiar with Eastlight, which is over in East Peoria, so I asked Joel to write a little about his experience there, now that they're heavily into rehearsals and preparing for their August 5 opening. Here's what Joel had to say, in his unique way...

I have magic saliva. For real. I’ve been a magician since I was seven years old, so on one level this is definitely appropriate. I need you to know I’m being completely serious though. My dentist, actually the hygienist – cute as a flipping button, incidentally – she told me so. Something about recalcification, the dentist guy later confirms.. But that term is far too highfalutin. Bulky. Too, medical. Too termy. Yuck yuck yuck. Obviously, I prefer having magic saliva. So please, when you see me on the streets, licking Washington who turns out none too eager to turn into Franklin or even Abraham for me – hey, I got bills to pay, same as you. I can’t help it only one of us is, for real, magical. Judge away, bystander, I understand you’re jealous. I’ve been there (September thirteenth nineteen ninety eight a.d.) – just don’t call it recalcification. It’s magic.

According to Wikipedia, the wellspring of official, expert-laden research we all know and love, HAIRSPRAY was originally a gift from John Waters. Waters, suffice it to say, sounds like a bit of an odd duck. This film, from 1988, appears to be one of his only non-X-rated movies. Racy duck, too! That said, it is on some list of greatest all-time films. So, brilliant duck. Quack. The musical version of HAIRSPRAY first appeared on Broadway in 2002.

Then, the film-turned-musical turned film, AGAIN, in 2007! The coolest part of all of this is that Jerry Stiller, one of my personal heroes, played Wilbur in the original film and Mr. Pinky – a role for which I’m currently in rehearsals – in the ’07 film where Christopher Walken, one of EVERYONE’S personal heroes, stepped into the role of Wilbur. Does it get any better than that? The question is stupid. The answer, NOPE.

Eastlight Theatre is a relatively young theatre, from what I can tell – with online history dating back to 1992 – which hosts its productions in a high school in East Peoria. I saw RENT there a few years ago and I immediately noticed that this place was different. Extremely high-quality productions that spare no expense to bring their audience, well, to Broadway. It’s what the website says, after all: “It’s Broadway, Our Way.” Moreover, it’s the only theatre I know even so much as willing to stage RENT, not to mention recent productions of XANADU and AVENUE Q! A theatre addict like me, well, I merely wanted to audition. And now, somehow, I wind up trying to fill a long-time hero’s hefty pink shoes.

My saliva, clearly, isn’t magic. The fact that, without regard to the infrequency at which I take part in sundry components of a proper dental hygiene regimen (during my childhood this was expertly executed in tandem with the delivery of Mom and Dad’s beloved TV Guide which was, what, weekly? So that’s not too bad for a kid, but, please, fear not. I’ve obviously grown much wiser. My teeth actually matter to me. Now, I subscribe to at least four magazines.), I’ll never have a cavity is nothing more than biology or chemistry or whatever branch of my least favorite subject. Probably not Earth. What can I say, I just ate six pink pixy sticks. I may be blessed. But I’m not magic.

Live theatre is magic. HAIRSPRAY is magic. Pure. Simple. Fun. And you should do yourself a favor and experience the regional premiere of it at Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria. To find out how, visit

About Joel Shoemaker: A 2006 graduate in Elementary Education with a minor in Theatre Arts and Drama from Eureka College, Joel Dwight Shoemaker presently works at Heartland Bank & Trust Company as a Loan Document Specialist and at Bloomington Public Library as a Library Assistant. He's been acting onstage since 1998, as a freshman in high school. Favorite roles include Moonface Martin in ANYTHING GOES, Kreon in ANTIGONE Carmen Ghia in THE PRODUCERS and Frederick Barrett in TITANIC, not to insinuate that all roles weren't equally magnificent. They weren't. He really IS a magician and really IS available for any occasion you might require such a thing - contact him via e-mail at

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Follies" Tickets Now On Sale at Chicago Shakes

The Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones broke the news a few days ago that casting had been announced for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's much-anticipated production of "Follies,"the legendary musical about a reunion of showgirls (a la Ziegfeld) at the soon-to-be-demolished theater where they all once performed. Stephen Sondheim's score and James Goldman's book are nostalgic, funny, sad and lovely, all at once.

It doesn't get better than "Losing My Mind," middle-aged Sally Durant's torch song for the love she has never been able to get over, "Broadway Baby," whose lyrics gave my blog its name, "I'm Still Here," the showbiz survival anthem, the sensational "Who's That Woman?" perhaps better known as the Mirror Dance, or "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through" the quartet wherein the young counterparts of the four main characters (Sally, her husband Buddy, her old best friend, Phyllis, and Ben, Sally's lost love, who married Phyllis) sing cheerfully (and cynically) about what they see ahead for themselves.

Gary Griffin, who has been interpreting Sondheim at Chicago Shakes for the past ten years, with fabulous work on "Pacific Overtures" and "Sunday in the Park with George," will direct a cast including Broadway veterans Brent Barrett and Robert Petkoff as as Ben and Buddy; Susan Moniz, who has called Chicago her home for over 20 years and been nominated for more Jeff Awards than you can shake a stick at, as Sally; and British-Australian actress, singer and dancer Caroline O'Connor, who has played both Broadway and London's West End, as Phyllis. Chicago favorites Mike Nussbaum, Hollis Resnick anrd Marilynn Bogetich will play Dmitri Weismann, the Ziegfeldian character, Carlotta, who belts out "I'm Still Here," and Hattie, the Broadway Baby, respectively. You can check out the whole cast here.

Even better news than the casting, however, is that tickets are now available, as well. Click here to read more about the show and pick your dates.

"Follies" opens at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on October 4 and runs through November 6. That's not a whole lot of performances, so you are well-advised to get your tickets now, before they sell out. "Follies" is a favorite of a lot of people, me included. So don't wait. Get over to Chicago Shakes now and order those tickets!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stylish, Emotional "Winter's Tale" Comes to Life at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival

“The Winter’s Tale” falls into Shakespeare’s later period, when even the comedies were tinged with sadness. And, yes, “The Winter’s Tale” was classified as a comedy in the First Folio, although that seems a little odd today, when we might think this story of a tyrannical husband and king who almost loses everything quite tragic.

The king, one Leontes, has a beautiful wife, Hermione, and a young son, and everything seems right in his kingdom of Sicilia. But then his old best pal, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, visits. Leontes sees Polixenes chatting and laughing with the very pregnant Hermione, and he is suddenly consumed by jealousy, so consumed that he ignores what everyone else tells him and convinces himself that the baby she is carrying belongs to Polixenes. Leontes tries to get one of his aides to poison Polixenes, but when that plot doesn’t come off and Polixenes escapes back to Bohemia, Leontes throws his very pregnant wife in jail and, when their baby is born, orders a courtier to take his tiny daughter far, far away and abandon her.

A nice shepherd finds the baby, now named Perdita (which means “lost"), the guy who left her gets eaten by a bear, and back in Sicilia, poor Hermione is dragged in front of the whole court and denounced as an unfaithful trollop. Even though the Oracle of Apollo takes her side, Leontes will not be moved. A courtier enters to announce that Hermione and Leontes’ young son, Mamillius, has died. At the news, Hermione collapses. Her friend, the stalwart Paulina, tells everyone that Hermione, too, has died from her grief and unhappiness. And finally, with his son and daughter and wife lost to him, finally Leontes sees how crazy he’s been. Finally, Leontes is sorry.

Quite the comedy, right?

Well, the second half is a bit cheerier. It’s 16 years later, little Perdita has grown into a lovely woman living with the kindly shepherd, Leontes has been sitting in Sicilia kicking himself around the block for his perfidy, and Polixenes has been back in Bohemia bringing up his son. The son falls in love with Perdita, Polixenes gets mad to think his royal child is mixed up with a lowborn shepherd’s daughter, threatening death and destruction, and everybody hoofs it back to Sicilia to sort things out.

In the play’s final reveal, Paulina brings Leontes a statue of his late wife, which she says is the very image of the lovely Hermione. Paulina pretends to cast a spell to bring the statue to life, and the family – Leontes, Hermione and Perdita – are together for the first time.

Fathers and daughters, irrational jealousy, miraculous reconciliations… Familiar Shakespearean ideas.

For the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, director Deb Alley has chosen to set the action during the period of Napoleon’s Empire. That means Leontes looks like he could be a Bonaparte, and his autocratic ways and steely dominion over his kingdom and his wife seem credible and real.

It also means that Rachel Laritz’s costume design includes lovely gowns for the ladies and dashing jackets and boots for the men that wouldn’t look out of place in a Jane Austen novel.

Among the cast, John Taylor Phillips does excellent work as Leontes, torturing himself with suspicion and then with distress over what he’s done. His Hermione, Melissa Graves, is quite fierce and strong, and the two of them together create a wonderfully moving, magical reconciliation scene.

Stephen Spencer gives us a charming, jolly Polixenes, someone you can see as the life of the party when he and Leontes were young. That helps explain why Leontes, perhaps less socially smooth than his old friend, would now look upon Polixenes acting a little flirty with his wife and see something sinister.

Alley has also given a significantly different interpretation to Sicilian lords Cleomenes and Dion, the two men Leontes sends to consult with Apollo’s Oracle on the question of Hermione’s fidelity and his own future. In this “Winter’s Tale,” they seem to be Scottish explorer ladies, out to find adventure in the unknown world. I’m clueless why they’re popping up in Sicilia in what seems to be 1810, but the actresses in the roles, Molly Rose Lewis and Jessie Dean, turn into spooky spiritualists when it comes time to divulge the prophecy, in a very compelling scene.

Thomas Anthony Quinn, as Leontes' estranged aide, Camillo, and Jan Rogge, as the faithful Paulina, add textured, warm performances and sympathetic characters to the mix. And little Shaun Taxali is quite adorable as young Mamillius.

I also enjoyed the three comic rustics in the piece, with David Kortemeier, Gerson Dacanay and Santiago Sosa bringing the shepherd, his son, and con man Autolycus to life more vividly than I recall from previous productions.

I would call this a stylish, emotional “Winter’s Tale,” clear on the idea that men like Leontes, who put power and control above everything else, will ultimately destroy what they care about most. Though Leontes is lucky enough to find his wife and daughter again, he has also lost his son and wasted 16 years.

Watching the Illinois Shakespeare Festival “Winter’s Tale” on a sultry summer evening, it’s still easy to feel the chill of Leontes’ terrible mistakes.

By William Shakespeare

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival at Ewing Manor

Director: Deb Alley
Costume Designer: Rachel Laritz
Scenic Designer: Michael Franklin-White
Lighting Designer: R. Lee Kennedy
Sound Designer: Aaron Paolucci
Stage Manager: Stephanie Wilson
Vocal Coach: Robert Ramirez
Dance Choreographer: Greg Merriman
Assistant Director: Brandon Ray

Cast: Gerson Dacanay, Jessie Dean, Michael Gamache, Melissa Graves, Nicholas Harazin, Nile Hawver, Josh Innerst, Mollie Rose Lewis, Kate McDermott, Dylan Paul, Melisa Peyera, John Taylor Phillips, Zach Powell, Thomas Anthony Quinn, Jan Rogge, Laura Rook, Santiago Sosa, Stephen Spencer, Andy Talen, Shaun Taxali.

Running time: 2:40, including one 15-minute intermission.

Performed in repertory through August 5.

For tickets and other information, visit the Illinois Shakespeare Festival website here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Fabulation" Will Return...

Since New Route Theatre's "One Shot Deals" are one-night only, once you've read the review of something terrific like Lynn Nottage's "Fabulation, or, the Re-Education of Undine," it's too late to see it yourself. But this just in from New Route:

"The one shot deal series will continue next year but will be shortened to four workshop productions at the Eaton Gallery. New Route Theatre will expand our program to include a full two week run season of four shows. FABULATION will be one of 2012 full run season productions. Watch for details."

That means New Route is planning right now to bring "Fabulation" back next year for a two-week run. Fingers crossed it all works out!

Other news just in from New Route: "The August 'One Shot Deal Series' production will be SEND THE LIGHT conceived and written by Don Shandrow with songs by Phil Shaw and incidental music by David Berchtold. SEND THE LIGHT is a celebration of the change electricity brought to rural America in the 1930's. Join us at the Eaton Gallery on August 10th at 7:00 PM and experience this amazing story."

So mark your calendars now-- August 10 for "Send the Light" and sometime next year for "Fabulation."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Update #2: "Into the Woods" in Normal

So, yes, I'm a little late on the opening of this one, too. But the good news about "Into the Woods," a Normal Parks and Recreation Summer Music Theatre production, is that it's continuing next week. That means you still have a chance to see Cinderella win (and lose) her prince, Rapunzel let down her golden locks, Jack get up to his Beanstalk hijinks, Little Red Riding Hood run into the Wolf, the Baker and his Wife take on the evil Witch next door, and everybody who can survive in this dark fairytale land learn that "happily ever after" isn't necessarily all that happy, but no one is alone, not even in the woods.

"Into the Woods" is a popular and much-beloved show, featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The score is wonderful (it's Sondheim, isn't it?) with a lot to say about parenting and community and the frailty of romance and love. My favorite song in the show is "Agony," the duet by the two princes (who were, after all, raised to be charming, not sincere) lamenting the annoyance factor in always going after girls who are stuck in unreachable towers or behind impenetrable thickets of briar. Or enclosed in glass. Or guarded by dwarves. It's a tough life.

Like all Normal Parks and Rec Summer Theatre productions, "Into the Wood" is performed by high school students at the Connie J. Link Amphitheater at 611 S. Linden Street in Normal. The Amphitheater itself is tucked in behind the maintenance buildings at that address, near the Constitution Trail. Park there and walk over to the Amphitheater with your lawn chairs, or bring a blanket to sit on the ground.

Performances continue tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 pm, as well as next week, July 21-24, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available on-site ($4 for adults, $2 for students, while seniors and children under the age of 5 are free), and there are apparently concessions for around a dollar. Details here.

Note: Nothing about this production says "Into the Woods Jr," the shorter, more kid-friendly version. But I have my suspicions they are indeed doing "Jr." I guess I won't know unless I go out there and see. As billed, I can only assume it is the three-hour, full "Into the Woods."

Update #1: Ain't Nothin But the Blues TONIGHT

Okay, so I am behind. This is a very busy weekend, as you already probably know, what with the Lincoln festivities and the Illinois Shakespeare Festival continuing and the usual Things to Do and People to See when the weather gets this hot and everybody wants to hit a pool or make a picnic or something that screams SUMMER.

Well, have I got SUMMER for you. It started yesterday, but it continues today and tonight, till 11:30 pm if their Facebook page is correct. "It" is the Ain't Nothin But the Blues Festival, with food and merch and harmonica, guitar and vocal lessons, so that you, too, can get down with the blues.

But the big deal is the acts coming to perform for you, of course. Tonight's performers include Cee Cee James, Bryan Lee and Janiva Magness.

Ain't Nothin But the Blues takes place at the General Electric Employee's Club, 1750 General Electric Road, in Bloomington, and you are invited to sit in a lawn chair or stroll around the lake to listen to the music.

All the details are here, including ticket prices and where to park and sponsors and vendors and bios of the performers.

And I'm sorry I'm tardy, because I'm sure this is a great party and a cool way to beat the heat.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lincoln's Bloomington Festival Starts Tomorrow

Lincoln's Bloomington Festival, this year commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, begins tomorrow at six different sites in town.

The Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, Bloomington Public Library, Burr House Bed & Breakfast, David Davis Mansion, IWU's Ames Library and McLean County Museum of History are all celebrating in different ways, with events planned from 10 am Saturday, July 16, (when President and Mrs. Lincoln show up in a carriage on Washington Street by the Museum) till 4 pm on Sunday, July 17.

Most events are free (and the one that's not, the Bob Bray/Jared Brown-penned play called “The Affray - Lincoln’s Last Murder Trial” at the McLean County History Museum, is sold out) and they range from bullet-making demonstrations on the lawn of the Ames Library to a Civil War fashion show at the Bloomington Public Library, scavenger hunts, movies, tea, music and dance, military drills and bugle calls, and several different events with reenactors who will present the Lincolns as well as Frederick Douglass, Jefferson Davis and Civil War generals like Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean County History Museum and the David Davis Mansion. And all of it will be pulled together by carriage rides from the McLean County History Museum and wagon rides among and between all the sites, although you are warned that these rides are popular, so you aren't guaranteed a ride.

You are invited to dress in your own Civil War era clothing and tip your stove-pipe hat as you visit all these different events.

The complete schedule is available here with some supplementary information here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Undine Down the Rabbit Hole in New Route's "Fabulation"

New Route Theatre's mission is to represent Bloomington-Normal in all its diversity, and to bring plays by "ethnically and culturally diverse playwrights" to the stage here in town. Last night's performance of Lynn Nottage's "Fabulation, or, the Re-Education of Undine" at Bloomington's Eaton Gallery fulfilled that mission nicely.

"Fabulation" revolves around a character Nottage saw around her in the African-American community, a ferociously ambitious, whip-smart woman who has achieved a lot in a short time. But to climb the ladder, Undine has completely turned her back on where and who she came from. In fact, when she graduated from Dartmouth and began her own company, she told reporters her entire family had died in a fire, torching any possible connection to her roots. It's only when her lofty financial and social worlds crumble (when her handsome con man of a husband absconds with all of her money) that Undine, who was born plain old Sharona Watkins in Brooklyn, is forced to take a hard look at herself and who she's become.

If that sounds bleak or tragic, well, in Nottage's hands, it's not. Instead, "Fabulation" depends on vivid characters and the snap of social satire to show Undine's trip down the rabbit hole. And yes, there's a certain schadenfreude at work here. Who doesn't enjoy seeing somebody puffed up and pretentious get taken down a few pegs? For Undine, it's not just getting taken down, though. It's opening her eyes and learning to be a real person.

For New Route, director Gregory D. Hicks put the emphasis on Undine's journey, moving simple set pieces -- a few chairs or a desk -- on and off quickly, using quick costume changes and light and music cues as he moved his ensemble cast through a whole lot of different characters and scenes.

Jamelle Robinson had a difficult assignment with Undine, who could've become unlikable right from the start with her snobby, high-handed ways. But Robinson showed the charm and intelligence to keep us entertained and interested in what was going to happen as Undine unraveled.

New Route's program didn't tell us who among the ensemble played what roles except for Robinson (something I hope they'll fix in productions to come) but I think I've figured it out. If I'm right, Wilma Brown did excellent work as Sharona's feisty grandma and one nasty piece of work of a Social Services supervisor; Corey L. Hardin was terrific as Sharona's dad and a Yoruba priest; Sean Hastings was sexy and slick as Undine's bounder of a husband and the almost-too-perfect new guy she meets back in Brooklyn; Ariele Jones was hilarious as the last friend Undine had left at the top and scary as a too-young mother-to-be; Anne Cook was just as scary as Stephie, Undine's assistant (it was the strange hipster outfit that did it); Charlene Ifenso-Okpala showed off her versatility as a tough cellmate and a sweet girl who used to be half of a Double Dutch duo; Miles Michael Spann was very impressive as Sharona's brother Flow, who's spent years trying to compose an epic poem about Br'er Rabbit; Claron E. Sharrieff was stalwart and sympathetic as Sharon's mom back in Brooklyn; and Ryan Tipton made a good impression as the accountant who brings bad news, a doctor who steps in at a crucial moment, and a guy who gets smacked down in group therapy.

In other words, this was a strong ensemble that did excellent work with multiple characters.

For this "One Shot Deal," every chair was taken at the Eaton Gallery, and even in last night's stifling heat, everybody paid attention.

This was my first opportunity to see one of New Route's "One Shot Deals," but it won't be my last.

The image that accompanies this blog comes from the audiobook version of the LA Theatre Works production of "Fabulation." That audiobook is available at Amazon if you'd like to have a copy to listen to and keep.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Illinois Wesleyan's Fall Season

If the midsummer heat is getting to you, and you'd like to start thinking ahead to cool fall shows, Illinois Wesleyan's fall theater schedule is ready for you. IWU has become known for edge as well as excellence, going the extra mile to pay off cutting-edge work, especially when it comes to musicals. The 2011-12 season will continue that trend, taking on challenging shows as well as a couple of classics.

First up in McPherson Theatre, Thomas Anthony Quinn (right now on stage in "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival) will direct Lillian Hellman's 1934 play, "The Childen's Hour," a scary story of just how much trouble malicious gossip can cause when unleashed at a small boarding school for girls. "The Children's Hour" opens September 27 and runs through October 2.

Josh Tobiessen's "Election Day" is up next in the E. Melba Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre, directed by Allison Sutton. "Election Day" is a fast and furious comedy about a politically incompatible boy and girl, ecoterrorists, and a mayoral campaign that is totally out of control. Just in time for fall elections, this one plays October 20-22 at the Lab Theatre.

"Hello Again," Michael John LaChiusa's musical about lonely people circling each other's love lives, comes to McPherson November 15-20 under the direction of Scott Susong. Susong brought us selections from LaChiusa in "Lonely Nurse" last season, and this time he goes for the full-length "Hello Again," which is based on the 1897 play "La Ronde" by Arthur Schnitzler. Like Schnitzler, LaChiusa tells the story of ten different people, from a whore to a soldier and senator, two at a time, as they meet up and try to find some connection. "Hello Again" is sexy and dark, and it will be very interesting to see what Susong does with it.

Molier's "Tartuffe," the 17th century French satire that punctures religious pomposity, is back at McPherson February 14-19, directed by Nancy Loitz, with "Promenade," directed by Jean Kerr, taking the stage in early April. "Promenade" is is an oddball mix of musical comedy (with book and lyrics by María Irene Fornés and music by Rev. Al Carmines) and Theater of the Absurd, involving two escaped prisoners and what they make of the world outside their prison bars. Look for "Promenade" April 5-10 at McPherson Theatre.

Rounding out the season are two "To Be Announced" choices for the E. Melba Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre, one in March and one in May.

You can see the whole schedule here or call 309-556-3232 to speak to someone at the box office.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Two Chances to Audition for "The Diviners" at Heartland Theatre

Heartland Theatre and director Christopher Connelly held auditions for the upcoming production of Jim Leonard Jr.'s "The Diviners" this afternoon, but additional auditions will be held tomorrow evening, Monday, July 11, beginning at 7 pm, and Tuesday, July 12, beginning at 6:30 pm. That means it's not too late if you're interested in trying out.

"The Diviners" is billed as "a play in two acts and elegies." This intensely theatrical play, set in depression-era Indiana, concerns a mentally challenged boy and his friendship with a former preacher suffering a crisis of faith. Buddy, the boy, is pathologically frightened by water, yet he is also the town's "diviner," finding hidden water during drought times. When ex-preacher C.C. Showers arrives in tiny Zion, he attempts to help Buddy as well as stay far away from the town's empty pulpit, in what becomes a collision of faith, fear and the terrible power of good intentions.

Jim Leonard Jr. wrote the play (and won first prize at the National College Theater Festival with it) when he was an undegrad at Hanover College in Indiana; he is now a writer and consulting producer on the Showtime series "Dexter." Let's just say that the voice behind "Dexter" and "The Diviners" is considerably different!

"The Diviners" is a much beloved and oft-performed play with roles for six men and five women in a variety of ages. Roles being cast are:
Buddy Layman, a 14-year-old boy who is blessed with the gift of divining or finding water, yet is deathly afraid of water, as well.
C.C. Showers
, a wanderer who has quit his former profession as a preacher.
Ferris Layman, Buddy’s father, cannot bring himself to do what’s best for Buddy, i.e., force the rash-ridden boy to overcome his fear of water and take a bath.
Basil Bennett, a farmer and Zion’s “doc­tor.”
Melvin Wilder, a young farmhand who thinks himself worldly-wise.
Dewey Maples, an innocent young farmhand who is in love with Norma’s niece, Darlene.
Jennie Mae Layman, Buddy’s protec­tive sister and primary caregiver.
Norma Henshaw, one of the most de­vout townspeople, strongly pressures the un­willing C.C. to be Zion’s preacher.
Goldie Short, another of the townspeople who pressures C.C. to take up preaching again; she also owns the Dine-Away-Café.
Luella Bennett, Basil’s wife, is a woman of doubtful faith.
Darlene Henshaw, the niece of the devout Norma Henshaw, has been taught to walk the straight and narrow but longs to dance instead.

Because Heartland's production of the play does not have an image yet (it will be performed in September), I am offering poster art from several different venues to give you an idea of how other theaters have chosen to represent this intriguing play.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lynn Nottage's "Fabulation" Comes to Bloomington

New Route Theatre continues its "One Shot Deal" series on July 13 with "Fabulation; or, The Re-Education of Undine," a play about an ambitious African-American woman who learns quite a bit about herself when her lofty social status crumbles, written by MacArthur Genuis Award recipient Lynn Nottage.

Nottage is perhaps best known for "Ruined," the 2009 play that won her the Pulitzer Prize, but "Fabulation" earned good notices and an Obie Award for its Off-Broadway production at Playwrights Horizon in 2004. This is a rare chance to catch Nottage's work in central Illinois. I saw her "Intimate Apparel" in a wonderful production at the University of Illinois a few years ago, but I have yet to see "Ruined" or "Fabulation," which includes "punchy social insights and the firecracker snap of unexpected humor," according to Ben Brantley of the New York Times.

For New Route, Jamelle Robinson will play the lead role of Undine Barnes Calles (born Sharona Watkins), under the direction of Gregory D. Hicks. As New Route Artistic Director Don Shandrow describes the play, "Fabulation is a riches-to-rags comedy that follows the apparent decline of Undine from her high-profile job back to the projects where she grew up. Although she loses her status, wealth, and pride, she gains wisdom and self-knowledge that would have eluded her in her prior existence. Facing the people from her past, she must come to accept them and herself as she learns that one can never truly outrun the past."

This "Fabulation" features a cast of 12 actors in multiple roles, including Wilma Brown, Anne Cook, Corey Hardin, Sean Hastings, Charlene Ifenso-Okpala, Ariele Jones, Quinton Neal, Claron Sharrieff, Miles Span, Justin Thompson and Ryan Tipton. Jennifer Rusk acts as stage manager, while Excedus Marshall has designed the lighting.

As always, this "One Shot Deal" will be presented at the Eaton Gallery in downtown Bloomington.

Herb Eaton Studio and Gallery
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
7 pm
$5 recommended donation

Please note that seating is limited at the Eaton Gallery, and you should reserve a seat by sending an e-mail to (including the number of people planning to attend).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

PS Classics and Six New "Classics"

Have I told you about PS Classics before? I feel sure I have. PS Classics has been around for 100 albums by now. They restore, revive and reimagine "the heritage of Broadway and American popular song" by offering recordings of some vintage and/or "lost" shows (like their brand-new "studio cast recordings" of "Sweet Bye and Bye," a 1946 musical from Vernon Duke and Ogden Nash that "crashed and burned during its pre-Broadway try-out," and "Strike Up the Band 1930," a fresh version of the Gershwin classic) as well as new cast recordings of select recent Broadway shows (like 2010's "Sondheim on Sondheim" and "La Cage aux Folles.")

They also do solo albums from Broadway stars and "songbooks" like "Sondheim Sings" and (my favorite) "The Maury Yeston Songbook."

I'm happy to get the new stuff, but even happier to discover vintage material I didn't know existed, like "Kitty's Kisses," a bright 20s romantic comedy that brings to life a kind of show that has pretty much disappeared from the scene, and "Fine and Dandy," a show with music by Kay Swift, one of Broadway's first female composers and rumored love interest of George Gershwin.

Each and every one of these recordings uses amazing Broadway stars, with people like John Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Martin Short, Audra McDonald, Danny Burstein, Raul Esparza, Gavin Creel, Laura Benanti, Cheyenne Jackson, Christopher Fitzgerald, Kate Baldwin, Brent Barrett, Rebecca Luker, Beth Fowler and Christine Ebersole showing up in the PS Classics catalog.

Since PS Classics has also released otherwise uncovered material like Michael John LaChiusa's "First Lady Suite," parts of which showed up at Illinois Wesleyan last spring, we can all thank them for the chance to dig deeper and enhance our theater-going experience.

And right now -- or between June and August, at any rate -- PS Classics is putting out six cds, from the afore-mentioned "Sweet Bye and Bye" and "Strike Up the Band 1930" to Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman's "The Trumpet of the Swan," an "eloquent, witty and graceful" musical version of E.B. White's classic children's book, "Boom!" an album full of songs from the 60s and 70s performed by sisters Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway, Kate Baldwin singing Sheldon Harnick songs in "She Loves Him," and "A Minister's Wife," a new cast album from Joshua Schmidt.

In Tommy Krasker and Philip Chaffin's last "About Us" column, the two guys behind PS Classics wrote: "We handpicked these six from the dozens we considered green-lighting this past year. We feel a genuine passion for each one; they're labors of love."

If "the heritage of Broadway and American popular song" interests you, I can pretty much promise you'll love PS Classics right back.

Click here to start looking for albums to add to your collection. Come on, you know you want that "First Lady Suite" and you're dying to find out about "Kitty's Kisses."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Romp Through "The Complete Works," Complete with Good Ol' Boys

Do you find the idea of Shakespeare daunting? Well, if you’re looking for an easy entrance into the world of bodkins and fardels, look no further than the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged),” wherein three performers fool around (and act foolish) for a couple of hours, romping through the entire canon in the most irreverent, accessible manner possible. Teens, dads, grandmas… Everybody gets this kind of Shakespeare.

“The Complete Works” returns to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival for the second time in four years, with most of the RSC’s script (written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield) intact, the same director in Bill Jenkins, and two of the same actors, with David Kortemeier and Thomas Anthony Quinn both back for more.

The folks behind the ISF assure us that it’s not the same show, and there are indeed updated references to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lady Gaga, among others, and the substitution of Paula Deen for Julia Child. Plus the two good ol’ boys played by Kortemeier and Quinn (shown above) are aware that they were here before and even make this encore performance part of their shtick. And the third member of the troupe, a sort of “Complete Works” groupie played by Gerson Dacanay, is completely different. Last time the “guy who gets roped in” was supposed to be a high-strung intern. This time, he’s a diminutive super fan with a mullet of his own (at least part of the time), a sparkly hand-made T-shirt and an effervescent personality.

Still, much of the show is the same, as our three players sprint through the comedies and the history plays and then spend some quality time on “Hamlet” after the break. There’s plenty of crazy audience participation, lots of laughs, and excellent performances from all three actors. Kortemeier and Quinn have enough chemistry to feel like they really are odd stepbrothers and Dacanay seamlessly slips into their shared down-home insanity.

So, yes, I’ve seen several productions of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “Complete Works” (or “Compleat Works” or “The Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)” – it seems there are any number of ways to frame that title. "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" is a new one to me.) And I’ve enjoyed it every time. I’ve also found something different in it every time, and I’m not talking about whether Paula Deen or Julia Child is doing the cooking. A scene or a bit just comes alive in a different way, and there I am, along for the ride and wondering what comes next. Even though I actually know what comes next. And, hey, my section of the audience got a different line to yell at Ophelia this time. “Get thee to a nunnery!” has never been more fun.

My advice? Bear your fardels, bare your bodkin, and get tickets to this “Complete Works.” It's all in good fun.

By Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival at Ewing Manor

Director: Bill Jenkins
Costume Designer: Leticia Delgado
Scenic Designer: Michael Franklin-White
Lighting Designer: R. Lee Kennedy
Sound Designer: Jason Tucholke
Stage Manager: Ryan Prendergast
Vocal Coach: Robert Ramirez

Cast: Gerson Dacanay, David Kortemeier, Thomas Anthony Quinn.

Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Performed in repertory through August 7.

For tickets and other information, visit the Illinois Shakespeare Festival website here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July Heats Up on Stages and Screens

As the summer heats up, so do area stages and screens. Some things continue in summer rep, while others open, offering all kinds of choices, no matter what your taste.

So, first, the hold-overs…

Heartland Theatre's 10th Annual 10-Minute Play Festival finishes up its run this week, playing its last show tomorrow. You have two last chances to catch these Back Porch plays, which have been very popular so far.

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival has already launched “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” and those shows will continue in July, along with jazz, art, backstage tours and all manner of optional add-ons. Plus the ISF’s third offering, “The Winter’s Tale,” the one about kings and queens, jealousy, love, a scary bear and a statue that comes to life, opens July 14th. Need tickets? Call 309-438-2535 during daytime hours or click here for more information.

Urbana’s Station Theatre continues its hit production of “Hairspray” through July 9. You should be aware that all performances are currently sold out, but director Dallas Street is willing to put you on a waiting list if you are willing to come out and give it a try. See details here. The Station opens its next summer show, the four-man roller coaster known as “The 39 Steps,” on July 21, if you’d like to try for that instead of “Hairspray.” This "39 Steps" is a comic adaptation of the 1925 John Buchan novel and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, with four actors playing all 100+ roles, changing costumes and personae faster than you can say, well, "39 Steps."

If you want to see “The Tree of Life,” the Terrence Malick film that just took the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, you won’t find it anywhere except on screen at Champaign’s Art Theater, continuing through at least July 7. And if you’re wondering what all the "Tree of Life" hullabaloo is about, Roger Ebert wrote a lovely blog about what the film meant to him.

New in July is Community Players’ take on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the stage version of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book about a boy, a golden ticket, a strange candy factory, some Oompa Loompas, and a girl who turns into a giant blueberry. Want to see how all that works on stage? “Charlie” plays at Community Players July 8 through 17.

And completely and totally new is "The Affray: Lincoln’s Last Murder Case,” a play about Abraham Lincoln and a tricky Springfield murder case where he was counsel for the defense, written by Jared Brown and Bob Bray. “The Affray,” which is sponsored by the McLean County Museum of History in conjunction with Illinois Voices Theatre, will be performed at the Museum on July 15, 16 and 17. The July 15th opening night performance is a special fundraiser for the Museum, with tickets at $25 per person. That $25 includes a special, limited-edition Abraham Lincoln poster. Tickets on Saturday, July 16, and Sunday, July 17, are priced at $10 for Museum members and $12 for everyone else. For reservations or more information, you may call the Museum at 309-827-0428 or email

Although two of its shows are done, U of I’s Summer Studio Theatre brings on its third show, Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” opening July 7th.

And at the tail-end of the month, Prairie Fire Theater returns with “HMS Pinafore,” opening July 29th in the Normal Community High School Auditorium. Read all about it here.

Plus, of course, there are all kinds of July 4th celebrations, picnics, fireworks and parades. Independence! Theater! Movies! There's plenty to do in every direction.