Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Sweet Send-Off in IWU's Senior Soiree

The seniors in Illinois Wesleyan's School of Theatre Arts are starting a new tradition, a "Senior Soiree" staged in Chicago to introduce themselves to directors, artistic directors, managing directors and casting directors as well as IWU alumni who are now living and working in the city.

The 2012 Senior Soiree will take place at TimeLine Theatre on Chicago's North Side on Monday evening, February 27th, with a wine and cheese reception from 6:30 to 7 pm, including "a gallery showcase of work by student stage designers, directors, stage managers, and teaching artists." After that, IWU's seniors graduating in Theater and Music Theater will perform songs and scenes to showcase their  skills, with cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and conversation to follow.

As a dress rehearsal for their TimeLine gig, IWU's senior class performers and designers took their show to the First Presbyterian Church in Normal last night, with parents, faculty and guests in the audience.

First up, we met lighting designer Krystal Martinez, scenic and lighting designer Tristan Meredith, scenic designer Aaron O'Neill, sound designer Antonio Gracias, stage manager Mary K. Holm, director Megan Francomb, and teaching artist Sameehan Patel (who also happens to be a pre-med student), as they displayed photos, models and in Gracias's case, audio of their work, and chatted with visitors about what they'd achieved so far and where they hoped to be after they graduate.

Playwrights Kamaya Thompson, whose work has been performed by New Route Theatre in Bloomington, and Smith Elder, wrote pieces performed by actors as part of the showcase.

The performances consisted of selections from songs, monologues and plays, with actors dipping into a collection of pieces called "Open Road Anthology" that was first performed at Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival, several times. There was a nice mix of the familiar ("Hamlet") and the unfamiliar (original work by Thompson and Elder), the old (Cole Porter) and the new (songs from the brand-new "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Newsies" musicals), as the performers moved quickly from one piece to the next

The full company opened with a bouncy "Live Out Loud" from Andrew Lippa's and Ben Crawley's musical version of "A Little Princess," moving on to Chase Miller singing a heartfelt "If the World Looked Like You," from the musical "Just Ahead." After Abigail Root did a slice of Rollin James's "Ron Bobby Had Too Big a Heart," the first piece from the "Open Road" collection, all of the men performed "Man" from "The Full Monty," the fun (and funny) attempt to maintain masculinity in the face of adversity.

Actors Michael Holding and Amanda Williams took on the sibling rivalry in Kamaya Thompson's "Schooled," with Rosalind Prickel performing an adorable ode to candy bar lust called "Oh, Henry!" from the musical "Homemade Fusion," by Michael Koorman and Christopher Dimond, Blake Brauer taking on Laertes' instructions to Ophelia, Caitlin Borek doing the crazy high (and crazy hard) aria "Glitter and Be Gay," the Leonard Bernstein/Richard Wilbur showstopper from "Candide," and Josh Conrad singing "Till I Hear You Sing," a lush bit from Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to "Phantom of the Opera."

Root, Brauer and Miller came back to sing and dance their way through "Tom, Dick or Harry," which you may know as an Ann Miller number in the film version of "Kiss Me Kate," with Bob Fosse as one of her dancing companions. No Bob Fosse here, but Root, Brauer, Miller and Peter Studlo, performing tricky choreography by Jean MacFarland Kerr that kept them neatly inside the small in-the-round staging area, while still leaping, lifting and getting all sassy.

Sammi Grant performed part of the "Dunkin America" scene from the Open Road Anthology, accompanied by Laura Williams, Rosalind Prickel and Laura Martino singing the lovely "Meadowlark," a Stephen Schwartz song from "The Baker's Wife."

And then we saw Allison Sutton with a Kia Corthron piece of "Open Road" as if she were on the subway, followed by singers Ian Coulter-Buford and Root on "Go Back Home," a soaring Kander & Ebb song from the recent "Scottsboro Boys." The show itself wasn't universally loved, but Coulter-Buford, especially, made the music sound wonderful.

Holding and Studlo came back for a war-themed scene from John Olive's "Minnesota Moon" that segued into Stephen Sondheim's "Sorry-Grateful," the song where a set of husbands ponder the conflicted nature of marriage, as sung by Studlo, Brauer and Conrad.

The ladies in the group took center stage after that, with a hilarious and rousing rendition of "All Girl Band," an anthem from a fun feminist show from the early 80s called "A... My Name Is Alice."

John Patrick Shanley's "Italian-American Reconciliation," always popular material for actors to use for monologues and duets, provided a nice platform for Holding to shine, with Laura Williams turning it back on Holding by asking him the musical question "How 'Bout a Dance?" from Frank Wildhorn's  new Broadway version of "Bonnie & Clyde." Video of that last dance has been uploaded to Youtube if you'd like a look.

After Kirsten Anderson performed another piece of "Open Road," Coulter-Buford, Borek and Martino emerged in all black with bowler hats, a tip-off we were headed into Bob Fosse territory. Kerr was the choreographer again, as Coulter-Buford led the trio in a slink, Fosse-inspired performance of "Bye Bye Blackbird," a 1926 which first appeared staged this way in Liza Minnelli's "Liza with a Z" TV special, but also showed up in the Broadway revue "Fosse."

Smith Elder's fresh and amusing "Annunciation," wherein an angel, played by Sammi Grant, appears to three women (Anderson, Sutton and Amanda Williams) to tell them one will be giving birth to a new Jesus, was the last dramatic piece of the evening, with a finale combining "Go the Distance" from Disney's "Hercules" with "Seize the Day" from the 1992 film "Newsies," which has been turned into a full musical (with the Disney label, as well) that will open on Broadway on March 15. IWU alum Evan Kasprzak is in the cast of "Newsies" on Broadway, which provides a nice note of inspiration for the graduating seniors.

Thanks, IWU and your senior School of Theatre Arts students, for offering this sneak peek to locals!

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