Friday, June 1, 2012

Jumping Into June!

It's June, which usually means days are getting longer, summer rep is beginning, pools are starting to open, and movies are getting more competitive when it comes to animation, explosions, spooky stuff, and any other popcorn-friendly commodities.

Before you jump off the diving board into "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" or that cheesy-looking "Rock of Ages" movie musical (Seriously, Tom Cruise. You are not believable as a rock star.), there are lots of other options to consider.

The University of Illinois' Summer Studio Theatre is first out of the gate, with "Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougement (As Told By Himself)" opening tonight and continuing in repertory through June 22. This fantastical theatrical piece was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies ("Dinner With Friends," "Sight Unseen," "Collected Stories") with the emphasis on high seas adventure and tall tales.

The second Summer Studio choice, "Gone Missing," opens next Thursday, June 7th, alternating with "Shipwrecked!" until June 23. "Missing" mixes songs and scenes to plumb the depths of where things go, whether what's gone is a shoe, a fortune or an arm or a leg. Summer Studio is also offering "Sprung and Awakened: a Cabaret About Change," on June 16 and 17. Kent Conrad and Paul Johnston muse on the issue of change through music and monologue, with Conrad providing vocals and Johnston on piano.

If musicals are your thing, you'll want to check out Sullivan's Little Theatre on the Square, a summer rep institution that just keeps on keeping on. Their June offerings are "Grease," the summer-lovin' special, and "7 Brides for 7 Brothers," a stage remake of the old MGM movie, with added power ballads for some bride/brother angst. You can call the Little Theatre box office at 217-728-7375 to order tickets to "Grease," which opens on June 6, or "7 Brides," which begins June 20.

A project that's close to my heart -- Heartland Theatre's annual 10-Minute Play Festival -- opens June 7 and runs through July 1. This year, the theme for the playwriting competition was "Playing Games," with Scrabble, Bingo, Tag, Rummikub and Tug-of-War among the games chosen by the winning playwrights.

You'll see eight short plays, all new and fresh off the press, and all performed in under two hours by a cast of 15 actors under the direction of 8 different directors. You can see all the details here and here. It's always a fun and popular event, so best to make your reservations now.

Urbana's Station Theatre has a three-show summer season going on, with Jacques Offenbach's "The Game of Love" up first, opening June 7.  That's directed by Steve Fiol, and stars David Barkley, one of the best voices in town, as Max, the narrator of this Viennese pastry about, you guessed it, love and romance. "Love" will be followed by a special two-nights-only staged reading of "8," the true-to-life story of California's Proposition 8 and its constitutionality, in July. And the last summer show for the Station will be the popular 90s musical "Rent," about artistic integrity vs. selling out, about paying the rent vs. hanging out, about drugs, sex, love, rock 'n' roll and the challenges of surviving in New York's Alphabet City.

If you grew up in the 60s, your idea of a perfect dad was probably at least partially formed by Fred MacMurray, the father in "My Three Sons" on TV. I don't know if that TV Dad/Father's Day connection is why the Normal Theater has chosen two Fred MacMurray films as we come up on Father's Day, but I wouldn't be surprised. These two are family friendly Disney movies, with "The Shaggy Dog" from 1959 and "The Absent-Minded Professor" from 1961. In the former, there's an ancient curse that turns a kid into a sheepdog, while the latter has MacMurray as a scientist who invents Flubber, a bouncy substance that defies gravity, turning his college town upside-down. Although it's quite late for black and white, both movies were filmed that way and then colorized much later. It's a safe bet that the Normal Theater will show the original black-and-white prints, however. "Shaggy Dog" is set for the June 7th and 8th, with "Professor" on the 9th and 10th.

The Art Theater in Champaign has a busy month planned, with all kinds of goodies for film and theater fans. To open June, they're running "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," an Anglophile's dream movie, which showcases Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton as part of a group of senior citizens who travel to India and find more than they bargained for in the titular hotel, directed by "Shakespeare in Love" director John Madden; "The Cabin in the Woods," the horror movie to end all horror movies, from the fertile brains of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (both of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame), which features IWU's own Richard Jenkins in the cast; and the two sides of "Frankenstein" (doctor/monster) portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, who rotate in the roles. I unabashedly love the Art and what owner Sanford Hess is trying to accomplish with it, so the drive to Champaign is more than worth it.

Also over in Champaign, the CUTC is offering "Thoroughly Modern Millie," the delightful 1920s-flavored musical that made a star out of Sutton Foster on Broadway, with performances June 14-24. CUTC's "Millie" stars Caitlin Caruso-Dobbs as Millie, the small-town girl who comes to New York to make her way; Tommy Howie as Jimmy, the boy she meets on her first day in the city; Sophia Magro as Miss Dorothy, her new best pal; and Janjay Knowlden as Trevor Grayden, the handsome businessman she gets a job with. I love the bright, breezy score (with new songs from Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan), the tap-happy dance numbers, and the overall campy fun of the show.

New Route Theatre brings back "The Ladies: A Musical Love Letter," a piece they performed in a workshop version last year, with performances in their new space at the YWCA in Bloomington on June 15, 16 and 17 and 22, 23 and 24. Jennifer Rusk, the fabulous vocalist who just brought down the house in Community Players' "Hairspray," will be front and center for "Ladies," which ought to be enough of an enticement right there. This musical love letter was conceived and is directed by Phil Shaw, with Ms. Rusk's vocal talents, Dave Shields on piano and Myles Singleton on trumpet. You can reserve tickets by emailing

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Normal Parks and Rec Summer Music Theatre is staging "Les Miz," the school edition, at the Connie Link Ampitheatre on the Constitution Trail under the direction of Susan Morse Cortesi. There are 60-some roles in this musical version of the classic Victor Hugo novel about crime, justice, social unrest, greed, and compassion, and they'll all be performed by high school and younger students. You can expect to see Garrett Medlock from University High School as hero Jean Valjean; Matthew Henry of Olympia as his nemesis, Javert; Megan Riley of Bloomington High School as vulnerable Fantine, trying to survive as best she can; Ryan Groves of Normal Community West as Marius, a handsome young student caught up in the fight for liberty; Miranda Harris of Normal Community West and Larissa McCoy of Normal Community as Eponine and Cosette, two young women in very different circumstances who grew up together; and Ramsey Hendricks and Mackenzie Buob, both of Bloomington High School, as the villainous Monsieur and Madame Thenardier.

According to their Facebook page, performances are scheduled for June 28 to July 1, July 5 to 8, and July 12 to 15. You can check out that page for further info.

Prairie Fire Theatre is back in business late in the month with "Tell Me on a Sunday," one woman's musical journey across America in search of love and romance. Natalie K. Stephens will play the woman at the center of "Sunday" in three performances June 29th and 30th and July 1, all to be staged at the St. John’s Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall.

And don't forget the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, which sneaks "As You Like It" and "Othello" into the end of the month, opening on the 28th and 29th, respectively. We know they're bringing back John Sipes, former artistic director, to helm "Othello," and Dylan Paul, last year's Romeo, as Orlando in "AYLI" and Captain Jack Absolute in "The Rivals" in July. And we know there will be surprises. There are always surprises under the stars at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival!


  1. The question of when black-and-white filming was phased out for Hollywood product is an interesting one, at least to me, as the 1960s were my high school and college years and I went to movies a lot and saw the change. Dramas ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," 1966) and "small" pictures ("A Thousand Clowns," 1965) were typically in black and white. Big popular flicks, including Westerns and musicals (though there was still "A Hard Day's Night," 1964 -- but that was British and oddball) were in color. I remember that when my college buddies and I went to see "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), we were all surprised that it was in color -- it was a "serious" film about racism, the type we expected to merit the seriousness of B&W. Anyway, I've inquired and researched around, and have been told that "In Cold Blood" (1967) was the last of the line. (In Hollywood of course -- we still expected B&W in European imports.) Then of course in the 1970s we got the new wave of movies filmed in B&W for artistic reasons, like "The Last Picture Show," which continues even now.

    Whew. All that, and nobody even asked me! :) Anyway, I certainly envy you the local cinematic schedule you get.

  2. Les Miserables at Connie Link Ampitheatre is directed by Bryan Vandevender.