Sunday, July 1, 2012

July Is Jam-Packed With Entertainment

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival continues performances of "As You Like It" and "Othello" this week, adding Sheridan's "The Rivals" on July 19. So far, the Festival has been sizzling, both in terms of the actual temperature in its outdoor theater and the performances on-stage. Redbird Pride Night is tonight, beginning with a pre-show performance from MooNiE (ISU alum Philip Earl Johnson) at 6 pm. MooNiE is an audience favorite, as he performs clowning and physical theater that includes slack rope walking (as opposed to tightrope walking), juggling, magic and fantastical tricks. There's a 7:30 pm curtain for "As You Like It" tonight, and then performances continue with "Othello" on the 5th. For the complete calendar, click here. For ticket information, click here.

Urbana's Station Theatre is featuring a staged reading of Dustin Lance Black's "8," a play about Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that attempted to ban gay marriage in California, and how it all shook out in the legal system, tomorrow night, July 2, and Tuesday, July 3. This "8" features an all-star cast, including Station veterans Steven M. Keen, Gary Ambler, Kay Bohannen Holley and Barbara Evans, under the direction of Mathew Green.

The Station gears up again on the 12th with a fully-staged musical, Jonathan Larson's "Rent," directed by Mikel L. Matthews, Jr. and starring Corbin Dixon as Mark, Michael Steen as Roger, and Marah Sotelo as Mimi. "Rent" is a 20th century version of Puccini's "La Bohème," with these starving artists living in New York's Alphabet District instead of Paris's French Quarter, and struggling with AIDS instead of consumption. "Rent" was a sensation with kids of the 90s, introducing musical theater to a whole new generation, and it should be perfect for the Station's minimalist black box.

Buster Keaton returns to the Normal Theater on July 5 and 6 with "The Cameraman" from 1928, Keaton's  first film with MGM and his last silent feature. It's about a hapless photographer who decides to become a newsreel cameraman to pursue a pretty girl who works as a secretary in MGM's newsreel office. Although he was not the director of this one, just the lead actor, many film scholars think "The Cameraman" marks Keaton's last really inspired work before the studio system shut him down, as his character fools around with a gang war in Chinatown, a parade for Charles Lindbergh and a little solo baseball in an empty Yankee Stadium, all as part of his attempt to succeed as a cameraman. You won't be surprised to hear that it doesn't work, even if the havoc he creates -- and the inside look at how movies were made in 1928 -- is much of the fun.

Wes Anderson, the director and writer behind "Rushmore," one of my favorite movies, as well as "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Darjeeling Limited" and other singular film experiences, has a new one out called "Moonrise Kingdom." Ads have been peppering the airwaves for a good while, showing us a tantalizing glimpse of a color-soaked world where Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and Ed Norton are chasing after a pair of children who've run away to set up their own little kingdom on a nearby island. So we've seen the ads, but where is the movie? Nowhere near, till now. "Moonrise Kingdom" has opened at Bloomington's Galaxy 14 Cinema as well as The Art in Champaign.

Hearthland Theatre's New Plays from the Heartland project begins with an open forum with guest playwright Douglas Post, founding member of the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble, teacher at Chicago Dramatists, and Chicago Regional Representative for the Dramatists Guild, at 7:30 pm on July 12, followed by staged readings of the three winning short plays on July 13 and 14. Playwrights Andrew Head ("Fireflies"), Lori Tate Mathews ("Farmers' Market") and Terri Ryburn ("Lemonade and Lightning Bugs") will be in attendance for a master class with Post and then to see their plays presented at Heartland Theatre. Admission to the performances is free, although a donation of $5 at the door is suggested.

New Route Theatre reprises "The Ladies: A Musical Love Letter" on July 13, 14 and 15, making up for a trio of performances canceled in June due to unforeseen problems with its YWCA venue. That gives you three more chances to hear the wonderful Jennifer Rusk sing favorites from the songbook of African-American female vocalists like Bessie Smith and Roberta Flack. Email to reserve tickets.

And the second run of "The Affray: Lincoln's Last Case" comes to the McLean County Museum of History on July 20 and 21 at 7 pm and July 22 at 1 pm. "The Affray" represents a collaboration between the Museum and Illinois Voices Theatre; it was written by Robert Bray and Jared Brown to dramatize the last case Abraham Lincoln took as a defense attorney before he ran for the presidency. Seating is limited in the second-floor Fifer Courtroom at the Museum, and tickets have been hot commodities in the past. You'll need to reserve now (call 309-827-0428 or visit the Museum in person) if you'd like to get in.

Community Players will stage auditions for the classic Kaufman and Hart comedy, "You Can't Take It With You," on July 16 and 17. Jeremy Stiller will direct, with Joel Shoemaker producing this Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1936 about the goofy Sycamore family and how things transpire when their daughter Alice meets and falls in love with Tony Kirby, a young man from a more prosperous and proper family. Alice's dad puts together fireworks in the basement, sister Effie makes candy and dreams of being a ballerina, Grandpa only does things that make him happy (which does not include paying his taxes), and guests like the ice man who never left and a Russian Grand Duchess with a drinking problem further complicate matters. Let's just say the script is full of eccentric characters who'll be fun to audition for!

As July comes to a close, the Midwest Institute of Opera offers "Don Giovanni," the Mozart opera about an unrepentant rake and his comeuppance, in two performances July 29 (at 1 pm) and July 31 (at 7:30 pm) at Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. Conductor Joshua Greene of the Metropolitan Opera takes the baton, with direction by James Marvel. The MIO cast includes Joseph Arko as Don Giovanni, Kathryn Frady as Donna Anna, Amelia Ciskey as Zerlina and Sarah Elizabeth Williams as Donna Elvira.

This is the Midwest Institute of Opera's second summer season as co-founders John and Tracy Koch strive to give emerging professional musicians a chance in the spotlight after an "intensive no-nonsense summer opera program." You can check their Facebook page here for up-to-the-minute details or click here for ticket information.


  1. It's interesting the schedule on which movies "go wide" these days. "Moonrise Kingdom" hit the local theaters around Delaware at least a week ago, and I saw it last week -- primarily because much of the music is taken from works by my favorite composer, Benjamin Britten. His opera for community performance, "Noye's Fludde," occupies a central plot position, as does a recording of his "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra." And the end credits kept me riveted to the end, also for musical reasons.

    It's quite far afield for readers of this blog, but I want to mention that Music by the Lake, in Williams Bay Wi near the shore of Geneva Lake, is presenting the seldom-seen 1932 musical "Music in the Air," by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Performances take place July 21 and 22 in the Ferro Pavilion (outdoors but with covered audience and stage). I saw the semi-concert staging at Encores a few years ago, and it's a delight.

  2. Just saw it and will have more to report when I have a chance! I definitely noticed the music, although I did not know that Benjamin Britten was your favorite composer. Just when you think you know someone!

    I did think that the Noah in "Noye's Fludde" had an awfully good voice for such a small community. But you have to suspend disbelief in Wes Anderson Land, where things are just different.

    And oddly enough, the theater was packed. That may be because it has been dangerously hot here, so people are stampeding to the movies where it's cool, or it could be that we've all seen all the @#$! commercials and were waiting with bated breath for it to get here. I'm guessing the former.