Friday, November 30, 2012

T.I.M. (The Improvised Musical) Wants You! Westhoff Theatre, Tomorrow.

Did you ever watch Whose Line Is It, Anyway? -- either British or American variety -- when they improvised songs? I'll never forget Mike McShane and Josie Lawrence making up a love song about kitty litter for the "Song Styles" section of the British program.  

Who ever thought feline defecation could be such a swell and singular sensation?

I have no reason to think that T.I.M. (The Improvised Musical) ever makes up songs about cat poo, but then again, they very well could. T.I.M. is a Milwaukee-based musical improv group. At each and every show, they promise to "create a whirlwind story in song and dance right before your eyes, based solely on the audience’s suggestions! Plus, the show is accompanied by a 3-piece band that improvises songs you've never heard before!"

That means, if they're going for a kitty litter musical, it will be a whole #@%^ musical, not just one little love song. Take that, Whose Line!

And you don't have to go to Milwaukee to participate or toss them a suggestion, either. T.I.M. is coming to Bloomington-Normal tomorrow night, December 1, with a workshop from 3 to 6 pm and a performance from 7:30 to 9, all at Westhoff Theatre on the Illinois State University campus. This tour is T.I.M.'s first, and ISU is their first stop.

The workshop will include three sections, with info on acting and voice, improvising with the band, and a theatre administration Q and A. They note that you do not have to be present for all three pieces of the workshop, and, in fact, the band portion might just overlap with the theatre administration part. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but then, I'm not a free-spirited master improv troupe that makes its own rules and sets its own schedule.

Part of the schedule they're setting for tomorrow is an opening act, which will be ISU's own Improv Mafia.  I'm guessing the Improv Mafia folks will also be participating in the workshop portion of the afternoon, since... Why wouldn't they? They have T.I.M. coming to play with them!

This event, like so many cool and different theatrical things happening on campus, is sponsored by FreeStage.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Plenty of NUTCRACKERS to Go Around

Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker, is a perennial favorite during the holidays. The story, told through dance, begins on Christmas Eve, as a wealthy family, including children Clara and Fritz, hosts a party to trim their tree. One of their guests is the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer, Clara's and Fritz's mysterious godfather, who gives two magical dolls to Clara and presents a nutcracker to Fritz.

But it's Clara who wants the Nutcracker. After everyone has left and the family has gone to bed, Clara steals back down to find it and she experiences strange visions (aided by Herr Drosselmeyer) of a battle between the Rat King and his forces against the Nutcracker and his. The Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince who spirits Clara away to magical lands where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy and is treated to a variety of dance reflecting different cultures. Finally Herr Drosselmeyer reappears, returning Clara safe and sound to her family's home, happy with her Christmas Eve adventures.

The Nutcracker is such a favorite around here that everybody has one. Or at least three Central Illinois towns have them. There very well may be even more Nutcrackers out there in Le Roy and Farmer City and Hoopeston and Elmwood and Goodfield, but for right now, we'll just work with Bloomington, Urbana and Peoria.

Urbana's take on The Nutcracker is up first, with performances beginning tomorrow night in the Tryon Festival Theatre at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. This Nutcracker combines the Champaign-Urbana Ballet, under the direction of Deanne Doty, with Sinfonia da Camera, under the direction of Ian Hobson. Sara Hawthorne and Valerie Linsner will dance the role of Clara at different performances between November 30 and December 9. You can peruse the program for the event if you want a look at the entire cast or to read more about the Champaign-Urbana Ballet and Sinfonia da Camera.

The Peoria Ballet Nutcracker has performances on December 8 and 9 at the Peoria Civic Center Theater. If you'd like to enhance your Nutcracker experience, you can become a Friend of Clara to get inside info on this year's performance and buy your tickets earlier than everyone else, too.

The Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts hosts USA Ballet and their Nutcracker at 3 pm on December 16. USA Ballet, a "world class international ballet company" based in Bloomington-Normal, was founded in 1990 by Dr. Ken Bello and Michelle Holmes-Bello. This performance will be danced by the Youth Ensemble from USA Ballet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Auditions for LEND ME A TENOR December 10-11 at Community Players

Community Players and director Cris Embree will hold auditions for their January production of Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor on December 10 and 11. Tenor is an opera-inspired comedy from farceur Ludwig, who loves to play games with lookalikes, disguises, comic predicaments and sight gags.

In the play, personnel at the Cleveland Grand Opera Company are beyond excited to welcome famed tenor Tito Merelli to their company for a one-night-only performance of Verdi's Otello. Max, a lowly assistant to the opera's general manager, is given the job of making sure nothing goes wrong, but the larger-than-life tenor and his hot-tempered wife are quite a handful. There are added complications from everybody in Cleveland who wants to meet, sing with or get close to Merelli, from opera patrons to hotel staff and Max's girlfriend. As everything goes wrong, Max may have to don an extra Otello costume and sing the role himself. Oops!

Lend Me a Tenor is scheduled for performances from January 25 to February 3 at Community Players Theatre at 201 Robinhood Lane in Bloomington.

Embree will be looking for four men and four women to play the following roles:

MAX, 25-35. Assistant to Saunders who fancies himself a tenor. 
MAGGIE, 25-35. Max's girlfriend and Saunders' daughter. She has a major thing for Merelli.
SAUNDERS, 50s-60s. Maggie's father, General Manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera     Company. 
TITO MERELLI, 40s-50s. A world-famous Italian tenor, known as Il Stupendo to his fans. 
MARIA, 40s-50s. Tito's wife. She's fiery and passionate, and none too pleased with her husband's womanizing ways. 
DIANA, 35-45. A sexy soprano who will do what it takes to get ahead. 
JULIA, 55-65. Chairman of the Opera Guild. A grande dame. 
BELLHOP, 20-35. He, too, is obsessed with Merelli, opera and getting into that hotel room.

Lend Me a Tenor has been on Broadway twice, with a 1989 production starring Victor Garber as Max and Philip Bosco as Saunders, and a 2010 revival with Justin Bartha, currently starring on TV's The New Normal, as Max, Monk's Tony Shalhoub as Saunders and Anthony LaPaglia as Tito Merelli.

The play won Tony Awards in 1989 for Bosco (Best Actor) and Jerry Zaks (Best Director), along with a pile of Drama Desk Awards and Tony nominations.

For more about Community Players' production, you can visit the CP website here.

Local Writers Share Prose and Verse with New Route Theatre

Irene Taylor, a member of the New Route Theatre Board of Directors, will lead Word Weavers, a group of local creative writers who happen to be 55 and older, as they share their experiences and life lessons through the the written word. This evening of prose and verse performances -- called Tapestries II -- will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday, December 11, at the New Route Theatre space in the YWCA at 1201 North Hershey Road in Bloomington.

Word Weavers members will share stories that range from "memories of Saturday nights making the circuit between Steak ‘n Shakes in the family car to personal reflections on where we were and how far we’ve come." Featured writers include Joe and Judy Boudreaux, Sheri Brownfield, Joan Crooks, Ruthie Cobb, and Jim and Judy Thorpe.

There is no set admission fee to the performance, but your donations at the door will certainly be accepted. The entrance to New Route's space inside the YWCA is on the lower level on the east side of the building.

To make reservations or ask for more information about Word Weavers, you may contact Irene Taylor at

New Route Theatre is a multi-racial and multi-cultural theatre company that produces new as well as established works that explore the nature of the human spirit in the context of ethical, political, and social choices. You can find  New Route Theatre on Facebook to keep track of Word Weavers and other upcoming programs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More DOWNTON ABBEY on the Way!

As we here in the States eagerly await the arrival of Downton Abbey, Season 3, the Brits (who've already seen all of that one except the special Christmas episode) are celebrating the news that there will be a Season 4.

The newest news is that filming for Season 4 will begin at Highclere Castle and London's Ealing Studios in February, with eight episodes, plus another Christmas episode, set to be broadcast on Britain's ITV later in 2013. No word yet on when exactly these episodes will be set, although it sounds as if we'll still be in the early 1920s.

Laura Mackie, Director of Drama at ITV, gave these hints in the official announcement: "Viewers can look forward to more drama, comedy, love, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, ambition, despair and romance," Mackie said. "We’re thrilled to welcome back a drama series that has become a much anticipated part of all our lives every autumn and achieved success around the globe."

Meanwhile, Season 3, which takes the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants from Spring 1920, when Lady Mary and Matthew are finally planning their wedding and Bates the valet is still languishing in jail, through the following Christmas. Expect more drama from evil servants O'Brien and Thomas, even though they're now foes instead of co-conspirators, family complications for all the Crawley women, and more turmoil over that bloody inheritance involving the Earl of Grantham and Matthew, the heir apparent.

Will true blue Anna find evidence to exonerate Bates? Will Daisy ever be anything but a scullery maid? Will Mary and Matthew fall into wedded bliss? Will Edith find a love of her own? What about Sybil, pregnant and married to the Crawley's former chauffeur? And how will Cora's free-spirited American mother, played by Shirley MacLaine, factor into all of this?

The show's British fans already know the answers to those questions, but Americans will have to wait till January 6 to find out. PBS will air Season 3's episodes over seven Sundays, with a marathon of Season 2 episodes starting December 2nd at 8 pm to ramp up to the new ones.

Urbana's WILL adds a Sneak Preview of the first episode of Season 3 at I Hotel on December 18, with Krannert Center costumers and dessert to sweeten the evening.

If you want to see videos and pictures and interviews to whet your Downton appetite, check out PBS's main Masterpiece site. There are good teasers out there on iTunes, but stay away from the Downton Abbey Facebook page unless you want to be spoiled!

Monday, November 26, 2012

ISU Fall Dance Concert Opens December 6 (and Welcomes Donations for the Redbird Giving Tree)

Billed as a "celebration of movement, costumes, light, and music," the Illinois State University Fall Dance Concert opens next next week at ISU's Center for the Performing Arts. Performances begin on December 6 at 7:30 pm and continue at 7:30 pm on the 7th and 8th, with a 2 pm matinee also on the 8th.

This annual event features new choreographic pieces by faculty in the ISU School of Theatre and Dance as well as work by a few invited guest artists, all under the guidance of Sara Semonis, Artistic Director of Illinois State Dance Theatre.

Look for "an ecletic combination of modern, contemporary, and classical ballet styles" as ISU dance faculty and students kick up their heels and kick off the holiday season.

If you're interested in tickets, you can visit this Ticketmaster link or call 309-438-2535 to reach the Center for the Performing Arts box office directly.

Since the Redbird Giving Tree is also located in the Center for the Performing Arts, concertgoers may choose to bring nonperishable food items for donation to the Midwest Food Bank. If you bring a bag of cans and boxes, you will be able to drop it off under the Giving Tree when you arrive for the dance concert.

OUR DAVID Coming Soon at New Route

Ian Mairs' Our David was a one-shot deal for New Route Theatre last year, but now it moves to the mainstage, with six performances from December 7 to 16 in the theater space tucked inside the YWCA on Hershey Road in Bloomington.

The move to the YWCA plus additional performances mean that director Bridgette Richard and her cast can dig a little deeper into the play's issues and take a little more room to do their digging.

When she directed the show originally, Richard wrote in program notes that the story of Our David was one "that most anyone can find some connection with. When you get down to the basics, it's two people who have dealt with loss, and also struggle with the human habit to stereotype and pass judgment on someone without knowing them."

The two characters who inhabit Our David are Velma and Clyde, neighbors who do not see eye to eye. Each is vulnerable after a recent loss and not interested in making friends with someone from such a different background. But Velma, a widow who has spent most of her life in North Florida, and Clyde, a gay New Yorker who has just moved there as part of his attempt to nurse his wounds after losing his lover and most of his friends to AIDS, may have more in common than they care to admit. Still, neither would've guessed that a bad copy of Michelangelo's David, shown on the poster image above, would be the force that brings them onto common ground.

Mairs shows a light approach to dark subject matter, and the humor and heart in Our David were noted in reviews for its premiere production in Florida in 2000.

With Richard at the helm as director, Nathan Bottorff returns to the role of Clyde while Carol Scott plays Velma this time out.

Tickets range from $8-10, and you have a choice of 7:30 pm performances on December 7, 8, 14 and 15, and 2:30 pm matinees on December 9 or 16, all held at the YWCA at 1201 North Hershey in Bloomington.

For more information about New Route's Our David, check out the Facebook page for the event.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR Returns December 7-9 at Bloomington CPA

The Pantagraph's Holiday Spectacular takes the spectacular part of its name quite seriously, annually involving a cast and crew of over 300, plus an assortment of sheep, donkeys, goats, puppies, llamas and camels. In the past, the Holiday Spectacular has combined professional and amateur local talent that includes special needs children and adults, school groups, church choirs, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and a variety of local singers, dancers and actors.

Again this year, Nancy Steele Brokaw has written the script, and Lori Adams will direct. I can't even imagine how Adams manages to corral that many people into a unified whole, but she'll get help from musical director Kathryn Henderson, choir director Michael Schneider, children's choir director Dee Henderson, and choreographers Janet Hayslip-Streenz and Stacy Terry.

Because community involvement in the cast is so large, there's a pretty good chance you will see someone you know if you venture forth to catch the Spectacular in one of three performances from December 7 to 9 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. If you'd like to peruse this year's cast list to look for your friends and neighbors, it's posted right here, but it may take you awhile to get through the whole thing.

That list also gives you a hint of what to expect, what with separate groups of tappers and Wooden Soldiers, as well as the Dobski Dancers, dad-and-daughter dance teams, a vocal jazz ensemble from State Farm, and a troupe of eight actors, including State Representative Dan Brady playing himself.

This picture from last year also offers clues, since presumably they'll go for the same high production values, with bright, beautiful costumes and stage effects. It looks pretty spectacular, doesn't it?

For more information on the 2012 Holiday Spectacular, check out their Facebook page and website. Ticket information is available here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Casting Announced for OKLAHOMA at ISU

With auditions for next semester's productions still on-going, Illinois State University's Department of Theatre and Dance has finished casting for its version of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!  ISU's production of Oklahoma! will brings all its cowboys and farmers to the Center for the Performing Arts in performances from February 22 to March 2, 2013.

Richard Corley, who directed last semester's Anon(ymous), takes the reins of Oklahoma! with Robbie Holden as Curly, the cowboy with the lovely locks who likes to sing about the bright golden haze on the meadow and those fetching surreys with the fringe on top. Laurey, the object of Curly's affections, will be played by Christie Duffer, while Lauren Sheffey will portray Laurey's Aunt Eller, and Ross Kugman will take on bad guy Judd Fry.

In terms of the subplot/second love triangle, Lauren Pfeiffer, who appeared in Mother Courage earlier this year and the Electra that went to Chicago, will play Ado Annie, the girl who cain't say no, with John Ramseyer as Will Parker, her cowboy beau, and Nico Tangorra, fresh off Noises Off, as peddler Ali Hakim, the other man in Ado Annie's life.

Tickets for ISU's Oklahoma! are already available, and it's probably not a bad idea to get them now if you're interested. It promises to be a hot item since ISU doesn't often choose this kind of material.

Auditions December 2 and 4 for SONS OF THE PROPHET in Urbana

Area actors need to warm up those monologues! Illinois State University is in the middle of auditions for all its winter and spring shows right this minute, and Heartland Theatre is holding auditions for Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still in mid-December. Plus Community Players' will be looking for performers for Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor December 10 and 11.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, December 2 and Monday, December 3, Urbana's Station Theatre will hold auditions for Sons of the Prophet, a new comedy-drama from playwright Stephen Karam. A finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Sons of the Prophet was billed as "a refreshingly honest take on how we cope with wounds that just won't heal" when it played at New York's Roundabout Theatre. The Roundabout's poster for the show -- with its garden gnome sporting a black eye -- was so adorable I'm posting it here just for kicks. That production was quite successful, amassing lots of wins and nominations for Obies, Lucille Lortel Awards, Drama Desks and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Lead actor Santino Fontana was especially well received.

The Station has picked up the Roundabout's material on the play for their audition flyer, with this description: "If to live is to suffer, then Joseph Douaihy is more alive than most. With unexplained chronic pain and the fate of his reeling family on his shoulders, Joseph's health, sanity, and insurance premium are on the line. In an age when modern medicine has a cure for just about everything, Sons of the Prophet is the funniest play about human suffering you're likely to see."

Karam's play's title refers to Kahlil Gibran's book "The Prophet," with the play's action organized around the chapter headings in that poetic piece of pop philosophy. Joseph Douaihy is one of two brothers in the play, the older at 29, with Charles only 18. The family is Lebanese-American and claims a distant familial connection to Gibran, which informs part of the plot when Joseph is pushed to write a book himself, but is challenged by his own mysterious illness and his mentally unstable editor, who also happens to be his boss and therefore holds the key to his health insurance.

Joseph, who is gay, lives with Charles, who is also gay, and their ornery uncle in a not-at-all nice area of Pennsylvania, thrown together after Bill Douaihy, Joseph and Charlie's dad, passes away. How he dies is important, but tricky to explain. It seems a local football player left a fake deer on the highway as a prank, Bill saw it while driving and swerved to avoid it, had a crash, and then died a week later in the hospital. But he died of a heart attack. It's all part of Karam's inquiry into the crazy nature of Fate or Luck or Destiny or whatever you want to call it, as those cosmic forces keep ladling out big helpings of bad news to the Douaihy family. If the family is drowning in tragedy, what sets Sons of the Prophet apart is the comedy, and how Joseph and his kin manage to find a life raft in humor and in each other.

Sons of the Prophet will be directed by Gary Ambler for the Station Theatre, with performances from February 21 to March 9. Roles available include Joseph, Charlie and Uncle Bill, as well as Vin, the 18-year-old football star who caused the accident; Gloria, 59, the crazy editor; and Timothy, a local TV reporter who offers romantic complications for Joseph.

Auditions, which will consist of cold readings from the script, will be held at the Station Theatre at 223 North Broadway in Urbana on Sunday, December 2, from 2 to 5 pm and Monday, December 3, from 7 to 10 pm. For more information, you are asked to email Gary Ambler at

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lee Blessing's INDEPENDENCE Comes to the Station November 29

I'm sure you're all tired of me talking about plays about three sisters (my dream has long been to convince somebody to do Three Sisters, King Lear and Crimes of the Heart in repertory) but it isn't my fault these three-sister plays keep popping up. Illinois Wesleyan just did The Memory of Water, Shelagh Stevenson's take on the multi-sib theme, and now Urbana's Station Theatre is offering Lee Blessing's Independence. Yep. Three sisters in that one, too.

Blessing's play was a Humana Festival play in 1984, and it's certainly been well-produced and well-regarded ever since, as it kicks around sisterhood, responsibility, family ties and personal independence. Two of the three Briggs sisters -- Jo and Sherry -- have stayed home in Independence, Iowa, where Jo takes care of their unstable mother and Sherry, the wild child, is still in high school. As the play opens, Jo has called Kess, the oldest, now a professor in Minnesota, back home to decide what's to be done with the huge problem called Mom.

But Kess's visit brings up all kinds of old wounds, with unhappiness, unpleasant revelations and conflicting interests at every turn. Can you be part of a family and do what you want? Or do you have to give in and be what the others need you to be? Is there ever a time you can neatly cut those family ties and walk away?

I'm not sure there are answers to Blessing's questions, but the issues are certainly familiar to anyone who's ever made it through a Thanksgiving dinner with different generations and different personalities represented at the table.

Deb Richardson directs this Independence for the Station Theatre, with Nancy Keener as the mother from hell and Malia Andrus, Martha Mills and Jessa Thomas as her three very different daughters. The Station production opens next Thursday, November 29, with performances through December 15. All performances are at 8 pm.

ARGO Really Is as Good as They Say

If you're already bored by eating and shopping, and you're looking to do something else with what's left of your Thanksgiving break, the movie Argo may just be the answer. Who doesn't need to fight those tryptophans and keep the ol' brain working?

Argo is a Ben Affleck project, with Mr. Affleck directing and starring in this "based on true events" trip back to the late 70s. No, he doesn't look like Tony Mendez, the real CIA master-of-disguise/"extraction" expert he portrays, the hero behind a secret, dangerous and very creative mission to get six U.S. embassy employees out of Iran. Those six had managed to slip out of the embassy as Iranian militants seized the place and took everybody still there hostage. Once out, the six found sanctuary in the basement of the Canadian embassy, but that wasn't safe, either, and the CIA knew they had to find a way to sneak them out of Iran completely. But how?

Poster for the fake Argo movie.
Mendez's plan was to pretend that a campy science fiction movie was being made, complete with storyboards and posters and ads in the trades, and then get to Iran to pretend to scout for locations for the fake movie. He came up with identities (and Canadian passports) for the six Americans, so that they could pose as his fake Canadian film crew and leave Iran when he did. It sounds crazy and impossible. And yet that's exactly what happened in 1979. The true story of the CIA's involvement was classified for years after the operation, and a cover story, that the escape had all been the work of friendly Canadians, was promoted. There was even a Canadian TV movie telling that tale in 1981.

If Affleck doesn't look like Mendez, he has the untidy hair and beard to look decidedly 70s-ish, and it's clear that somebody made a concerted effort to find actors who resembled the other historical personages in the story. We get to see all the real people at the end, with their photos compared to the actors who've played them. Those actors include Christopher Denham, a U of I grad who played a lot of roles onstage at Krannert Center, including Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, as Mark Lijek, one of the American diplomatic personnel shepherded out by Mendez.

Seeing this kind of movie is weird if you lived through those times. And, yes, I was there in the 70s. Yes, I remember the Iranian hostage crisis that Argo centers on. I remember going to the courthouse with a friend to finalize her divorce in January, 1981, and seeing a sign that said "Free at last!" outside the courthouse, as the people at the mall next door celebrated the end of the long hostage ordeal by putting letters up on their marquee. I remember that my friend started to laugh at that "Free at last!" sign and how appropriate it was for her own situation.

Hamilton Jordan
Kyle Chandler

I also remember Hamilton Jordan, adviser to Jimmy Carter, although I've certainly never considered whether he resembled Kyle Chandler, who plays Jordan in the movie. There are so many good actors peppered through Argo that you have to work hard not to call out, "Oooh, John Goodman! Alan Arkin! Bryan Cranston! Victor Garber! Zeljko Ivanek! Richard Kind! Richard Dillane! Titus Welliver! Phillip Baker Hall!" as they roll past.

Better to fall into the movie's world and forget you recognize all those faces. Because the story is plenty gripping and suspenseful without Hey, It's That Guy! games.

It doesn't matter if you remember how the real plot turned out or even if you're aware in what respects the movie veers away from the facts. You'll still be biting your nails, desperate to know if these six regular joes can get to the airport and out of Iran before anybody figures out who they are and where they are.

Affleck has crafted a jittery, nervy film, fast enough and skillful enough to pull you along, set up the dominoes and knock them all down, with just enough humor on the Hollywood side of the equation to make sure the story never lags. Goodman and Arkin are great as the makeup artist and producer who collaborate on the fictional movie, and I won't be surprised if Arkin nabs another Oscar for his role.

I also liked Denham, Clea DuVall, who plays his wife, and an up-and-comer named Scoot McNairy as the least obliging of the captives.

Argo is based on a real story, of course, as told by Joshua Bearman in Wired magazine. Some of the details were modified by screenwriter Chris Terrio to make a better script, but the real deal is pretty entertaining. If you want to read more about it after seeing the movie, just click on the link earlier in this paragraph. Bearman's piece is terrific.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

JOSEPH Holiday Tradition Returns to Eastlight

East Peoria's Eastlight Theatre brings back its perennial favorite, the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with performances beginning November 30.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat began its life as a short "pop cantata" for a boys' school performance in London, and then became a concept album. After Jesus Christ Superstar made a name for Lloyd Webber and Rice on stage, Joseph, too, became a full-length musical, with successful productions in London's West End, on Broadway and around the world. It even spawned a show called Any Dream Will Do on British TV where potential Josephs battled for the right to play the title role in the 2007 West End revival.

As Eastlight notes, the Lloyd Webber/Rice Joseph is based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Joseph was the 11th son (out of 12) of Jacob. He was also the favorite, which did not sit well with his 11 brothers, who plot to kidnap him and sell him into slavery in Egypt. But the plot backfires on them when Joseph rises to prominence as a dream interpreter for Pharoah. Back in Canaan, his brothers have fallen on hard times, and their miseries lead them to grovel at the feet of the Pharoah's right-hand-man, who happens to be the brother they betrayed so long ago.

For Eastlight, Brandon Chandler plays Joseph, while Tami Frow-Meister acts as the Narrator, Joel Shoemaker plays Potiphar and Deric Kimler takes on the role of the Pharaoh. Jeremy Kelly directs a cast that includes a youth chorus, one of the ways Joseph is a family-friendly show.

A scene from Eastligh's 2011 Joseph
This musical is sung-through, with very little dialogue, and the score covers all different musical styles. Eastlight has made it work for them for over 20 years, offering performances during the holiday season. This year, they'll begin with a 7:30 performance on the 30th, followed by seven more shows from December 1 to 9. Tickets to all performances are available here.

They are also offering a "Joseph Experience" at their closing performance at 2 pm on the 9th, when audience members are invited to participate by way of a sing-along. Prop bags to made the experience even more interactive will also be available for purchase.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bad News for BOSS, Good News for James Vincent Meredith

The Starz TV series Boss, starring Kelsey Grammer as a powerful (and powerfully unstable) mayor of Chicago, has been canceled. Boss enjoyed two seasons of political and personal intrigue for the mayor before Starz pulled the plug. Entertainment Weekly reports that Starz has made the move in order to free up some room for four series coming next year, including new series DaVinci's Demons and The White Queen, season two of Magic City, and the final season of Spartacus: War of the Damned. Another new Starz series, Black Sails, will bow in 2012.

Although Boss won't get a season three, Deadline is reporting that there's a possibility producer Lionsgate will make a movie to wrap up the storylines left hanging at the end of season two.

James Vincent Meredith
It's no surprise that James Vincent Meredith, the U of I and Station Theatre alum and Steppenwolf ensemble member who played Alderman Ross, a political foe of Grammer's Mayor Kane, will be keeping busy even without Boss. It was announced earlier this month that Meredith has been added to the Chicago cast of the eagerly awaited musical The Book of Mormon in the role of Mafala Hatimbi, played by Michael Potts in the original Broadway cast.

Meredith was in Superior Donuts on Broadway and The Tempest, The Crucible, Clybourne Park and The March in Chicago. He did Six Degrees of Separation at the Station in Urbana before leaving to begin his professional career.

If you're interested in seeing Meredith in The Book of Mormon, click here for ticket information. Performances begin December 12, 2012, and will run at least through June 2, 2013. So far, sales have been brisk, and Broadway in Chicago says your best bet for decent seats is to go for Tuesday or Wednesday performances.

Dueling WHITE CHRISTMASES on Stage and Screen

If you love White Christmas -- either the Irving Berlin song as a stand-alone or the 1954 Paramount film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye -- you'll get three chances to bask in the snowy glow this season.

Both the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, where the song was introduced, and Community Players' stage version of the famous film will open locally on November 29.

The movie Holiday Inn features der Bingle with Fred Astaire instead of Danny Kaye, as Bing and Fred play a pair of song (Bing) and dance (Fred) men. In this one, they're feuding over girls (first Virginia Dale and then Marjorie Reynolds) and career aspirations, as Fred dumps the act to be a duo with Lila (Dale) while Bing runs off to a country inn in Vermont to open his own holiday-inspired supper club, with Linda (Reynolds) as his vocal partner. Complications, disguises and dirty tricks ensue, and there are a lot of musical numbers matched to holidays, with "Let's Say It with Firecrackers" for the 4th of July and "Be Careful, It's My Heart" for Valentine's Day. What they do for Abraham Lincoln's birthday is best left unsaid. But Fred's firecracker dance is a pip, and both "Happy Holiday" and "White Christmas" (the song) are lovely.

The Normal Theater will screen Holiday Inn on November 29 and 30 and December 1-2, with all shows at 7 pm. 

Community Players takes on the musical version of White Christmas adapted for the stage, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and a new book written in 2004 by David Ives and Paul Blake. This time, entertainers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis team up with a sister act to try to save the Vermont inn owned by the general the men served under in World War II. It also features "Happy Holiday" and "White Christmas," of course, as well as quite a few songs you'll recognize from the movie, like "Sisters," the one about the "devoted" sisters who don't let anything come between "me and my mister," "Snow," "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," and "What Can You Do With a General?"

Deb Smith directs this sweet, sentimental musical for Community Players, with a cast led by Ray Rybarczyk and Jason Strunk in the Bing and Danny roles, with Lindsey Kaupp and Larisa McCoy as the tuneful Haynes sisters. Co-producer John Lieder plays the general whose inn they're trying to save, while Mary P. Weise plays his wisecracking housekeeper and John D. Poling steps in as Ralph Sheldrake, an old army buddy of the boys.

The show opens with a preview performance at 7:30 pm on Thursday, November 29, followed by performances November 30, and December 1-2, 6-9 and 13-16. Click here for ticket information.

And if you'd like to compare and contrast the stage and screen versions of the same story, the Normal Theater will also bring White Christmas the movie to town from December 6 to 9. As noted, the score and story are much the same, although you're trading an in-person musical sung and danced in front of you by friends and neighbors for the Technicolor version with movie stars on the big screen at the vintage Normal Theater. Totally different experience!

You might want to go for both (or all three) if your holiday spirit is in need of a boost.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Auditions Announced for TIME STANDS STILL at Heartland

Time Stands Still, the Donald Margulies play about journalists, ethics and how covering international conflict affects one's personal life is scheduled to play at Heartland Theatre next Feburary. In the meantime, director Sandra Zielinski will be assembling her team of actors and getting the play's gritty issues up on their feet. To that end, Zielinski will be holding auditions December 16, 17 and 18 at Heartland Theatre.

There are two women and two men in Time Stands Still, with photojournalist Sarah front and center. When the play begins, Sarah is attempting to mend after suffering injuries in a bombing somewhere in the Mideast. She's used to recording events as they unfold, right there on the front line, and this recuperation period safe at home makes her uneasy. Does no excitement and no danger also mean no purpose?

Her long-time boyfriend, James, himself a journalist, is already there, waiting at home. He was injured, too, and that has made him think it's time to settle down and stop traveling halfway around the world, putting himself in the middle of other people's messes. He wants to get married, have kids, and act like normal people for a change.

Sarah has never considered herself the marrying kind, and the example of her editor, Richard, and his new bride, Mandy, who's half his age, isn't exactly endearing Sarah to the institution. To Sarah, Mandy seems like a cheerfully brainless twit. The fact that she's perfectly happy that way is is even more infuriating.

Who's right? Who's wrong? What is the point of a well-lived life, anyway? Is it ever possible to be an objective observer and not get involved when the world is exploding around you?

In the Broadway production of Time Stands Still directed by the legendary Daniel Sullivan, Laura Linney played Sarah, with Brian d'Arcy James as James, Eric Bogosian as Richard the editor, and Alicia Silverstone as Mandy. Earlier this year, Austin Pendleton directed it for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, with Sally Murphy as Sarah, Randall Newsome as James, ISU alum Frances Guinan as Richard and Kristina Valada-Viars as Mandy.

If the play's issues of responsibility, ethics and personal choices appeal to you and you feel like you fit one of those roles, you'll want to pencil December 16, 17 and 18 in on your calendar. Auditions will be held from 2 to 4:30 pm on Sunday the 16th, 7 to 10 on Monday the 17th, and 7 to 9 pm on Tuesday the 18th. For more information, you can visit Heartland's Auditions page here, or the current season page here.

And if you'd like a copy of the script to study up, email me, 'cause I have one!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT a Blast From the Past

There are always interesting bits and pieces of cinema history showing up on Turner Classic Movies, and History Is Made at Night, which aired this morning at 5 am, is certainly in that category.

For starters, it was directed by Frank Borzage, someone you don't hear much about anymore, even though he won the very first directing Oscar for 7th Heaven, a 1927 Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell tearjerker about a lowly sewer worker and the woman he loves, both caught up in World War I. Although he started as an actor, Borzage was a working director in Hollywood from the days of silent films, from 1913's The Mystery of the Yellow Aster Mine (according to the Internet Movie Database, anyway), all the way up to a 1961 Italian/French production called Journey Beneath the Desert, about a helicopter crew that crashes into the lost city of Atlantis. Borzage started that one, but couldn't complete it due to illness, and he died in 1962.

After the Oscar for 7th Heaven, he picked up another one for a little-known film called Bad Girl (about "a mug and a jane") in 1931, and he won a lifetime achievement award from the Director's Guild of America in 1961.

His films were known for a deeply romantic streak, casting lovers against turbulent, destructive forces beyond their control, whether those forces were war, society, clash of cultures, family issues, Fascism, or a really nasty husband, as in History Is Made at Night.

And that's what makes History Is Made at Night a curiosity. It intertwines the dark story of an abusive husband who is always lurking in shadows, filled with rage and jealousy, with a very sweet, light romance between a beautiful society woman and the best headwaiter in Paris. Colin Clive, Dr. Frankenstein himself, plays the horrible husband, while the dashing Charles Boyer is the swoony headwaiter who takes about five minutes to fall completely and totally in love with the wife, played by the always charming Jean Arthur. Arthur is Irene Vail, the unhappy wife of shipping magnate Bruce Vail. She leaves him, intending to get a divorce, but he pulls an ugly trick, paying her chauffeur to get her into a compromising position to hold off the divorce. (I admit I don't understand that scheme, since it seems being caught with a lover would be grounds for a divorce, not an obstacle to one. See: The Gay Divorcee. But that's the plot we're working with in History Is Made at Night, so we may as well go with it.)

In any event, Boyer's character Paul Dumont is the one who saves Irene from the evil henchman, er, chauffeur. Dumont carries her off to the restaurant where he works, introduces her to his best pal, excitable Italian chef Cesare, and the two dance the night away.

That part of the story is quite lovely, all Lady and the Tramp meets Midnight, and it suits the fizzy charms of Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer perfectly. Meanwhile, the gothic horror portion of the story is cloaked in sharp angles and deep shadows, and it and Colin Clive seem to belong to a completely different movie.

And then there's the third jagged piece of this ill-fitting puzzle. When we get to the point where Irene and Paul get past her husband's dirty tricks, reunite and board a ship for Paris to clear their names, History Is Made at Night suddenly turns into a Titanic melodrama. Remember when I told you that Bruce, the horrid husband, is a shipping tycoon? Well, Paul and Irene are stupid enough to make their trip on one of his ships. Ol' Bruce is furious that Paul and Irene are back together and there's nothing he can do about it, so he basically orders the captain of the ship they're on to "Damn the icebergs, full speed ahead!" So, of course, the ship obligingly smacks right into an iceberg and our lovers are in peril once again. Will they split up for lifeboat reasons? Will they go down with the ship? And what about Cesare, who stowed away just to cook for Paul on the transatlantic crossing?

I should note that the Hindenburg also makes an appearance, although the movie was released just before it went up in flames, so the ill-fated airship is referred to here as a dandy way for rich people to get from New York to Europe, rather than another transportation disaster thrown into the mix.

With or without the Hindenburg, the film suffers from the juxtaposition of these three very different moods. It comes off camp when Colin Clive is in full-out villain mode, cheeky and adorable whenever Charles Boyer is front and center, and then weepy and turgid when we enter Titanic mode. It should not come as a surprise that it credits two screenwriters (Gene Towne and C. Graham Baker) and two "additional dialogue" writers (Vincent Lawrence and David Hertz) and features some uncredited script contributions by director Borzage.

All in all, History Is Made at Night is a curiosity, showing off just why Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer were stars, as they can rise above the material, as well as why Frank Borzage succeeded in Hollywood, with his penchant for adding a whole lot of mood through brooding, atmospheric camerawork. Note that Citizen Kane's Gregg Toland was an uncredited cinematographer.

History Is Made at Night has already aired on TCM, but it is also available in their On Demand selections on Comcast cable through November 23rd, if you're so inclined.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The TV Scorecard: What's Canceled, What Survives

Get out your scorecards: Two more TV shows have officially been flunked out of the Fall '12 class.

So first, CBS's "Made in Jersey" and NBC's "Animal Practice" were given the heave-ho, and ABC made it clear it was done with "Private Practice," the "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off, back in October.

USA dumped buddy cop show "Common Law," and lawyer drama "Fairly Legal," just in time for Halloween,while MTV canned old hand "America's Best Dance Crew" last week. Oh, and "Next Caller," NBC's vehicle for comic Dane Cook, was canceled before it ever aired.

Yesterday, the axes came out again, with CBS yanking "Partners," a freshman sitcom about two best friends, one gay and one straight, and their respective partners, and ABC offing "666 Park Avenue," the spooky drama that featured Terry O'Quinn of "Lost" fame and Vanessa Williams, the former Miss America who lit up "Ugly Betty" and "Desperate Housewives," as well as "Last Resort," the military thriller starring Andre Braugher as the commander of a rogue nuclear sub.

Yes, that leaves "Mob Doctor" and "The Neighbors," the two shows everybody thought would be the first to fall, still on the schedule. And "The Neighbors," along with "Arrow," "Beauty and the Beast," "Ben and Kate," "Chicago Fire," "Elementary," "Go On," "Nashville," "Revolution," "The Mindy Project," "The New Normal," and "Vegas" were all given full-season pick-ups, meaning the networks ordered more episodes of each, enough for a full season.

Nothing has happened yet with "Mob Doctor," however. It's avoided being the first to go, or even the fifth to go. Who'd a thunk it?

Meanwhile, "Guys with Kids," a sitcom about wacky dads on NBC, will get only four more episodes, for a total of 17, which is sort of a good-news/bad-news situation. Yes, we like you well enough to order more episodes, but not well enough to go the whole nine yards. Or the whole 22 episodes. Which probably means "Guys with Kids" will ride off into the sunset well before we get to the end of the season. Rumor has it that the retooled "Up All Night" will saddle up and ride off with it.

Stay tuned... The cancellation/renewal game is often more dramatic than the shows themselves. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

It Isn't His Nose That Glows: Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer at Hell in a Handbag

This just in: Hell in a Handbag Productions (also known as "the best camp theatre in Chicago" is planning a holiday benefit.

Chad Ingold, someone I knew from the Station Theatre back in Six Degrees of Separation days, is part of the Handbag ensemble. A quick story about Chad, who went by just "Chad" for awhile there. I once called him "the mononymous Chad" in a review, feeling really clever for making up a word to indicate he went by one name only, like Cher and Madonna, but he thought I thought he was monotonous, which... Chad has never been monotonous!

So it's that same never-monotonous Chad who wrote to let people know about the Hell in a Handbag benefit, which includes a performance as well as a silent auction. But I'll let Chad give the details...

Hell in a Handbag will be celebrating the 15th year of Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer with a Handbag Benefit performance on Sunday December 2nd from 5 to 9 pm at Mary's Attic! It will consist of a very special performance of Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer, along will special celebrity guests(which could be anyone from a wig head on a stick to the fabulous HONEY WEST!!!) a silent auction, open bar and raffles!!!! OMG, isn't this exciting?!?! Handbag is hoping to raise $5000 this year, so that we can afford to continue bringing you people all the camptastic entertainments that you deserve! 

Would like to help?! We are looking for donations of any kind for our silent auction and raffles. This is a wonderful chance to promote yourself or your business with donations of products and services and all donations will be included on our program so there is free advertising...right there!!! YAY! We would love to help you, help us! We are a non-profit company, so you can feel great knowing your donations are tax deductible!!!!! Please let me know if you are interested or able to donate items for the benefit and I will be happy to give you more details. don't have a product or service to donate and you still want to help? Well, why don't you buy a ticket and see a great show! Enjoy an open bar, bid on prizes, buy a raffle ticket and have a great time?!?!? FUN!!! 

Tickets are $45 in advance, $50 at the door. There will be $100 VIP tickets that include reserved seating and 2 VIP tickets to any Handbag show in 2013 (a $70 value!) and industry tickets for $35!!! Tickets can be purchased online here.

Some of our great prizes available so far are...
  • Tickets to Book of Mormon (with Suite Service!)
  • Tickets to I Love Lucy Live Onstage
  • Tickets to see John Waters at the Harris that include a meet and greet session
And weekend getaways, hotel stays, dinners, personal training packages, spa services, massages and much, much! WOW!!!! 

Still, can't make it to the event and wanna help? You can always buy a ticket as a donation and stay home and watch The Amazing Race. Everybody wins! 

So there you have it -- camptastic theatre (Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer!), cool auction items (John Waters! Book or Mormon!), a raffle, an open bar, and the satisfaction of helping keep Hell in a Handbag in the pink till next year.

Ticket information is available here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dancing Back to 1979 with 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL at IWU

Nine to Five, the 1980 movie, was very much a piece of its time. This bright, cheerful flick about women's empowerment in the workplace gave us Dolly Parton in her film debut, plus she contributed the bouncy title song, set to the clicketyclack of a typewriter.

Dolly was always an original, a natural, somebody whose bodacious exterior belied her brains and talent. When she played Doralee, a secretary whose bodacious exterior belied her brains and efficiency, it was a perfect fit.

9 to 5: The Musical is full of Dolly Parton's music, and the character of Doralee is very much like Dolly, no matter who's playing the role. That's a double-edged sword, however. It gives the show a certain energy and charm, especially in the music, but without Dolly herself pulling you along for the ride, the flaws in the book (written by Patricia Resnick, co-screenwriter back in 80) are more apparent.

Or maybe it's just that 2009 isn't the same as 1979, and what seemed funny and righteous then seems kind of tacky, kind of wrong now. As 9 to 5: The Musical unfolds, as underappreciated, mistreated Doralee, Violet and Judy kidnap and immobilize Franklin Hart, their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss so that they can run the biz, as Resnick's script wends its way through various fantasy sequences, including the lurid and squicky sexual yearnings of uptight office drone Roz, who has a thing for Mr. Hart, things get a little unpleasant. Why is it so wrong for Hart to demand that Violet get his coffee, but dandy for Violet to make Roz go get hers? Are we supposed to think Hart is a pig for ogling Doralee's butt when she fantasizes about branding his? There's a crudeness to the situations it's hard to get past.

Judy (Christine Polich) arrives for work in 9 to 5:The Musical
Still, director Scott Susong and his able cast at Illinois Wesleyan make the most of what 9 to 5: The Musical offers. Kate Rozycki is a warm and appealing Violet, and Christine Polich is reminiscent of the fabulous Christine Ebersole with her tuneful, graceful turn as Judy. As Doralee, Lizzie Rainville is in the unenviable position of trying to compete with Dolly Parton, plus her wardrobe is curiously buttoned-up, undermining her "Backwoods Barbie" image, but she's sunny and fun, and her red cowboy boots are adorable.

Kristin Ellert's burnt orange and olive green scenic design (see the poster, way up at the top) is also nifty, with set pieces flying in and out smoothly and Joshua Levinson's Mr. Hart flying up and down (as in the image at left).

In general, the costumes, courtesy designers Maggie Sheridan and Marcia K. McDonald, are kicky, bringing back the late 70s and all that era's sartorial disasters in living color. And wait till you get a load of Elaina Henderson's wigs and hair designs... Mullets! Wispy shags! Wings!

Kudos also to Jean MacFarland Kerr for choreographing funky dance numbers that fill the stage with maximum moves and minimum people. There are quite a few production numbers built into the show, and they all come off well.

Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick

Illinois Wesleyan University School of Theatre Arts
McPherson Theatre

Director: Scott Susong
Scenic Designer: Kristin Ellert
Costume Designers: Maggie Sheridan and Marcia K. McDonald
Lighting Designer: Stephen Sakowski
Sound Designer: Ian Scarlato
Assistant Director: Anna Klemperer
Musical Supervisor/Conductor: Saundra DeAthos-Meers
Musical Director: Saul Nache
Choreographer: Jean MacFarland Kerr

Cast: Heather Priedhorsky, Patsita Jiratipayabood, Jack Courtard, Emilie Hanlet, Savannah Sleevar, Halimah Nurullah, Katryce Bridges, Jenna Haimes, Marek Zurowski, Adam Walleser, T. Isaac Sherman, Kate Rozycki, Jacob Sussina, Mandi Corrao, Lizzie Rainville, Will Henke, Adrienne Fisk, Annie Kehler, Kayla White, Ian Stewart, Jordan Lipes, Zach Wagner, Brittany Ambler, Joey Chu, Christine Polich, Elliott Plowman, Joshua Levinson.

Remaining performances: November 16 and 17 at 8 pm, and November 18 at 2 pm

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

For ticket information, click here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

2013 Humana Festival Array of New Plays Announced

As promised, Actors Theatre of Louisville has announced what new plays will be on the schedule for its 2013 Humana Festival of New American Plays next spring.

This time out, there will be full-length plays from Jeff Augustin, Mallery Avidon, Will Eno, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Sam Marks, with a piece created for Actors Theatre's Apprentice Company by Rinne Groff, Lucas Hnath and Anne Washburn. There will also be a program of 10-minute plays, with Sarah Ruhl the only announced playwright so far, since Actors Theatre's 10-minute play competition is still underway and one or more of the other plays may be chosen from that contest.

New Actors Theatre Artistic Director Les Waters will direct Will Eno's play, called Gnit. As you might guess from the name, Gnit is a new take on Peer Gynt, Henrik Ibsen's rambling adventure about a shiftless sort of man who travels around the world, running into a king, dairymaids, trolls, brownies, nixies, gnomes, Bedoins, madmen, missionaries, the Sphinx and the Devil. This Gnit promises to be a "rollicking and very cautionary tale about, among other things, how the opposite of love is laziness."

Appropriate is the title of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' new play, although without hearing it said aloud, I don't know if the piece is supposed to be the adjective appropriate, as in suitable or fitting, as opposed to the verb appropriate, as in, borrow without permission. Given that the play's action begins when the three adult children in the Lafayette family "descend upon a crumbling Arkansan plantation to liquidate their dead patriarch’s estate," I'm going to guess it's the verb appropriate, the one that is just a stone's throw from steal.

Gary Griffin, who is the Associate Artistic Director at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, where he recently directed a phenomenal production of Sunday in the Park with George, will be at the helm of Appropriate, his first directing gig at Actors Theatre.

Meredith McDonough, Actors Theatre's Associate Artistic Director, directs The Delling Shore, Sam Marks' look at competing novelists -- one successful and one struggling -- and their daughters, who also aspire to write. It's really hard not to take sides when push comes to shove, when wordplay becomes just as cutting as knives.

Cry Old Kingdom, about an artist trying to survive in Papa Doc Duvalier's Haiti, marks Jeff Augustin's professional debut as a playwright. It will be directed by Tom Dugdale, recipient of the 2012 Princess Grace Award in Theater with La Jolla Playhouse.

You can probably surmise from the title of Mallery Avidon's O Guru Guru Guru or why I don’t want to go to yoga class with you that it involves yoga or the lack thereof. Directed by Lila Neugebauer, O Guru Guru is a "disarming look at the precarious process of becoming yourself." Whether that means yoga or not.

The subject matter of the apprentice showcase, conceived by Amy Attaway and Sarah Lunnie, directed by Attaway, and penned by Rinne Groff, Lucas Hnath and Anne Washburn, is also apparent from the title. Sleep Rock Thy Brain is about... Sleep! Or at least the "rich complexities of the sleeping brain," explored through science, spectacle and theatrical invention.

Last year's apprentice piece was about food, and we got brownies on the way out. Maybe this year, they'll give us pillows. That would be exciting.

The Humana Festival, which is supported and sponsored by the Humana Foundation, begins February 27 and runs through April 7, 2013. Various packages and weekend deals are available for different audiences throughout that time period, with specific information on who goes when here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Three Susan Carroll (AKA Serena Richards) Novels Now Available on Kindle

The publishing industry has been undergoing a lot of changes since the ebook has taken hold, with many authors taking advantage of the chance to resurrect their backlists. Susan Carroll, the award-winning author of the Dark Queen, Bride Finder and St. Leger series of historical romance novels, has made three of her older books available on Amazon for Kindle readers. That means current readers now have the opportunity to read these wonderful books.

All three of these newly available titles were written for Berkeley in the early 90s under Susan's Serena Richards pseudonym. That means you might be able to find used copies if you look hard enough, but the Kindle editions are 1) easy to locate, 2) easy to use on your Kindle, and 3) lovely, with spiffy new cover images.

Susan has chosen more representative covers for these new editions of her books, as you can see here. There's Masquerade, set in 18th century England and France, with Lady Phaedra Grantham (you have to love a book with a heroine named Phaedra) fascinated by a mysterious French nobleman. As the Kindle listing teases: "Phaedra is drawn to the man, despite her growing suspicion and fear. What secret does Armande hide behind his aristocratic mask? And what danger does Phaedra face when love itself may prove to be nothing more than a masquerade?" Masquerade was very much loved by readers when it was first published, and well worth adding to your Kindle now.

The second book she's made available is Rendezvous, a delicious romantic suspense tale set mostly in France during Napoleon's Empire period. (That qualifies it as a Regency for romance readers, even if it is in France instead of England.)  Isabelle Varens and Sinclair Carrington are both spies, both involved in all kinds of intrigue, including trying to take down Napoleon himself.

And last, Susan brings us to one of my favorite historical periods -- the turn of the 20th century -- with Escapade, set in New York City. The heroine, Rory Cavanaugh, owns a hot-air balloon company that isn't doing too well, so she turns to a dark, handsome millionaire for help. But that comes with complications. This romantic adventure "sweeps from the glittering mansions on Fifth Avenue to the dark underworld of Five Points."

You can visit Amazon to find Kindle editions of Escapade, Masquerade and Rendezvous for $4.99 each.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Grab a Seat for DINNER AT EIGHT Tonight on TCM

If you look at the DVD image for Dinner at Eight, an MGM prestige pic from 1933, you'd guess that it's a Jean Harlow vehicle. And you'd be wrong. In the tradition of Grand Hotel, made in 1932, Dinner at Eight features overlapping stories, fabulous wardrobe and excellent production values, as well as some of the biggest names MGM had to offer.

With two Barrymores (John and Lionel), Wallace Beery, Billie Burke, Marie Dressler, Madge Evans, Harlow, Jean Hersholt and Lee Tracy, there are stars all over Dinner at Eight. Director George Cukor and producer David O. Selznick were also at the top of MGM's food chain, and they were working with an Edna Ferber/George S. Kaufman play adapted for the screen by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Frances Marion. Some pretty fancy names there.

But what's really great about Dinner at Eight is not all the star power, not even the snappy lines handed to Dressler to hurl at other people. It's the interplay between the characters. People remember it as a droll comedy of manners where social climbers and rich folk trade quips before a swanky dinner party. And it is that. Still, the key to Dinner at Eight is that the social climbers have the cash and the rich folk are teetering on the brink of financial disaster. There are machinations, manipulations and doublecrosses at every turn, along with Jean Harlow in a gorgeous slipper satin gown and Marie Dressler doing it up proud as Carlotta.

Dressler had been a big star in vaudeville before she turned to moving pictures, and she'd won an Oscar for Min and Bill, where she brought warmth and charm to the role of Min, a rawboned, rough-and-tumble gorgon running a waterfront dive. In that movie, the sloppy, sozzled object of her affections was played by Wallace Beery, her co-star in Dinner at Eight, who'd won an Academy Award of his own for his role in The Champ in 1932.

The two would be unlikely movie stars now, since neither was what you might call a looker. If you're looking for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Dressler and Beery are not it. Beery was perfect for his role in Dinner at Eight, where's he supposed to be a crass mining tycoon who "smells of Montana," but Dressler seems a strange choice for Carlotta, who we're told was a major leading lady of the stage and a famous seductress in her personal life. Let's just say that Dressler was playing against type, and it's to her credit that Carlotta is always believable, amusing and relatable in Dinner at Eight. I'm guessing she's the one most people at home would want to invite to their own dinner parties.

So what exactly is the party we never quite get to in Dinner at Eight? The movie opens with society swells Millicent and Oliver Jordan, played by the lovely Billie Burke, who you might recognize as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz, and Lionel Barrymore, mean old Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. Millicent is the one planning the party, in honor of a visit from a British Lord and Lady with both money and gold-plated aristocratic credentials. Millicent doesn't know that her husband's shipping company is on the brink of a takeover, and Oliver doesn't know that the brash self-made millionaire he's looking to for a loan is the one behind the buyout.

Beery's Dan Packard and his beautiful wife Kitty, played by Jean Harlow, are expected for the dinner Millicent is planning, along with the Jordans' daughter, Paula (Madge Evans) and her fiance (Phillips Holmes); fading stage legend Carlotta Vance (Dressler), who was once Oliver's lover; an alcoholic movie star Lothario named Larry Renault (John Barrymore) who is secretly involved with Paula; and a sex addict doctor (Edmund Lowe) who's been sleeping with Kitty, who happens to be his patient.

Various plot threads unravel as we get closer to 8 o'clock, with Larry the movie star and Oliver the shipping magnate both experiencing career and health crises, everybody's illicit love affairs uncovered, everybody looking for money, and lots of conflict involving class, cash, sex and social position.

Although the financial woes underline everything, this is a seriously fun movie, with the Harlow/Dressler conversations the best of the bunch. This exchange has gone down in movie history:
Kitty: I was reading a book the other day.

Carlotta: Reading a book?

Kitty: Yes. It's all about civilization or something. A nutty kind of a book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?

Carlotta: Oh, my dear, that's something you need never worry about.
Dinner at Eight starts at 8 (of course) Eastern time on Turner Classic Movies. That makes it 7 for the Central time zone people, but we'll have to deal. I didn't have time to send out engraved invitations, but I hope you'll all show up for Dinner, anyway. It's a very tasty movie.

IWU's 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL Opens Tuesday at McPherson Theatre

Working nine to five
What a way to make a living
Barely getting by
It's all taking and no giving
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to make you crazy if you let it!

Dolly Parton won two Grammy Awards and was nominated for an Oscar for the music and lyrics of that breezy, catchy little song, set to the beat of a typewriter and written for the movie Nine to Five. Parton also starred in the movie, playing Doralee, a smart, good-hearted secretary who bands together with two friends, played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, when they aren't treated right at work. Fed up by their sexist pig of a boss who never gives them credit, the three comically turn the tables, trapping him in his own house and running the company by themselves.

The film was turned into a stage musical called, conveniently enough, 9 to 5: the Musical, almost 30 years after the movie, with lots of new songs supplied by Parton and a book written by Patricia Resnick, the same person credited for the screenplay for the original Nine to Five along with its director, Colin Higgins.

This time out, 9 to 5 starred Allison Janney (The West Wing) as Violet, the Lily Tomlin role, Stephanie J. Block (The Pirate Queen) taking over as Judy, the character Jane Fonda played on screen, and newcomer Megan Hilty as Doralee, Parton's role. Like Block, Hilty was best known at that point as a replacement for one of the leads in Wicked. After 9 to 5, she broke out on TV's Smash, the weird musical drama with all kinds of problems, not the least of which is pretending that Hilty doesn't overshadow the competition.

The stage musical is bright and bouncy, with three good roles for women and one -- the dastardly boss -- for a man. On Broadway, Marc Kudisch took that role, earning a Tony nomination along with Janney, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and Dolly Parton's score. All three actresses were nominated for Drama Desk Awards, with Janney taking it home.

All of that means that there should be plenty of opportunities for Illinois Wesleyan's cast and crew to shine as they present 9 to 5: The Musical at McPherson Theatre starting Tuesday night at 8 pm. Assistant Professor Scott Susong, whose work on shows like Hello Again and Once Upon a Mattress has been terrific in the past, directs this 9 to 5 with a cast of 27, which includes Christine Polich, Lizzie Rainville and Kate Rozycki as Judy, Doralee and Violet, respectively. Josh Levinson plays creepy Franklin M. Hart, Jr. (Or, you know, the Big Bad Boss.)

For this Illinois Wesleyan School of Theatre Arts production, Jean MacFarland Kerr choreographs, while Saul Nache acts as musical director and Saundra DeAthos-Meers conducts.

9 to 5: The Musical opens Tuesday, November 13, and continues through the 18th, with performances at 8 pm Tuesday through Saturday and a 2 pm matinee on Sunday. For ticket information, click here to see the IWU Theatre box office page.