Thursday, January 31, 2013

MAD MEN Will Be Back April 7

The premiere date for Mad Men's 6th season has been a subject of much speculation since Season 5 took its curtain call back in June 2012. I'm a big fan of this spiffy period drama about the advertising men and women who once haunted Madison Avenue, so I've been eagerly awaiting news of its return.

And now we have it!

AMC has announced that Mad Men will be back April 7 with a special two-hour premiere, giving us a look at Don Draper and Company as they move into the latter part of the 60s. You can see from this promotional still that sideburns are in (see Vincent Kartheiser's Pete Campbell on the far right), some people are hanging onto earlier fashion trends (John Slattery's Roger Sterling and Jon Hamm's Don Draper are wearing small bow ties and cummerbunds, while Christina Hendricks' Joan Harris has a gown that doesn't exactly look like a flower child) and the alcohol and cigarettes are still free-flowing.

In this one, we can see that Miss Zou Bisou Bisou is down with the big hair 60s in the fashion of Sharon Tate, Sally, her flip and her white gloves are more Tricia Nixon, and Betty still exists. Oh, and she isn't fat anymore. But all the ladyfolk are still circling Don, of course. I could do without either Megan or Betty, so I'm a little sorry to see them. Sally, I love. You go, Little White Glove Girl.

Although there haven't been a whole lot of spoilers yet for the new season, we do know that it will start in late 1967, that Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is definitely back, even though she won't necessarily be at Don's agency, that Jon Hamm directed an episode, that the finale episode of Season 5 contains important info about where Season 6 will go, and that creator Matthew Weiner thinks "a lot has changed when the season opens up."

Let the speculation begin! And let April 7 (or some sneak peeks at the premiere episode) hurry up and get here!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

News and Reminders for 1-29

Just a few notes before today gets away from us:

Auditions for Community Players' production of To Kill a Mockingbird continue tonight at the theater on Robinhood Lane in Bloomington. Tonight's session begins at 7 pm. To read more about the play and the novel it's based on, click here. Performances are scheduled for March 15-17 and 21-24. No prepared monologues necessary; auditioning actors will do cold readings from the script. For more information, email director Marcia Weiss at But be quick about it! Auditions will be finished after tonight.

Also tonight, Mathew Green's one-act play Vacation will be given a reading at the Station Theatre in Urbana. Katie Baldwin directs this romantic boy-meets-boy comedy starring Tanino Minneci and Maxwell Tomaszewski. This reading is free and open to the public. It begins at 7:30 pm tonight, with a brief musical introduction beginning at 7.

Tomorrow night is your one chance to see the film that goes behind the scenes at New York's "Create a Play in a Day" project. It will be showing on January 30 only at selected movie theaters. The closest theaters airing this cinema event are Willow Knolls 14 in Peoria and the Savoy 16 near Champaign. Tomorrow night only!

Masters students in theatre at Illinois State University are selling merchandise with a dancing Shakespeare and/or the ISU School of Theatre and Dance logo on them this week and next in the vicinity of the Airport Lounge between Centennial East and West. This is a fundraiser to help send the masters students to a conference this spring. But it means you can get your hands on t-shirts, caps, sweatpants, tote bags and fleece with ISU Theatre and Dance all over it. Find a masters student to get an order form, or hang out in the the Airport Lounge and you should see one.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I Love a Surprise: ARGO Wins Again at the Screen Actors Guild Awards

Last night's Screen Actors Guild Awards honored many of the usual suspects -- Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones from Lincoln and Anne Hathaway for her performance in Les Misérables on the movie side, and ABC's Modern Family, Claire Danes from Homeland, Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad, Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey from NBC's 30 Rock , Kevin Costner (Hatfields and McCoys) and Julianne Moore (Game Change) for mini-series or TV movies -- with a few surprises as well.

Argo, the clever little thriller directed by (and starring) Ben Affleck about breaking a handful of Americans out of Iraq, took the trophy for Ooustanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the SAG equivalent of Best Picture, upsetting Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Les Misérables and taking the lead in Oscar predictions. Don't forget, however, that The Help won in that category at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last year, while The Artist took Best Picture at the Oscars. You just never know...

Other SAG winners included Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook, lauded for her Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture. (Best Actress is so much easier, isn't it?) Lawrence and Jessica Chastain, nominated for Zero Dark Thirty, have been considered the top contenders for Oscar's Best Actress for quite a while, and they both won at the Golden Globes. Does this SAG Award mean Lawrence is edging ahead in that race? I kind of think so, considering how many SAG members also vote for the Academy Awards.

The other big upset of the evening was on the television side of the aisle, as the Downton Abbey cast took top honors for TV dramas. That meant a win over the likes of the much-lauded Homeland, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire actors. I'm not sure that's warranted, honestly. As much as I love Downton Abbey, I found myself straying last season because of the contrivances involving Matthew and Mary and much of the murder plot. I think Homeland and its stars had a better year, Mad Men was pretty good except for that Too Much Megan problem, and Breaking Bad was as riveting as ever. Boardwalk Empire is too violent for me (looking at you, Gyp Rosetti) so I'd put it in last place on this list, but any of the other casts could've edged out Downton and I wouldn't have complained.

The Screen Actors Guild also honors stunt ensembles, and those awards went to Skyfall, the James Bond movie, and TV's Game of Thrones.

Best dressed? Tina Fey looked great in a snazzy black Oscar de la Renta gown with movie star hair, and Kerry Washington was a stunner in a sparkly white-and-silver Rodarte dress.

But for my money, Marion Cotillard walked away with the fashion prize in Dior Haute Couture, mixing a creamy white bodice with a full skirt (with pockets!) in a lovely shade of blue. French blue, of course. Cotillard may not be picking up as many awards as Lawrence and Chastain for her performance in Rust and Bone, but she's certainly setting the fashion standard.

And speaking of Jennifer Lawrence... Uh oh on the wardrobe malfunction, when her navy Christian Dior dress split apart at a thigh-level tier when she got up to accept her award. Oh well. A see-through pants suit on Oscar night didn't hurt Barbra Streisand all that much in the long run.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

SHAKESPEARE UNCOVERED Takes a Look Behind the Page

A new PBS series called Shakespeare Uncovered began last night, with episodes hosted by Ethan Hawke (on Macbeth) and Joely Richardson (on Twelfth Night and As You Like It). Both hosts talked to actors, directors and scholars to get at a better understanding of the plays, their characters and how they related to Shakespeare's life. I especially enjoyed Richardson taking a look at her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, performing Rosalind in As You Like It. It's lovely.

This is a six-part series, with the next two scheduled for Friday, February 1. Those two will be an examination of Richard II with Derek Jacobi (at 8 pm Central time) and a look at Henry IV and V with Jeremy Irons (at 9 pm).

Jacobi is an odd choice for this kind of show; he's a wonderful actor but he persists in believing that Shakespeare didn't write his own plays, which flies in the face of all the info from parts I and II of Shakespeare Uncovered about Shakespeare's stage twins relating to his owns twins, Judith and Hamnet, and other textual connections drawn within the programs to the actual Will Shakespeare in Stratford. I suppose that's why they didn't give Jacobi Hamlet (it's a biggie for the Oxfordians), but he bring up his Oxfordian beliefs in his discussion of Richard II.

Notes on this program tell us that Jacobi will work with actors on the Globe stage and give them a lesson on the Earl of Essex, a plot to topple Queen Elizabeth, and how Richard II and its author fit into that conspiracy. Better news is that this piece of Shakespeare Uncovered will show clips of Patrick Stewart and Ben Whishaw in an upcoming Great Performances version of Richard II.

Jeremy Irons, host of the 4th slice of Shakespeare Uncovered, has recently created controversy, as well, comparing Downton Abbey to a Ford Fiesta when he was doing press for Shakespeare Uncovered, and thereby incurring the wrath of Downton fans as well as the Ford Fiesta people. Irons's segment includes a visit to Agincourt to learn more about the history behind the events in the plays, and he will go behind the scenes of the new Great Performances adaptation where he plays Henry IV with Tom Hiddleston (Loki in The Avengers) as his son, Prince Hal, who becomes Henry V.

Parts V and VI of Shakespeare Uncovered air February 8, with David Tennant taking on Hamlet (including a visit to the gift shop at the Globe) and Trevor Nunn on The Tempest, a play he directed for the stage last year with Ralph Fiennes as Prospero.

You can find out more about all of these episodes, plus play What Shakespeare Character Are You? on the PBS site for Shakespeare Uncovered. (Psst... I'm Rosaline. Score!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Get Your "Parcel or Package" 10-Minute Play in Now!

We are perilously close to the deadline for Heartland Theatre's 10-minute play contest. Which means you still have one week left to work on your "Parcel, Package or Present" play, but you'd better be quick. Heartland will accept ten-minute plays involving a package, parcel or present of some sort (and, yes, they're looking for a physical package like the ones you see in the banner above, anything larger than a ring box and smaller than a microwave oven) until February 1, and after that... Well, you'll have to wait till summer, after this year's eight winning Parcel, Package and Present plays have been performed at Heartland Theatre, to see what next year's theme is going to be.

But for now... If you have a parcel play that's ten pages or less, following Heartland's stylesheet, you'll need to send it in before Friday, February 1.

Here's what the "Parcel/Package/Present" theme is all about:

"The Misdelivered Package is a plot staple, whether the parcel in question contains the Maltese Falcon, a bomb about to go off, the names of all the spies in Poland, or a kilo of cocaine from Colombia. There have been more packages used as McGuffins in plays, movies and TV shows than you can fit inside the largest box UPS will deliver.

When you have a parcel, when you don’t know what’s inside, when the recipient is suspicious of the giver or the sender, when the giver can’t rely on how the recipient will react, there’s plenty of dramatic potential.

Your 10-minute play can center on a tiny blue box from Tiffany & Co., a beautifully wrapped birthday present, a weird old shoebox with breathing holes poked in the top, a wooden crate full of albums from the 70s, a plastic “cremains” container, a makeup case with Barbie stickers on the outside, or a strange, lumpy parcel covered in stained brown paper and secured with string, bearing no return address but postage from Ulan Bator.

It can be any kind of parcel, package, packet, box, bundle, case, carton or container, as long as it’s no smaller than a ring box and no bigger than an orange crate. Anything in the middle is just fine. And what’s inside this mysterious parcel is completely up to you.

You have:
…No more than 4 characters…
…No more than 10 minutes…
…And unlimited possibilities to write a winning play for Heartland Theatre’s Parcel, Package or Present 10-Minute Play Festival."

Rules and guidelines are here and the all-important stylesheet is here. Don't be late! February 1!

Breezy BLOOMER GIRL a Worthy Revival for IWU Music Theatre Society

Although Bloomer Girl was revived in 2001 as part of New York's City Center Encores! series, it is not a show that gets produced very much. There are various theories advanced for that. Does it have too many characters and too difficult a costume plot -- with a parade of increasingly large and outlandish hoop skirts -- for regional theaters to stage? Or was it something to do with E. Y. "Yip" Harburg, the unapologetic leftist who wrote the lyrics to Harold Arlen's music for Bloomer Girl, since Harburg was blacklisted for his political views during the Hollywood witchhunt of the 50s and early 60s?

Scott Susong, who directed Bloomer Girl last weekend as a staged concert reading for Illinois Wesleyan University's Music Theatre Society, wanted to revive Bloomer Girl because he felt its messages of equality -- both gender and racial equality -- were as fresh and important as ever.

Those views are certainly on display in Bloomer Girl, which involves a young woman named Evalina Applegate, who is the youngest daughter of a prosperous Yankee hoop-skirt manufacturer at a time just before America's Civil War. Our heroine resists both the marriage her father has planned for her, to a handsome slave-owner from Kentucky, and the hoops Dad is peddling. Evalina isn't sure about marriage at all, but especially not to someone who owns a slave, plus she prefers the more practical bloomers (i.e., pants) championed by her suffragette Aunt Dolly in the feminist newspaper she puts out.

That sets up three different conflicts: Skirts vs. Pants, Women's Rights vs. Being Controlled by Dad, and Abolition vs. Slavery. You will note that all three issues center on freedom. The fact that this is all played as a musical comedy, complete with a second-act show-within-the-show version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, probably seems strange to 21st century audiences.

The sprightly tone of Bloomer Girl is sometimes at odds with its serious message, and the Arlen/Harburg score doesn't contain anything as memorable as "Over the Rainbow" or "Stormy Weather," other Arlen tunes. Still, it's a sweet little show with its heart in the right place, and it deserves to be taken off the "forgotten musicals" list and put back into repertory by theaters who can pull out all the stops with those outrageous hoop skirts.

For IWU, director Scott Susong worked with limited choreography (no extended Civil War Ballet) and simple accompaniment (apparently the full orchestrations were lost/gone/not available, so Susong had to go with what he could pull together for piano and percussion) as well as stripped-down costumes (with hoops over leotards and a whole lot of plaid bloomers). For this kind of concert setting, that all worked well, but it would be fun to see the real, full-blown version.

Heather Priedhorsky made a lovely and spirited Evalina in this concert staging, while Jordan Lipes was quite charming as her Southern beau, Jefferson Calhoun. I also enjoyed Chloe Bluml and Josh Levinson as Mom and Dad Applegate, Erica Werner as pesky Aunt Dolly, Reggie Cooke as Pompey, the escaped slave, and Patsita Jiratipayabood as Daisy, a housemaid with decided opinions on women and love.

Other standouts included Natalie Howard, Halimah Nurullah, Ian Stewart and Kayla White, who combined with Cooke to bring energy and life to "I Got a Song," a folksy second-act anthem to freedom that brought home the show's themes.

Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, and book by Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy.

IWU Music Theatre Society
Young Main Lounge in the Memorial Building

Director: Scott Susong
Musical Director: Michelle Brecunier
Choreographer: Sheri Marley
Accompanist: Charles Berggren
Assistant Producer/Assistant Director: Anna Klemperer
Assistant Music Director: Chloe Bluml
Assistant Accompanist: Megan Win
Assistant Choreographer: Josh Levinson
Costumers: Rosalie Alspach, Elizabeth Albers and Patsita Jiratipayabood
Hair/Make Up: Erica Werner
Sound: Joey Chu
Stage Manager/Properties: Cathy Coburn

Cast: Elizabeth Albers, Rosalie Alspach, Kelsey Bearman, Chloe Bluml, Julia Cicchino, Reggie Cooke, Steven Czajkowski, Bucky Emmerling, Evan Dolan, Emily Hanlet, Lydia Hartlaub, Natalie Howard, Patsita Jiratipayabood, Annie Kehler, Josh Levinson, Jordan Lipes, Forrest Loeffler, Chris Long, Carlos Medina, Halimah Nurullah, Heather Priedhorsky, Ian Stewart, Alec Sutton, Kelsey Vonder Haar, Caroline Wagner, Erica Werner, Kayla White and Megan Win.

Performances took place January 19 and 20, 2013.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Play Reading at the Station -- One Night Only January 29

Mathew Green
Mathew Green, the actor and director who often plies both trades at Urbana's Station Theatre, will be showcasing the playwright side of his talents next week. Green will offer a reading of his new play Vacation at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, January 29, at the Station on Broadway in Urbana.

Green describes the play as a "classic boy-meets-boy (or, rather, boy-confronts-his-feelings-about-boy) tale." This reading will be performed by Tanino Minneci and Maxwell Tomaszewski, with Green's frequent collaborator Katie Baldwin directing.

Previous projects involving the two of them include Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries, with Green directing Baldin, and Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular and John Holvenbach's Love Song, in which they acted opposite each other.

The reading of Vacation is free of charge and open to the public. Although it's scheduled to begin at 7:30, Green notes that it will be preceded by an acoustic set by Brittany Helfrich, which will start at 7 pm.

For information about the Station Theatre, including a map, click here or here. For all the details about the Vacation reading, visit the Facebook event page here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

There's a New Shakespeare Troupe in Town

The Intercity Shakespeare Troupe is taking its Midsummer Night's Dream on the road!

This brand-new troupe, created in conjunction with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and composed of students from five Bloomington-Normal area high schools, will perform a one-hour version of Midsummer this week.

Cristen Susong directs a cast of 20, which includes Maggie Brothers, Shannon Jirik, Christopher Abel and Nick Clark as the mismatched Athenian lovers, Jacob Mattia, Timothy Zaitzeff, Susan Rudahindwa and Maxx Lawrence as the nobles, Katelynn Shennett, Bradley Ogilvie, Kyle Aschbrenner, Amelia Dirks and Elliot Lusk as the band of players meeting in the forest to rehearse a show, and Jake Stille, Alexys Ogorek, Becky Taber, Kyleakin Helm, Natalie Lade, Katryce Bridges and Dulcie Church as the fairy royalty in the piece.

Susong is assisted by Haleigh Makemson, the student stage manager, technical director Joe Fehr and set designer Emily Hahn.

Performances are scheduled for:

Wednesday, January 23 at 7 pm at Central Catholic High School
Thursday, January 24 at 7 pm Normal Community West
Friday, January 25 at 7 pm Normal Community
Saturday, January 26 at 2 pm at Bloomington High School
Sunday, January 27th at 2 pm at University High School

Tickets (available at the door) are $3 for students and $5 for adults. All profits go to support the participating high school theater programs.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Once Upon a Midnight Dreary, Mystery Writers Announce Edgar Nominations

The Edgar Awards, given out annually by the Mystery Writers of America, claim that they are "widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious awards in the genre." Is that true? I have no way of knowing. I do know that there are also Agathas, Anthonys, CWA Dagger in the Library Awards, Nero, Macavity, Shamus, Lambda, Gumshoe, Hammett and Dilys Awards, and country-specific prizes for mystery novels (and novelists) in Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway and Sweden, attesting both to the popularity and the excellence of the mystery genre

The Edgars (named after Edgar Allan Poe, of course) have been awarded to standout mystery novels since 1954. Charlotte Jay was the first winner, for a book called Beat Not the Bones, with Raymond Chandler picking up the prize for in 1955 for The Long Goodbye. Ellis Peters, Donald Westlake, John le Carré, Ken Follett, Robert B. Parker, Barbara Vine, Dick Francis, Minette Walters, James Lee Burke and Tony Hillerman have all won Edgar Awards over the years.

This year, you'll see familiar names like Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley and Elizabeth George on the list of nominations, along with a host of newcomers, vying in categories like Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Fact Crime, Best Short Story and Best Juvenile mystery. You can see the complete list of nominees, but here's a rundown of the contenders for Mystery Writers of America's Best Novel of 2013:

All I Did Was Shoot My Man
by Walter Mosley

Zella Grisham spent seven years in jail for killing her lover and stealing millions from an insurance company. Now she's out and wants investigator Leonid McGill to clear her name. Did she do it? Can Leonid find out before the house of cards he calls a life falls in?

The Gods of Gotham
by Lyndsay Faye

Set in 1845, near the notorious Five Points area, "The Gods of Gotham" deals with New York City's first police force and all the corruption and violence that came with it. New cop Timothy Wilde has to decide which side he's on when he's confronted with abject poverty, immigrants, child prostitutes and murder.

Gone Girl: A Novel
by Gillian Flynn

Nick and Amy seemed like the perfect couple. Till she disappeared. One of the most popular books of the year, "Gone Girl" looks at the question of what happened to Amy from both sides, focusing on guilt, innocence, marital discord, secrets and what lies beneath the surface of beautiful faces.

Live by Night
by Dennis Lehane

As tough guy Joe Coughlin rises on the ladder of crime in 1920s Boston and then Florida, he comes hard up against dames, booze, gangsters, killers and convicts. Joe comes from a family of cops, but his path diverges to rum-running and skirting the law as he rises to from petty enforcer to major bootlegger.

The Lost Ones
by Ace Atkins

Quinn Coulson, an Army vet who is now sheriff in a backwoods county in Mississippi, faces a host of personal issues as well as a terrible case involving child abuse, the business of selling babies, drugs, guns and money, sending him far afield from home.

by Jesse Kellerman

This clever and amusing thriller (or is it a parody of a thriller?) sends middle-aged schlub Arthur Pfefferkorn, a college professor who once wrote a fairly well-received novel, down a rabbit hole of envy, misplaced lust, international intrigue, secret literary codes, goats and turnips.
by Al Lamanda

John Bekker used to be a cop. Then his wife was brutally murdered in front of his five-year-old daughter, who hasn't spoken since, and Bekker fell off a cliff into alcoholism and despair. When he is forced out of his self-imposed exile by a mob boss once suspected of a connection to his wife's death, Bekker must push past his demons to solve this impossible case.

The Edgar Awards in this and all the other categories will be presented at the MWA banquet on May 2, 2013, at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I've Been Waiting for BLOOMER GIRL!

I absolutely love that Illinois Wesleyan University's Music Theatre Society puts on a lesser-known, eminently revivable piece of musical theatre every year. Instead of the same old, same old, the Music Theatre Society goes for neglected gems like Big and Do Re Mi.

This year, it's Bloomer Girl, a fizzy and spirited Broadway musical from 1944 that tackles freedom and repression. IWU's Bloomer Girl, directed by Associate Professor Scott Susong, is scheduled for two performances in the Young Main Lounge in the Memorial Building on the Illinois Wesleyan Campus this weekend, with an 8 pm curtain on Saturday, January 19, and a 2 pm matinee on Sunday, January 20.

So what makes Bloomer Girl worth a visit?

Well, if I said "Over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather," "That Old Black Magic," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "I've Got the World on a String," "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "The Man That Got Away" and "Get Happy," what name would come to mind first? Maybe Judy Garland, since she was associated with at least three of those songs. But they're all the work of composer Harold Arlen, who wrote some of the best melodies ever in popular music. There is simply nothing like an Arlen tune.

Many of the songs listed above also featured lyrics by E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. That's who Arlen worked with on the score for The Wizard of Oz as well as Bloomer Girl. The Arlen/Harburg songs from Bloomer Girl aren't as well known as "Over the Rainbow" or "If I Only Had a Brain," but they're still terrific, from the comic feminist anthem "It Was Good Enough for Grandma," to the love song "Right as Rain," and "Evalina,*" which Bing Crosby turned into a Top Ten single.

The book for Bloomer Girl was written by Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy, based on an unpublished play by Lilith and Dan James. It's set in Upstate New York during the American Civil War, with issues of emancipation front and center for several characters.

Or, as Illinois Wesleyan's press release puts its: "The plot centers around independent Evalina Applegate, an 1861 hoop skirt manufacturer's youngest daughter who defies her father by rejecting hoopskirts and embracing comfortable bloomers advocated by her aunt Dolly Bloomer. The American Civil War is looming, and abolitionist Evalina refuses to marry suitor Jefferson Calhoun until he frees his slave. The heart of the piece is the exploration of hopes and dreams within working class society and the intersection of equality for both women and African Americans in Nineteenth Century."

Bloomer Girl began on Broadway with Celeste Holm as Evalina, the girl who wants to give up her hoop skirts to wear trousers, and then came back for a short stint in 1947 with Nanette Fabray.  There was even a shortened 1956 TV version with the fabulous Barbara Cook in the role. Since then, there haven't been a whole lot of revivals of Bloomer Girl -- some speculate that's because of the show's rather complicated costume requirements -- but it did get picked up for an Off-Broadway production in 2000 and a City Center Encores! staging in 2001, with Kate Jennings Grant as the Bloomer Girl, Kathleen Chalfant as her aunt Dolly Bloomer, and Philip Bosco as mean old Dad.

Heather Priedhorsky will play Evalina Applegate for IWU, with Jordan Lipes as her potential beau Jeff Calhoun, who hails from Kentucky; Reggie Cook as Pompey, a slave hoping to be freed; Erica Werner as Aunt Dolly, the big bloomers proponent; Josh Levinson as Horace Applegate, Evalina's dad and a major hoop manufacturer; and Patsita Jiratipayabood as Daisy, an amourous maid. Others in the cast include Chloe Bluml, Carlos Medina, Forrest Loeffler, Kelsey Bearman, Alec Sutton, Kelsey Vonder Haar, Steven Czajkowski, Emilie Hanlet, Chris Long, Caroline Wagner, Bucky Emmerling, Rosalie Alspach, Evan Dolan, Halimah Nurullah, Natalie Howard, Ian Stewart, Kayla White, Megan Win, Elizabeth Albers, Anne Kehler, Julia Cicchino and Lydia Hartlaub.

You can check out Bloomer Girl free of charge at 8 pm on Saturday, January 19, or 2 pm on Sunday, January 20, in the Young Main Lounge in the Memorial Building on the Illinois Wesleyan Campus.

*There seems to be some confusion whether the name is "Evalina" or "Evelina" -- it's Evalina at the Internet Broadway Database and in IWU's press release, but Bing's single seems to have been "Evelina," Barbara Cook's character is listed as Evelina at the Internet Movie Database, and the venerable New York Times went with Evelina when it reviewed the Encores! production. Still, I decided to hang with the IBDB and IWU on this one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Behind the Scenes Look at "Creating a Play in a Day" Coming to the Big Screen

I just got a notice from the American Theatre Critics Association's Jay Handelman, who wanted to share some information about Fathom's "One Night Stand" screenings. It's about one of the playwriting/playmaking projects that has been getting some traction in recent years, when everybody necessary to put on a show goes from zero to opening in 24 hours. But I'll let you read the press release:

"One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day” 
Cinema Event Takes Audiences Behind Curtain
of New York’s Theater World 

NCM® Fathom Events and Overnight Musicals Present
a Behind-the-Scenes Look into the Creation of Four 
Musicals from Blank Page to Live Stage in Just 24 Hours 

In Select Movie Theaters Nationwide 
on Wednesday, January 30 

Centennial, Colo. – Jan. 3, 2013 – Giving audiences an unbridled and candid look behind the scenes of the Broadway curtain, NCM® Fathom Events, Overnight Musicals and The Broadway League present “One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day,” a unique one-night event broadcast to movie theaters nationwide on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. local time. This fast-paced, hilarious and entertaining film follows some of New York's top actors, including Cheyenne Jackson (30 Rock, Glee), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) and Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live), as well as teams of writers, composers and directors as they are given 24 hours to write, cast, compose, rehearse and perform four short musicals. At the end of the 24 hours, the musicals make their opening, and closing, night at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre. The event will also present exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the stars of “One Night Stand” as they share intimate stories of life on Broadway.

Tickets for “One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day” are available at participating theater box offices and online at For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the NCM Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).The event will be broadcast to nearly 450 select movie theaters across the country through NCM’s exclusive Digital Broadcast Network.

Likened to “‘A Chorus Line’ meets ‘Project Runway’” (, “One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day,” directed by Elisabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton, captures the excitement, anxiety, camaraderie and sheer panic that leads to the final thrill of the finished performance. From the blank page to the live stage, “One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day” unveils the magic as these talented artists take the dare to create something from nothing.

Four teams consisting of composers, writers, directors and actors use props to inspire the musicals: a zoot suit worn by Richard Kind (Argo, Spin City, Mad About You) on a children’s show in the 1970s inspires the “Islands” musical; a phobia pop-up book is the premise for “Multiphobia” and an 80s prom dress prop is used in “Dr. Williams” featuring Jackson, Ferguson and Roger Bart (Revenge, Desperate Housewives). Dratch brings her comedic timing to the fourth musical, “Rachel said Sorry.”

"I love the whole process of birthing a new musical, from the first rehearsal until opening night, and ‘One Night Stand’ shows it all encapsulated in one day,” said Ferguson. “It's just so exciting and really quite moving – a crazy birth in one night! You get to see some amazing New York talent on stage, me included.”

 Actors featured in the musicals include the aforementioned Bart, Dratch, Ferguson, Jackson and Kind as well as Mandy Gonzalez (Wicked, In the Heights); Capathia Jenkins (Newsies, Chicago, Nine); Theresa McCarthy (Queen of the Mist, Saturn Returns, Titanic); Nellie McKay (Home Sweet Mobile Home, Rumor Has It); Marnie Schulenburg (As the World Turns); Scarlet Strallen (Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick); Tracie Thoms (Cold Case, Rent); Tamara Tunie (Law and Order SVU, Flight) and Alicia Witt (Two Weeks Notice, Urban Legend).

 “The excitement is palpable as these talented writers, composers and actors work against the clock to bring their musicals from their imaginations to the stage in record time,” said Shelly Maxwell, executive vice president of NCM Fathom Events. “Fans of live theatre will find this one-of-a-kind Fathom Event truly captivating.”

About National CineMedia (NCM)

NCM operates NCM Media Networks, a leading integrated media company reaching U.S. consumers in movie theaters, online and through mobile technology. The NCM Cinema Network and NCM Fathom Events present cinema advertising and events across the nation’s largest digital in-theater network, comprised of theaters owned by AMC Entertainment Inc., Cinemark Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CNK), Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) and other leading regional theater circuits. NCM’s theater advertising network covers 183 Designated Market Areas® (49 of the top 50) and includes over 19,300 screens (over 18,400 digital). During 2011, approximately 680 million patrons (on an annualized basis) attended movies shown in theaters in which NCM currently has exclusive, cinema advertising agreements in place. The NCM Fathom Events live digital broadcast network (“DBN”) is comprised of over 720 locations in 170 Designated Market Areas® (including all of the top 50). The NCM Interactive Network offers 360-degree integrated marketing opportunities in combination with cinema, encompassing 41 entertainment-related websites, online widgets and mobile applications. National CineMedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: NCMI) owns a 48.6% interest in and is the managing member of National CineMedia LLC. For more information, visit or

# # #

Because the Fathom website uses Java, which is currently under assault from the security-minded who recommend disabling Java entirely, I decided to give the list here of theaters in Illinois which will be airing the film so that you don't have to try to find it at Fathom. You will notice that neither Bloomington nor Normal is participating, so B-N folks who want to see how you create a whole musical in a day will need to go to Peoria or Savoy (which is south of Champaign on Rte. 45).

South Barrington 30 with IMAX (Barrington)
Randall 15 with IMAX (Batavia)
River East 21 (Chicago)
ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection (Chicago)
Showplace 16 (Crystal Lake)
Century 16 Deer Park (Deer Park)
Evanston 18 with XD (Evanston)
Lincolnshire 21 with IMAX (Lincolnshire)
Yorktown 17 with IMAX (Lombard)
Naperville 16 with IMAX (Naperville)
Niles 12 (Niles)
Orland Park Cinemas 14 (Orland Park)
Willow Knolls 14 (Peoria) 
Savoy 16 (Savoy) 
Cinemark Woodridge 17 with IMAX (Woodridge)

Unless you have plans to be in the Chicago area on January 30th, Peoria and Savoy are your most convenient options.

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON Opens Tomorrow at the Station Theatre

Urbana's Station Theatre is known for doing provocative theater, throwing caution to the four winds, and finding a way to put even big musicals inside their tiny space. Angels in America? They've done it. Assassins? Done it. West Side Story, complete with full choreography and all the requisite Jets and Sharks? Done it. Long Day's Journey Into Night? Done it twice, 25 years apart, with the same actors playing James and Mary Tyrone.

The member of the Celebration Company are at it again this week, with Michael Friedman's and Alex Timbers' Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a controversial rock musical about... President Andrew Jackson! Not Andrew Johnson, the impeached one who followed Lincoln. We're talking Andrew Jackson, the possibly illiterate, hot-headed, duel-happy "man of the people" who came from the Tennessee frontier, became a war hero during the war of 1812, picked up the nickname "Old Hickory" because he looked like a tree (no, really, it was because he was such a hard guy, or "tough as hickory"), built a new political party and machine, and managed to tick off a whole lot of people left wounded and bleeding along his political path to the presidency. And that's how he got to be the 7th president of the United States.

Aside from all the controversy and destruction, he was involved in two Big Things during his presidency. He got rid of the monopolistic Second Bank of the United States and he came up with the idea to get rid of all the Native Americans, something called "Indian removal," which meant the U.S. government "bought" their tribal lands and forced them to move west, basically off the map. You can call it "ethnic cleansing," "genocide," or "Indian removal," but it resulted in death, disappearance, violence and 45,000 Native Americans pushed off their lands.

The musical, with music and lyrics by Friedman and the book by Timbers, who also directed the initial production, creates a raucous, outrageous Wild West Show with cowboys and hookers rallying around a rock star version of Andrew Jackson. Jackson has songs like "I'm So That Guy" when he decides to step up and push back Spanish, British and Native American incursions into what the U.S. considered its turf, and "Ten Little Indians" to talk about his plans to eradicate Native peoples. Like Jackson himself, the musical has spurred controversy over its treatment of Native issues.

For the Station, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is directed by Mikel L. Matthews, Jr., and David Barkley provides musical direction. Barkley has a beautiful voice himself, as well as experience with presidential musicals. I still remember his stunning version of "Molasses to Rum" in a production of 1776 from the 90s.

The cast includes Corbin Dixon as Andrew Jackson, the Mick Jagger of presidents, and Ninos Baba, David Butler, Amanda Clement, Mark E. Fox, Sidney Germaine, James Haas, Sally Hamer, Brittany Helfrich, Chris Johnson, Jay Kim, Zach Moyer, Katarina Spungen, Stefanie Senior, Kara Sotakoun, Marah Sotelo, and Laura Anne Welle in the ensemble.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson opens with an 8 pm performance on January 17 and runs through February 2.  The Station also has an online reservation request form, which you can access here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Awards Round-Up (Golden Globes, Critics Choice, etc.)

Don't you love awards season? There are plenty of golden statuettes to go around, whether you're talking movies, TV, pop stars, directors, writers, whatever.

Probably the biggest party among the recent shows were the Golden Globes, given out on Sunday. And that was a pretty awesome party all around. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were fabulous. Also funny and fresh and cool, but mostly fabulous.

So what happened? Jodie Foster got the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her contributions to cinema, offering an acceptance speech that some found infuriating, some found inspiring, and others found confusing. Oh well. She got her award and she looked great, so I guess we're clear on that much.

In more surprising news, Argo and director Ben Affleck upset the Lincoln applecart, with Affleck taking Best Director and the movie being named Best Drama. It was a good week for Affleck, who also won the Critics Choice Award for Best Director, with Argo named their Best Picture, too. Was it a little payback for Affleck's direction not even getting a nomination from the Academy? Who knows? But it was fun!

Lincoln's Daniel Day-Lewis won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama, while Jessica Chastain took the Drama Best Actress honors for her role as a CIA agent on the trail of Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty. Those two also won with the Critics. Are they frontrunners for Oscar? Yeah, probably.

They were matched on the Golden Globes' Comedy/Musical side by Hugh Jackman, who won for playing brave and virtuous Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (which is certainly no comedy) and Jennifer Lawrence, half of of the off-kilter dancing duo in Silver Linings Playbook (which certainly is a comedy).

Aside from the overall Best Pic, which was Argo, the Critics Choice awards divide their favorite film choices into Comedies, Action Movies and Sci-Fi/Horror, and they singled out Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall and Looper. Jennifer Lawrence was their winner for both Action (The Hunger Games) and Comedy (Silver Linings Playbook), while Daniel Craig (Skyfall) and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings) took honors among Action and Comedy actors. Science Fiction/Horror actors get no love at all.

Supporting actors honored by the HFPA were Anne Hathaway, who played Fantine in Les Miz, and Christoph Waltz, as the dentist/bounty hunter/magic wizard in Django, while the Critics went with Hathaway and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played the cult leader in The Master.

Along with the awards for Jackman and Hathaway, Les Misérables also took the Golden Globe as Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical). Oddly, the Foreign Press Association honored neither Les Miz nor Argo, not even Lincoln and Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner, for its screenplay. That award went to the always annoying Quentin Tarantino for Bloody Bloody Django Unchained. (The "Bloody Bloody" and the "always annoying" are my contributions and not part of anything to do with the Golden Globes.) And yes, Tarantino was also the Critics Choice for Best Original Screenplay, while Kushner got Best Adapted Screenplay to go with all those Tonys, the Emmy, the Olivier and the Pulitzer.

Other films taking home the hardware were Brave, named Best Animated Feature Film by the Hollywood Foreign Press -- the Critics chose Wreck-It Ralph -- and France's Amour, which won as Best Foreign Language Film from both the HFPA and the Critics.

On the TV side at the Golden Globes, Showtime's Homeland was the big winner, taking Best Drama, Best Actor for Damian Lewis, and Best Actress for Claire Danes. HBO's Girls won Best Comedy, with star/creator/writer/Ms. Everything Lena Dunham named Best Actress in a Comedy. Don Cheadle, the lead in the Showtime series House of Lies, won as Best Actor.

HBO's Game Change, all about Sarah Palin and her Vice Presidential run, emerged as the winner in the Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television category, with Julianne Moore, the one who played Ms. Palin herself, named Best Actress. Kevin Costner took Best Actor honors for Hatfields & McCoys, a mini-series that aired on the History Channel.

Best Supporting actors in All of Television were Downton Abbey's Grande Dame Maggie Smith and Game Change's Ed Harris, who played presidential aspirant John McCain.

And now the important stuff! Who looked the best?

Among the ladies, I liked Amy Poehler's fun faux-tuxedo, which fit her personality perfectly, I thought Claire Danes looked terrific in red, and I also liked Naomi Watts' garnet gown. But Lucy Liu (above) was amazing in a flowered Carolina Herrera gown that didn't look like anybody else's.

 Unlike Connie Britton and Isla Fisher, who looked like the same person. Same color, same hair... Which is which? Can you tell?

And now it's on to more awards and more gorgeous gowns, as we wind our way through SAG, BAFTA and Oscar season. It feels like it lasts forever, but it's really just two months. Okay, maybe three.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Community Players Out of the Gate Fast Announcing 2013-14 Season

Now that it's 2013, Community Players isn't wasting any time. Yesterday, they made their big 2013-14 announcement, cluing everyone in on what they'll be performing on Robinhood Lane through July 27, 2014.

What do they have planned? A challenging season, mixing stage classics with some spiffy new musicals.

When I saw the first two choices, I thought maybe they going to do a whole season of Plays Beginning with A. That might be fun, but for right now, they'll start with the musical Aida in July, 2013, and head on to Arsenic and Old Lace in September.

This Aida (as opposed to the Verdi opera) is a power ballad bonanza, with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang. It's a love story about the transcendent connection between an Egyptian military man, one Radames, and a Nubian captive named Aida. On Broadway, Aida won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical Score and Best Performance by a Leading Actress for Heather Headley, who played Aida.

Arsenic and Old Lace is a totally different kettle of fish. This comedy classic, performed by countless theaters, schools and community organizations, has great roles -- Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha -- for ladies of a certain age. Mortimer Brewster's two aunts are lovely and sweet, providing both the lace and the arsenic, as it happens, knocking off old older gentlemen who stop by their parlor with poisoned elderberry wine. They're only doing it to be kind to these lonely souls, and also to provide "yellow fever" victims for their brother Teddy, who thinks he is Theodore Roosevelt, to bury in the basement, where he thinks he is digging the Panama Canal. It's dark humor and decidedly funny, as poor Mortimer gets put through the wringer by all the nonsense going on in the Brewster household.

In November, Players will unveil Monty Python's Spamalot, the musical version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail that won the Tony for Best Musical on Broadway in 2005. Monty Python member Eric Idle wrote the book and the lyrics and contributed to the score with John Du Prez and Neil Innes. Spamalot is a decidedly irreverent retelling of  Arthurian legends, with a little Fish Slapping, some Laker Girls and Las Vegas style entertainment, as well as jokes at the expense of Broadway itself.

That will be followed by a radio play version of It's a Wonderful Life, in December, of course, and the drama The Diary of Anne Frank to start 2014. The original stage version of Anne Frank, adapted by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett from the diaries the young schoolgirl wrote while hiding out from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic during World War II, played on Broadway in 1955. A new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman also came to Broadway, this time in 1997, with Natalie Portman in the title role. The newly adapted Diary of Anne Frank is scheduled for performances from January 17 to 26, 2014, at Community Players.

The March musical choice is Dolly Parton's 9 to 5: The Musical, the show IWU performed last semester. Dolly wrote the score, while Patricia Resnick contributed the book of this female empowerment musical that takes a leap back to the late 70s to show the comical side of revenge against a male chauvinist pig. Remember when we said "male chauvinist pig"? I do!

9 to 5 will be followed by Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, with performances from May 16 to 25. The Odd Couple is a perennial favorite, with the original stageplay, film and TV versions, scripts written for men and for women playing the mismatched roommates, and a 2002 updated Odd Couple (called Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple) that includes more current references. Which one is Community Players performing? We'll have to wait till we're a little closer to find out. (The image at right is from the film version, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. A little bit of trivia: Matthau was also in the Broadway original, where he played Oscar opposite Art Carney's Felix.)

The last show of this ambitious season will be Shrek the Musical, a Broadway show about a sweet green ogre and the enchanted princess he falls in love with. Lots of fairytale humor in this one, with a prince who is not at all charming, exiled fairies and elves and Pinocchio, and a talking donkey who becomes Shrek's best pal. Jeanine Tesori wrote the music for Shrek the Musical, while playwright David Lindsay-Abaire contributed both the lyrics and the book. The wonderful Brian d'Arcy James and Sutton Foster played Shrek and his beloved Princess Fiona on Broadway. And Christopher Sieber, one of the original cast members of Spamalot, took on the diminutive Prince Farquaard, the bad guy in the mix.

For schedule details and audition dates for all these shows, check out the Facebook announcement from Community Players here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar Nomination Surprises!

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had some surprises up its golden sleeves this morning, with no Oscar love for the guy in the iron lung in The Sessions and a whole lot of topsy turvy in the Best Director race.

There are nine nominees for Best Picture, with only Moonrise Kingdom left out from prognosticators' lists of likely nominees if it went that deep. Big favorite Lincoln is there, along with Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. Along with Moonrise Kingdom, dark horses Skyfall and The Master didn't make the cut.

Best Director was supposed to be a horse race between Steven Spielberg and actor-turned-director Ben Affleck, but Affleck, whose Argo got a Best Picture nod, is out in the cold, as are expected nominees Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Tom Hooper for Les Miz. Only Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Spielberg repeat from the Directors Guild nominations announced on Tuesday.

It's not that uncommon for the DGA to pick a different winner than the one who takes the prize on Oscar night, but the two groups sharing only two nominees out of five is a bit surprising. Michael Haneke, who directed Amour, Benh Zeitlin, from Beasts of the Southern Wild, and David O. Russell, who has appeared on a lot of Best of the Year lists for Silver Linings Playbook, benefited from the absence of Affleck, Bigelo and Hooper on the final slate.

The Best Actor competition comes down to Daniel Day-Lewis, who played Lincoln in Lincoln, Bradley Cooper as a bipolar man who moves back in with Mom and Dad in Silver Linings Playbook, Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, Denzel Washington as a heroic but flawed pilot in Flight, and Joaquin Phoenix as an unstable man who falls in with a cult in The Master. Because Phoenix took a swipe at awards season and the campaigning involved, many thought the Academy voters would snub him, but there he is. And John Hawkes, widely expected to be a contender for his role as a man in an iron lung who hires a sex therapist in The Sessions, is nowhere to be found.

Frontrunners Jessica Chastain (a CIA operative going after Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (the quirky love interest who dances with Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook) are front and center in the Best Actress category, where they are joined by 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who played a girl named Hushpuppy taking a journey to the end of the world in Beasts of the Southern Wild and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, who played a retired music teacher whose health is failing in the French film Amour. Wallis and Riva represent the youngest and oldest nominees ever in the Best Actress category. Naomi Watts, a mother trying to find her son during a tsunami in The Impossible, rounds out the list of nominees. A likely contender left out was Marion Cotillard, whose performance as a whale trainer in Rust and Bone was overlooked. Let's give credit to IndieWire's Peter Knegt, who called this category perfectly.

The real Thaddeus Stevens (L) and Tommy Lee Jones in the role.
Supporting Actors nominated include veteran Alan Arkin for his work as a wily movie producer in Argo, Robert DeNiro as Bradley Cooper's OCD dad in Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic cult leader in The Master, Tommy Lee Jones as a fiery abolitionist in Lincoln, and Christoph Waltz as a bounty hunter* in Django Unchained.

Nominee Jacki Weaver
And the Supporting Actresses who got the call this morning are Amy Adams and Sally Field, playing wives to the title characters in The Master and Lincoln, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, arguably the most miserable character in Les Misérables, Helen Hunt as the helpful sex therapist in The Sessions, and  Australian actress Jacki Weaver, the mom in Silver Linings Playbook. There were a whole lot of names bandied about for that fifth spot, with actresses like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Nicole Kidman considered more likely than Weaver. But her presence as the most stable member of the Silver Linings family won the day, giving Weaver an out-of-nowhere nomination.

If you'd like to see the complete list of Oscar nominations, head here to read 'em and weep. Or cheer. Lincoln leads in nominations overall with 12, with Life of Pi right behind with 11 and Silver Linings Playbook with 8. That's a bit better than experts predicted for Pi, so congrats to director Ang Lee, whose University of Illinois connection (he got a BFA there in 1980) makes him rootable in my book.

*I've corrected what I called the character in response to a comment, in case anyone wonders why he is suddenly a bounty hunter.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hey, Hermano! Netflix Announces ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT for May

It's been awhile since Netflix announced they would air new episodes of Arrested Development, the quirky and generally amazing sitcom that never belonged on Fox in the first place. At first we were told there would be ten new episodes starting in early 2013, but that got pushed back and expanded. So then the news was 14 episodes sometime in the Spring.

And now it's official! Or at least sort of official. TVLine and Entertainment Weekly are both reporting, based on intel from the Television Critics Association winter press tour, that Arrested Development and its 14 episodes will start on Netflix in May. So no exact date in May, but hey, May in general is better than June, July, or parts thereafter.

Word is that the new episodes will act as a kind of catch-up to where and what the Bluths have been doing since we saw them last, as a way of creating a platform for a movie later. An Arrested Development feature film was supposedly in the works before the Netflix deal was announced in November 2011, and that may still be happening. If Michael Cera, who plays Bluth son George Michael, hasn't outgrown the rest of the family.

Not only will regulars Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Cera, David Cross, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale, Alia Shawcat, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter all be back for the Netflix episodes, but they will be joined by guests like Liza Minnelli, Conan O'Brien and John Slattery. Will Ron Howard show up, too? Will Maeby Fünke (Shawcat) sing "Call Me Maybe" or has that moment of pop culture relevance passed? Will we see terrible lawyers Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler) or Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio), Lupe the maid (B. W. Gonzalez), boring girlfriend Ann Veal (Mae Whitman), wayward secretary Kitty (Judy Greer), Carl Weathers (Carl Weathers) or blind-but-not-really Maggie Lizer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)? And what about STEVE HOLT!? (He was played by Justin Wade Grant, but they could totally replace him and I wouldn't notice. It's the concept of STEVE HOLT! that counts.)

I also have a fondness for the stair car. But maybe that's too much to hope for.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Oscar Nominations Will Be Announced Thursday January 10th

Everybody knows the Oscar nominations will be announced Thursday, right? And everybody seems pretty clear on who will get those nominations this year.

The website Gold Derby is in the prognostication biz, combining opinions from experts and regular old folks to come up with odds and predictions for the Golden Globes and the Emmys and the Screen Actors Guild and... Of course, the Big Kahuna, the Oscars. Gold Derby updates their odds as movies get released over the year, and today's predictions are that Lincoln will lead nominations with 12, Les Miz will be right behind with 11, and Life of Pi will pick up 9 nods. The Gold Derby crystal ball also sees 7 nominations for Zero Dark Thirty and 5 for Argo and Silver Linings Playbook.

We'll see on Thursday whether they hit the target with those predictions. I always hope for some upsets, mostly because the Academy Awards have become so obvious, so predictable, and we need some interlopers to knock the likes of Lincoln and Les Misérables off their perches. Or maybe that's just me. In any event, this is how the individual races break down:

For Best Picture, predictions are a little tricky since no one knows exactly how many nominations there will be. The Academy opened it up a few years ago, allowing more than five for pictures with a certain percentage of the total votes. Gold Derby has ten: Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Django Unchained, Beasts of the Southern WildMoonrise Kingdom and Amour, in that order, with The Master as a dark horse coming up on the outside.

Over at Huffington Post, Michael Hogan and Christopher Rosen are looking at eight, with Rosen thinking Skyfall will sneak in as a nominee instead of Beasts, Moonrise, or Amour. And IndieWire's Peter Knegt is hedging his bets with choices for five nominees (Lincoln, Argo, Zero, Les Miz and Silver) with extras Django, Pi, Beasts, Moonrise and Amour if the nominee list is expanded.

Everybody expects Best Actor nods to go to Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables, Denzel Washington for Flight and John Hawkes for The Sessions. Who will get the last slot? Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook? Or Joaquin Phoenix for The Master? Cooper seems to be the name on most lists. Sorry, Bill Murray (Hyde Park on the Hudson) and Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock). According to the those in the know, your name will not be called on Thursday.

How about Best Actress? To be perfectly honest, the Best Actress race is seldom as interesting as the one for Best Actor, mostly because Hollywood banks on movies with men front and center. (See the poster images accompanying this article. Boys, boys, boys. Oh well.) Youngsters Jennifer Lawrence (who gets half a face on the poster of Silver Linings Playbook) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) are expected to duke it out for the win, with Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) as also-rans, according to Gold Derby. At HuffPo, Rosen is picking Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) instead of Riva for the last slot, while IndieWire is on board with Riva, but picks Wallis instead of Cotillard. It would be fun to hear last year's Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin say Quvenzhané, wouldn't it?

The Best Supporting Actor field should include Lincoln's Tommy Lee Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman from The Master, Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook, Alan Arkin for Argo and either Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson or Christoph Waltz from Django Unchained, if the experts are correct. It's kind of a wild race, given all those Django choices plus Eddie Redmayne from Les Miz and Javier Bardem from Skyfall and maybe... Matthew McConaughey as a veteran stripper in Magic Mike? You gotta be kidding, right?

Supporting Actress isn't any more settled, although Anne Hathaway and her Les Misérables haircut are expected to lead the pack. (Hathaway is shown at right on a different Les Miz poster, pre-haircut.) Sally Field is probably a shoe-in as Mrs. Lincoln in Lincoln, and Helen Hunt (The Sessions) and Amy Adams (The Master) are front-runners for spots 3 and 4. Maggie Smith, as a cranky oldster in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, was expected to roll right into this category, although Nicole Kidman's surprise Golden Globe nomination for The Paperboy has some thinking she may be able to push Dame Maggie to the side. And how about Samantha Barks as Eponine in Les Misérables? Or a different Dame, Judi Dench in Skyfall? I actually liked Dench better than Smith in Best Exotic Marigold, but Smith does have the Downton Abbey fans on her side. I guess we'll see on Thursday.

And last, the Best Director race centers on Steven Spielberg, whose Lincoln is the prestige pic of the year, followed by Ben Affleck for Argo (the Academy does tend to get behind actors-turned-director), Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Ang Lee for Life of Pi. It's always that last spot that gets tricky. Gold Derby gives it to Tom Hooper for Les Miz, but the HuffPo guys think it'll be David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, and IndieWire is going out on a limb with Quentin Tarantino for Django. I think I'm with Gold Derby on this one. Hooper got a Directors Guild nomination, announced just this morning, giving him the inside track on an Oscar nom, as well.

Who will win? Let's save that for after the nominations are announced. That will be Thursday, January 10, at 5:30 in the morning in Hollywood. That's 7:30 am for us. You can get the scoop on the Oscar website just as soon as Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announce them.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Keeping Up with Casting: MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at ISU

To catch up... We've already talked about the casts for four of Illinois State University's upcoming shows, from Archibald MacLeish's J.B, opening February 21 in Westhoff Theatre, to Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Oklahoma, in the Center for the Performing Arts from February 22, Tales of the Lost Formicans, a play by Constance Congdon, starting March 28 in Centennial West 207, and The Adding Machine, a classic from Elmer Rice, with performances beginning April 5 in the CPA. If you want to see which actors are playing which roles in those plays, click on the link under the show titles just above.

So what does that leave? Shakespeare, of course! A Midsummer Night's Dream is the last show of ISU's theatre season, taking the stage in Westhoff Theatre from April 11 to 20. Vanessa Stalling, the MFA directing candidate who worked on Jean Genet's The Maids last season, will direct this Midsummer for ISU.

Stallings has cast Devon Nimerfroh, memorable as Howard the salesman in Picnic and one of the onstage musicians in Mother Courage, as Theseus and Oberon, with Abby Vombrack, Mother Courage herself, opposite him as both Hippolyta and Titania.

Duke Theseus and his tempestuous Amazon bride-to-be, Hippolyta, form the framing device for the play. Their wedding offers an opportunity for aristocrats like the young Athenian lovers to gather as guests. It also gets the troupe of "mechanicals," regular working folk, together to attempt to put on a play in honor of the nuptials. The third plot thread in Midsummer involves a band of fairies and their king and queen, Oberon and Titania, who are up to some mischievous magical tricks in the same forest as the lovers and the mechanicals.

Nimerfroh and Vombrack will have more to do as Oberon and Titania, since their romantic battles create all sorts of havoc, what with misguided love potions mixing up the four lovers and Titania falling in love with Bottom, one of the actors in the amateur troupe, after he's been turned into a donkey by Puck, Oberon's right-hand fairy minion.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline as Titania and Bottom
For ISU, Cydney Moody will step in as Puck, while Thomas Howie (who happens to be the son of Mike Howie, my very first editor at the Champaign New-Gazette when I started as a theater critic) will play Bottom, the amateur actor who falls afoul of Oberon, with Garrett Douglas, Andrew Piechota and Brandon Miller as his fellow mechnicals.

Elizabeth Dillard and Fiona Stephens, who were together in Stallings' production of The Maids, will play Hermia and Helena, the Athenian girls who play mix-and-match with their romantic partners. The objects of their affections, Athenian youths Demetrius and Lysander, will be played by Dan Machalinski and Austin Peed.

Omar Shammaa, who was so good as Pascal in Anon(ymous) last fall, takes on Hermia's dad, Egeus, the one whose refusal to allow his daughter to chose her own boyfriend sends everybody on the lam, as well as other roles, which I hope include Robin Starveling, since otherwise we're missing a mechanical. Others in the cast include Kate Klemchuck and Mary DeWitt as fairies Peaseblossom and Mustardseed, along with Angela Geiss, Caitlin Graham and David Link in the ensemble.

Note that both images accompanying this post are from the 1999 film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Michael Hoffman and starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Everett as Titania and Oberon, Kevin Kline as Bottom, Anna Friel, Calista Flockhart, Christian Bale and Dominic West as the four lovers, and Stanley Tucci as Puck.

There were a lot of things to like about that movie version, including my favorite group of mechanicals ever, with Kline as the leading man and Roger Rees, Bill Irwin, Gregory Jbara, Sam Rockwell and Max Wright rounding out the group. They came across as a band of brothers with sincere loyalty and affection for each other, giving Midsummer a different feel and making Bottom feel achingly real and his dream achingly lovely. (I never will like Rockwell's over-the-top Thisbe in the play-within-the-play, but I can always avert my eyes during that part.)

In any event, a good Midsummer is something to look forward to in any season. Bring it on, ISU!

Friday, January 4, 2013


It's the time of the season for TV.  Mostly returning TV, but a few premieres are sneaking in here, too. So if you're sick of all the reruns or can't wait one minute longer to see what's happening on your favorite show after a cliffhanger in November or December... You just may be in luck. If, like me, you're waiting for Mad Men, Arrested Development and Parks and Recreation, you'll have to wait a little longer.

Downton Abbey, back January 6 with Season 3
In the meantime, this weekend we get Downton Abbey, giving us Season 3 of adventures for the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, as well as the entrance of Shirley MacLaine as the big bad American mother-in-law. And Once Upon a Time, with Captain Hook and the evil Queen of Hearts storming into town on a pirate ship.

And two new shows begin early next week, with Deception, which looks like NBC's version of Revenge, on Monday, and The Abolitionists, a mini-series on PBS about the people working to end slavery in America, on Tuesday. NBC's 1600 Penn is new, too, but already sneaked its premiere episode in December. One small note about Deception: The murder victim at the center of the story is played by One Life to Live's former Jessica Buchanan, Bree Williamson. Let's hope playing a dead girl works out as well for her as it did for Amanda Seyfried, who was the late Lilly Kane on Veronica Mars before breaking big.

Note that ABC's Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B are opening their seasons in odd Sunday time slots, but will return to their regular Tuesday locations this week as well. NBC's The Biggest Loser also has two shows this week, with a Sunday special premiere and a regular Monday show.

Oh, and Chicago Fire, Elementary, Law & Order: SVU, Parenthood, Person of Interest and The Big Bang Theory are already back, so if those are your shows, you'd better already be tuned in.

Here's what coming up (and coming back) this week:

Friday, January 4: Last Man Standing (ABC, 7 pm), Malibu Country (ABC, 7:30 pm), CSI:New York (CBS, 8 pm), Blue Bloods (CBS, 9 pm), Merlin (Syfy, 9 pm)

Saturday, January 5: Austin City Limits (PBS, check local listings for time)

Sunday, January 6: Once Upon a Time (ABC, 7 pm), Bob's Burgers (Fox, 7:30 pm), The Biggest Loser (NBC, 8 pm), Downton Abbey (PBS, 8 pm), Family Guy (Fox, 8 pm), The Good Wife (CBS, 8 pm), Revenge (ABC, 8 pm), American Dad (Fox, 8:30 pm), Happy Endings (ABC, 9 pm), Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (ABC, 9:30 pm),

Monday, January 7: Antiques Roadshow (PBS, 7 pm), The Bachelor (ABC, 7 pm), Switched at Birth (ABC Family, 7 pm), Bunheads (ABC Family, 8 pm), Castle (ABC, 9 pm), Deception (NBC, 9 pm)

Tuesday, January 8: NCIS (CBS, 7 pm), Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family, 7 pm),  Raising Hope (Fox, 7 pm), Ben and Kate (Fox, 7:30 pm), The Abolitionists (PBS, 8 pm), Go On (NBC, 8 pm), Justified (FX, 8 pm), The Lying Game (ABC Family, 8 pm), NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, 8 pm),  New Girl (Fox, 8 pm),  The Mindy Project (Fox, 8:30 pm), The New Normal (NBC, 8:30 pm),  Cougar Town (TBS, 9 pm), Private Practice (ABC, 9 pm), Vegas (CBS, 9 pm)

Wednesday, Jan 9: The Middle (ABC, 7 pm), The Neighbors (ABC, 7:30 pm), Modern Family (ABC, 8 pm), Suburgatory (ABC, 8:30 pm), Nashville (ABC, 9 pm)

Thursday, Jan 10: 30 Rock (NBC, 7 pm), Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 8 pm), The Office (NBC, 8 pm), 1600 Penn (NBC, 8:30 pm), Scandal (ABC, 9 pm)

For more information about any of these shows, click the link under the show's name.