Thursday, October 31, 2013

Festival Passes on Sale Tomorrow for Ebertfest 2014

Ebertfest 2013
In case you wondered if there would still be an Ebertfest without Roger Ebert, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, festival passes go on sale tomorrow, November 1, for everything to be shown at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign during the 16th annual Ebertfest from April 23 to 27, 2014. There will also be panel discussions and talks with people involved in the films, and those special events will take place at on-campus locations at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

U of I's College of Media is the official sponsor for Ebertfest, and anyone interested in helping out as a volunteer or offering a donation is asked to contact Mary Susan Britt, associate director of the festival, at 217-244-0552 or

Given the fact that Roger Ebert passed away last April and is so very much much missed, tickets for this event, something that meant a great deal to him, will probably sell extremely quickly. The Ebertfest organizers will offer a total of one thousand passes for sale, with individual tickets not available until April 1.

Roger Ebert was born and raised in Urbana, and he graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Illinois. He was a sportswriter for the Champaign News-Gazette while still in high school, and he served as the editor of both his high school and college newspapers.His film criticism for the Chicago Sun-Times put him at the top of the nation's list of movie critics, and his partnership with Gene Siskel from the Chicago Tribune made TV stars and household names of both men.

Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for his work. He was awarded that prize in 1975.

Ebertfest began in 1999 as Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, with films ranging from Tron to Shiloh and Battleship Potemkin that first year. The "overlooked" part was dropped from the name beginning in 2008, and Roger Ebert's Film Festival is now most often referred to as simply Ebertfest.

The selections for the 2014 festival will not be announced till March. Last year, you would've found films like Days of Heaven, The Ballad of Narayama, and Julia, with star Tilda Swinton offering an "Ebertfest Dance-Along."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

England for Spring Break? Tomorrow's the Deadline to Go with Eureka College Theatre

There's still time to sign up for Eureka College's spring break theatre trip to England, but you'd better act quickly! You'll need to reserve a spot by tomorrow, October 31, and make a $250 deposit to take advantage of this travel opportunity. And if three more people get in before the deadline, the price for everybody drops significantly!

Yep -- they only need THREE more people to get a really nice group price.

Eureka students will visit London and Stratford-upon-Avon from March 8 to 14, 2014, and they're including lots of goodies in the tour package, including tickets to four shows, including London’s West End, Stratford, and fringe theatres; private workshops at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe Theatre; behind-the-scenes tours at the National Theatre, Globe, Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford and the Victoria and Albert Museum; private tours of London’s historical theaters and sights in Stratford; roundtrip airfare from Peoria, six nights of hotel (including six mornings of breakfast), two group dinners, hop on/off tour tickets and London tube and bus passes.

You can find all the details here, including the price with and without the extra three people. You need a passport, a check for $250 to the Eureka College business office sometime tomorrow, and a desire to see some really wonderful sights. You can reach the business office by phone at 309-467-6305 if you want to talk about how to get that deposit in on time. And check out the Eureka College Theatre page on Facebook to see if they get to the magic number!

Alexander Hamilton Exposed in TREASURE at IWU, Opening Tomorrow

What do you know about Alexander Hamilton? Founding father, on the ten-dollar bill, mortally wounded in a duel with Aaron Burr... That's about all I know, although the ten-dollar bill thing reminds me that he was the first Secretary of the Treasury in the new United States and created the foundation for the nation's entire financial system.

Tim Slover's play Treasure, opening on Halloween night at Illinois Wesleyan's E. Melba Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre, takes a more personal look at Alexander Hamilton, focusing on his marriage and the political ambition -- as well as the sex scandal -- that almost ruined it.

In the IWU press release for the show, guest director Michael Cotey compares Hamilton to the likes of President Bill Clinton, saying, “Treasure dramatizes the United States’ first political sex scandal... Our history is full of ambitious politicians who have tested the fates with their own indiscretions.”

And it wasn't just that Hamilton had a fling while he was married and while he was at the height of his political power under George Washington. Hamilton had the bad fortune -- or bad taste -- to pick one Maria Reynolds, who had been married to a ne'er-do-well named James Reynolds since she was 16, as the partner in his transgression. Hamilton's and Mrs. Reynolds' sex-on-the-side arrangement lasted some three years, and during most of that time, her husband was blackmailing Hamilton, threatening to expose the affair. If you watch a lot of movies or television shows about con artists, you might recognize this sort of thing as a long form of the badger game.

Reynolds was also involved in other nefarious schemes, including counterfeiting and a scam involving speculation on unpaid wages to veterans. He used his leverage over Hamilton to keep himself out of trouble for those offenses, but some of the Secretary of the Treasury's political rivals found out, anyway, and Hamilton was accused of being a participant in the veterans' wages scheme. Hamilton eventually admitted his relationship with Maria Reynolds and published a very long defense with a very long title -- Observations on Certain Documents contained in Nos. V. and VI. of The History of the United States for the Year 1796, in which the Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton, late Secretary of the Treasury, is fully refuted -- with all kinds of detail about his illicit love affair.

That scandal put all kinds of pressure on Elizabeth Hamilton, his wife, and severely damaged Hamilton's reputation on all fronts. It also created a dandy little story about how the world worked behind the scenes in the early days of American politics, one which playwright Tim Slover digs into in Treasure.

For IWU, Zach Wagner will portray Alexander Hamilton, with Elizabeth Albers as Elizabeth "Betsy" Hamilton, and Anna Sciaccotta as Maria Reynolds, the "other woman." Others in the cast include Nick Giambrone as James Reynolds, Steven Czajkowski as James Monroe, and Elliott Plowman as Reverend Frederick Muhlenberg, the first Speaker of the House.

Director Michael Cotey comes to Illinois Wesleyan from Milwaukee, where he was Founding Artistic Director of Youngblood Theatre Company. Cotey's directing credits include The Comedy of Errors at last summer's Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and he also worked as an actor at the ISF in The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus.

For ticket information, click here or call 309-556-3232 for the IWU School of Theatre Arts Box Office.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Keep an Eye Peeled for FREAKY CREEK FILM FEST

If you don't have Halloween plans yet, but you like to be scared and laugh at the same time, the Freaky Creek Film Festival over in Fairmount, Illinois, may be just the ticket. This is a film festival of short films "with a freaky, creepy or darkly funny nature" made by a combination of filmmakers from around here and around the globe.

If you're wondering where the Freaky Creek name comes from, you should know that this film fest is held at the Sleepy Creek Vineyard, which transforms from Sleepy to Freaky for Halloween. But the vineyard part means there ought to be wine available, too. Their materials don't say anything about wine -- although they do mention a special cake for Halloween night -- but there's a glass of wine in the skeleton's hand in that logo, isn't there? Note that the films will be screened inside Sleepy Creek's tasting room, which is another good sign that their wine should be available.

The Freaky Creek people are encouraging costumes and even offering special treats for those who show up wearing Halloween weeds. They also offer this warning:
The show may contain adult situations, foul language, things that may scare the bejesus out of you, and/or babies being baked in ovens. There is also a high probability that you may wet yourself laughing. If you are sensitive to these things, the show might not be for you. Ages 18+ only please (21 to drink).
The film festival runs for three days, including Halloween night on Thursday October 31, as well as the Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2, although Saturday is already sold out. Festivities begin at 7 pm on Thursday and 8 pm Friday. The "Freaky Cake" scheduled to appear on Thursday will be made by Eric and Patty Woller of MeMe's Treat Boutique. You can check out MeMe's Facebook page here.

If you'd like to score tickets now to be sure you get them before the other nights sell out, click here. Tickets are $12 for Thursday but only $10 for Friday, and will be available up to one hour before showtime as long as they last.

Sleepy Creek Vineyard is located at 8254 East 1425 North Road outside Fairmount, Illinois, and you can visit their website or call 217-733-0330 for more information.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Sisters are always popping up on the page and on the stage, from Shakespeare's Weird Sisters in Macbeth to Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in King Lear, Chekhov's Three Sisters, the March girls in Little Women, the Southern Gothic Magrath sisters in Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart, Wendy Wasserstein's New York Jewish Sisters Rosensweig, and last summer's Fail sisters at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, who found their place in Chicago in the 1920s.

Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa has five sisters, not three, and they're in Ireland, not Russia. Still, it's hard not to see the similarities between Friel's women and Chekhov's. The eldest works too hard and is a schoolteacher and one of the others is smitten with an impossible love. Both sets of women are stuck somewhere provincial and suffocating, somewhere they don't want to be, and money and gender pay big parts in who can do what and go where. Each family also has a brother, and he brings complications that only make their lives more difficult. And yet... Chekhov's women are so very Russian. And Friel's are so very tied to Ireland.

Plus Lughnasa is a memory play, as our narrator, a man named Michael, steps back into the childhood he remembers, with his image of his mother and her sisters what we see on stage. There's another factor that sets the Mundy sisters apart, too, in the poverty that pervades their humble abode. Money may be a problem for the Prozorovs, but it's a grinding reality for Kate, Maggie, Rose, Agnes and Christina Mundy. But what makes Lughnasa stand apart is neither the memory play issue or the financial distress they're in. Instead, it's the sense of joy in the midst of that poverty, of dancing even when the soles of your shoes are wearing very thin.

Dancing at Lughnasa began its life in Ireland, as you might expect, in a very well-regarded production at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1990. Much of the Irish cast traveled with the play to London and then New York, including Brid Brennan, who won a Tony Awards for her portrayal of Agnes. That production also took home Tonys for the play itself and for director Patrick Mason.

The Cusack sisters (Sorcha, Niamh and Sinéad -- who've also done Three Sisters, by the way) appeared in a 2009 London revival, while Meryl Streep joined Brid Brennan for the 1998 film version.

Lori Adams directs Dancing at Lughnasa for Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts in performances from November 1 to 9. Robert Johnson will play Michael, the narrator who steps back into his youth, with Faith Servant and Natalie Blackman as Agnes and Rose, and Ronald Roman as Gerry, the dashing Welshman who comes back into Christina's life at all the wrong times. Johnson, Servant, Blackman and Roman are all part of ISU's new class of MFA actors. Fiona Stephens will play Kate, the oldest and most responsible sister, while Jaimie Taylor takes on Maggie, the one who likes to laugh. Rounding out the Mundy family, Elsa Torner will play Christina, Michael's mother, and Arif Yampolsky will play Father Jack, the brother who went to Africa as a priest but came back very much changed..You can see all the details here including how to get tickets.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Auditions: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (the Radio Play) at Community Players

Is It's A Wonderful Life your favorite holiday movie, or maybe even your favorite movie of all time, holiday or otherwise? If you answered yes to that question, Community Players is calling your name with It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play by Joe Landry. This is a new version of the perennial holiday classic, written as if it were a 1940s radio play, including whiz-bang sound effects. Actors will presumably stand in front of big, standing microphones to give it all radio-real authenticity.

Auditions to be part of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play will take place this Saturday and Sunday, October 26 and 27, at 7 pm. Director Sally Parry and producer Dorothy Mundy will be looking for between five and seven actors. The actors who play George and Mary (Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed on screen) will take on both the younger and older versions of the characters, and the other members of the cast will play multiple roles, with the exception of the sound effects operator, who plays a very important part in a radio show.

Community Players' auditions information says: "There will be a lot of reading from the script to see how well actors can move among different roles and voices. This show is sure to be an audience favorite and should be both fun and challenging for those involved."

It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play will take the stage at Community Players from December 12 to 15, with four performances. This is considered a "lab show" and not a part of the regular season.

HARVEY Hopes to Help U-High Hop to Scotland

Normal University High School will open the classic comedy Harvey by Mary Chase tonight at 7 pm. Harvey is a fun show about a kind but eccentric man named Elwood P. Dodd who has a best friend that only he can see. Elwood's invisible companion happens to be a 6-foot-3 "pooka," resembling a human-sized rabbit, named Harvey. But Veta, Elwood's sister, isn't thrilled by his unconventional idea of a best pal, and she argues that Harvey is prima facie evidence that Elwood belongs at the funny farm.

Harvey is often performed at high schools and community theaters, and its good-natured message about how much more interesting life is if we support the eccentricity in our midst never goes out of style. U High's production is a little different, however, in that, as the first production of their season, it's hoping to help pave the way for a trip with a different play to Edinburgh's Fringe Festival late next summer. While that's a great opportunity for U High students, it's also expensive, as you might imagine.

Right now, everybody at U High, including the cast and crew of Harvey, is working very hard to raise funds for the trip. And you can help them out! You can attend opening night tonight at U High's Stroud Auditorium, or get out to the Friday or Saturday night performances, also at 7 pm, or the Sunday matinee at 2 pm. Your ticket price ($10 for adults and $5 for students) helps them out, as do any extra donations you'd like to make.

Here's the blurb from the U High website:
"University High School Theatre and Thespians- present the Pulitzer-prize winning comedy Harvey by Mary Chase as their 2013-14 season opener. This heart-felt comedy of errors features U-High senior Sullivan Peterson-Quinn as Elwood P. Dowd, an affable man, who claims to have an invisible friend - a 6', 3'' tall talking rabbit named Harvey. Performances are Friday and Saturday, October 25th-26th at 7pm and Sunday, October 27th at 2pm in Stroud Auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and can be purchased at the door or online here."
I don't often publicize high school theater events, but I love Harvey as a play (the 1950 movie with James Stewart is pretty fun, too), Ben and his wife Rachel are local theater artists whose work I enjoy, and I think it's a great idea to support a high school theater program hoping to send kids to Scotland.

Keep an eye out for other U High fund-raising events between now and next summer, but in the meantime, get out to Stroud Auditorium this weekend!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

ATCA Theatre Hall of Famers for 2013

The American Theatre Critics Association has chosen its Theater Hall of Fame honorees for 2013, with actors Ellen Burstyn and Cherry Jones, designer David Hays, director Jerry Zaks, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, multi-hyphenates Lynne Meadow and George C. Wolfe, and producer Cameron Mackintosh in this year's class of inductees. This is the 43rd year for the Theater Hall of Fame, which honors Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater. This year's celebration will take place at the Gershwin Theatre on January 27, 2014.

Ellen Burstyn is probably best known for her film appearances. She has been nominated for an Academy Award six times, winning as Best Actress in 1975 for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. She won a Golden Globe in 1979 for the film version of Same Time Next Year, for which she also won a Tony, and Emmys in 2009 and 2013 for a guest spot on Law & Order: SVU and her role as the matriarch of a powerful political family in Political Animals. Burstyn made her Broadway debut in 1957 with Fair Game, returning from time to time, including Same Time, Next Year in 1975 and Picnic earlier this year.

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was the first female African-American playwright to see her work on Broadway. Her seminal work, A Raisin in the Sun, opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1959, and was revived in 2004 with a cast that included P. Diddy, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald. It will be back on Broadway next year in a production set to star Denzel Washington and Diahann Carroll. A Raisin in the Sun also spawned a musical called Raisin and inspired new plays Clybourne Park (a Pulitzer Prize winner) by Bruce Norris and Beneatha's Place by Kwame Kwei-Armah. Hansberry's other plays include The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window and Les Blancs. When she won the Best Play award from the New York Drama Critics Circle for A Raisin in the Sun, she was the youngest American playwright to receive that honor.

David Hays is a scenic and lighting designer with an extensive resume including the original Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night in 1956 and revivals of Dinner at Eight, Saint Joan, The Miser, and Cyrano de Bergerac. His scenic designs for The Tenth Man, All the Way Home, No Strings, Marco Millions and Drat! The Cat! all earned him Tony nominations. Hays also founded the National Theatre of the Deaf, serving as its artistic director as well as directing, producing and taking on administration of the theatre.

Cherry Jones (L) with Celia Keenan-Bolger in The Glass Menagerie
Cherry Jones is one of the most notable actresses currently on the American stage, with some 14 Broadway shows on her resume, including four Tony nominations and two wins in the Best Actress in a Play category. The Tony Awards came for her roles in The Heiress and Doubt, and she is currently appearing in The Glass Menagerie at the Booth Theatre, which may win her another one. On TV, she is best known as for her role as President Allison Taylor on 24, while her film credits include Cradle Will Rock and Erin Brockovich.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh is a producer extraordinaire, and the producer behind smash successes like Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and Cats.He has won Tony Awards for his productions of Cats, Les Miz and Phantom, as well as revivals of Carousel and Swan Lake. The New York Times has described Mackintosh as "the most successful, influential and powerful theatrical producer in the world."

Lynne Meadow is the Artistic Director of Manhattan Theatre Club, a position she has held since 1972. Meadow has directed and/or produced over 450 New York and world premieres, with Tony Awards for producing Proof, Doubt and Love! Valour! Compassion! Her directing credits include Margaret Edson’s Wit, Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories, Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, and Alan Ayckbourn's A Small Family Business with Brian Murray and Woman in Mind with Stockard Channing. She is currently directing The Commons of Pensacola, a brand-new play written by actress Amanda Peet, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner, now in previews and opening November 21.

George C. Wolfe has won Tony Awards as a director  -- Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk -- and as a producer -- Angels in America: Perestroika, Elaine Stritch: At Liberty, and Take Me Out -- and a Drama Desk Award for writing the Outstanding Book of a Musical, for Jelly's Last Jam. His direction of The Normal Heart and Millennium Approaches won more Drama Desks, and he picked up an Obie for directing Spunk, a collection of Zora Neale Hurston pieces. Wolfe was the producer of the Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival from 1993 to 2005, and he most recently directed Lucky Guy, starring Tom Hanks.

Jerry Zaks began his Broadway career as a performer, but by 1986 and The House of Blue Leaves, he had switched to directing. The House of Blue Leaves earned Zaks a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for his direction, and he won both awards again for Lend Me a Tenor, Six Degrees of Separation and Guys and Dolls. In addition to the four Tonys and four Drama Desk Awards, Zaks owns two Outer Critics Circle Awards, an Obie, and an NAACP Image Award nomination for his national tour of The Tap Dance Kid. He also directed the film Marvin's Room, which starred Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Leonardo DiCaprio, and all kinds of television episodes, from Frasier to Two and a Half Men. He is a founding member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Happy 100th, Benjamin Britten!

Composer, conductor and pianist Benjamin Britten was born in Suffolk, England, on November 22, 1913, which means we are a month away from the 100th anniversary of his birth. That anniversary is being celebrated worldwide by orchestras, children's choirs, vocalists and filmmakers from England to Sweden, from Newport Beach, California to New York, New York.

One of the most complete celebrations is happening right here in Bloomington-Normal, as Illinois State University offers a four-day centenary symposium. There's a conference bringing together Britten scholars from all over the world as well as a full slate of performances, including War Requiem Op. 66, a "monumental undertaking" for orchestra, chamber orchestra, soloists, choir, boys’ choir, and organ, featuring solos by Illinois State University faculty Michelle Vought, soprano, Justin Vickers, tenor, and John Koch, baritone; Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury conducted by James Major, Dean of the College of Fine Arts; the American premiere of a filmed version of the opera Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach; a recital called "Benjamin Britten & the Art of Song" that brings together faculty soloists from Illinois State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois Wesleyan University; "Britten's Choral Delights," a national workshop with members of the American Choral Directors Association; two free box-lunch recitals; an exhibition of art at the University Galleries and Milner Library; "Britten's Ballet & More," spotlighting dance performed to live chamber music; and a play about Britten by British playwright Alan Bennett called The Habit of Art, with Assistant Professor Sonja Moser from the Department of Theatre directing a cast that includes U of I's Robert G. Anderson, IWU's Thomas Anthony Quinn, and ISU's Lori Adams, David Ian Lee and Kim Pereira. Most of these events take place in the Center for the Performing Arts, with The Habit of Art in the Kemp Recital Hall in Centennial East at 1 pm on Sunday the 27th.

And that is a whole lot of Benjamin Britten!

You may be wondering why all of this is happening in Illinois. Here is a partial answer: "The significance of a Britten centenary event in the State of Illinois rests squarely on the foundation of Britten’s career in the United States: for on January 15, 1940, Britten made his American debut in the U.S. première of the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D for piano and orchestra with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra in Chicago. Britten was at the piano. And with that, his reputation -- and career -- was catapulted throughout the U.S."

For all the details on these events, visit the Centenary Symposium homepage or the event's Facebook page.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


ABC's Lucky 7, a limp drama about a group of lottery winners, was the first to get the ax. And then CBS yanked We Are Men, a sad show that featured interesting actors like Tony Shalhoub and Kal Penn doing absolutely nothing interesting. As bets swirled about which show would go over the cliff into TV oblivion next, NBC announced it was canning one cop drama in Ironside and one sitcom in Welcome to the Family.

Something for everyone! Ironside was one of those strange revivals/remakes that pop up from time to time, as somebody inexplicably decides it's time to dig up an old show nobody really misses. I mean, my mom really liked the first Ironside -- she had a thing for Raymond Burr -- but I haven't heard anybody else mention that show since... Well, since it was canceled in 1975. Blair Underwood represented a new take on the old premise of a veteran cop injured by a sniper who leaves the force, acquires a wheelchair and puts together a special team to solve crimes. Underwood is younger and more handsome than Burr was when he played Ironside, not that viewers seemed to care, since they really didn't tune in to find out. And Ironside is off NBC's Wednesday lineup, replaced by a Chicago Fire spinoff called Chicago P.D.

There are so many new family sitcoms this season it's understandable that something like Welcome to the Family got lost in the shuffle. Welcome to the Family had an appealing cast, with Mike O'Malley (Kurt's dad on Glee), complete with the usual baseball cap, Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight), Justina Machado (Six Feet Under) and Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives) as mismatched in-laws. But it wasn't enough to elevate this warmed-over version of Abie's Irish Rose.

So far, no cancellations from Fox or the CW, but Fox has announced a full-season pickup for its hapless cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and a second 13-episode season for Sleepy Hollow, the supernatural drama that mixes Armageddon with Washington Irving's Headless Horseman. Okay, it actually ignores Washington Irving's Headless Horseman, going full-on Armageddon. Demons! Witches! Blood! Beheadings! Let's just say that this Sleepy Hollow feels much more like a remake of Highlander than anything to do with Irving or his Ichabod Crane. But it's been popular so far, and it'll be around for at least 13 more episodes next year.

Over at ABC, they've ordered a full season of the spy/superhero adventure Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, and CBS has done the same for The Crazy Ones, the Robin Williams ad agency sitcom, as well as Mom, an unfunny mess with Allison Janney as the sassy, trashy mom of a sassy, trashy daughter played by Anna Pharis, and The Millers, an even less funny mess that completely wastes the talents of Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale as the sassy, trashy parents of Will Arnett.

NBC has just one full-season order so far with The Blacklist, a James Spader vehicle about international crime and corruption that isn't afraid to get down and dirty. Spader stars as a megacriminal who turns himself in to work with the FBI -- or at least one pretty young FBI agent played by Megan Boone -- to take down the worst bad guys on the planet. I was on the edge of my seat during the pilot, which was certainly gripping and not afraid to put a child in jeopardy or torture its characters. But I'm afraid I'm not the right viewer for all that gore. Still, The Blacklist has clicked with viewers, and NBC has extended its order for a full season. And if somebody wants to clue me in on what the scoop really is on Elizabeth's husband when that's revealed well, I am curious, I admit.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sondheim Sondheim Sondheim!

If you thought 2010 (the year composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim turned 80) was full of everything Sondheim, look out for 2013 an 2014. There continues to be all kinds of Sondheim news, covering movies, concerts, stage productions and all-around Sondheim-mania.

We've already discussed the fact that a filmed version of Merrily We Roll Along from London's Menier Chocolate Factory will be screened worldwide on October 23. You can check out the list of movie theaters offering this Merrily, which Mr. Sondheim called "not only the best I’ve seen, but one of those rare instances where casting, direction and show come together in perfect combination..." Around here you have a choice of Peoria or Champaign-Urbana (or more specifically, Savoy) as well as Rockford, fourteen Chicagoland locations, Indianapolis or St. Louis.

In November, New York's City Center will host a special concert called "A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair," featuring jazz trumpeter, composer, teacher and legend Wynton Marsalis, who has arranged and orchestrated some two dozen Sondheim songs for this event. Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will perform these new versions of the songs alongside Broadway stars Bernadette Peters, Norm Lewis and Jeremy Jordan and jazz singer Cyrille Aimée. New York City Center has details for these November 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 concerts, while Broadway World's Pat Cerasaro spotlights it here. (In case you're wondering, the title "A Bed and a Chair" is taken from the lyrics of "Broadway Baby," the same song in Follies that provides the title for this blog.)

Meryl Streep in Witch attire
A big-screen version of Into the Woods (music and lyrics by Mr. Sondheim, book by James Lapine) is also in the works, with Rob Marshall directing. Since Marshall was the one who made such a mess of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's Nine, I am not holding out a whole lot of hope this will be anything to write home about, especially since the likes of Johnny Depp and Chris Pine have been cast in singing roles. Still, there's Meryl Streep as the Witch, which has possibilities. Having said that, I do not know if Streep's voice, which is decent, is up to the Witch in Into the Woods standards. She may be La Streep, but she's not Bernadette Peters, Julia McKenzie, Donna Murphy or Vanessa Williams. But I guess we'll find out how she fares in December, 2014, when the movie is scheduled to open. For some of the first pictures from the set, you can check out the Huffington Post's slideshow featuring Emily Blunt (the Baker's Wife), Pine (Cinderella's Prince) and Anna Kendreck (Cinderella) or a first look at Streep as the Witch. Note the curious lack of reference to Stephen Sondheim in either piece. Also note that Streep looks dandy as the Witch, although I am seeing something of a facial resemblance to Angela Lansbury, which I didn't expect.

We'd also heard that Sondheim was working on something with David Ives, and just this week came the news that the very busy composer is creating a new version of Company, one in which the central character of Bobby and all his friends are gay men. Speculation that Bobby is gay is not new, although the married couples surrounding him have always been portrayed as straight as far as I know. For this new Company, director John Tiffany is reportedly workshopping with a cast centered around Daniel Evans, who previously did Bobby in London. And there are rumors about Alan Cumming, Michael Urie and Bobby Steggert playing some of his friends. Cumming is supposedly doing Joanne, the one who gets the caustic song about "Ladies Who Lunch." Clearly, the song -- and George Furth's book -- will need a major redo to bring "The Lads Who Lunch" to life.

And, as previously announced, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier will continue its Sondheimian ways, with director Gary Griffin helming both Gypsy, with Broadway's Louise Pitre (Mamma Mia) as Rose, the total stage mother package, and Road Show, a picaresque piece about the legendary Mizner brothers and their part in America's boom and bust in the early decades of the 20th Century. Performances of Gypsy begin in February 2014 in the Courtyard Theater while Road Show starts up in March 2014 in Chicago Shakespeare's Upstairs space.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Embracing Normal: LGBT Film Fest at the Normal Theater

This may be my most colorful blog post ever, what with the film rainbow to the right and the eye-popping I'm So Excited poster below. And why not? It's time for Your Normal LGBT Film Festival at the Normal Theater!

The 2013 version of this event brings six films to the Normal Theater with a mission "to create a showcase for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender stories and arts to entertain, inspire and grow the number of central Illinois fans and champions."

So what's the lineup this time out? Last night's opening film was Break Through, a 2012 documentary focusing on a group of kids putting on a show that explores issues of equality and acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in the United States, and how much this particular group of actors learns by staging their play. Think Boal/Theatre of the Oppressed/Theatre for Social Change and you'll be on the right track.

Tonight's choice is a comedy -- a light-hearted look at a possible plane crash -- from Spanish director and writer Pedro Almodóvar. In I'm So Excited, Almodóvar takes us aboard an aircraft that just may be headed for disaster, as the crew in the cockpit tries to fix things, and the crew in the cabin dances as fast as they can to keep their passengers happy. Sleeping pills! Virgins and whores! Sex, love and the Pointer Sisters! Remember, it's Almodóvar, so its character are bound to be colorful and a little crazy. And it's tonight at 7.

Friday's flick moves into more reflective territory, with Reaching for the Moon, a beautiful and beautifully tragic love story about American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares, a Brazilian architect she met in the 1950s. The two women are opposites in some ways, but both strong and fiercely creative, and their relationship on film becomes "an empowering portrait of two highly gifted women who defy social convention," according to Deborah Young in The Hollywood Reporter.

In Ian Harvie: Superhero, a transgender stand-up comedian who just happens to be named Ian Harvie offers funny, fresh insights on how he got to where he is, a "self-made man" who is very comfortable in his own skin. This documentary/concert film gives a behind-the-scenes look at the comedy stylings and life and times of Ian Harvie. You can see the trailer for the film here, and then come out to the Normal Theater at 4 pm on Saturday, October 19, to catch the whole Superhero experience.

Although stars like Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise, Behind the Candelabra) and Ana Gasteyer (Saturday Night Live, Suburgatory) provide an adult presence in Geography Club, a film from twin brothers Gary and Edmund Entin (Gary directs, while Edmund wrote the screenplay), the movie is based on Brent Hartinger's best-selling YA novel, and the YA plot is the focus. Geography Club refers to the front group formed by a few high school kids who feel they don't belong in their school. They've come up with this "geography" club, hidden behind a boring name but providing them with a support group right under their homophobic peers' noses. Geography Club hits the screen at 7:10 pm on Saturday, with a short called P.D.A. that is, indeed, about public displays of affection, at 7.

A different abbreviation -- G.B.F. -- forms the title for the last movie in this year's Normal LGBT Film Fest. What does it stand for? Gay Best Friend, of course. Like Geography Club, it's about how gay kids carve out a space in a high school setting, or, as Gawker's Rich Juzwiak puts it, G.B.F represents "director Darren Stein's latest movie of high-school clique absurdity." The GBF in question is a gay boy named Tanner, who finds himself a hot property as a potential BFF to the popular princesses atop the social pyramid at his school. G.B.F. plays at 7 pm on Sunday, October 20.

Although G.B.F. finishes up the official schedule of movies, there is an after party at the Firehouse Pizza Pub down the street, with music provided by Stone and Snow. See details on the banner below.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Opening Tomorrow: SEND THE LIGHT at ISU's Westhoff Theatre

An all-new, all-electric version of Send the Light, an original musical about bringing electrical power to rural communities with a script by Don Shandrow and music and lyrics by Phil Shaw, opens tomorrow night at Illinois State University's Westhoff Theatre. Performances begin at 7:30 pm on October 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26, with a 2 pm matinee on October 19.

This is how the show is being billed for this ISU production:
A world premiere script with a rural setting in the American heartland of 1936. The action of the play concerns the controversy surrounding the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and its impact on farm communities. Many groups, especially utility companies, opposed the federal government's involvement in developing and distributing electric power. Onstage, conflicts arise within families and communities as they argue the pros and cons of "sending the light" to rural farms. This play is a community outreach project with Cornbelt Energy.
Associate Professor Connie de Veer and Assistant Michael J. Vetere III are co-directing Send the Light, with a cast that mixes community members like Clark Abraham and Susan Palmer with ISU actors like Kate Klemchuck, Andrew Rogalny and Levi Ellis. For the complete cast list, click here.

You can read more about Don Shandrow and the story behind Send the Light at ISU's Illinois State Stories, see the production's Facebook page here, or get ticket information here or here. Sara Ilene Shifflet has also uploaded behind-the-scenes videos about Send the Light to Youtube, and you can choose from lighting design information from David Warfel and some of the cast (seen above), the scoop on scenic design from designer Megan Lane, or an "official trailer" for the show.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Let's Pay Some Attention to Laura Benanti

Laura Benanti is one of those people. You know what I mean. Beautiful, gorgeous voice, spark and sparkle for days, and she doesn't seem to take herself too seriously.

She also adds something special to all her projects, whether that's Broadway's Into the Woods revival (she was Cinderella, of course), taking over for Rebecca Luker as Maria in The Sound of Music, acting as Antonio Banderas's muse in Nine or Matthew Perry's foil on TV in Go On, giving The Playboy Club more class than it deserved, enlivening Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, or making Louise seem like a whole new person in Gypsy opposite Patti Lupone. Benanti won a Tony and a Drama Desk for Gypsy, and she was nominated for Into the Woods, Swing! and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. She just released a live album called "In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention" that serves as a record of her performance at New York's 54 Below and she will be appearing as Sherlock's first "killer" on CBS's Elementary.

So about that album...

Benanti's infectious personality is on full display in the segues between songs, and her amazing voice elevates a range of songs. You may be expecting more Broadway than what you get -- she has a taste for folk-pop material from the likes of Joni Mitchell and Harry Chapin as well as a couple of things she wrote herself when she was young -- but what you get is quite wonderful.

Her way with "My Time of Day" from Guys and Dolls is exquisite, "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady becomes "On the Street Where I Lived" and an entry point into Little Laura's childhood, and I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear her sing "Unusual Way," one of my favorite songs from Nine, straight up, without the Italian accent that put a fly in the ointment of the Broadway cast album. When you hear "Model Behavior" from Women on the Verge, you will understand the Tony nomination for that one, too.

Benanti also shines on "He Comes for Conversation," a Joni Mitchell song infused with light and color here. I think Benanti sounds more like Judy Collins than Joni Mitchell, but that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. And the songs from Todd Almond, Benanti's musical director and accompanist, are lovely, as well.

All in all, this 54 Below cd comes off as light and charming, as effortlessly beautiful, as Laura Benanti herself. I'd like to know what the folks who were seeing her in person were laughing at at times, but that's just a teaser to try to catch her live. And isn't that a perfect way to make an album?

"In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention" is available on iTunes, from Amazon or at Broadway Records.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Reboot REMINGTON STEELE? Heaven Forfend.

It's no secret that Remington Steele, the con man/private eye show from MTM in the 80s, is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. You ask and I'll say Remington Steele and Lou Grant, top two, all-time. I also admit that I was hooked on Remington Steele right from the beginning. Its premise was perfect for me, taking off when a smart girl named Laura Holt invented a boss, a man named Remington Steele, to front for her detective agency because clients didn't take her seriously as a female PI. And then a dashing con man/thief/movie fan took over the role -- against her protests -- because having an identity was useful for him. He was charming and looked good in photo opportunities, and she was capable, practical and sharp. I don't think we ever did find out what his real name was, but the two played cat and mouse, or maybe TV versions of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

Remington Steele launched the career of Pierce Brosnan, who played Steele with elegance and charisma, and carved out a niche for Stephanie Zimbalist, who gave Laura Holt conviction and intelligence, something in short supply among the big-haired bimbos on the small screen in the 80s. It also fueled my romance writing career, which began as the TV series neared its end. I didn't much like how they finished up the show, so I wrote my own sardonic heroes who fell for uptight smart girls, and put them in the plots I wanted, attempting to achieve that same kind of fizzy, funny, romantic tone.

I can lament all I want that Remington Steele went out on a lame note, but that doesn't mean I'm looking for a replacement. And if I were, I could've lined up behind White Collar, Hustle, Leverage or something else in that vein. You know, gorgeous guy, mysterious past, scams and thievery and heists.

But now comes the news that NBC is going for Remington Steele, the Next Generation. No, that isn't the real name. It's the idea, though, as Deadline reports that NBC has optioned the rights to a new version of Remington Steele, not an hour-long mystery/suspense show, but a half-hour comedy centered on the progeny of Remington and Laura, one Olivia Holt, who reopens the old agency and gets herself involved in "the same hilarious, action-packed, romantic entanglements of her parents."

Sounds like... A really bad idea. It's not like you can go nab Natalie Portman or Michele Dockery, someone who looks like she could've sprung from the loins of Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist and displays a modicum of brain power. I'm just afraid this "hilarious, action-packed" half-hour comedy would look more like 2 Broke Girls or Super Fun Night than the Mary Tyler Moores and Bob Newharts and Parks and Recreations of the world. How do you set up and solve a mystery in a thirty minutes, including keeping a romance alive and adding enough jokes for the promised hilarity? Will it feel like Scooby Doo? And how will they explain where Remington and Laura are now? I can't imagine Pierce Brosnan making a guest appearance, although I suppose Stephanie Zimbalist might be willing to show up. If that's the case, will they trash the romance and paint Steele as a ne'er-do-well, a fly-by-night who dumped his wife and kid (which would explain why the daughter's last name is Holt) when he swanned off to steal the Five Nudes of Cairo one more time?

I'm skeptical. Let's just leave it at that. In the meantime, I'll stick with the Remington Steele DVDs.

Monday, October 7, 2013

FOREVER WALTZ and the Fascination with Orpheus and Eurydice

The Forever Waltz, the Glyn Maxwell play directed by Leah Cassella that opened last week in ISU's Centennial West 207, is inspired by a Greek myth. Note that it is inspired by, and not a direct retelling of, the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. In the myth, Orpheus is a wonderfully talented musician, so skilled that his music enchanted gods, people and animals alike. He loves a woman named Eurydice, but she dies on their wedding day. Because of the beauty of the songs he creates after her death, Orpheus is allowed to travel to the Underworld to get her back. He can bring Eurydice back to the world of the living only if he walks ahead of her all the way and does not turn back to see her. He must trust that she is there, following him, and never look back, or she will return to Hades forever.

Of course, he looks back at the last moment and loses his Eurydice forever.

There is something about that myth that has inspired all sorts of artists, and it's intriguing to look at the different paths their work takes. "Sir Orfeo," a Middle English poem from around the 13th century, mixes Orpheus with Celtic folklore and fairy stories, while Christoph Willibald Gluck's 18th century opera Orfeo ed Euridice starts after she's dead and then offers a happy ending with another chance at life for "Euridice," as she's spelled for Gluck.

Composer Harrison Birtwistle has continued to come back to Orpheus and Eurydice in his work, with The Mask of Orpheus, a free-form opera with alternate plot lines first staged in 1986, The Second Mrs. Kong in 1994, adding King Kong and Vermeer to the mythological mix, and The Corridor, all about the fateful journey back from the Underworld, in 2009.

The most famous modern take on the story may be Marcel Camus' 1959 film Black Orpheus, based on the Brazilian play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes. Orpheus is now Orfeu, a trolley driver who meets a beautiful passenger during Carnaval in Rio, with the tragic love story played to a samba beat.

There's also a sonnet sequence by Rainer Maria Rilke, an album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds called Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Neil Gaiman's comic book series The Sandman, Roberta Gellis's romance novel Enchanted Fire that turns Eurydice into a sorceress; Salmon Rushdie's alt-reality novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, about the romance and careers of pop stars Vina and Ormus, and a rock opera simply called Orpheus and Eurydice by Russian composer Alexander Zhurbin.

And then there are the stage versions... Jean Anouilh wrote his Eurydice during World War II, and that wartime cynicism combined with dark fantasy and sexual overtones gives the story a different flavor; Tennessee Williams turns Orpheus into a wild young man named Val who plays guitar and wreaks havoc in a Southern dry goods store in Orpheus Descending; Naomi Iizuka includes the myth in Polaroid Stories, her 1997 version of Ovid's Metamorphoses transmogrified into an urban landscape of street kids, violence and drugs, with Orpheus as an abusive boyfriend who threatens to go to hell and back to keep Eurydice by his side; Mary Zimmerman uses it as one of the stories in her own 2002 Metamorphoses, focusing on the instant Orpheus turns back, repeating it again and again as one heartrending, beautifully choreographed moment in time; and Sarah Ruhl focuses on Eurydice and what she feels and wants, showing her time in the Underworld, where she has found her father and may just want to stay in her 2003 play simply called Eurydice.

Why is this myth catnip for composers, authors, filmmakers and playwrights? For some, it's about the cracks in the romantic ideal, the idea that deathless love may be foiled by death after all. For others, it's about the depths of passion, trust and betrayal that accompany love. Or maybe it's simply the ambiguity in the Greek myth, as different artists ponder the masculine and the feminine and the power dynamics of love and sex in different places among different classes and societies.

To see Glyn Maxwell's own unique version of Orpheus and Eurydice, you can find The Forever Waltz at CW 207 this Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, with a 2 pm matinee on Saturday the 12th. For ISU, actors Martin Hanna and Lizzy Haberstroh appear as Mobile and Evie, accompanied by a mysterious guitar-playing guide called Watts, played by Eddie Curley. For tickets, click here for Ticketmaster, or call 309-438-2535 between 11 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday or one hour before performances to reach the ISU CPA box office.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coming Soon: More SUBMISSIONS ONLY Episodes!

There are a lot of web series out there about show biz, probably because actors are so often out of work, so they're looking for something to do. Creating a series for the web means they can play whatever they want and build their career frustrations right into the story. That means there's a sameness to the storylines -- terrible auditions, vain and crazy theater folk, terrible luck getting a break -- but also some funny, talented people who really do deserve that break.

Submissions Only is the cream of the backstage web series crop, or the cream of the ones I've found, anyway. It involves a hapless actress named Penny Reilly, whose best friend is a casting director. That means Penny, who is played by Submissions Only co-creator Kate Wetherhead, frequently sits in on auditions as a reader when she's in need of a buck between gigs. That means we run into all sorts of Broadway stars who are supposedly auditioning for thing, and there are running gags about the insanity of the audition process in general. Penny has romantic problems, too, as does her friend the casting director, whose ex is Penny's agent, as both the casting guy and his ex match up with new boyrfriends. The adorable Santino Fontana, the new "It" boy of the American stage, plays Aaron, also an aspiring actor and a romantic interest for Penny, although they have never really been in the same place at the same time to make the connection.

Others in the regular cast include Colin Hanlon as Tim, Penny's best friend; Stephen Bienskie as her agent Steven; Asmeret Ghebremichael as her supportive roommate Raina; Randall Moody as a cheerful newcomer to the audition business; Max Von Essen as Steven's gorgeous new boyfriend, and Donna Vivino as Serena, a self-absorbed actress who has been Aaron's girlfriend and is now starring in a new show with Penny.

We've seen two "seasons" of Submissions Only so far, with six episodes in the first bunch, and eight in the second. Guest stars have included people like Kerry Butler, Bobby Cannavale, Rachel Dratch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harvey Fierstein, Joanna Gleason, Joel Grey, Nick Jonas, Jeremy Jordan, Linda Lavin, Judith Light, Audra McDonald, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Laura Osnes, Adam Pascal, Roger Rees, Chita Rivera, Tony Roberts and Michael Urie.

And now it's time for Season 3. Well, almost. A trailer has been released, with the tease that new episodes will be coming soon, but no exact timetable. Come on, Submissions Only! Get those new episodes here now!

In the meantime, you can watch the trailer here or catch up on the other 14 episodes if you haven't seen them yet.

Here's how Kate Wetherhead and her partner in the series, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, describe their show:
Created in 2010 by New York actors Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, "Submissions Only" is a grassroots web sitcom that shows viewers what really goes on off stage. Following the friendship of two theater professionals, an actress (Kate Wetherhead as Penny Reilly) and a casting director (Colin Hanlon as Tim Trull), as they try to build careers in the notoriously tricky and often absurd world of Broadway theatrics, "Submissions Only" proves there's a whole lot of comedy in all the drama.
Submissions Only is far and away the best of the web series devoted to theater, but there are others. If you want to try some out, or if you're desperate for something to see while you wait for Submissions Only to get back, you might try:

It Could Be Worse. A scatalogical look at the seamy underside of going for a career in theater in New York, It Could Be Worse stars Wesley Taylor, who played Bobby on the TV show Smash and also appeared as the nice boyfriend in The Addams Family musical. I hated it. Its focus on bathrooms and bad behavior is just not me.

City of Dreams. Come on, kids, let's put on a show! Three plucky kids hit NYC but never get cast, so they fake a musical called The Ballad of Ovagina. "Oh, vagina, oh, won't you cry for me, cause I've come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee..." No, that's not what they perform. Instead, they get Laura Osnes to sing a song (something about windows) and shed a single tear perfectly on cue. Osnes is lovely, but the rest of the show... The three main children are annoying with no redeeming qualities that I can see, and, as the friend who told me about this series said, it's about "Young kids trying to make it, and I'm thinking, maybe not everybody SHOULD make it."

Theater People. Set in the theater-crazy world of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Theater People uses all kinds of talented Twin Cities actors to fill out plots that seem like it was inspired by the Canadian series Slings and Arrow, with its messy romances and insane directors. There's no ghost, however, and most of the characters are really, really annoying. Especially serial cheater David, whose ex-wife is directing him as Romeo (a really old Romeo) in a misguided production of Romeo and Juliet. There's an awesome cat video if you get all the way to the end, however.

The Reel Housewives of Theatre West. Did you know there's also theater in LA? I mean, not just movies, but also theater? The Reel Housewives of Theatre West takes you there, looking at actresses who've gotten too old to get roles but are still working at a mediocre theater. There's a ventriloquist character who always carries a puppet and talks to and through it, which I almost always hate. But if you can't get enough of Nunsense and Menopause the Musical, this just may be the show for you.

Backstage Drama. This one involves a framing device of a cute New Jersey guy who gets put in witness protection as a janitor at a small regional theater in "Grand River, Michigan" with a boatload of crazy people working in their version of show business. This series was created to benefit regional theaters, and only the first few episodes are available for free. I'm sorry because its heart is in the right place, but it's terrible. The acting is awful, the editing is amateurish and confused, and the writing is just beyond sad.

If you've found a backstage web series I should see, let me know. Otherwise I'll just bide my time and wait for Submissions Only.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What's Up in October?

It's October 1. It's the 123rd anniversary of the designation of Yosemite as a National Park. But October 1 is also the day the Republicans in Congress decided to shut down the government, which means you can't see Yosemite Park at the moment. Happy birthday, Yosemite! Hope you survive till Congress decides to wake up and smell some sanity!

In the meantime, while the Theatre of the Absurd rages on in Washington (apologies to Absurdists everywhere for using their label this way) you do have other options to take your mind off that particular melodrama. There are all kinds of new television shows premiering and all kinds of old shows returning. If you are finished mourning the end of Breaking Bad, you can try Sleepy Hollow or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the two early success stories (in terms of ratings, anyway) of the new fall season, or tune in to see what in the world Olivia Pope's dad is up to when Scandal returns on Thursday, October 3. If only Olivia could knock some sense into the House of Representatives...

If you'd like to venture out of the house, you can try Illinois State University's production of Spring Awakening, the angst-rock Broadway musical about kids, repression and raging hormones in turn-of-the-century Germany, which continues through October 5 at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts. Matthew Scott Campbell directs a cast led by Carlos Kmet, Colin Lawrence and Gloria Petrelli.

Next up at ISU is Glyn Maxwell's The Forever Waltz, a modern verse play inspired by the Eurydice and Orpheus story from Greek mythology. MFA candidate Leah Cassella directs Maxwell's play, called "surreal, electrifying and poetic" when it played off-Broadway, in ISU's Centennial West 207 space. Cassella's cast features Eddie Curley as a mysterious guitar-playing guide to the world of memory, Lizzy Haberstroh as Evie, the beautiful woman who died on her wedding day, and Martin Hanna as Mobile, who can't remember how he got where he is or what he's looking for. Performances of The Forever Waltz are scheduled for October 3-5 and 8-12 at CW 207. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or by calling the ISU CPA box office at 309-438-2535.

Circus performer Harry Green
The McLean County Museum of History, Illinois Voices Theatre and Bloomington's historic Evergreen Cemetery, take a look back at another crew of Bloomington-Normal citizens from the past with the annual Discovery Walk. This year's folks include a pair of daring young men who plied their trade on the flying trapeze, a Red Cross nurse from World War I who became a landscape architect, a man who held many jobs and fought discrimination in all of them, an immigrant woman who made trousers for the troops during the Civil War, a sheriff, a man who loved a good parade, and a former president of the local NAACP. You can choose to take this walking tour through Bloomington history at 11 am or 2 pm on Saturday or Sunday, October 5, 6, 12 or 13, with tickets for sale at the Museum, Evergreen Cemetery, the Garlic Press or Casey's Garden Shop. And it all happens at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.

A revue called The Best of the Second City, "celebrating over 50 years of cutting-edge satire," shows up at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts for one performance only on October 5, promising the Second City brand of irreverent sketches, songs and improv. Will you see tomorrow's Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler or Martin Short? Maybe! They all got their start at a Second City somewhere.

The musical A Class Act takes the stage at Illinois Wesleyan University's McPherson Theatre from October 8 to 13, opening the fall season for IWU's School of Theatre Arts. The musical also lends its name to IWU's entire 2013 Homecoming, which is organized around the theme "It's a class act." Associate Professor Jean MacFarland Kerr directs and choreographs the show, which is a musical look at the life and career of composer Edward Kleban, whose songs form the score. "Fourteen years after his death, one of the theater's unsung champions finally got the recognition he always deserved in this vibrant musical about musicals," says the Rodgers and Hammerstein Company.

ISU's School of Theatre and Dance offers a third show in October with Send the Light, a collaboration among Don Shandrow and Phil Shaw, who created the show, co-directors Connie de Veer and Michael Vetere from ISU's theatre faculty, and a cast that includes actors from the Bloomington-Normal area as well as from the university. Look for area actors Clark Abraham, Leola Bellamy, Holly Klass, Wes Melton, Susan Palmer, George Peterson-Karlan and Terri Ryburn on stage alongside ISU students like Molly Briggs, Levi Ellis, Kate Klemchuk, Andrew Rogalny and David Zallis, all there to tell the story of what happened when electrification came to rural communities in the 1930s. It sounds like a no-brainer to let regular people get electricity right in their homes, but there was a major controversy over the intrusion of the federal government on the local level. The more things change... Read more about Send the Light here or here. Performances will take place in ISU's Westhoff Theatre from October 17 to 19 and 22 to 26, and tickets are available from the CPA box office at 309-438-2535.

The Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company, also known as the CUTC, takes on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, that appealing, appalling musical about two Roman slaves, their hen-pecked master, the virgin next door, a house of ill repute and a hero named Hero. There's also a soldier named Miles Gloriosus and a pimp named Marcus Lykus. Larry Gelbart and Burt Shrevelove wrote the book, which mixes the classic farce of Plautus with comedy right out of old vaudeville, while Stephen Sondheim wrote the score. There's "Comedy Tonight!" as well as "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," and "I'm Calm," sung by Hysterium, who is anything but calm. For the CUTC, John Tilford will play Pseudolus, the slave who longs for freedom, a role famously filled in the past by Zero Mostel, Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg. Forum is directed by Matt Fear and plays October 17 to 20 at Champaign's Parkland Theatre.

IWU alum Kate Tombaugh
Kate Tombaugh, a powerhouse vocalist who starred in Annie Get Your Gun a few years ago, comes back to Prairie Fire for a one-woman show called It Just Takes One from October 11-13 and 18-20 at Fellowship Hall in the First Christian Church on West Jefferson Street in Bloomington. Tombaugh will sing about the trials and tribulations of dating with a program suitable for "all ages and stages of romancers."

On October 26 and 27, Community Players will hold auditions for It's a Wonderful Life, a stage radio-play adaptation of the Jimmy Stewart movie, all about a small-town guy who thinks about ending it all until he gets a visit from an angel who shows him how much his life has meant to everyone around him. Director Sally Parry will be looking for actors who can play multiple roles for performances scheduled for December 12 to 15.

And just in time for Halloween festivities, the Normal Theater will offer two not-that-scary films with spooky overtones. First up is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a 1947 movie starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney, about a widow who starts to get ghostly visitations from a handsome sea captain, and then Mel Brooks' horror movie spoof Young Frankenstein, with Gene Wilder as the descendant of the Dr. Frankenstein (it's pronounced Fronk-un-steen, thank you very much) who created the monster. Peter Boyle is hilarious as the new monster, who does a dandy tap routine to "Putting on the Ritz." Mrs. Muir hits the screen on October 24 and 25, while Young Frankenstein plays on the 26th and 27th.

IWU finishes up October with Treasure by Tim Slover, a play about politics, sex and blackmail in our nation's capital. This time it's Alexander Hamilton in hot water. Hey, he may've stolen money from soldiers, but he didn't shut down the entire government like a spoiled baby. Treasure is directed by guest artist Michael Cotey, who also directed The Comedy of Errors for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival last summer, and will continue into early November at the E. Melba Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre.

That's not nearly all of what's happening in October, but I've tried to cover some of the highlights, anyway. Stay tuned for more info on your many and varied entertainment options...