Friday, January 24, 2014

U of I Prof's GUNPLAY(S) Explore Violence in America

Nicole Anderson-Cobb
University of Illinois professor Nicole Anderson-Cobb, who is herself the author of a play about gun violence from the viewpoint of a family of funeral directors on Chicago's South Side, is working hard to bring more drama on that issue to life. Dr. Anderson-Cobb began a playwriting competition to explore guns in America last summer, and by its November deadline, more than 250 "GunPlay(s)" had been submitted from 32 states and 5 countries outside the United States.

Click this link to hear Anderson-Cobb's interview with WGLT's Judith Valente for more details about why and how GunPlay(s) came about. Valente also served as a first-round judge for the project.

Anderson-Cobb relates that the plays sent in deal with guns, race, justice, the special vulnerability of children, school violence, workplace violence, and and how gun culture has come to permeate every part of our world. And it's not just anti-gun views being represented in scripts. "People are writing from all over the political spectrum," she notes in that interview.

A play reading festival is slated for Fall 2014 to showcase winners in various categories. Playwrights were asked to choose the area that best suited their plays, ranging from "political" to "personal," from "global" to "domestic" and "communal." Dr. Anderson-Cobb is hoping to partner with Champaign-Urbana theaters and schools to better showcase these works as well as inspire more voices, and perhaps to create a complete symposium around the issues of gun violence in America.

James McDaniel
The WLGT piece indicates that actor James McDaniel, who is well-known for his roles on Orange Is the New Black and NYPD Blue, as well as for the fact that he originated the role of Paul in Six Degrees of Separation off-Broadway, will act as the final judge and possibly direct the plays.

For more information about Anderson-Cobb, click here to see her blog and her most recent GunPlay(s) update or here to see the original submission instructions.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Auditions January 27-29 at Community Players for 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL

Sing it with me... Working nine to five, what a way to make a living...

If you know that song by heart, if you are a big Dolly Parton fan, you'll want to know about auditions for Community Players' production of the musical 9 to 5, coming up at 7 pm on January 27, 28 and 29.

The idea of women fighting back and taking over the workplace was a big deal in 1980, those days of power suits and ties (or floppy bows, to offer a girly version of ties). That's when Patricia Resnick and Colin Higgins put together Nine to Five the movie, with Lily Tomlin as a no-nonsense office administrator unhappy doing all the work and getting none of the credit, Dolly Parton as a curvy secretary sick of being judged by her curves, and Jane Fonda as a newbie in the office steno pool, just trying to figure out what's what. Dabney Coleman did a memorable turn as their sexist pig of a boss, the one they plot against.

Since Dolly Parton wrote the title song, complete with percussion from her fingernails, it might've seemed like a no-brainer to get her to write a whole score and turn it into a musical. That did happen, but not till 2008, which is kind of a strange time to resurrect this very 80s -- or even late 70s -- view of the battle of the sexes, or at least the battle of the sexes in the work arena.

But resurrected it was, hitting Broadway in 2009 with a complete Parton score and book by the same Patricia Resnick who cowrote the screenplay for the 1980 movie. Dolly herself was too old to play Doralee by that point, so Megan Hilty took the role, alongside Allison Janney as Violet, the Tomlin role, and Stephanie J. Block as Judy, the woman Fonda played.

Brett Cottone will direct this 9 to 5 for Players, with support from producer John Lieder, assistant director Austin Travis, vocal director Eugene Phillips Jr., choreographer Chris Terven, costume designer Alan Wilson, lighting designer Dan Virtue and sound designer Rich Plotkin.

Cottone is looking for a big cast, approximately 20 people ages 18 to 60, to fill out the workforce at Consolidated Industries, including several women who are overworked and unappreciated and a big boss who is a "sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot." Here's how Cottone breaks down the roles he needs to fill:

VIOLET – 40s to early 50s. Attractive, strong, ambitious woman. Stands up for what she believes in. Head secretary and Mr. Hart’s administrative assistant. She is also a single mother of a teenager.

DORALEE – late 20s to late 30s. Sexy in a wholesome country singer way. Character should “suggest” Dolly Parton-like character but not an impersonator. Needs to sing country.

JUDY – late 20s to late 30s. Attractive, insecure, at first afraid of being on her own but later becomes empowered and strong. She is the “new” girl. Husband just left her for his secretary.

ROZ KEITH – late 30s to 40s. The office kiss-up and second to the boss, a gossip, has an unrequited love for her boss and will do anything to win his approval.

FRANKLIN HART – 40s to 50s. Arrogant, self-absorbed, male chauvinist corporate 70s boss. Is capable of a surface, smarmy charm.

MISSY – 40s to 50s. Hart’s wife. Fluttery and ditzy.

JOE – 20s to 30s. The cute, young, office accountant. He’s smitten with VIOLET.

DICK – 30s to 40s. Judy’s soon-to-be ex-husband. Average middle-aged guy, sporting a little less hair and a little more paunch than he did ten years ago.

DWAYNE – 20s to early 30s. Doralee’s husband, very supportive of Doralee.

JOSH – 18 to early 20's (must look young) Violet’s teenage son.

MARGARET – any age. Secretary. The office lush.

ENSEMBLE (singers / dancers) – 18 to 60s

For more information, check Community Players' 9 to 5 webpage or Facebook page. Performances are scheduled to begin March 21.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BULLETS OVER BROADWAY the Musical Gears Up for March Opening

The show doesn't open in previews till March 11, but the box office has been open since November for Bullets Over Broadway, the Broadway musical version of Woody Allen's 1994 comedy film about a writer trying to get his show up and running on the Great White Way of 1929 while sidestepping interference from a mobster with money and the bimbo girlfriend he wants to set up in a starring role.

Allen and Douglas McGrath wrote the script for the movie, which brings to mind backstage musicals like 42nd Street and backstage plays like Broadway. The first has a producer and some plucky kids coping with all sorts of strife and complications trying to put on a show, while the latter mixes in the gangster element. Allen has adapted the screenplay from the film to create the book of this new Bullets, and, yes, it will be a musical, although the score will be taken from period songs arranged and adapted by Glen Kelly. Five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman is directing and choreographing, with three-time Tony winner Santo Loquasto as scenic designer and six-time Tony winner William Ivey Long as costume designer. Loquasto also did production direction for the movie.

But I'm sure you're wondering who's going to play whom. So here's a handy chart of the characters and actors:

David Shayne, the writer trying to keep together the pieces of his play.
Film: John Cusack
Stage: Zach Braff of Scrubs fame.

Dianne Wiest and John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway
Helen Sinclair, the boozy drama queen of a leading lady who keeps saying "Don't speak" and trying to seduce David.
Film: Dianne Wiest
Stage: Marin Mazzie
Note: The role won Wiest an Oscar in the Supporting Actress category along with a slew of other awards.

Cheech, a hitman and bodyguard who starts to play an important role in the creative side of the show.
Film: Chazz Palminteri
Stage: Nick Cordero
Note: Palminteri was also nominated for an Oscar.

Olive Neal, the gangster's moll who isn't the brightest bulb but wiggles her way into David's show, anyway.
Film: Jennifer Tilly
Stage: Heléne Yorke
Note: Yup. Tilly was Oscar-nominated, too.

Joe Viterelli
Nick Valenti, the gangster/money man pulling the strings and pushing his girlfriend onto Broadway.
Film: Joe Viterelli
Broadway: Vincent Pastore
Note: Italian-American Viterelli and Italian-American Pastore share what Hollywood considers a stereotypical mobster look. You will remember Pastore as Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero in The Sopranos.

Julian Marx, the producer trying to keep the show afloat.
Film: Jack Warden
Stage: Lenny Wolpe
Note: The name Julian Marx is a callback to Julian Marsh, the director on the verge of a heart attack in 42nd Street. And maybe to the Marx Brothers.

Warner Purcell, the leading man in David's play who eats too much and has a bad habit of putting the moves on Olive.
Film: Jim Broadbent
Stage: Brooks Ashmanskas

Karen Ziemba
Eden Brent, the chirpy, perky actress who is never dressed without a smile. And a chihuahua.
Film: Tracy Ullman
Stage: Karen Ziemba
Note: I saw Ziemba in Crazy For You three times. Susan Stroman also choreographed that take-off on a classic Gershwin musical from 1930. And she won a Tony for it.

Ellen, David's sweet girlfriend who gets ignored once his affair with Broadway show biz begins.
Film: Mary Louise Parker
Stage: Betsy Wolfe

The characters and inside Broadway plot sound perfect for a musical, and that cast is first-rate. I have some concerns about Braff -- never heard him sing -- but you can see him and everybody else but Ziemba in a Playbill video done of the cast's photo shoot back at the beginning of January. That's Ashmanskas reaching for a pastry, Mazzie tipping back the flask and Yorke looking snazzy in red.

You'll find the complete cast for this new Bullets along with info on the plot and how to buy tickets at the official Bullets Over Broadway the Musical website. Previews begin March 11 at the St. James Theatre, with opening night set for April 10. If you can't time-travel back to the real Broadway in 1929, Bullets Over Broadway looks like a nifty substitute.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Coen Brothers' Haunting Folk Odyssey: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

In some ways, the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis is like the dark side of their earlier film, O Brother Where Art Thou? The settings are different -- Southern America during the Depression and New York's Greenwich Village in the early 60s -- but there's an emphasis on an odyssey in both, T-Bone Burnett did the music that fuels both films, and Coen favorite John Goodman acts as a nightmarish Cyclops figure in both.

But the tone is so very different...

In O Brother, the hero of the piece, played by the very handsome George Clooney, is a sweet but hapless prison escapee trying to find his way back home to his wife and kids. He becomes one of the Soggy Bottom Boys, a hastily assembled blues group, as part of his adventure, which furnishes one of the reasons for all the fabulous music in the film. But it's all in fun, even when Clooney's Everett McGill and his pals run into the Klan.

In contrast, Inside Llewyn Davis involves a gloomy wintery journey in and around New York City as a struggling folk musician tries to cadge a little money or a sofa to crash on from his circle of friends and acquaintances. For Llewyn, played by the very handsome Oscar Isaac, nothing has ever come easy, so it makes sense that his journey would look so dark and scary, contrasting sharply with the golden, sun-infused landscape Everett inhabits. Llewyn may be a folk musician, which carries with it the image of serene, fresh-faced people in sweaters swinging about magic dragons, but his life is unrelentingly harsh. He was part of a duo, but his singing partner jumped off the George Washington Bridge. He gets a gig now and then at the Gaslight Cafe, but that only earns a few bucks from the basket that he has to share with the likes of a dim, clean-cut soldier fresh off  the base or a gray-haired granny in a faded dress who looks like she took the express bus from Appalachia. He has no home. Not even a winter coat. And the people who will let him sleep on their couches or their floors include Jean (Carey Mulligan) who seems like a perfect angel when she sings with her equally cheery husband (an almost unrecognizable Justin Timberlake) but spews invective when faced with Llewyn, with whom she apparently slept at some point and now suspects of being the guy who got her pregnant. And then there's a kind professor and his wife, who are happy to feed and keep Llewyn, but he accidentally lets out their cat.

The cat thing is important. Why is Llewyn accompanied by a yellow tabby? Or two (or possibly three) yellow tabbies? As he moves around on foot, on the subway, on the bus, and then by car with a crazy person (the aforementioned John Goodman) being driven to Chicago through snow and rain and frequent stops for the man to shoot up in cruddy bathrooms, a cat is there. The one owned by the professor is named Ulysses. So there's that Odyssey thing again. He even sees a poster for the cat-and-dog odyssey movie The Incredible Journey. Is the cat his spirit animal? A metaphor for hope, so that when the cat is lost, so is any hope of a decent future for Llewyn? I don't know. But his name is associated with lions (in Welsh folk tradition and on the way-back-when Llywelyn coat of arms). So there's that, too.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Coen Brothers' films. And the ones I love are not necessarily the ones you might expect. I am quite fond of The Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona and O Brother, as it happens, and not at all fond of Fargo or The Big Lebowski. This one lies somewhere in the middle ground occupied by The Man Who Wasn't There and Barton Fink, and, as a matter of fact, Inside Llewyn Davis reminds me of Barton Fink's nightmare world where a man tries to achieve artistic success but falls into Hell instead. Llewyn Davis is already tumbling downward when we meet him, and try as he might, he is not climbing out of his own particular Hell.

I've known enough would-be writers and would-be actors struggling to find purchase in the rocky worlds of publishing and theater that Llewyn's lack of success looks pretty familiar. That kind of melancholy gets hard to watch. It's even harder to sit through Llewyn Davis's uneasy, foreboding passages when they involve the cat. The film does have a few comic moments, but they, too lapse into darkness and cynicism. A novelty song about the space race that earns Llewyn a few bucks and a scene with Llewyn's sad sack manager and his receptionist are two of the lighter bits, but the first gets twisted when he signs away his rights to any royalties, while the second is really about how screwed Llewyn is as a musician when it comes to money.

All the heartache in Llewyn's sad odyssey is hard to shake once you've left Inside Llewyn David behind. Oscar Isaac's performance is beautiful, bruised and difficult, as sharply etched when he sits with a cat in his lap as when he sings. And make no mistake, he sings very well. He makes haunting folk songs like "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" and "The Death of Queen Jane" evocative and affecting. The soundtrack as a whole is amazing.

Inside Llewyn Davis won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, it took Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor awards from the National Society of Film Critics, and its website tells us it has appeared on more than 450 individual Top Ten lists for the year. But Oscar voters have almost completely overlooked it, offering nominations only for its cinematography and sound mixing. Maybe it's because it isn't as much fun as American Hustle or as splashy as Gravity or as socially important as 12 Years a Slave. Or maybe it's because, as Tim Teeman opines for The Daily Beast, Inside Llewyn Davis "isn't a film about conquering demons or surmounting impossible odds, it is a film about losing and losing more, the chipping away of character and of hope. It is about losing your dreams, not achieving them, life shrinking, hope diminishing, aspiration dissolving."

And that doesn't sound like an Oscar pic, does it?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Special Offer on Shakespeare Tickets Till January 29

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival sent out its season brochures last week, with all kinds of important info about what will be happening inside and outside the Theatre at Ewing in the summer of 2014. There's a variety of options, with subscriptions, "flex" tickets, individual tickets and a small number of steeply discounted $10 tickets available for Tuesday performances of Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing or Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, this year's three mainstage productions.

A host of extras -- The Shakespeare Project's All's Well That Ends Well in April, performances from The Improvised Shakespeare Company on Saturdays in July and August, a family-friendly show called Shake, Shake, Shake Your Shakespeare written by Nancy Steele Brokaw, plus the usual green shows, tours and pre-show jazz concerts -- are back to keep you entertained.

All of that will be more important as we head toward the spring and the April Shakespeare Project performance and the May 15th deadline for flex tickets. But there's one special offer you need to know about now.

This one is only good through January 19, and it's a goodie. The Festival is offering what they call Platinum Subscriptions, including tickets to all three of the main shows plus a bonus ticket to allow you to bring a friend, for only $75. The regular rate for that  would be in the $89 to $99 range. But remember, that very special rate for Platinum Subscriptions is only good till January 29, 2014.

I will be writing more about the Festival's three main shows and how they interconnect in terms of casting and plot, as well as the provocative idea of "original practices" and the all-male Much Ado About Nothing that's in the works. But for now, you need to shake off the winter doldrums and plan ahead for a summer of Shakespeare (with a special appearance by Queen Elizabeth). You can find out more at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival website or Facebook page, or call 866-IL-SHAKES, visit the Illinois State University box office in person between 11 am and 4 pm on weekdays, or go directly to Ticketmaster.

Just a tip: If you have a hope of scoring a $10 Tuesday ticket, now's the time to do that, too. Those babies go fast!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Happy Cary Grant Day!

Today is Cary Grant's birthday. And TCM is offering us a chance to celebrate with The Philadelphia Story at 3:15 pm Central time, followed by The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer at 5:15.

Those are two very different roles, with the first the irresistible, maddening, aristocratic C. K. Dexter Haven, the first husband of Katharine Hepburn's Tracy Lord, the heiress staging the wedding of the century in Philadelphia, and the second a sly playboy of a bachelor who finds himself the object of a teen crush from Shirley Temple, while Shirley's big sis Myrna Loy, a judge, looks on unamused. You can see Myrna looking on unamused right there in the Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer poster image above.

The roles are different, but they share Cary Grant, which means both have all the charm and wit anyone could want. I'm not going to waste your time with more plot details or analyses of Mr. Grant's particular brand of movie star appeal. He was one of a kind. He was perfect. That's it.

So go watch The Philadelphia Story and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, or if you prefer, you can substitute or add on Holiday, The Awful Truth, Notorious, Charade and North by Northwest. Some of those movies are included in a handy Cary Grant DVD collection, while others only come as singletons. But I invite you to find what you can, cue up a movie or two or three, and wallow in Cary Grant all day.

And here's a lovely picture of Cary as the devilish Devlin, cozying up to Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, just to inspire your Cary Celebration. I think it says everything you need to know about why he was who he was.

Cary Grant, Perfection

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Route Climbs Back to Katori Hall's MOUNTAINTOP

New Route Theatre and director Don Shandrow have decided to bring their production of Katori Hall's The Mountaintop back one more time for area audiences.The image you see here is from their previous production in 2013, so pay no attention to those dates! The new dates are January 31, and February 1-9. But the venue is the same -- the McLean County YWCA on Hershey in Bloomington -- and you can still email or call 309-827-7330 for reservations. Tickets are $10.

Hall's play imagines Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the last night of his life at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He is visited by a hotel maid who brings coffee and stays for conversation that ranges from the mundane to the spiritual. The Mountaintop has become a spiritual phenomenon for playgoers, too, as they've flocked to see it in London, Broadway and regional productions.

New Route last performed The Mountaintop in February 2013, featuring Gregory D. Hick as Dr. King and Fania Bourn as Camae, the maid who is not necessarily what she appears to be. They will both be back for this 2014 version, and that's Bourn at left in character.

The Mountaintop opens in New Route's YWCA space on January 31, 2014. For more information on this production, you can visit the event's Facebook page here.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nominations Are In!

There was a time when I looked forward to getting up at 7:30 am Central time just to see the Oscar nominations announced. This is not that time.

But this morning, whether I was watching or not, actor Chris Hemsworth and Cheryl Boone, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, showed up at 5:30 Pacific time to tell us who's in and therefore who's out and who has been egregiously overlooked among the 2013 crop of movies.

Who's in? The slippery Abscam pic American Hustle and space adventure Gravity, with ten nominations each. American Hustle managed the nifty trick of scoring nominations in seven of the top categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Original Screenplay. That gives American Hustle a chance to join It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Silence of the Lambs as a "Big Five" winner, a category reserved for those rare films that can win the Best Pic, actor, actress, director and screenplay awards. It's a tough row to hoe. Annie Hall managed four of the five (no Best Actor for you, Woody Allen), as did Mrs. Miniver and Gone With the Wind, who also missed out on Best Actor wins, while American Beauty got everything but Best Actress. Can American Hustle win Best Picture, for Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and for its screenplay? Unlikely.

Gravity and 12 Years a Slave are the current Best Picture frontrunners, with Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street also nominated.

Contenders for Best Actor include Christian Bale as the sleazy guy with the comb-over in American Hustle, Bruce Dern as the grizzled oldster looking for lottery winnings in Nebraska, Leonard DiCaprio as the corrupt stockbroker in The Wolf of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the man captured and sold into slavery in 12 Years a Slave, and Matthew McConaughey as the feisty HIV positive patient in Dallas Buyers Club who isn't taking no for an answer when it comes to possible treatments. Who will win? That is one jam-packed category.

The Best Actress nominees are also an impressive bunch. Cate Blanchett is at the top of the list for her role as a depressed Blanche Dubois type in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. She is joined by Amy Adams, a slinky con woman forced to work for the Feds in American Hustle, Sandra Bullock as an astronaut lost in space in Gravity, Judi Dench as Philomena, a mother looking for her son, and Meryl Streep as a different sort of mother, one with a drug problem and a vicious tongue in August: Osage County.

Who's left out? Robert Redford for All Is Lost, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks are the most obviously overlooked, while the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis is the biggest snub for Best Picture.

The Supporting Actor category consists of Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), with Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and June Squibb (Nebraska) contending for Best Supporting Actress.

Golden Globe winning director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) will take on Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), David O. Russell (American Hustle), and Martin Scorsese (Wolf of Wall Street) for Best Director honors.

If you want to see the complete list of nominees, including trailers for their movies, click here for the official Oscar site. As you can tell by the poster at the top of this post, Ellen DeGeneres will host the 2014 Oscar ceremony, which will be broadcast live on ABC on Sunday, March 2.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Aaron Sorkin's NEWSROOM: 3 and Done

HBO has finally given its verdict on The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin's drama about the goings-on behind the scenes at a cable news network. Sorkin & Co. -- which includes lead actor Jeff Daniels and co-stars John Gallagher, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel, Alison Pill and Sam Waterston -- made it through a bumpy first season and a more interesting second season that still didn't set the ratings on fire. When Season 2 closed out last September, there was talk that The Newsroom had been renewed for a third year, but it wasn't confirmed. That finale episode seemed to tie up all the ends pretty neatly, plus Sorkin's schedule was busy and complicated, and the show has a pretty large ensemble cast of in-demand actors. So negotiations continued...

Well, now the official announcement has been made. Yes, there will be a Season 3. But this will be its last go.

I had my problems with The Newsroom and how Sorkin put together his storylines, even though his cast is first-rate and I enjoy seeing actors like Daniels, Gallagher, Patel and Waterston -- and Hamish Linklater and Chris Messina, who also appeared to good effect as the episodes wore on -- put together characters through the vehicle of Sorkin's trademark snappy dialogue and erudite speeches. Note that those are all males. That's the biggest problem for me with Sorkin's work. His female characters are generally emotional disaster zones who just don't make sense, even when played by otherwise good actresses like Mortimer and Pill. And Hope Davis and Kelen Coleman. Jane Fonda, Mamie Gummer and Constance Zimmer fared better in the second season, but really had very little to do when all was said and done. Plus Sorkin kept centering the attention on Mortimer's erratic MacKenzie McHale (even the name is ridiculous) and Pill's listless, wounded Maggie Jordan in ways that simply didn't work and dragged the proceedings back down to the soggy swamp of crazy ladies and the men who inexplicably yearn for them. Jeff Daniels and his character Will McAvoy had more spark with Hope Davis's ethically challenged reporter than with klutzy, up-and-down Mac, and neither John Gallagher or Thomas Sadoski showed even a flicker of chemistry with Alison Pill, even though they came to life just fine with Mamie Gummer and Olivia Munn respectively. In fact, Sadoski's snaky Don Keefer became one of my favorite characters when paired with Munn's Sloan Sabbith, unexpectedly redeeming both of them.

So, yes, I had my issues with the show. Given how much the last episode felt like a series finale, it will still be interesting to see where we go next, however. Will Sorkin pull another Operation Genoa (inspired by the real Tailhook fiasco at CNN) as a framing device for the whole season? I think he will. Where will he pick up the various romances, since nobody got fired except the evil Jerry Dantana, Will and Mac got engaged at the 11th hour (just so she can become MacKenzie McHale McAvoy, don't you think?) to the sappy sounds of "Let My Love Open the Door," Don and Sloan got closer, and Gallagher's good-guy Jim Harper created a rapprochement between estranged roommates Maggie and Lisa without indicating he was romantically interested in either of them but instead keeping the thing he has going with the more emotionally balanced girlfriend played by Gummer.

So I'd imagine Sorkin will find some way to bust up Will and Mac temporarily, keep playing footsie with Don and Sloan, and push Jim back together with Maggie, which certainly seems like his endgame, even if I find it less than intriguing. Real stories that cropped up in the right period include the government shut-down, Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend, Anthony Weiner, Paula Deen, Rob Ford, Duck Dynasty, Bridgegate and Chris Christie, and a whole lot of talk about the NSA and its eavesdropping on everybody and everything. I can't imagine Aaron Sorkin could resist that last one.

We will see, when The Newsroom returns to HBO sometime this fall.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Opening This Week: ANNE FRANK at Community Players

The real Anne Frank lived a short life, a much too short life, first in Frankfurt, Germany, where she was born in 1929, and then in Amsterdam, where her father took his family in 1933 to flee from the rising Nazi party in Germany and its virulent anti-Semitism. But Hitler and his stormtroopers invaded Amsterdam, too, forcing Anne's family to hide in a "secret annex" from July 1942 to August 1944, when they were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Anne Frank died  at the age of 15, along with her sister Margot, at the camp called Bergen-Belsen.

During her time in the "annex," Anne had kept journals of her thoughts and hopes, journals preserved by a family friend who'd brought food and supplies to the Franks in their hiding place. Anne's father, the only member of the family who survived the Holocaust, took Anne's diary and published it under the title The Secret Annex: Diary Letters from June 14, 1942 to August 1, 1944. In English, it's come to be known as The Diary of a Young Girl.

The book clearly touched something in readers worldwide. As Biography characterizes it: "Countless editions, as well as screen and stage adaptations, of the work have been created around the world. The Diary of a Young Girl remains one of the most moving and widely read firsthand accounts of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust."

It's the stage adaptation many of us know best. First on stage in New York in 1955, The Diary of Anne Frank, the adaptation written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, won the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Tony Award for Best Play. Susan Strasberg, the 17-year-old actress who played Anne, was nominated for the Tony for Best Actress, as the show earned nominations for scenic designer Boris Aronson, costume designer Helene Pons and director Garson Kanin, as well.

Millie Perkins played the role in the 1959 film version directed by George Stevens, with Joseph Schildkraut, Gusti Huber and Lou Jacobi reprising their roles from the Broadway show.

The Diary of Anne Frank has kept Anne alive for generations of theatergoers, with an updated version of the script, written by Wendy Kesselman, used for the 1997 Broadway production starring Natalie Portman. Community Players and director Opal Virtue are also using the Kesselman script in their production opening with a Pay-What-You-Can preview on January 16th, and regular performances from the 17th to the 26th.

Virtue's cast includes Veronika Bettis as Anne, with Paul Vellella and Penny Wilson as her parents, Otto and Edith Frank, and Rebekah Easling as her sister Margot. The others who shared their small hiding space include the Van Daan family, played here by Tricia Stiller, Alan Wilson and Tim Zaitzeff, Mr. Kraler, played by Tom Smith, and Mr. Dussel, played by Nathan Bottorff. Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who served as their connection to the outside world, will be portrayed by Amanda Fisher. Jake Rathman and Tyler Stark complete the ensemble.

Click here for more information on Community Players' production and how to get tickets. You may also call 309-663-2121 or visit

Monday, January 13, 2014

Oh Those Crazy Globes!

I made predictions for the Golden Globes last week, knowing full well that the 90-ish voters in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are the very definition of unpredictable, so it was no surprise that I went 9-for-20, or just under 50 per cent. I am going to count that as a victory, actually. There is no way in the world anyone would've predicted Jacqueline Bisset would win in the Globes' weird Supporting Actress category, where mini-series, TV movies, TV comedies and TV dramas are all lumped together. Ditto Andy Samberg and Brooklyn Nine Nine. Well, actually, I probably should've figured that one, given the Golden Globes voters' tendency to go for the new and shiny the first year a show is out. See: Girls last year.

Amy Poehler on the red carpet
Even if my crystal ball was a bit murky, I'm pleased as punch that Amy Poehler won finally for Parks and Recreation, and Robin Wright was singled out for her brittle, brilliant performance in House of Cards on Netflix. I said I would cheer loudly if Poehler won, and I did, and I said I would be happy whoever won in the crowded Best Actress in a Drama category. And I was.

What did I get right? Breaking Bad and Bryan Cranston, Behind the Candelabra and Michael Douglas, Alfonso Cuaran winning Best Director for Gravity while 12 Years a Slave got the Best Picture prize, Jared Leto's drag in The Dallas Buyers' Club taking Best Supporting Actor, American Hustle picking up the comedy film prize, and, of course, Cate Blanchett winning Best Actress in a Drama for Blue Jasmine. But everybody knew that was going to happen.

I am considering giving myself half credit for Jon Voight, since I pointed out that he is exactly the kind of performer the Globe voters love, and Amy Poehler, since I said I would cheer if she won. Ah well. Better luck next year.

Best Dressed? Lupita Nyong'o
Biggest oversights? That Lupita Nyong'o didn't win for 12 Years a Slave, that Aaron Paul and Corey Stoll were shut out in the mega Supporting Actor on TV arena, and that Leonardo DiCaprio beat out Bruce Dern as the Best Actor in a Drama.

The good news is that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler established themselves as the best hosts of anything ever, even if I could've done without the DiCaprio/supermodel's vagina joke. But the opening monologue, Fey's son Randy from a previous relationship, and the crack about George Clooney preferring deep space to spending time with a woman his own age were loopy and wonderful.

Juliana Margulies
The big question is always who wore what best. Nobody really blew it big time, although Sandra Bullock's multicolored Prabal Gurung dress wasn't very flattering, and Jennifer Lawrence's Dior gown looked more like a couple of kitchen-size trashbags with handy twist ties.

Lupita Nyong'o and her regal Ralph Lauren gown took top honors for me, followed by Juliana Margulies in a smashing black and gold Andrew Gn design that looked perfectly comfy and perfectly pretty at the same time. I loved the fact that it had pockets, plus the not-too-huge princess shape was perfect for her.

Amy Adams
I also liked Amy Adams' snazzy halter dress -- she's been wearing a lot of those to stay in that American Hustle mood -- in a red-on-red color combo that was different and yet arresting. That the gown came from Valentino makes it even more 70s inspired.

And Kerry Washington gets special mention for a beautiful cream-colored Balenciaga that showed off her pregnancy in style, as you can see below. Drew Barrymore and Olivia Wilde also came to the event clad in maternity wear, but Washington was the class of the class in pregnancy fashion.

Kerry Washington
Meanwhile, Emma Thompson told much of the fashion story when she took off her shoes and then tossed them over her shoulder when she was presenting. How do the lady stars stay upright in those things, anyway? Thompson brought her martini glass with her, illustrating the other theme of the Golden Globes. Keep the liquor flowing and the acceptance speeches will be as wacky as Jackie Bisset all night long.

It was a strange and silly night, as the Golden Globes usually are. Some righteous winners, a few oddities and upsets, everybody taking forever to get to the stage, bizarre hairdos (on male winners this time), lame bits for presenters, jokes that aimed under the belt... Yep. That's the Golden Globes all right.

Friday, January 10, 2014

U of I's Amanda Drinkall Set for VENUS IN FUR at the Goodman

Amanda Drinkall
The Goodman Theatre has announced casting for its upcoming production of David Ives' Venus in Fur, and the tricky, complex, sexy role of Vanda, the Venus in question, will be played by Amanda Drinkall, a University of Illinois alum just starting to break out in Chicago theatrical circles.

Since her time as an undergrad in Champaign-Urbana, Drinkall has performed as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet with the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and Ursula in Much Ado About Nothing at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, as well as performing in Chicago with the Goodman (Measure for Measure), Strawdog Theatre (Great Expectations), Lifeline Theatre (Pride and Prejudice), Victory Gardens (Failure: A Love Story) and The Back Room Shakespeare Project (Othello, Romeo and Juliet, A Winter’s Tale, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream). As part of the ensemble at Red Tape Theatre, she has appeared in Young Jun Lee's Lear and Pullman, WA, The Skriker, Brand, The Love of the Nightingale, and The Making of a Modern Folk Hero. And she is listed as part of the cast for hamlet is dead. no gravity at Red Tape, opening January 27.

Drinkall's take on chilly Estella and sweet Biddy in Strawdog's Great Expectations earned her a spot on Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones' list of the best acting performances of 2013.

Venus in Fur is an interesting choice for the Goodman, given its focus on an erotic cat-and-mouse game between a director and the actress who wants a role in his play. Ives' play (and the play within the play) take their cues from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs, an 1870 century novel that depicted the kinky power dynamic between a siren named Wanda and the man who wants to be her sex slave. Sacher-Masoch gave his name to the word "masochism," by the way.

Ives' funny, modern, still kinky spin on Venus started off-Broadway in 2010, moving to the Lyceum Theater on Broadway in 2011. The play was nominated for the Best Play Tony and it won Best Actress for Nina Arianda, who played Vanda opposite Hugh Dancy's Thomas, the playwright.

For the Goodman, director Joanie Schultz will take the reins, with Drinkall and Rufus Collins, an actor with extensive Broadway and off-Broadway credits, as Thomas.

Venus in Fur is set to open March 8 in the Goodman's Albert Theatre, the 856-seat main stage, with performances through April 13, 2014.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What in the World Is THE SPOILS OF BABYLON?

If you've been seeing Will Farrell pop up in a money suit to push The Spoils of Babylon and wondering what The Spoils of Babylon is, you're not alone. Turns out it's a spoofy miniseries starting tonight on the Independent Film Channel.

The show's site at the IFC doesn't tell you much but it certainly is complicated! There are quotes, video pieces and an ominous soundtrack, all interwoven and piled on top of each other to give the appearance of an overblown potboiler from the 80s. The Spoils of Babylon has been compared to things like Rich Man, Poor Man and The Winds of War, if you remember those sprawling epics from TV of yore. The typeface alone tells you all you need to know. (See image, above.) Its plot sounds more like Harold Robbins and the movie The Carpetbaggers, but what do I know?

In any event, Babylon isn't meant to recreate the miniseries of the past, but instead to lampoon them. It involves a famous author of the Harold Robbins or Irwin Shaw type, here called Eric Jonrosh and played by Will Ferrell. It's all EPIC NOVEL TURNED INTO EPIC TELEVISION EVENT!!!! like the ones that filled our television screens with schemers and deceivers in the 70s and early 80s. "Which one of you bitches is my mother?" Exactly.

Will Ferrell dressed like money
Ferrell's Jonrosh, who has more than a passing similarity to Orson Welles during his wine-hawking days, is around as a framing device and narrator to the EPIC plot, wherein a kid from nowhere, played by Tobey Maguire, gets adopted by a filthy rich Texas oilman named Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins). Devon, the kid from nowhere, marries posh Lady Anne, inexplicably a mannequin given voice by Carey Mulligan, while Morehouse's doofus daughter Cynthia (Kristen Wiig) hankers after Devon herself.

Also on board are Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, Haley Joel Osment and Michael Sheen, all having a grand time going over the top into wretched excess.

If that sounds like your cup of Paul Masson no-wine-before-its-time, check out the Independent Film Channel for The Spoils of Babylon buffoonery.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

All That Glitters: Golden Globes This Weekend

You can't deny that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, all 93 members strong, puts on a good party with its annual Golden Globe Awards. They started out as film awards in 1943 and then -- in what I consider a genius move -- added television to the mix in 1956, so that the stars of the two media, who didn't necessarily hobnob all that much at the time, could celebrate together.

Throwing in the kitschy idea of a Miss (or Mr) Golden Globes, so that somebody attractive with Hollywood ties would grace the stage all night, also helped form the Golden Globes identity. Keeping the drinks flowing and the party atmosphere front and center didn't hurt, either.

This year's Miss Golden Globes is Sosie Bacon, the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. She is probably hoping her appearance as Miss GG will jumpstart her career. It certainly didn't hurt the likes of Golden children past like Linda Evans, Melanie Griffith, Laura Dern, Freddie Prinze Jr, and Rumer Willis. If you have a Hollywood mom or dad, you get a step up. That's just the way it is.

The charming and entertaining Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will return as hosts, another smart move from the HFPA. Fey and Poehler were colleagues at Saturday Night Live, they've both fronted sitcoms on NBC, and they've both been nominated for Golden Globes. Fey won twice, while Poehler is nominated again as Best Actress in a comedy or musical TV series. They're hilarious and smart and they can't be hosts often enough to suit me.

So who will win at the 71st annual Golden Globes? It's hard to predict, given the whole 93 voters thing. To my mind, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association seems to favor British and European actors, which you will notice in their nominations. Also note that they have more categories than most and what they do cannot be seen as a barometer for the Oscars, no matter how much they try to spin it that way. Let's look at the contenders:

12 Years a Slave and Gravity are the favorites right now to win as Best Drama film, with other nominees Captain Phillips, Philomena and Rush relegated to the sidelines. Over on the comedy side, I look to American Hustle to prevail, with Her, Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street back in the pack and the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis as a major longshot.

And even though I think 12 Years a Slave will edge out Gravity in the Best Picture race, I'm predicting Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron will win as Best Director over 12 Years' Steve McQueen.

Pretty much everyone expects Cate Blanchett to take the Best Actress in a Drama prize for Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, although Sandra Bullock's performance in Gravity certainly has fans. Judi Dench (Philomena), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) and Kate Winslet (Labor Day) are much less likely. This category shows just how much the HFPA loves non-Americans, with an Australian and three British ladies competing against Sandra Bullock.

The Best Actress race is much tighter for actresses in comedy films, with Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Amy Adams (American Hustle) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) all potential winners. So who among them will take home the statuette? Gold Derby says the odds are with Amy Adams, but I say never bet against Meryl Streep.

Among the actors nominated for drama films, Robert Redford stands alone in All Is Lost and Matthew McConaughey made a huge impression in The Dallas Buyers Club. I still think this Globe is Chiwetel Ejiofor's to lose. His character went through endless cycles of hell in 12 Years a Slave, and Ejiofor made that feel personal.

Comedy/musical actors are more tightly bunched. The Golden Globes love them some Leonardo DiCaprio -- he's been nominated ten times and won for The Aviator -- but audiences have been turned off by the wretched excess in The Wolf of Wall Street. Bruce Dern has the older-star patina and his performance in Nebraska has been getting a lot of notice, including winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Is that enough to impress the Globers? Or will they prefer Christian Bale in American Hustle, Oscar Isaac breaking out in Inside Llewyn Davis, or Joaquin Phoenix acting with Scarlett Johansson's voice in Her? I think it will be Dern.

I also think Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) will beat out Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) for supporting actor honors, but I'm hoping Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) can hold off Jennifer Lawrence, the It Girl whose American Hustle performance isn't really all that special.

In the television drama category, Breaking Bad's explosive finale season should push it ahead of House of Cards from Netflix and Showtime's Masters of Sex, with Downton Abbey from PBS and The Good Wife from CBS, the only Big 4 network represented, looking on. The only comedy series I like among the nominees is Parks and Recreation, although newcomer Brooklyn Nine-Nine would also be acceptable. But I'm thinking a perennial contender like The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family will win. Please, Foreign Press people, do not give another award to Girls. I'm begging you!

That goes double for Lena Dunham as Best Actress in a Comedy for Girls, but I think Julia Louis-Dreyfus will pull it out for Veep, anyway. On the other hand, if it were to be Amy Poehler at long last, I would be cheering loudly. The TV drama actress category is a lot more interesting this year without last year's winner, Claire Danes from Homeland, even nominated. It's terrific that Tatiana Maslany got a nod for Orphan Black, but I am rooting for Kerry Washington, who continues to carry Scandal and its fabulously soapy goings-on. Juliana Margulies (The Good Wife), Taylor Schilling (Orange Is the New Black) and Robin Wright (House of Cards) are also worthy, however, making this one category where it's good news whoever gets the gold.

Among drama actors, I want Bryan Cranston to win for Breaking Bad's swan song, and I think he will. Still, Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) have an outside chance, and James Spader (Blacklist) is weird enough to attract some votes. I don't think Liev Schrieber (Ray Donovan) is a serious threat, however.

For me, the comedy actor race is wide open, but the Gold Derby people think the odds are in Michael J. Fox's favor. I wouldn't count out Jim Parsons, who keeps on winning for The Big Bang Theory, but I also wouldn't count on Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Don Cheadle (House of Lies) or Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine).

Behind the Candelabra and lead actor Michael Douglas, who played Liberace in it, should coast to victory in the mini-series categories, as should Helena Bonham Carter, who packs the double punch of being British and playing a real person (Elizabeth Taylor) in Burton and Taylor.

The Golden Globes stick all the TV supporting actors together, meaning you have people like dramatic powerhouse Janet McTeer (The White Queen) competing against comedy siren Sofia Vergara (Modern Family). But I think Monica Potter deserves the award for her stellar year on Parenthood, so I'm going to pick her.

Among the men, it's hard to overlook Aaron Paul and his amazing run on Breaking Bad, although film actor Jon Voight (Ray Donovan) is just the kind of guy the Foreign Press likes, and Corey Stoll (House of Cards) and Rob Lowe (Behind the Candelabra) gave terrific performances that should not be overlooked. Josh Charles also had a standout year on The Good Wife. Still, I think it will go to Aaron Paul when all is said and done.

We'll see how I do when the Golden Globes air Sunday at 7 Central time on NBC.

Friday, January 3, 2014

THE SULLIVAN PROJECT Blends Daniel Sullivan, David Auburn and Jake Weber

Daniel Sullivan
Illinois Theatre, a producing arm of the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, is shedding some light on "The Sullivan Project," a theater event scheduled for a week of performances in early February.

The Department of Theatre at U of I had previously announced that this would be the inaugural year of the Sullivan Project, named for Daniel Sullivan, who is the Swanlund Endowed Chair and a Professor of Theatre at U of I Urbana-Champaign. He is also a one of New York's most in-demand directors, a Tony Award winner for his direction of Proof, by David Auburn, and a Tony nominee for directing plays like Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, The Sisters Rosensweig by Wendy Wasserstein, and a 2011 production of The Merchant of Venice. Other than the fact that Sullivan would be at the helm, details were scant. All we knew was that this Sullivan Project would "gather professional artists from across the country to produce a new play."

Now we know that the new play in question is called Lost Lake and it was written by David Auburn. A press release sent out today tells us, "The latest work from the author of Proof, which received both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Broadway’s Tony Award, Lost Lake was developed by the author in a residency funded by Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference in the summer of 2013 (Preston Whiteway, Executive Director; Wendy C. Goldberg, Artistic Director).

"In Lost Lake, Veronica, who lives in New York City, finds herself at a crossroads in life and decides to offer her children a respite from city life in a ramshackle cabin far from the distractions of her urban milieu. When she leases a vacation home, she meets Hogan, the property owner who is facing challenges of his own—challenges that will have an impact on Veronica’s chances of time away from it all."

Jake Weber
We also have some excellent casting news. Jake Weber, someone I saw turn in a terrific performance in a terrific production of Tom Stoppard's Hapgood at the Williamstown Theater Festival last summer, who is perhaps better known for playing the hot husband in TV's Medium, will play Hogan, the challenged "property owner," while Opal Alladin will take the role of Veronica. Alladin appeared in the movie United 93 as well as an October episode of The Michael J. Fox Show, and she has extensive stage credits, including Romeo and Juliet for New York's Public Theater, Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and Anne Marie Healy's What Once We Felt as part of a new play initiative from Lincoln Center.

Opal Alladin
Weber and Alladin share an Alan Ayckbourn connection, since she was in Ayckbourn's My Wonderful Day in Philadelphia, and he played all five Rivetti brothers in a Broadway production of A Small Family Business at the Music Box Theatre.

Scenic designer J. Michael Griggs joins costume designer James Berton Harris, a longtime U of I professor as well as a prominent costume designer with credits on both coasts, lighting designer Robert Perry and Bradford Chapin, a sound designer and audio engineer who has designed several productions with Illinois Theatre, on the design team.

Rehearsals begin next week in Urbana, with performances of Lost Lake scheduled for February 5-9 at 7:30 pm and 2 pm matinees on the 8th and 9th. For ticket information, click here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy 2014!

Neither snow nor sleet nor gloom of night -- nor the turn of the calendar from 2013 to 2014 -- will stay these theaters from the performance of their appointed shows. Here's what's happening on stages and screens (including our television screens) in January:

Television is heating up very soon, with Community offering a supersized double episode to open its fifth season tonight on NBC, CBS also gearing up Elementary and a slew of sitcoms tonight, and ABC going with a show called The Assets, about real-life spy Aldrich Ames and the woman out to unearth him. Looking ahead to Sunday, Downton Abbey will bring its brand of classy Brit soap back to PBS, The Good Wife and its snappy legal escapades return that same night with an episode called "Goliath and David," and we'll see about that amnesia thing on the "Homecoming" episode of Revenge over on ABC.

The Golden Globes start awards mania off for the season on NBC on January 12.  After that, American Idol begins its 13th season on FOX on the 15th, the Critics Choice people give out their movie awards on the CW on the 16th, and Benedict Cumberbatch and his Sherlock return to PBS on the 19th.

To celebrate the new year and the onset of awards season, Champaign's Art Theater Co-op will be showing Oscar bait Nebraska, with Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) directing Bruce Dern as a man from Missouri who convinces his son, played by Saturday Night Live's Will Forte, to take him to Nebraska to pick up dubious lottery winnings; Philomena, a tour-de-force directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen) with perennial nominee Judi Dench as a mother who comes to America looking for the son who was taken from her years ago; and Inside Llewyn Davis, with the Coen brothers focusing on a prickly folk musician teetering on the edge of a career in Greenwich Village in 1961. Nebraska is playing tonight through January 9, while Philomena begins tomorrow at 7:30 pm, also ending on the 9th, and Llewyn Davis starts on the 10th. The Art schedules different performances in the afternoons and evenings, so be sure to check their website for times and dates before you go.

The Normal Theater is also focusing on high-profile recent releases with potential award nominees, with The Book Thief, a good companion piece for The Diary of Anne Frank (see below) since it involves a young girl in Germany during World War II, playing from January 9 to 12; Enough Said, James Gandolfini's last film that has garnered good notices and lots of attention for star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, from January 16 to 19; and All Is Lost, Robert Redford's solo effort about a man lost at sea, from January 23 to 26.

Community Players opens its year with The Diary of Anne Frank, the award-winning play based on the diaries of a young Jewish girl trying to survive hidden in an Amsterdam attic with her family during the Holocaust. Anne Frank takes the stage at Players with a preview on January 16 and regular performances January 17-19 and 23-26. The play linked to above was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, but Wendy Kesselman changed it slightly for a 1997 production starring Natalie Portman as Anne, and that's the script Players is using. Veronika Betts will step into those shoes for Community Players, with a supporting cast that includes Nathan Bottorff, Rebekah Easling, Amanda Fisher, Jake Rathman, Tom Smith, Tyler Stark,Tricia Stiller, Paul Vellella, Alan Wilson, Penny Wilson and Tim Zaitseff.

The musical Hello, Dolly! has seen a lot of different Dollies over the year. Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Eve Arden, Yvonne de Carlo, Phyllis Diller, Betty Grable, Lainie Kazan, Dorothy Lamour, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Martha Raye and Ginger Rogers all played the role, along with, of course, Barbra Streisand in the movie. The original Broadway production ran for seven years and won ten Tony Awards. Everybody loves Dolly! Sally Struthers, who rose to prominence playing Archie Bunker's daughter on the TV show All in the Family, will be Dolly when the show comes to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts January 21. Struthers previously played the role of the irrepressible matchmaker in 2005, and has been hoofing it up on tour as Dolly since October of last year. You can see all about this touring version here or check out BCPA info about it here. Trivia note: I saw Sally Struthers on stage sometime in the early 70s when she brought a little piece called A Girl Could Get Lucky to Pheasant Run Lodge, whose playhouse was part of the resort hotel where I worked as a front desk clerk. At the time, we all thought she was way cuter than we expected from TV. And that was the sum total of my critical reaction.

Don't forget that Heartland Theatre is open for submissions for both its New Play projects, with a February 1 deadline for the Fowl Plays 10-minute play competition and entries accepted through May 1 for one-act plays written to fit the Escape theme. This year Heartland is offering a $150 prize to each of the three winning one-acts in the latter contest. All the details on both contests are available under the links in this paragraph.