Friday, June 27, 2014

50 Years Later, It's Still Easy to Love A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

July 6 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night in the UK. It didn't make it to the United States until August 11, 1964, which happened to be my 8th birthday, but it's still July that it's most associated with. Summer. London. Cheeky youth on the run.

A Hard Day's Night was a hugely influential film, and not just as a promotional tool for the Beatles. It made director Richard Lester a major name, created the blueprint for music videos years before MTV, launched imitators like The Monkees TV show, and established a cinematic style of quick cuts driven by the beat of the music, of off-kilter images and unexpected narrative lines, that echoed in a whole lot of "modern" movies for a very long time. There is an irreverence and joy, a sense of irrepressible energy and irrepressible freedom, in A Hard Day's Night that made it something really special in its time, something we take for granted now. Roger Ebert captured the ethos of the movie perfectly in a 1996 essay when he wrote, "[I]t has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies."

I've seen A Hard Day's Night quite a few times on my television screen, but now I get the chance to see it on the big screen, as it was intended to be seen. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Janus Films is releasing a newly restored version of the film to theaters across the UK and the US.

Although the big release is supposed to be July 4, we'll get to see it starting July 3 at the Normal Theater. The Normal Theater is airing A Hard Day's Night on July 3, 4, 5 and 6. It will be shown each night at 7 pm for $7.

If you're interested in the whole list of venues, from Bear Tooth Cinema in Alaska to the Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo and Bing Crosby Cinema in Spokane, click here and scroll down. In Illinois, we have a choice of the Normal Theater, The Art Co-op in Champaign, Landmark Cinemas in Peoria, the Tivoli in Downers Grove and the historic Music Box Theater in Chicago.

A special edition of A Hard Day's Night, including the new 4K digital restoration, two audio choices (a monaural soundtrack or the remixed 5.1 surround soundtrack), and a pile of extras like the earlier Richard Lester short The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film from 1959, interviews, audio commentary, trailers and print pieces, has also been released as of June 24 on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of the Criterion Collection.

On film, on DVD, on your iPad or on the big screen, A Hard Day's Night "has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies." And who doesn't need to affirm life and the movies every once in awhile?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Last Weekend for Heartland's FOWL PLAYS

There's only one weekend left in Heartland Theatre's annual 10-Minute Play Festival. These Fowl Plays have flown by over the first three weekends in June, pulling in crowds and earning rave reviews.

The winning Fowl Plays cover a variety of birds, from two sets of crows -- one noisy, one involved in murder -- to a pair of eagles, a mallard duck decoy, a Great Horny Owl and a foul-mouthed parrot. Some are funny, some are thought-provoking or "aww" provoking, and some are a little bit out there. It's no wonder Marcia Weiss called the eight bird-related plays "a real hoot" in her review in the Bloomington Pantagraph.

The winning playwrights cover a lot of territory, as well, with Joe Strupek (The Decoy) from right here in Bloomington, Blaise Miller (Bird on a Ferry) down in Texas, Brigitte Viellieu-Davis (Fly Girl Fly) and Nancy Halper (The Murder of Crows) from New Jersey, Russell Weeks (Whoooo?) from Seattle, Ron Burch (Polly) and Tim West (Two in the Bush) from southern California, and Claire BonEnfant (The Caw Caw Conspiracy) from Toronto, Canada.

The company of 13 actors include some new to Heartland Theatre, like Connie Blick, J. Michael Grey, Andrea Henderson, Gabrielle Lott-Rogers, Abby Scott, Eliza Sturdivant and Dave Yates, and some familiar faces, like Nathan Bottorff, Gayle Hess, Dave Lemmon, Nancy Nickerson and Kevin Wickart. Rob Goode falls between the two categories -- he was the costume designer on Iron last spring, so he is familiar with Heartland Theatre, but this is his first acting job there.

It's that kind of mix -- comedy and drama, East Coast, West Coast and Midwest sensibilities, fresh faces and old favorites -- that keeps Heartland's 10-Minute Plays fun and different every year.

Even the directors mix old and new. Ron Emmons, who acted as this year's overall director, and IWU Emeritus Professor John Ficca have been at the helm of Heartland plays before, while Cristen Monson, who directs Summer on Stage and the Intercity Shakespeare Troupe, is directing for Heartland for the first time. And I have been associated with this particular 10-Minute Play Festival since 2001, but it's also my first time directing here. If you're coming out to judge how I did, the plays I directed are Ron Burch's Polly and Joe Strupek's The Decoy.

Joe and I visited WGLT to talk about the Fowl Plays and especially The Decoy, and we brought along Dave Lemmon and Gayle Hess to perform a piece of Joe's play on air. That was added to an interview with Deanna Frautschi, who, along with her husband, Alan Bedell, have sponsored Heartland's 10-Minute Play Festival for the past 11 years. Frautschi is a bird-lover and a wonderful wildlife and bird-life photographer, and that love and those talents are what inspired the entire Fowl Plays theme this year. If you missed that radio piece, you can listen to it here at the WGLT site. Note that Dave, Gayle and The Decoy start at about the ten-minute mark, while Deanna begins about 17 minutes in.

If you are smart, you'll make reservations now to catch one of these last four performances, before the Fowl Plays fly away into the sunset. Tonight, Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 pm, while Sunday's matinee begins at 2. Reservation information is here, with showtimes here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


If you're over 50, you might just have been a Beverly Hillbillies fan when you were a child. Now this sweetly old-fashioned fishes-out-of-water, naifs-in-the-city comedy may seem hokey, but between 1962 and 1971, when it aired on CBS, The Beverly Hillbillies was a major hit, with a hit theme song to boot.

Even if you've never seen an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies and you missed the 1993 movie remake, you can get the whole backstory from the theme song, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," which was performed by the fabulous Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

Come and listen to my story
'Bout a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer,
Barely kept his family fed.
And then one day
He was shootin' at some food,
And up through the ground cme a-bubblin' crude.

Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.

Well the first thing you know,
Ol' Jed's a millionaire.
Kinfolk said "Jed move away from there."
Said "California's the place you outta be."
So they loaded up the truck
And they moved to Beverly.

Hills, that is. Swimming pools, movie stars...

And that right there is what you need to know about The Beverly Hillbillies before you go to see the new stage musical, called (appropriately enough) The Beverly Hillbillies -- the Musical, when it makes its world premiere next month at Theater in the Center in Munster, Indiana. Jed Clampett strikes oil and moves his clan -- his mother, Granny; his son, Jethro; and his daughter, Elly May, who loves "critters" -- to California, to a mansion with a cement pond (swimming pool) and lots of luxuries they don't know what to do with.

Beverly Hillbillies -- the Musical opens July 9 and plays till August 9, and it's being billed as a pre-Broadway tryout of sorts. It features music and lyrics by Gregg Opelka, who has composed nine musicals, most performed in Chicago, and book written by David and Amanda Rogers. David Rogers was a composer, lyricist, author and actor who passed away last year. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1981 for a musical version of the novel "Flowers for Algernon" called Charlie and Algernonand he appeared in as an actor in the 1987 revival of the musical Broadway. Amanda Rogers is his daughter. His other daugher, actress Dulcy Rogers, is married to Diedrich Bader, the actor who appeared as Jethro in the 1993 movie. Whether that played a part in David Rogers' creating a musical version of the Hillbillies, I don't know.

What I do know is that casting was announced back in May. According to Johnny Oleksinski in the Chicago Tribune, David Perkovich is directing a cast that includes Jim Harms as Jed, Kelly Anne Clark as Granny, Summer Smart as Elly May, John Stemberg as Jethro, Norm Boucher as Mr. Drysdale and Holly Stauder as Mrs. Drysdale. No mention of Jane Hathaway, the uptight bank aide who has a hankering for Jethro. That role was played by Nancy Kulp on TV and Lily Tomlin in the movie.

And Granny was, of course, played on television by Irene Ryan, who gave her name to the prestigious college acting award and scholarship program.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ISU's Owais Ahmed Opens in THE QUALMS at Steppenwolf Next Week

It hasn't been that long since Owais Ahmed was playing Anon in Illinois State University's production of Naomi Iizuka's Anon(ymous). Ahmed has not only moved to Chicago, he's moved on to Steppenwolf Theatre, where he will be part of the ensemble in a new play by Bruce Norris called The Qualms.

Norris won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Clybourne Park, a sort of reimagining and revisiting of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 classic about racism, real estate and the dream of making a home in Chicago. Clybourne Park also picked up the Tony for Best Play for its Broadway production and the Olivier and Evening Standard awards for Best Play for its London run.

The Qualms takes him into new territory as he focuses on a group of what used to be called "swingers." This bunch gets together regularly to eat, drink and be merry, including getting high and swapping partners. That's all fine and dandy until a new couple tries to enter the festivities, changing everything. Steppenwolf characterizes the show as a "delightfully wild and sexy comedy," asking the theatrical questions, "Does sex ruin everything? And what is the purpose of monogamy?"

Aside from Ahmed, the cast includes Steppenwolf ensemble member Kate Arrington along with Karen Aldridge, Diane Davis, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Keith Kupferer, David Pasquesi, Paul Oakley Stovall and Greg Stuhr.

The Qualms is directed by Tony winner Pam MacKinnon, a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble who also directed Clybourne Park in its Broadway, Playwrights Horizon and Mark Taper Forum productions. MacKinnon won her Tony for directing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway in 2012.

Opening night for The Qualms is Thursday, July 3, with performances continuing through August 31. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE Opens This Summer of Shakespeare at ISF

The Illinois Shakespeare Festival doesn't begin its mainstage performances of Much Ado About Nothing, Elizabeth Rex and Antony and Cleopatra until July 8, but in the meantime... The Festival's free Theatre for Young Audiences show has already begun.

This year, the TYA show is Shake, Shake, Shake Your Shakespeare, written by Nancy Steele Brokaw. And here's how the ISF describes what exactly this Shake is all about:
"Shake, Shake, Shake Your Shakespeare is the new, FREE theatre show for all ages that features Young Will as he learns about the art of storytelling. The show includes several familiar story book characters including Old Mother Goose, who becomes a kind of mentor for Young Will on his adventure. Together, with the audience, Old Goose and Young Will travel though several of Shakespeare's plays, learning about how to best tell a story."
The show took its first bow yesterday at the Ewing Cultural Center. In the rest of June, Shake, Shake will tour to the Immanuel Health Center in Bloomington on the 21st, come back to Ewing Manor on the 25th and make a stop at the Farmers Market in Bloomington on the 28. In July, look for this "interactive adventure" at Ewing Manor on Wednesdays and Saturdays except Saturday, July 19, when the troupe takes a trip to Franklin Park as part of Bloomington's Lincoln's Festival. All shows begin at 10 am.

Shake, Shake, Shake Your Shakespeare is a 45-minute show, completely free and intended for all ages. It is especially geared to the youngsters among us who might otherwise be confused or uncertain about their capacity to fully embrace Shakespeare. Shake, Shake shows them exactly how embraceable -- and fun -- Shakespeare and live performance can be. Outside! In the sun!

For more information on all this summer's activities at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, click the link under their name or check out their Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Happiness Is CHARLIE BROWN at Conklin's Barn II, Starting Tomorrow

Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre sent out word to its patrons last spring that it had endured a rocky winter season -- the terrible weather socked in the theater, which really is in a barn outside Goodfield -- and it needed their support to spring back.

The Barn has made some progress, but they're hoping for even more with You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the "hilarious and heartwarming" musical based on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown opens tomorrow, June 19, for a six-week run, with performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Charlie Brown is scheduled to close July 27. And there's even a July 4th performance if you'd like to celebrate your entertainment independence in Goodfield.

The Barn's materials describe this version of Charlie Brown as "a funny and nostalgic look back to our childhoods with our favorite friends from Peanuts, including Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, and, of course, Snoopy. The delightful skits and songs take us through a typical day in the life of our hapless but hopeful hero, Charlie Brown and his friends. Many classic Peanuts moments are encapsulated in this enchanting musical: Lucy mooning over the Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder and manning her psychiatric booth with the price of five cents; Linus’ devotion to his blanket; Charlie Brown’s lonely lunch time and dismal attempt to fly a kite; and Snoopy’s joyous celebration of "Suppertime.” The day ends with the perennial Peanuts' anthem “Happiness.”"

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was a major hit off-Broadway in 1967, piling up almost 1600 performances and numerous awards. Its cast included actor and director Bob Balaban as well as MASH's Gary Burghoff. The show was revived on Broadway in 1999, with a cast that included Roger Bart, Kristen Chenoweth, Ilana Levine, Stanley Wayne Mathis and B.D. Wong, with Anthony Rapp as Charlie Brown himself.

For the Barn, those roles will be played by Pat Gaik (as Charlie Brown), Mary Simon (Lucy), Dan Challacombe (Linus), Tamra Challacombe (Sally), Chad Kirvan (Schroeder), and Jimmy LaHood (Snoopy).

This Charlie Brown is directed and staged by Mary Simon with musical direction by Chad Kirvan and choreography by Tamra Challacombe. To find out more details or to make reservations, visit the Barn's website at or call the box office at 309-965-2545.

Note that the Barn II is a dinner theater, which means your ticket price includes a buffet. Tickets range from $35 to $39, but they are offering a special coupon (see above) to give you a free dinner on Thursdays and $5 off per couple on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Just click on the image to see the full-size version of the coupons.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

3rd Annual HISTORY MAKERS GALA on Thursday June 19

The McLean County Museum of History will showcase local movers, shakers and influential people Thursday with its third annual History Makers Gala at the Brown Ballroom in the Bone Student Center on the Illinois State University campus. This year's honorees include Carol Reitan, a major influence on the Bloomington-Normal arts scene, who passed away last month at the age of 83.

Carol Reitan
Reitan served as mayor of Normal from 1972 to 1976, making her the only woman to hold that office in the town's history. She ran a consulting firm for energy efficient home design, acted as the director and CEO of Mid Central Community Action, and chaired the Normal 2015 Committee that set goals for Normal's next 25 years, plus she co-founded Collaborative Solutions Institute, Inc., a not-for-profit which provides counseling and mediation for at-risk youth and adults, worked to establish Habitat for Humanity of McLean County, the Community Foundation of McLean County, which has become the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation, and she created the coalition that found a way to open Neville House, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.And she also founded Heartland Theatre, along with Phil Shaw and Rita Kohn, back in 1986.

Her fellow honorees include entrepreneur, community leader and contractor Pat Wannemacher, the first-ever female president of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, who passed away in 2013; Margot Mendoza, former president of both the Bloomington-Normal Symphony Guild and the McLean County Arts Council who also spearheaded the Latino History Project at the McLean County Historical Society; and John and Joanne Maitland, a power couple that balanced public service and politics with volunteerism and work in health, education and agriculture.

Doors open for the Gala at 5:30 pm on June 19, with the program beginning at 6:15. The program referred to includes a performance from Illinois Voices Theatre actors and singers to celebrate the honorees' lives and give some sense of how they influenced McLean County.

For all the details, including how to contact the Museum of History, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Young at Heartland Summer Showcase Coming Up Friday

Young at Heartland, the senior acting troupe which operates under the auspices of Heartland Theatre, often takes its act on the road. But every summer, Young at Heartland comes back to Heartland Theatre with a l Summer Showcase to give friends, family and fans a chance to see what they've been working on.

This year's Summer Showcase uses the theme "Life's Roles," showing a sample of the many roles each actor plays in life and on the stage. To explain how Young at Heartland is working with that theme in this year's pieces, Program Director Ann White quotes from Shakespeare's As You Like It. She reminds us that "All the world's a stage" and "One man in his time plays many parts."

With those "many parts" in mind, Young at Heartland actors will bring to life a variety of roles and a selection of scenes, some past favorites and others brand-new works written by Young at Heartland colleagues. 

Instructors for this spring's acting workshops have been Sarah Salazar, Adjunct Professor at Bradley University's School of Theatre, and Kathleen Kirk, an actress, playwright and poet who frequently works with Heartland Theatre. Kirk will be directing Heartland Theatre's September production of Julia Cho's The Language Archive. In the image of the Young at Heartland troupe shown above, Salazar and Kirk are seen in the first row on the far right, while YAH Program Director Ann White is second from the left, also in the first row.

Young at Heartland's Summer Showcase performances are scheduled for Friday, June 20th at 1 pm and Wednesday, June 25th at 7:30 pm. This is the first time YAH has added an evening performance. Since the matinee has so often been a full house, the evening performance will provide another option to get a seat.

Both performances are offered free of charge, although donations will be accepted to help defray program expenses. No reservations are taken so first come first seated.

This year's program includes the following pieces and actors:

Cats and Dogs by Terri Ryburn
Performed by: Susan Callahan, Holly Klass and Gayle Thomas

Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward
Performed by: Elsie Cadieux and Wes Melton

On Golden Pond by Ernest Thompson
Cast: Kathy Clesson and Ann B. White

The Majestic by Michael Sloane
Performed by: Larry Eggan

Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell
Performed by: Nancy Slattery and Diane Walker

Let's Go to the Movies by Terri Ryburn
Performed by: Carol Baker and Lynda Straw

“Tandem” from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
Performed by: Natalie Dugan

Driver's Test by Elsie Cadieux
Performed by: Susan Palmer and Mary Scott

Adam’s Diary by Mark Twain
Performed by: Bob Weldon

Super Clean Machine by Lynda Straw
Performed by: Glen Beaman and Lola DeVore

Goldilocks by Keena Lindsay
Performed by: Dottie Peiffer

Homecoming by Elsie Cadieux
Performed by: Diane Anderson and Lorie Highfill

The Assignment by Marie-Aline Cadieux
Performed by: Kathe Conley, Norma Oberholtzer, John Ford/Larry Eggan

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Make a Date to Try Out for MY FAIR LADY

If all you want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air, and perhaps one enormous chair, well, I have some loverly auditions for you.

Auditions for Prairie Fire Theatre's production of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, directed by Rhys Lovell, are scheduled for tonight and tomorrow night, June 12 and 13, from 6 to 8 pm, in Presser Hall, room 16, on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus. Lovell has added more audition dates, too, so if Monday or Tuesday, June 15 or 16, between 5 and 7 pm, fits your schedule better, that is also an option.

Lovell has already cast the mellifluous Joe Penrod, who has appeared recently in A Little Night Music with Prairie Fire and Other Desert Cities at Heartland, as Professor Henry Higgins, but all the other roles -- including the plum roles of Eliza Doolittle and her dad, the one who needs a little bit of bloomin' luck -- are up for grabs.

Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl at Covent Garden snatched up and remade by an egotistical linguistics professor in order to win a bet, has been played by the likes of Julie Andrews, in the Broadway production, and Audrey Hepburn, on film. Although Hepburn and her gorgeous costumes from the film are synonymous with Eliza in many people's eyes, she didn't actually sing the aforementioned "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" or "I Could Have Danced All Night" or any of Eliza's famous songs. Instead, Marni Nixon dubbed them all. Audrey Hepburn still looked loverly in the Cecil Beaton-designed outfits, however.

Rex Harrison played Higgins opposite both Andrews and Hepburn, and he thanked both when he won an Oscar for the role. He also won the Tony as Best Actor in a Musical, one of six Tony Awards the musical won, including Best Musical

The film version of My Fair Lady beat that total, however, taking home eight Oscars in 1965, including Best Picture, Best Director for George Cukor, and Best Costume Design for Cecil Beaton. Stanley Holloway, who'd done the stage version as well, and supporting actress Gladys Cooper, who played Higgins' mum, were also nominated.

The musical is based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, wherein Professor Higgins and his friend Colonel Pickering make a wager that centers on whether Higgins can teach a Cockney flower seller to speak properly enough to pass as a lady at a posh garden party. In the musical version, that is transformed into the Ascot race course and an Embassy Ball, and on film, it's Ascot that spawned all the nifty black-and-white costumes that many stage productions still pick up.

As Henry Higgins schools Eliza on proper pronunciations ("The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain" and suchlike)  as well as dress and decorum, issues of identity, agency and what makes someone who they are arise. And different productions interpret the end and whether there is a possible Happily Ever After for Henry and Eliza differently. We'll have to wait to see what spin Lovell and Penrod and the rest of the cast put on My Fair Lady when it plays from July 31 to August 3 at IWU's Westbrook Auditorium.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE Comes to Connie Link Ampitheatre Tomorrow

The bright and charming musical about the successes and failures of kids competing at a spelling bee -- The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee -- is back in Normal this week, as the summer musical for Normal Parks and Rec.

This version of the Bee opens tomorrow, outside at the Connie Link Ampitheatre off Linden Street in Normal, with performances through June 22. Tickets are $4 for adults, $2 for students from kindergarten to high school age, with free admission for those under 5 or over 65.

Bloomington High School's Susan Cortesi directs a cast that includes Amelia Dirks, Brendan Donnelly, Anna Genrich, Will Koski, Leah Overmier and Hayden Wood as spellers and Kira Haney, Elizabeth King and Ethan Schlenker as the folks running the competition.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has been performed locally -- I recall an ISU production a few years ago as well as one at Community Players more recently -- but this is the first time it's being done outside by students who are closer in age to the kids in the play. These high schoolers (with one junior high student among them) are still older than the youngsters we see on stage, but it's closer...

No word on whether this production will continue the tradition of pulling guest participants from the audience, but I don't know why they wouldn't. One thing is definitely different from previous Bees -- director Cortesi has gone with a larger cast rather than using a small ensemble in multiple roles. This time, the Bee will have a cast of about 28.

Tomorrow night's performance is scheduled to begin at 7:30 pm, but you are wise to get there early to stake out a good spot on the lawn. For more information, click here to see the event's Facebook page.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

FOWL PLAYS Open Tonight!

Those of us who work on Heartland Theatre's annual 10-Minute Play Festival begin our efforts about a year ahead of time. That means choosing a theme, setting up the parameters for entries, reading a whole lot of plays, winnowing down the contenders to eight winners through three levels of judging, and then assembling actors, designers and directors to actually put on the plays. I have chaired Heartland's 10-Minute Play committee for years and years. I love the form and I love the process.

Why 10-minute plays? They're short and sweet, they don't have time to mess around, and the good ones -- like the the eight winners this year under the FOWL PLAYS banner -- say something, make you laugh or sigh and make a point in just about ten minutes. That's a pretty sweet trick.

This year's FOWL PLAYS, all involving a bird of some sort, open tonight at Heartland Theatre, and we will all get to see that year's worth of work pay off. How awesome is that?

Pretty awesome. The idea of FOWL PLAYS came from Ron Emmons, the overall director of the Festival this year and a member of the 10-Minute Play committee. He had seen a variety of stunningly beautiful photographs of birds done by Deanna Frautschi, the longtime sponsor of this 10-Minute Play Festival for Heartland, and he thought we should honor Deanna through a bird-inspired theme. And so we did. Here's the line-up of the eight winning plays:

BIRD ON A FERRY by Blaise Miller, Frisco TX
A pair of ferry passengers headed for a party find a disheveled man carrying a small box with a bird inside more than a bit of a distraction.
Directed by Cristen Monson.
Cast: Connie Blick, J. Michael Grey, Andrea Henderson and Dave Yates.

FLY GIRL FLY by Brigitte Viellieu-Davis, West New York NJ
A young graffiti artist discovers what it means to be “something” when she runs into a woman in the park sketching birds.
Directed by Cristen Monson.
Cast: Andrea Henderson, Gabrielle Lott-Rogers and Eliza Sturdivant.

THE DECOY by Joe Strupek, Bloomington IL
A hand-carved duck decoy could be a very valuable thing. It could be the one spark in Drew’s very lousy day . Or it could just be a decoy.
Directed by Julie Kistler.
Cast: Gayle Hess, Dave Lemmon and Dave Yates.

WHOOOO? by Russell Weeks, Seattle WA
A man tells his psychiatrist that he has lost his beak, his wings and his feathers as part of a transition from owl to human. What kind of doctor would believe him?
Directed by Ron Emmons.
Cast: Nathan Bottorff and Abby Scott.

THE CAW-CAW CONSPIRACY by Claire BonEnfant, Toronto ONT Canada
When Earl takes a page from Hitchcock and The Birds to get rid of a neighbor he doesn’t like, he may be hoist with his own paper crow.
Directed by John Ficca.
Cast: Nathan Bottorff, Nancy Nickerson and Kevin Wickart.

TWO IN THE BUSH by Tim West, San Diego CA
Some birds mate for life. Some mate seasonally. And some couples have a hard time keeping it together when they try to catch an eagle with a camera.
Directed by John Ficca.
Cast: J. Michael Grey and Gayle Hess.

THE MURDER OF CROWS by Nancy Halper, Summit NJ
Divorced parents Debra and Greg aren’t sure what to make of their child’s drawing of crows at a parent-teacher conference.
Directed by Ron Emmons.
Cast: Connie Blick, Nancy Nickerson and Dave Yates

POLLY by Ron Burch, Los Angeles CA
John wants to introduce his new girlfriend to his best friend Maureen. But his girlfriend Polly is a parrot. Or is she?
Directed by Julie Kistler.
Cast: Rob Goode, Andrea Henderson and Gabrielle Lott-Rogers.

So here we go! Eight ten-minute plays from eight playwrights, four directors and 13 actors, opening tonight at 7:30 pm with a special Pay What You Can Preview. After tonight, you can choose from evening performances at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and Sunday matinees at 2 pm through June 29. Please note that this first week there is no Sunday matinee and that the panel discussion is scheduled for Sunday the 22nd after the show. That discussion should begin at approximately 3:45 pm on June 22 as the show is running about 90 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission.

For more information, click here to see Heartland Theatre's Now Playing page, here for showtimes and dates, and here for the 10-Minute Plays main page.

I'll see you at the theater!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Drama Desk Awards Love GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE

Benanti with her own Drama Desk Award in 2011
It doesn't get much better than Laura Benanti if you need a host for your awards. The Drama Desk Awards were lucky enough to have the lovely Ms. Benanti there this week to glam up their awards, given to outstanding Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows from the 2013-14 season. Benanti is a Tony-winner herself, and she was joined by a fleet of stars like Christian Borle, David Byrne, Marge Champion, Toni Collette, Sutton Foster, Michael C. Hall,  Judy Kuhn, Tracy Letts, John Cameron Mitchell, Jessie Mueller, Laura Osnes, Steven Pasquale and Billy Porter.

And who came out on top? The musical A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder was a big winner, with seven awards, including Outstanding Musical and a share of Outstanding Actor in a Musical for star Jefferson Mays. That one was a tie, with Mays and Neil Patrick Harris, for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, sharing the honors. Gentleman's Guide also nabbed trophies for director Darko Tresnjak and for its book, by Robert L. Freedman, and lyrics, by Freedman and Steven Lutvak, but not for its music. Instead, Jason Robert Brown picked up the award for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Orchestrations for The Bridges of Madison County.

Gentleman's Guide was part of another tie, too, with both Anika Larsen, from Beautiful--The Carole King Musical, and Lauren Worsham from Gentleman's Guide getting a piece of the Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical prize.

Beautiful won three awards overall, for Outstanding Actress in a Musical Jessie Mueller, who plays Carole King, and Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical for Brian Ronan, along with Larsen's award.

Robert Schenkkan's All the Way, a play about President Lyndon Johnson that originated at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and won the prestigious ATCA/Steinberg Award, won Outstanding Play, and star Bryan Cranston, who plays LBJ, won Outstanding Actor in a Play.

Audra McDonald added to her already crowded trophy case with an award for Outstanding Actress in a Play for Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.

This year's special awards went to Soho Rep, Veanne Cox, Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, and the ensembles of Off-Broadway’s The Open House (Hannah Bos, Michael Countryman, Peter Friedman, Danny McCarthy and Carolyn McCormick) and Broadway’s The Realistic Joneses (Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei) as well as Will Eno, the playwright behind The Open House and The Realistic Joneses.

You'll find nominees in all the categories at the Drama Desk site or listed below, with winners listed first and given two asterisks. 

Outstanding Play
**Robert Schenkkan, All the Way
Nell Benjamin, The Explorers Club
Steven Levenson, Core Values
Conor McPherson, The Night Alive
Richard Nelson, Regular Singing
Bruce Norris, Domesticated
John Patrick Shanley, Outside Mullingar

Outstanding Revival of a Play
**Twelfth Night (Shakespeare’s Globe Production)
I Remember Mama
London Wall
No Man's Land
Of Mice and Men
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Model Apartment

Outstanding Actor in a Play
**Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Hamish Linklater, The Comedy of Errors
Ian McKellen, No Man's Land
David Morse, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin
Chris O'Dowd, Of Mice and Men
Daniel Radcliffe, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Denzel Washington, A Raisin in the Sun

Outstanding Actress in a Play
**Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Barbara Andres, I Remember Mama 
Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
Laurie Metcalf, Domesticated
J. Smith-Cameron, Juno and the Paycock
Harriet Walter, Julius Caesar

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
**Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
Chuck Cooper, Choir Boy
Peter Maloney, Outside Mullingar
Bobby Moreno, Year of the Rooster
Bill Pullman, The Jacksonian
Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
**Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie
Betty Buckley, The Old Friends
Julia Coffey, London Wall
Diane Davis, The Model Apartment
Jan Maxwell, The Castle
Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun

Outstanding Director of a Play
**Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
Joe Calarco, A Christmas Carol
Thomas Kail, Family Furniture
Bill Rauch, All the Way
Anna D. Shapiro, Domesticated
Julie Taymor, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Outstanding Music in a Play
**Nico Muhly, The Glass Menagerie
Lewis Flinn, The Tribute Artist
Elliot Goldenthal, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Rob Kearns, The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle
Tom Kochan, Almost, Maine
Duncan Sheik, A Man's a Man

Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
**Matt Tierney, Machinal
M.L. Dogg, The Open House
Katie Down, The Golden Dragon
Paul James Prendergast, All the Way
Dan Moses Schreier, Act One
Christopher Shutt, Love and Information

Outstanding Musical
**A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Beautiful--The Carole King Musical
Fun Home
Love’s Labour’s Lost
The Bridges of Madison County

Outstanding Revival of a Musical or Revue
**Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Les Misérables

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
**Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
**Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Adam Jacobs, Aladdin
Andy Karl, Rocky
Steven Pasquale, The Bridges of Madison County
Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
**Jessie Mueller, Beautiful--The Carole King Musical
Sutton Foster, Violet
Idina Menzel, If/Then
Kelli O'Hara, The Bridges of Madison County
Margo Seibert, Tamar of the River
Barrett Wilbert Weed, Heathers: The Musical

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
**James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
Danny Burstein, Cabaret
Nick Cordero, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Joshua Henry, Violet
Rory O’Malley, Nobody Loves You
Bobby Steggert, Big Fish

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
**Anika Larsen, Beautiful--The Carole King Musical
**Lauren Worsham, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Stephanie J. Block, Little Miss Sunshine
Adriane Lenox, After Midnight
Sydney Lucas, Fun Home
Laura Osnes, The Threepenny Opera
Jennifer Simard, Disaster!

Outstanding Director of a Musical
**Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Sam Gold, Fun Home
Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Bartlett Sher, The Bridges of Madison County
Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Alex Timbers, Rocky

Outstanding Choreography
**Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Rocky
Danny Mefford, Love's Labour's Lost
Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin
Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Sonya Tayeh, Kung Fu

Outstanding Music
**Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
Andrew Lippa, Big Fish
Steven Lutvak, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Alan Menken, Aladdin
Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, Heathers: The Musical
Jeanine Tesori, Fun Home

Outstanding Lyrics
**Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin, Aladdin
Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
Michael Friedman, Love's Labour's Lost
Michael Korie, Far from Heaven
Lisa Kron, Fun Home

Outstanding Book of a Musical
**Robert L. Freedman, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Chad Beguelin, Aladdin
Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, Murder for Two
Lisa Kron, Fun Home
Douglas McGrath, Beautiful--The Carole King Musical
Marsha Norman, The Bridges of Madison County

Outstanding Orchestrations
**Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
John Clancy, Fun Home
Larry Hochman, Big Fish
Steve Sidwell, Beautiful--The Carole King Musical
Michael Starobin, If/Then
Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
**Brian Ronan, Beautiful--The Carole King Musical
Kai Harada, Fun Home
Peter Hylenski, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rocky
Dan Moses Schreier, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Jon Weston, The Bridges of Madison County

Outstanding Set Design
**Christopher Barreca, Rocky
Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Richard Hoover, Small Engine Repair
Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Ian MacNeil, A Doll's House
Donyale Werle, The Explorers Club

Outstanding Costume Design
**William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
Constance Hoffman, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Zane Pihlstrom, Nutcracker Rouge
Loren Shaw, The Mysteries
Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night
David C. Woolard, The Heir Apparent

Outstanding Lighting Design
**Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
Jane Cox, Machinal
David Lander, The Civil War
Peter Mumford, King Lear
Brian Tovar, Tamar of the River
Japhy Weideman, Macbeth

Outstanding Projection Design
**Aaron Rhyne, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Robert Massicotte and Alexis Laurence, Cirkopolis
Sven Ortel, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shawn Sagady, All the Way
Austin Switser, Sontag: Reborn
Ben Rubin, Arguendo

Outstanding Revue
**After Midnight
I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Musik from the Weimar and Beyond
Le Jazz Hot: How the French Saved Jazz
Til Divorce Do Us Part
What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined

Outstanding Solo Performance
**John Douglas Thompson, Satchmo at the Waldorf
David Barlow, This is My Office
Jim Brochu, Character Man
Hannah Cabell, Grounded
Debra Jo Rupp, Becoming Dr. Ruth
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned

Unique Theatrical Experience
Mother Africa
Nothing to Hide
Nutcracker Rouge
The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill Vol. 2

Monday, June 2, 2014

June Heats Up with Entertainment

As temperatures heat up, so do your entertainment options. Several of the theatrical options listed are included in the Summer Arts Sampler offered by the Area Arts Roundtable, so if you're in a sampling mood, you may want to start with that.

The 5th Annual REEL IT UP Film Festival comes to the Art Theater Co-op in Champaign for four Tuesdays in June. That's the 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th, with films ranging from Puzzles, about a hate crime in a gay bar called Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford, MA that "explores the correlation between American economic desperation and homophobia, intolerance, and, ultimately, violence," set for June 3 at 7:30 pm, to Such Good People, a screwball romantic comedy about a gay couple that finds an unexpected cache of cash while house-sitting. Such Good People is the 7:30 pm selection on June 24. To see all of the titles and descriptions of the films, click here.

Beginning this Thursday with a Pay What You Can Preview performance, Heartland Theatre presents its 13th annual 10-Minute Play Festival, this time called FOWL PLAYS. All eight winning plays fit the "bird" theme in honor of longtime sponsor Deanna Frautschi, who is a fabulous bird photographer. These FOWL PLAYS will be performed on June 5, 6 and 7; 12, 13, 14 and 15; 19, 20, 21 and 22; and 26, 27, 28 and 29. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees start at 2 pm. There will be a special talkback including Heartland's 10-Minute Plays judges (including me, since I chair that committee for Heartland) after the matinee on the 22nd. For showtimes and ticket information, click here. For a rundown of all eight shows, including playwrights, cast and directors, come back tomorrow for my preview piece.

The Penguin Project of McLean County has chosen The Little Mermaid Jr. for its 2014 summer show. Performances will take place at Normal University High School on June 6, 7 and 8. This Little Mermaid is a junior version of the Broadway musical based on the Disney animated film, which itself was based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. Eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken wrote the msic, which includes songs like "Under the Sea" and "Part of Your World." Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for anybody high school age or under -- they are available in person at the Bloomington Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts office at 115 E. Washington Street in Bloomington. For more information on the Penguin Project in general, click here.

The Normal Theater offers a mini-Coen Brothers festival with Fargo June 12 and 13 and The Big Lebowski June 14 and 15. Now that Fargo has been translated to the small screen, you may want to refresh your recollection of this darkly comic murder thriller and compare/contrast to how it plays out on FX.

Prairie Fire Theater and director Rhys Lovell will be holding auditions for their production of My Fair Lady from 6 to 8 pm on June 12 and 13 at Illinois Wesleyan University's Presser Hall, Room 16. Lovell will be looking for ten women and twelve men of various ages, and he's asking that each auditioner come in prepared to sing from a musical of his or her choice. An accompanist will be provided. Performances are scheduled for July 31 to August 3 at Illinois Wesleyan University's Westbrook Auditiorium. For more information, you can check out the My Fair Lady auditions page on Facebook, but please note that the correct audition information is included a May 26 post from Rhys that appears farther down the page. Also note that the role of Henry Higgins has been already been cast, but you'll still get to audition for Eliza Doolittle, her dad, new beau Freddy, Higgins' mom, Colonel Pickering and the rest of the toffs and hoi polloi.

And if you'd like to plan further ahead, the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts has announced its new schedule, with a whole lot of events coming up in 2014-15. That includes the Ides of March, the rock group that played at my prom in 1974 (their big hit was "Vehicle," which you may recall) with an appearance in November, Dickens' A Christmas Carol in December, and a screening of the silent film The General, starring Buster Keaton, accompanied by organist Dennis Scott, in April.