Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ready for Some STICKY? Bottoms Up! Lights Down!

If you saw October or December's editions of Sticky in the Sticks, a site-specific performance of ten-minute plays produced by local theatre artists, you already know you'll be there for January's Sticky, called Bottoms Up/Lights Down. It's this Friday, January 30, at 8 pm.

Connie Chojnacki Blick and J. Michael Grey are once more behind this Sticky stuff, where ten-minute plays set in a bar are... Ta da! Performed in a bar!

In this case, they're performing five ten-minute plays in the pub part of Firehouse Pizza and Pub in Uptown Normal. The audience sits in chairs set around the room, with the actors right there on the barstools in front of them. (See image below. That's Ms. Blick on the right, lamenting the woes of Christmas Eve in one of December's plays.)

The Bottoms Up/Lights Down evening will start at 8, but you are advised to be there a bit earlier to get a good seat (and a drink if you want one. The bartenders get busy during Sticky breaks.) Teaadora will perform live music for the first half hour or so, with the ten-minute plays beginning after that.

Although I don't have specific information on who wrote the plays this time or what they'll be performing, Sticky has listed these actors as taking part:

Samm Bettis
Connie Blick
Zach Blick
J. Michael Grey
Andrea Henderson
Wes Melton
Nancy Nickerson
Bridgett Richard
Tricia Stiller
Cathy Sutliff
Michelle Woody

Sticky asks for a $7 donation at the door. For more information, check out their Facebook page here, or take a look at tomorrow's Pantagraph, where Sticky in the Sticks will be featured in the GO! section.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Community Players Announces What's What in 2015-16 on January 31

Community Players always seems to be first out of the gate when it comes to announcing their new seasons. If you want to keep track, theaters around here generally go in this order: Community Players (late January), Illinois State University (mid-February), Heartland Theatre (late March), and Illinois Wesleyan University (April). Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts announces its schedule in late May or early June, Univesity of Illinois Theatre starts getting out the word in late July, and the Station Theatre in Urbana generally announces late in the summer.

This year, for the first time I can recall, Community Players has decided to offer a Season Announcement Party to share their 2015-16 news.

This event will take place on Saturday, January 31 at 7 pm at the Players' theater on Robinhood Lane. It is free and open to the public, with refreshments and a chance to meet and chat with Players' staff, crew and actors.

Although Community Players' season choices are a mystery at this point, we can still guess. In fact, that's half the fun. Because Players frequently produces newish musicals and classic plays, and because they offered a survey of possible choices this year, you might think it's easy to guess. Au contraire! I don't remember what was on the survey, so that won't help at all, plus "newish musicals and classic plays" is a bigger crop than you might think. Of course, that won't stop me from guessing...

If past schedules are any indication, they will open with a play in September, follow with a musical in November, add a play in January, a musical in March and a play in May, and finish with a musical in July.

So what do we think? Time for another go-round with Annie? Maybe Pippin? Newsies A Christmas Story: The Musical seems like a natural. Cinderella, too. On the other hand, Once and Kinky Boots don't sound like Community Players fare at all.

On the straight play side, it's been awhile since Players did Driving Miss Daisy or Barefoot in the Park or Deathtrap, all community theater favorites. Oddly, classics like Enter Laughing and Twelve Angry Men have never made the cut at Players, at least according to their history page. Peter and the Starcatcher, a newer play, sounds like a good match, as does One Man, Two Guvnors. Act One

I expect to strike out completely on these guesses, mind you. There's just that much material out there. But feel free to make your own prognostications and then join the fun at Community Players on Saturday, January 31 at 7 pm to see what they actually chose.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SHE LOVES ME Will Be Back on Broadway in 2016 with Benanti and Radnor

Laura Benanti
Good news, musical fans! She Loves Me is coming back. With Josh Radnor and Laura Benanti!

Although this sweet little Bock/Harnick/Masteroff musical has on occasion been called the best musical of all time, it has never really been a big boffo hit with name recognition or tons of revivals. The source material, a Hungarian play called Parfumerie, spawned the much-beloved movie The Shop Around the Corner as well as lesser lights In the Good Old Summertime and You've Got Mail, showing there's staying power in the story of two feuding coworkers who don't realize they are also secret (romantic) pen pals.

From the original Broadway production, featured actor Jack Cassidy won a Tony for playing snaky bad boy Kodaly, but star Barbara Cook wasn't even nominated, and the show itself lost Best Musical, Book, Producer and Director to Hello, Dolly!

Still, She Loves Me was revived on Broadway in 1993 and given a starry one-night concert version in 2011. The concert was like a tryout of sorts, with How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor taking the role of Georg Nowack, the hardworking store manager who clashes with new employee Amalia Balash.

Josh Radnor
This week, it was announced that She Loves Me -- with Radnor as Georg, joined by Laura Benanti, the luminous Broadway star who's shown up on TV recently in Nashville, The Sound of Music, Nurse Jackie, Law and Order: SVU and The Good Wife -- will be back on Broadway in the spring of 2016. Will having a TV star like Radnor and a Tony winner with a good deal of TV visibility like Benanti in the mix make She Loves Me a hot ticket this time? The show made it to 301 performances in 63-64 and 354 in 93-94. It may be tough to break the one-year barrier in 2016, but hope springs eternal for this lovely little musical.

Scott Ellis, who directed the 1993 revival and the 2011 concert, will be at the helm of the 2016 Roundabout production, although there's no information so far on who will fill the musical's other roles. Victor Garber (probably best-known for Alias on TV and Lend Me a Tenor and Damn Yankees on Broadway) and Jane Krakowski (Ally McBeal and 30 Rock on TV and Grand Hotel and Nine on Broadway) played store owner Mr. Maraczek and shopgirl Ilona in the concert, and they would certainly be right for the full production, as well. Who else? Somebody from Newsies or Glee as Arpad the delivery boy? And speaking of Glee... Matthew Morrison was a Broadway star before he became Old Shoe Mr. Shue. He might make a nifty Kodaly.

If more casting news leaks, I'll update this post to include who's doing what.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Whitest, Malest Oscars Ever?

NPR opened its coverage of today's Oscar nominations with the headline "It's a good year to be an idiosyncratic man." Okay, when is it not a good year to be an idiosyncratic man at the Oscars?

Still, it's worth noting that this year's crop of male-centered pictures is even more dominant than usual, with all eight of the Best Picture nominees "the story of a guy who..." There are three bio pics, with The Imitation Game telling part of codebreaker Alan Turing's life story, The Theory of Everything looking at the physical struggles of brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking, and Selma going behind the scenes of Dr. Martin Luther King's efforts for social justice and civil rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

American Sniper is also fact-based, at least in part, springing from the memoirs of... An American sniper. Played by Bradley Cooper. He's a soldier just trying to do his job to get home to the wife and kids.

Boyhood focuses on one boy as he grows up, structured around director Richard Linklater's idea to actually film the same actors every year over a span of twelve years to show exactly how a boy grows into a man. It's the quirky central conceit that's been thrilling movie critics since Boyhood bowed.

Birdman and Whiplash are also growing-up stories. Although the central character of Birdman, an actor played by Michael Keaton who was once associated with a specific superhero role, is mature in years, he's a bit stunted emotionally. And Whiplash is all about the battle between a kid who wants to drum and his sadistic teacher, played by J. K. Simmons.

What does that leave? The most idiosyncratic man of all -- the hotelier at The Grand Budapest Hotel -- played with verve and charm by Ralph Fiennes, set in relief against yet another coming-of-age story, as we see young Zero (Tony Revolori) learn the ropes from Fiennes' M. Gustave.

It should come as no surprise that the posters for American Sniper, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Selma and Whiplash each feature one person and one person only. And it's a guy. The only one with a female in a position of prominence is Theory of Everything, which gives equal space to Felicity Jones, bless her heart.

Four of the men nominated in the Best Actor category come from Best Picture nominees, with Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) playing real people, Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) as an adaptation of a real person, and only Michael Keaton (Birdman) working with complete fiction. The fifth nominee is Steve Carell, who also tackled a real character -- madman John du Pont in Foxcatcher.

Of course there are women nominated for awards. In the categories limited to actresses. You will not find any women in the screenwriter or director categories.

Like  the five men nominated as Best Actors, Marion Cotillard, Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon earned nominations for films that center on their characters. Moore's Alice in Still Alice grapples with dementia and identity issues, while Witherspoon's Cheryl in Wild is on a figurative and literal thousand-mile journey. And Cotillard is a woman struggling with depression and possible unemployment over the course of Two Days, One Night. In contrast, Felicity Jones's June Hawking is the faithful wife and companion -- as opposed to the one driving the story -- in The Theory of Everything, and Rosamund Pike's character in Gone Girl is a cliche right out of 1987's Fatal Attraction or 1990's Presumed Innocent

In the overlooked and unappreciated category... Amy Adams' turn as an artist shoved out of the spotlight by her duplicitous husband in Big Eyes went unnominated, as did Jennifer Anniston playing against type as a regular old person dealing with pain and suicide in Cake.

It's also telling that David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, is the lone "real man" without a nomination among the characters driving the Best Picture contenders. Selma's director, Ava DuVernay, was also shut out.

"Blindingly male and blindingly white" just may be the story of the 2015 Oscar nominees when all is said and done.

To see the complete list of nominees, click here.

The Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast on ABC on Sunday, February 22.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

PARKS AND RECREATION Starts the Final Countdown Tonight with Two Episodes

Bye bye Li'l Sebastian
Miss you in the saddest fashion
Bye bye Li'l Sebastian
You're 5000 candles in the wind... 

NBC's Parks and Recreation isn't ready to sing 5000 Candles in the Wind for the last time just yet, but it's hard not to think about how much we'll miss that crazy little show when it does spread its wings and fly from our televisions at the end of this season.

Although Parks and Rec was renewed early in 2014, its 2015 season will its last. And then we will bid a fond farewell to Pawnee, Indiana, and residents like Leslie Knope, the cockeyed optimist/go-getter played by Amy Poehler; her former boss, meat-and breakfast-lover Ron Swanson, played by U of I's own Nick Offerman; Leslie's sweet spouse Ben, numbers guy and inventer of The Cones of Dunshire, played by Adam Scott; odd couple April and Andy (Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt), office-workers Donna (Retta Sirleaf), Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Gary/Jerry/Larry/Terry (Jim O'Heir) and an assortment of nuts and bolts that has included Ron's ex-wives Tammy 1 and 2 (Patricia Clarkson and Megan Mullally), candy heir Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) and real-life politicos like Joe Biden and John McCain. Oh, and Michelle Obama, who visited at the end of season 6.

At the end of last season, Leslie's BFF Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and perfectly perfect city manager Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) had left Pawnee to raise their new baby elsewhere, but there are rumors they will make a return to say goodbye. Since Ann was there from the get-go, it would only make sense to see her again before it's all over.

In the meantime, Parks and Recreation will be back tonight for the first and second of its last thirteen episodes. Leslie and company will be jumping two years into the future to show us what happens when Ms. Knope takes a big promotion to the U.S. Park Service and brings the regional office she is now in charge of to Pawnee. Leslie and Ben have triplets, Jerry is now going by Terry, and Jon Hamm is on hand as an absolutely terrible employee Leslie has to fire.

Yes, there are two episodes tonight, and there will be every Tuesday between now and February 24. It's a brief blast of wonderful as we bid a fond farewell to our favorite Midwest municipal (and now federal) employees.

Maybe someday we'll saddle up again
And I know I'll always miss my horsiest friend
Spread your wings and fly...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tell us about the rabbits, George... OF MICE AND MEN Starts Thursday at Players

I'm afraid a variety of viruses descended upon my household just about New Year's Eve and as a result, I have neglected this blog. In my absence, Downton Abbey and The Good Wife have returned, the goofy Galavant has bowed, and the Golden Globes have globbed themselves all over our televisions.

But there's still a lot of January left and lots to look in on!

And first up is Of Mice and Men, the classic John Steinbeck story adapted by Steinbeck himself for the stage. The play bowed in San Francisco, closer to Steinbeck's home turf, first, moving to Broadway by November, 1937, in a production directed by George S. Kaufman for the Music Box Theatre. Broderick Crawford and Wallace Ford starred as Lennie and George, the pair of itinerant workers who form the nucleus of the story. Veteran actor Will Geer, who would go on to television fame as Grandpa Walton, played Slim, the mule-team driver and leader among the men on the ranch, while Leigh Whipper, the first African-American actor to join Actors Equity and one of the founders of the Negro Actors Guild of America, played Crooks, the one black worker among them.

Lon Chaney Jr. took over the role of Lennie when the play moved to Los Angeles, and he also appeared in the 1939 film version, with Burgess Meredith now playing George. Chaney went on from there to a parade of movie monsters like Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man, while Meredith became the Penguin in the purple top hat on TV, Rocky's crusty old coach on film, and the man with the thick glasses in one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes ever. Leigh Whipper was the sole actor from the Broadway production to reprise his role on film.

Other actors of note who have played Lennie, the oversized "bindlestiff" -- what we used to call a hobo when it came time to pick Halloween costumes -- who has limited mental capacity, great physical strength, and a fondness for anything soft, include James Earl Jones, John Malkovich, Chris O'Dowd and Randy Quaid, while James Franco, George Segal and Gary Sinise have portrayed George, the smaller, smarter half of the duo.

For the Community Players production opening January 15 with a special Pay What You Can preview, Penny Wilson directs Dave Krostal as George and Rick Clemmons as Lennie. Krostal is well-known to local audiences from performances in shows as different as Spamalot, Time Stands Still and A Tuna Christmas, while Clemmons is a stand-up comedian making his dramatic debut as Lennie.

The supporting cast includes Nicole Aune, Joe Culpepper, George Freeman, Todd Mangruem, Spencer Powell, Thom Rakestraw, Joe Strupek and Paul Vellella.

For more information, including a link to buy tickets, click here for the show's Facebook page or here for the web page. Performances begin on the 15th and run through the 25th at Community Players Theatre on Robinhood Lane in Bloomington.