Tuesday, February 17, 2015

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR Is Back, Gas Mask and All, at U of I Starting Tomorrow

Everything World War I is new again. In addition to recent screenings of Wings -- a 1927 movie starring Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen as WWI flying aces as well as the first film to win an Academy Award as Best Picture -- and the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front, there is Heartland Theatre's current production of Heroes, a Tom Stoppard translation of a French play by Gerald Sibleyras about three veterans put out to pasture in the French countryside. And Oh What a Lovely War is back for a another round of performances in the Studio Theatre in University of Illinois's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Last November, U of I staged a full array of concerts and other events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War last year. That array included a production of Oh What a Lovely War, a musical play created in 1963 by Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop in London to explore the 50th anniversary of WWI.  The first Oh What a Lovely War combined popular songs from the period -- pieces like "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," "Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser" and "Roses of Picardy" -- against a backdrop of stark, devastating facts and figures about the ravages of a terrible war. When it was revived at Theatre Workshop last year, The Guardian's Michael Billington called it a restored "classic for a new generation," with its emotional toll intact.

Littlewood's original production eschewed military uniforms in favor of Pierrot costumes as a way to show the absurdity of war, but director Robert G. Anderson and his costume designer, Amy Chmielewski, pulled uniforms out of the closet for their Krannert Center production last year. Still, "Belguim Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser" and the iconic scene in which British and German soldiers exchange Christmas gifts were still there, still packing a punch.

Oh What a Lovely War starts its second run tomorrow, Wednesday, February 18, at 7:30 pm in Krannert Center's Studio Theatre. Evening performances continue on the 19th, 20th and 21st at 7:30 pm, followed by a 3 pm matinee on the 22nd. For ticket information, visit Krannert's website here. To see the show's program with complete cast and crew details, click here.

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