Tuesday, December 1, 2015

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like December

There's a lot to stuff in your stocking this month, with some interesting not-so-holidayish items, (like a very special trio of staged readings) to go along with the classic Nutcrackers (and more Nutcrackers) and Christmas concerts.

This week, Heartland Theatre is doing something a little different -- a staged reading of a completely new (updated and contemporized) version of an "undiscovered Ibsen classic" in collaboration with Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance. Although Ibsen's title was originally translated as A League of Youth, this new version by playwright Nigel O'Hearn is called An Alliance of Brats. It's political and timely, with a cast led by ISU MFA actor Joey Banks, directed by Sandra Zielinski, with talkbacks on political topics scheduled after every performance. You can see An Alliance of Brats for a $5 donation from December 4 to 6, with the playwright himself in house on Friday the 4th. Click here to check out the schedule and the lineup of guest speakers after the show.

Turner Classic Movies is offering way too many holiday movies for me to enumerate them. But you can peruse the list here, with a choice of Scrooges (Albert Finney and Reginald Owen) as well as the cream of the holiday film crop with Meet Me in St. Louis, Christmas in Connecticut and The Shop Around the Corner. The holiday parade at TCM starts on Thursday at 8 pm with It Happened on 5th Avenue, a slight but sweet romantic comedy about GIs solving the post-World War II housing crisis for themselves by moving into a posh but empty 5th Avenue mansion while its millionaire owner summers in warmer climes. TCM finishes up December with a whole lot of Marx Brothers and Thin Man movies on December 31.

Hayao Miyazaki’s much-beloved Spirited Away makes the lineup at Champaign's Art Theater Co-Op this month, with screenings from December 5 to 10. This beautiful piece of animated fantasy sends a young girl named Chihiro deep into an enchanted theme park, battling demons, witches and sorcery to save herself and her parents. Spirited Away ranks No. 30 among IMDB's list of the all-time best movies. To see showtimes and a trailer for this Oscar-winning film, click here.

Music for the Holidays at ISU December 5 and 6
Illinois State University’s annual Music for the Holidays concerts will take place at 3 and 7 pm on December 5, and 3 pm December 6, in the Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall on the ISU quad. Music for the Holidays includes traditional holiday music performed by instrumental and vocal ensembles from ISU's School of Music at ISU, with orchestral pieces such as Russian Christmas Music and Hanukkah Festival Overture, choral arrangements of the Christmas Waltz, "Pat-a-Pan" and "Still, Still, Still," and an arrangement of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Audience members are encouraged to join and sing along. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for faculty/staff and $10 for students and seniors.

Illinois Wesleyan's annual Christmas Choral Concert takes place December 6 at Holy Trinity Church. This special holiday concert will feature IWU’s Collegiate Choir, University Choir and Chamber Singers, conducted by Professor of Music J. Scott Ferguson. The Lincoln-Way East High Schol Chorale, conducted by Matthew Granger, will also perform. For more information, click here.

The Normal Theater is branching into live theater with a special staged reading of Lillian Hellman's gripping family drama, The Little Foxes, directed by Patrick O'Gara, on Tuesday, December 8, at 7 pm. The role of Regina Gibbons, the scheming matriarch of a poisonous family, has been played by Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Anne Bancroft and Elizabeth Taylor, but O'Gara has put together an all-star cast of his own, including local powerhouses Lori Adams, Dean Brown, Gregory Hicks, Kyle Fitzgerald, Don Shandrow, Claron Sharrieff and Todd Wineburner, along with all three members of the de Veer acting family. Yes, this Little Foxes includes Connie, Gwen and Mark de Veer on stage at the same time. I would say it's not to be missed, but that should be apparent from the cast without any input from me. The Normal Theater will follow that up with a screening of the 1941 movie version of The Little Foxes, starring Bette Davis, with a screenplay penned by Lillian Hellman herself. (Note that the image accompanying this paragraph is from the 1997 Broadway revival with Stockard Channing.)

New Route Theatre's According to John on December 11
New Route Theatre is up and running in December with According to John, a new piece based on the Gospel of John in the New Testament, written and performed by Ron Roman, another of Illinois State University's third-year MFA actors. This solo performance, a staged reading, takes place at the First Christian Church of Bloomington on December 11 at 7 pm. Tickets are available at the door on the night of the performance. There is no set ticket price, but donations are encouraged. Email new.route.theatre@gmail.com for more information.

This month they're busy rehearsing The Crucible, their January show, at Community Players, but in the meantime, Players is also offering a "Holiday Movie Night" double feature with The Muppet Christmas Carol, where Michael Caine plays Scrooge alongside Kermit as Bob Cratchit (with songs!) and Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase tied up in lights as the crazy Griswolf family gathers for the holidays. Players' "Holiday Movie Night" is set for December 12; doors open at 4:30, with the Muppets starting at 5 and Chevy Chase & Co. taking over at 7. And it's free!

Singer Sal Viviano comes to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts on December 12 with his tribute to Frank Sinatra called Perfectly Frank: Celebrating a Century of Sinatra. December 12 happens to be Mr. Sinatra's birthday -- his 100th, as a matter of fact -- so you are promised cake if you attend this concert, which will cover Sinatra hits like "Luck Be a Lady" and "My Kind of Town." Viviano doesn't sound a great deal like Sinatra (you can hear a lot of him on the long teaser video posted on the BCPA site) so this is clearly not intended as an imitation.

Carols in the Courtroom on December 15
Illinois State University's Civic Chorale hosts Carols in the Courtroom on December 15 at 7:30 pm in the Governor Fifer room of the McLean County Museum of History. And hot cocoa and Christmas cookies will be available, as well. Once again, admission is free, but donations to help support ISU's Civic Chorale will be accepted. Professor John M. Koch is conducting, with Patricia Foltz at the piano and Julia Kay Jameson at the harp. The event has a Facebook page here.

On December 18, Illinois Central College's Guest Artist Series celebrates a different musical superstar when "tribute artist" Carla DelVillaggio and pianist Chris Rottmayer present Simply Streisand: Holiday Memories to put the spotlight on Barbra. No word on what songs DelVillaggio will be performing, but it could be anything from "Jingle Bells" to "Ave Maria" to "It Must Have Been the Mistletoe," all of which have appeared on Streisand's Christmas albums. For performance and ticket information, you can visit ICC's page for the event.

If you need a Christmas gift for somebody who likes Shakespeare (and specifically the Illinois Shakespeare Festival), the Festival is offering subscription packages now, with plenty of time to stick Viola and Orsino, Hamlet and even a little Peter Pan under the tree. Individual tickets won't go on sale till February, but this is your chance to get your choice of seats with your season tickets now. All the details are available at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival website.

Plenty of opportunities to give yourself the gift of theater this December!

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