Thursday, February 4, 2016

Community Players Announces 16-17 Season

Community Players has announced what's in store for 2016-17 at their theater on Robinhood Lane, with six shows on the horizon.

Scheduled for September, 2016, is the comedy Boeing Boeing, a French sex farce from the 60s. It's set in the Parisian bachelor pad of a playboy named Bernard -- the swinging bachelor thing was a standard trope of the 60s, no matter how improbable it seems now -- with hot and cold running stewardesses in and out of the apartment. They are different nationalities, with one who flies for Air France, one for Lufthansa and one for British Airways, and Robert's sex life is carefully calibrated to those airlines' flight schedules. Although the play's English translation was a huge hit in England (playing for seven years), it wasn't as big a deal on Broadway, where it eked out 23 performances in February 1965. Still, it got a movie that same year, with Tony Curtis as Bernard and Jerry Lewis as his old friend Robert, and a popular revival in England in 2007 that brought it back to Broadway

November brings Avenue Q, the sly and irreverent puppet musical that snared the Best Musical Tony in 2004. Avenue Q is a musical meant for the grown-up Sesame Street generation, with puppets who send up characters like Bert and Ernie and Cookie Monster. Avenue Q is quite a bit more adult than Sesame Street, however, as its puppet and human characters (one of whom is named Gary Coleman, like the child actor who was in Diff'rent Strokes way back when) sing about mature issues like sex, racism, pornography and the notion of "schadenfreude," or taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune. It's a lot of fun. Outrageous, absolutely. But fun.

The classic Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire takes the January 2017 slot. Its story of a faded southern belle named Blanche DuBois never goes out of style, perhaps because Blanche is such a great role for a woman who is no longer 20. Actresses like Gillian Anderson, Tallulah Bankhead, Cate Blanchett, Blythe Danner, Uta Hagen, Rosemary Harris, Jessica Lange, Vivien Leigh, Nicole Ari Parker, Natasha Richardson and Jessica Tandy have all taken on Blanche. But it's the role of Stanley Kowalski, Blanche's brutish brother-in-law, that put Marlon Brando on the map. After Stanley, Brando was a star.

Another classic is up next, with West Side Story on the Players stage in March 2017. Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for this updated version of Romeo and Juliet set in 1950's Hell's Kitchen, while Stephen Sondheim did the lyrics, Arthur Laurents wrote the book, and director/choreographer Jerome Robbins gave the original Broadway version its distinctive look and feel. Juliet becomes Maria, a Puerto Rican girl who works in a dress shop, with Tony, a boy of Polish and Irish descent, as her Romeo. Instead of fueding Capulets and Montagues, there are rival gangs -- the Sharks and the Jets -- whose turf war keeps the lovers apart. You will recognize songs like "Tonight" and "America" in West Side Story's fabulous score.

The 39 Steps, a hilarious play inspired by an old Alfred Hitchcock movie, is Community Players' May 2017 selection. Par for the Hitchcockian course, an innocent man is accused of murder and then caught up with an international spy ring (and romance!) when he goes on the run to escape the police and the real murderers. Patrick Barlow's 2005 play version gets its laughs from the fact that only four actors play everybody from the movie, which means rapid costume (and hat and wig) changes, and a general air of craziness as we wait to see how they're going to pull off the next crowd scene. I laughed myself silly the last time I saw The 39 Steps.

The season finishes up in July 2017 with the kid-friendly The Little Mermaid, the stage musical based on the 1989 Disney animated film. The Little Mermaid took a little longer than most to get from screen to the Broadway stage, mostly because they had to solve the problem of how you showcase undersea denizens on dry land. And no, they didn't build a giant aquarium and truck in a whole lot of water. Ariel and her friends the crab, the eels and one special flounder all use stage magic to maintain their seaworthy appearance. The other problem was that a stage version required more songs than the film, but the original lyricist, Howard Ashman, had passed away. The end results includes the Ashman/Menken songs you remember from the movie -- "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" among them -- with new songs written by movie composer Alan Menken along with new lyricist Glenn Slater. Trivia note for locals: Broadway's Ariel was played by Sierra Boggess, who happens to be the niece of Bloomington-Normal's Nancy Slattery. It's a small world, after all!

And that should get you (and Community Players) from September 2016 to July 2017 with plenty of entertainment. If you are interested in joining in in some capacity, you can find a button that says "Apply Now" at the top of this page.

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