Thursday, June 30, 2016

SHE LOVES ME Live From Broadway, Tonight on BroadwayHD

If you want to see the current Broadway production of She Loves Me, but you can't get to New York right now, never fear. will be live-streaming the show tonight at 8 pm Eastern time. And after the live broadcast, BroadwayHD will offer the show on demand for another week.

The cost to see it tonight is $9.99, and Olivia Clement at Playbill says this livestream is included in an annual subscription to BroadwayHD, although not a monthly subscription. And once the video has been edited, it will be added to the BroadwayHD library, where titles are available for $7.99. However you slice it, that's a lot better than current Broadway ticket prices.

What is She Loves Me? A confection from Broadway's golden years, based on the Miklos Laszlo play Parfumerie, which spawned the films The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime and You've Got Mail as well as the Masteroff/Harnick/Bock musical She Loves Me. Masteroff's book hews close to the original, with its charming Hungarian perfume shop setting and a romantic plot that pairs two clerks from the same store who can't stand each other at work even as they are falling in love as anonymous pen pals.

In its original Broadway production in 1963, Hal Prince directed She Loves Me with Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey as the pair in question, with Barbara Baxley as a co-worker who doesn't have the best taste in men and Jack Cassidy as the snake in the parfumerie. In its current version, Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi star as Amalia and Georg, Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel take on Ilona and Kodaly, the secondary pair of lovers, under the direction of Scott Ellis for the Roundabout Theatre. It opened in March of this year, was nominated for eight Tony Awards, and won one for its delicate and beautiful scenic design by David Rockwell.

In other She Loves Me news, Ghostlight Records will release the cast recording online and in stores on July 29. The cast recording featuring Benanti, Creel, Krakowski and Levi is already up at iTunes and other digital sources.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Who'll Be Back When NASHVILLE Debuts on CMT?

Fans of Nashville, the television show about country music superstars and wannabes, were sad when ABC decided to cancel the series in May, but Lionsgate, which produced the show, seemed optimistic even then that they would find another outlet for it. That outlet turned out to be country music network CMT, with network president Brian Phillips offering, "We see our fans and ourselves in this show, and we will treasure it like no other network. Nashville belongs on CMT."

The official pick-up announcement came a couple of weeks ago, but there was still some uncertainty as to some of the details, including which stars would be going along to CMT.

The dust seems to have settled, with TVLine's Michael Ausiello reporting today that stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettierre will join Charles Esten (Deacon), Jonathan Jackson (Avery), Sam Palladio (Gunnar), Clare Bowen (Scarlett), Lennon Stella (Maddie), Maisy Stella (Daphne) and Chris Carmack (Will) when Nashville makes it move. As previously announced, Will Chase (Luke) and Aubrey Peeples (Layla) will not be coming along for the ride.

The new Nashville will also feature new showrunners, with thirtysomething creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick stepping into that role.

Coming Up On Stage at ISU in 2016-17

Tickets are now available for Illinois State University's 2016-17 theatre and dance season, a season full of different and intriguing choices. There's something sweet (a radio play version of It's a Wonderful Life), a major piece of existential theater history (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), a little U.S. history (1776), and several trips to other parts of the world, with New Zealand (Waiora), Argentina (The Walls), Egypt (The Coffee Bar), Mexico (The Heresy of Love) and a dystopic future India (Harvest) all on the map.

Four of these plays come from the 1960s with a fifth set in the 60s, although I don't know if that was intentional or just a coincidence. Still, The Walls, The Coffee Bar, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and 1776 are all products of that particular influential period in world theater, and Waiora is set in 1960s New Zealand.

In case you're keeping track, there are five male playwrights* to three female playwrights, and four male directors to three women, with one directing assignment still to be announced. Among the playwrights, two are American, two hail from the British isles, and four come from the rest of the world. Here's what the lineup looks like:

WAIORA by Hone Kouka (directed by Kim Pereira)
September 30–October 8, 2016, in the Center for the Performing Arts
Hone Kouka was the youngest ever writer to win New Zealand's Bruce Mason Playwriting Award (in 1992). He is of Ngati Porou, Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Kahungunu descent, and he often writes about Maori characters and issues. Waiora tells the story of a Maori family struggling to find an identity and a sense of home when they move from a rural life to a more urban one. 

THE WALLS by Griselda Gambaro (directed by Bruce Burningham) and THE COFFEE BAR by Ali Salem (directed by Janet Wilson)
October 21–29, 2016, in Westhoff Theatre
These two short plays, to be performed together as one evening of theater in Westhoff Theatre, deal with political issues and how artists respond in the face of repression and fear. Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro wrote The Walls in 1965, putting a harsh spotlight on the kidnappings, torture and executions that were part and parcel of daily life under the Argentinian police state. In Egypt, Ali Salem used humor and satire in The Coffee Bar, his 1968 play that critiques the politics of power and the effect on the powerless.

FALL DANCE THEATRE CONCERT (artistic director, Sara Semonis)
November 3–5, 2016, in the Center for the Performing Arts

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A Live Radio Play adapted by Joe Landry (directed by Connie de Veer)
December 2–10, 2016, in the Center for the Performing Arts
It's a Wonderful Life, the 1946 Frank Capra movie about a man who meets an angel on Christmas Eve and learns his ordinary life was worth living, often shows up at the very top of Favorite Movies Ever lists. Joe Landry reimagined it as a 1940s radio play, with actors behind big standing microphones, scripts in hand, sound effects performed with wood blocks and car horns, and a big APPLAUSE sign cuing the audience.

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Tom Stoppard (directed by Paul Dennhardt)
February 17–25, 2017, in Westhoff Theatre
Tom Stoppard turned Hamlet sideways when he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, showing what was happening with these two minor players while Hamlet was off propelling the action Shakespeare gave him. Shakespeare's leading characters do show up now and again, but the focus is really on courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, tossed about by storms they really can't see or understand.

1776, with book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards (directed by Lori Adams)
March 3–10, 2017, in the Center for the Performing Arts
What with all the Hamilton brouhaha, 1776 -- originally on Broadway in 1969 -- is finding a new popularity. Like Hamilton, 1776 looks back at the very beginning of the United States, but it works with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson instead of Alexander Hamilton. We see delegates from the 13 colonies as they debate independence from England, with prickly Adams on everybody's nerves, Jefferson acting as the wordsmith for the Declaration of Independence, and Rutledge, the delegate from South Carolina, insisting on taking out any anti-slavery language.

THE HERESY OF LOVE by Helen Edmundson (directed by Robert Quinlan)
March 31–April 8, 2017, in Westhoff Theatre
British playwright Helen Edmundson is best known for adaptations of literary classics like War and Peace and The Mill on the Floss, both with the Shared Experience ensemble and for BBC radio. This time, Edmundson writes about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun and poet in Mexico in the 17th century struggling to balance her love of learning and need for self-expression with her religious faith. The Heresy of Love was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2012.

HARVEST by Manjula Padmanabhan
April 21–29, 2017 in the Center for the Performing Arts
The New York Times called Manula Padmanabhan's "sci-fi parable" Harvest "a dark fantasy about a high-tech racket in body organs." Set not that far off in 2022, Harvest focuses on the life of a poor, unemployed man in a third-world country. In need of money and some modern conveniences like running water, Om agrees to sell his organs to be harvested for the benefit of someone in a wealthier country. The company behind the harvesting, InterPlanta, acts as Big Brother, looking in on Om and his family to see how their investment is working out, as the poor organ donor begins to realize what kind of bargain he has made.

SPRING DANCE THEATRE (artistic director Darby Wilde)
April 27–29, 2017 in Westhoff Theatre

* I am counting Peter Stone, who wrote the book for 1776, as its playwright for this tally.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

AGE Recognizes Two Portland Theaters for Moves Toward Age and Gender Equity

It seems like it's been forever that people have been talking about the lack of gender equity in theater, in terms of playwrights and plays represented when seasons are chosen, the kinds of roles available, the huge disparity in the number of women hired as directors, designers, artistic directors and other major players when compared to the number of men, and a host of other very obvious issues. Stats have been published, panel discussions have been organized, articles have been written about the lack of parity (and why parity isn't enough) and about the invisibility of women over 50, which certainly bears on the discussion. Individual theaters and theater artists have tried to find ways to break the logjam, but it never seems to really crack things wide open.

A group in Portland, Oregon, Age & Gender Equity in the Arts, founded by actor and activist Jane Vogel in 2014, has decided to take a positive and direct approach to the issue. For Vogel, it's all about advocacy for equity, diversity and inclusion. And last night at Portland's Drammy Awards, as part of that effort, Vogel handed out a total of $30,000 to recognize two theaters "that promote and exhibit age and gender equity in their programming."

At the Drammys: AGE Founder and Board President Jane Vogel (L)
with Philip Cuomo, Producing Artistic Director of CoHo,
and Karla Mason Smith, AGE Executive Director.
In this inaugural year, AGE awarded $20,000 to CoHo Productions and $10,000 to Profile Theatre. In its 2016-17 season, CoHo will offer three out of four productions written by women, while Profile, which focuses on a single playwright each season, chose Tanya Barfield as its central artist for 2016. Both theaters evidenced an understanding of what their role can be in changing the landscape of Portland theater on-stage and off to "create a movement for social justice which revolutionizes age and gender equity."

AGE's Karla Mason Smith (L) and Jane Vogel (R) with
Profile Theatre's Interim Artistic Director Lauren Bloom Hanover
In a piece she wrote for Oregon Artswatch, Vogel said, "I believe that together we can create conditions where a woman’s opportunities to achieve her full potential are not compromised because of her gender or her age. I am proud of Portland theater for embracing AGE’s efforts to make this happen."

Vogel has already announced both a fundraiser (if you make a donation today, you get a T-shirt) and a conference planned for March 2017 to keep the Age & Gender Equity momentum going.

When it comes to this kind of initiative, AGE and Portland are leading the way. Today, Portland and tomorrow, the world? Let's hope so!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Kilroys Release Their 2016 List of Great Plays, Ready to Add to Your Season

You may have heard the myth that the reason women are underrepresented as playwrights on American stages is that there just aren't enough of their plays "in the pipeline," so male artistic directors have no choice but to (once again) pick a season chock full of plays by men.

As I said, it's a myth. But that and another damaging myth -- that plays by women don't perform as well at the box office -- are what the men who sit on panels to discuss the lack of gender parity in theatre seem to repeat with nauseating frequency. Before and after the particular remarks that ignited a social media firestorm, we've seen initiatives to make plays by women more visible, with the Women's Project and their Pipeline Festival in New York, the Women's Voices Theatre Festival in Washington DC, and the Kilroys, a group of theater artists in Los Angeles who curate a list of excellent unproduced plays written by women and trans women. The Kilroys even presented cakes to theaters who used the list and produced plays from it. You can't get much better incentive than cake!

The Kilroys
Photo credit: Elisabeth Caren
For the past three years, the Kilroys have surveyed some 230 "influential new play leaders," including artistic directors, literary managers, dramaturgs, scholars, producers and directors, to compile and recommend plays which are as yet unproduced but deserve a spot (or spots) on stage. Last week, they have released the results of this recommendation process as their official 2016 list.

You'll find plays by Dipika Guha (The Art of Gaman) and Sarah Burgess (Kings) at the top of the list, with two plays by Rachel Bonds (Curve of Departure and Firecracker) and Jen Silverman (Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops and Wink) also represented. You'll find plays about history, politics, race, reunions, small towns, big cities, myth, college, crisis management, competitive dance, science, science fiction, love, loss and hip hop. It's a very diverse group of plays.

And even if there was an excuse for not having plays by women in your season (which there wasn't), there certainly isn't now. Thanks, Kilroys!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer at the Station: LEAVING IOWA and BAT BOY

Today may be the first official day of summer, but the Station Theatre in Urbana has already started their summer celebration. The Station Theatre production of Leaving Iowa opened last week, with performances continuing through July 2, while Bat Boy is on deck, scheduled to run July 14 to August 6.

Both shows are the kind of lighter fare the Station tends to look for during the summer months, with Leaving Iowa, a memory play that finds comedy in family road trips, absolutely on target for this travel-intensive time of year. Yes, my family took endless vacations in the car, and we almost seemed to be in Iowa, just like the people in the play by Tim Clue and Spike Manton.

For the Station Theatre, David Barkley directs a cast that includes Jeremiah Lowery as Don Browning, the man whose trip down Memory Lane drives the story, with David Heckman, Nancy Keener, Krystal Moya, Michael Murphy, Krysten Ostrom, Chris Taber, John Tilford, Laura Anne Welle and Kyrsten Ostrom as the family and folks Don sees in his rear-view mirror.

As for Bat Boy... This kicky little musical -- with book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming and music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe -- is torn right from the pages of the most outrageous tabloid you can imagine. Or at least the Weekly World News. The musical tells the tale of a misunderstood kid (or half-kid, half-bat) who grew up in a cave and is quite feral. When he is discovered in his cave (and he bites one of the rescuers) he is dragged out and taken to the home of the local veterinarian, whose kindly wife takes him under her wing. But the rest of the town isn't happy at all to have a strange creature like Bat Boy in their midst, and hysteria ensues. There are serious messages about tolerance of those who are different underlying all the camp and capers, but the catchy score is hard to shake. I saw Bat Boy at least ten years ago, but I can still hum "Hold Me, Bat Boy."

Mikel J. Matthews, Jr. directs Bat Boy with musical direction by Griffin Jenkins and choreography by Whitney Havice. Opening night is Thursday, July 14, with performances at 8 pm through Saturday, August 6.

For information about either show or to make reservations, visit the Station Theatre website or call 217-384-4000.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Sullivan Project: Take 2 with Donald Margulies and LONG LOST

Since 2013, Daniel Sullivan, the much-lauded director of plays like Proof, Rabbit Hole and Dinner with Friends, has curated a project within the University of Illinois' theater department -- Illinois Theatre -- to bring new, in-development works to Urbana. Sullivan holds the Swanlund Chair within the department, but it's his national resume that is impressive and deep, with honors ranging from induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2011 to a Drama Desk Award, two Lucille Lortel Awards, an Obie and an Outer Critics Circle Award. Three plays he's been associated with have won the Pulitzer Prize and he has been nominated for the Tony for Best Director six times, winning that award for Proof.

He has worked extensively with playwright Donald Margulies, directing Sight Unseen, Brooklyn Boy, Time Stands Still and The Country House on Broadway along with Dinner with Friends Off-Broadway at the Variety Arts Theatre. It should come as no surprise that this year's Sullivan Project put Daniel Sullivan back together with Donald Margulies, with a new family drama called Long Lost.

Like Lost Lake, a David Auburn play workshopped through the Sullivan Project in 2014, Long Lost* was still in development, with the playwright around to make changes and tweaks through the rehearsal process. Margulies first brought Long Lost, or at least the beginning of it, to the Ingram New Works Festival in Nashville last summer, with actor David Alford, a resident of Nashville, in the role of Billy, the ne'er-do-well brother whose arrival jumpstarts the action. Alford is a familiar face to fans of Nashville the TV show, where he played Bucky Dawes, the patient, much put-upon manager of country superstar Rayna Jaymes, played by Connie Britton.

The beauty of The Sullivan Project is the chance to see new scripts from America's best playwrights, as well as Equity actors at their top of their game. Alford's role as Billy was very different from Bucky, as you might imagine, and he was terrific, as was Kelly AuCoin, who played opposite him as David, the more successful brother, the one who is none too pleased when his bad penny of a sibling turns up. Kelly McAndrew and Michael Goldsmith completed the cast, playing David's wife and son, and they were also on target, even if their roles didn't feel quite as credible or as fully developed as the two brothers'.

McAndrew was part of this spring's Humana Festival of New American Plays as the title character in Brendan Pelsue's dystopic Wellesley Girl. She, too, played a starkly different character in that one. It's always fun to see such good actors show off their versatility.

Although I wasn't given any kind of order not to review Long Lost, I also wasn't invited to offer my thoughts, plus it's pretty clear that the whole point of this way-out-of-town try-out is to "help playwrights realize the creative impulse" with professional productions staged "away from the high-beam intensity of the big-city media machine," as producer Jeffrey Eric Jenkins' program notes put it. I am under no illusion that my blog possesses high beams or any sort of media machine, but still... I understand the need to let a play gestate without a lot of outside criticism. So the above comment about the fact that the wife and son seemed less credible is the extent of my critique.

Lost Lake went on to a New York production, and I'm guessing Long Lost has the same goal. Like the former play, this one has roles that should be catnip to mature actors. And even if Long Lost goes nowhere, The Sullivan Project is a worthy effort on its own, as a way to encourage and support new work that needs to get up on its feet before it can run. Kudos to Sullivan and Jenkins, who is the head of Illinois Theatre, for making it happen twice. Here's to the third iteration of The Sullivan Project, whenever that happens.

* If you've noticed, like I did, that the first two works in The Sullivan Project both have the word "lost" in their titles, then you also may be speculating on the next plays that would continue the string. Not with "lost" specifically, but with one-syllable, four-letter words beginning with L which flip from the first position to the second. After Long Lost, can we expect Life Long in 2018? And then Love Life in 2020. An then Last Love in 2022. That's where I run out of options, but if you have a four-letter L word that can go before Last, feel free to send it along. Of course, it may just be that "lost" is a prime target for drama, in which case my other L-words aren't going to work, anyway.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Young at Heartland Summer Showcases Today and June 22

Heartland Theatre's senior acting troupe, Young at Heartland, is back for two fresh Summer Showcases, with performances today at 1 pm and on June 22 at 7:30 pm. Both performances take place on stage at Heartland Theatre.

Young at Heartland provides a two-month workshop for actors over 55. Sandra Zielinski, retired Illinois State University professor, has brought her extensive directing experience to YAH this semester, and she has been assisted by Terri Whisenhunt. At the end of each semester, the troupe takes its act on the road to a dozen area nursing homes, retirement centers, churches and civic groups, with the Summer Showcase at Heartland Theatre the only time they offer performances to a general audience.

From left, Lynda Straw, Mary Scott, Kathleen Clesson and Norma Oberholtzer.
All of this year's pieces were written by current or former members of Young at Heartland. That means you have the chance to experience your friends' and neighbors' writing as well as their acting if you attend the Showcase. Playwrights include Bruce Boeck, Elsie Cadieux, Kathleen Clesson, Holly Klass and Lynda Straw.

There is no charge for admission to the Summer Showcase, although they do ask for donations at the door. You are advised to get there early, because these are VERY popular events. Doors will open 20 minutes before the show.

Ann White (L), Lola Devore and Elsie Cadieux in the YAH Summer Showcase
About Young at Heartland: "Young at Heartland strives to build an ensemble of seniors who share the values of continuing education, creative self-expression, and community outreach. It is designed to accommodate and support performers’ comfort levels with memorization. We aim to find appropriate pathways to showcase performers’ gifts in a fun, stress-free atmosphere."

Young at Heartland is supported by grants from the McLean County Arts Regranting Program (Illinois Arts Council) and the Mirza Arts and Culture Fund of the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Tony Awards 2016

James Corden's best moment was right at the top. "This is like the Super Bowl for people who don't know what the Super Bowl is."

Here are all the nominees and winners, in the order they were awarded and/or announced:

Pascale Armand, Eclipsed
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
*Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Andrea Martin, Noises Off
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple
*Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster!
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along

Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting
Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me
Ann Roth, Shuffle Along
*Paul Tazewell, Hamilton

Jane Greenwood, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Michael Krass, Noises Off
*Clint Ramos, Eclipsed
Tom Scutt, King Charles III

*Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Bright Star
*Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Glenn Slater and Andrew Lloyd Webber, School of Rock
Sara Bareilles, Waitress

 Rupert Gold, King Charles III
Jonathan Kent, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Joe Mantello, The Humans
Liesl Tommy, Eclipsed
*Ivo Van Hove, A View From the Bridge

Michael Arden, Spring AwakenTheing
John Doyle, The Color Purple
Scott Ellis, She Loves Me
*Thomas Kail, Hamilton
George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along

Beowulf Boritt, Thérèse Raquin
Christopher Oram, Hughie
Jan Versweyveld, A View from the Bridge
*David Zinn, The Humans

Es Devlin and Finn Ross, American Psycho
David Korins, Hamilton
Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along
*David Rockwell, She Loves Me

*Reed Birney, The Humans
Bill Camp, The Crucible
David Furr, Noises Off
Richard Goulding, King Charles III
Michael Shannon, Long Day's Journey Into Night

*Natasha Katz, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Justin Townsend, The Humans
Jan Versweyveld, The Crucible
Jan Versweyveld, A View from the Bridge

*Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along
Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening
Justin Townsend, American Psycho

*Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Laurie Metcalf, Misery
Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed
Sophie Okonedo, The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird

Gabriel Byrne, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird
*Frank Langella, The Father 
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles II
Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge

August Eriksmoen, Bright Star
Larry Hochman, She Loves Me
*Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Daryl Waters, Shuffle Along

*Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Savion Glover, Shuffle Along
Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof
Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea
Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet

Steve Martin, Bright Star
*Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Julian Fellowes, School of Rock
George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along

*A View From the Bridge, by Arthur Miller
Blackbird, by David Harrower
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
Long Day's Journey Into Night, by Eugene O'Neill
Noises Off, by Michael Frayn

Eclipsed by Danai Gurira
The Father by Florian Zeller
*The Humans by Stephen Karam
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett

*The Color Purple
Fiddler on the Roof
She Loves Me
Spring Awakening

Alex Brightman, School of Rock
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
*Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star
*Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Bright Star
School of Rock
Shuffle Along

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

FROM STAGE TO SCREEN: Adaptations All Month on Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies may just be having the best month they've ever programmed. I'm not kidding. Among the groups of movies they're offering this month, there are three different themes that rise to the top. All three are terrific choices.

Character actress Marie Dressler is the Star of the Month, with her movies on Monday nights, including Min and Bill on June 20 and Dinner at Eight on June 27, and director/screenwriter Billy Wilder, who is so revered he's achieved godlike status with up-and-coming moviemakers, is also spotlighted in June, with his fabulous movies screened on Friday nights. This week alone, you'll find Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole and Stalag 17, all cynical and smart and more than worth your time.

But the really big bonanza is what they're calling Stage to Screen, featuring 69 different movies adapted for the big screen from stageplays. If you're a theater fan, you can see match up how many of these classics you've seen on stage. Tonight you can see Marlon Brando bring his Stanley Kowalski from Broadway to Warner Brothers, with A Streetcar Named Desire on TCM at 7 pm Central time. Director Elia Kazan and costars Kim Hunter and Karl Malden also came from the Broadway production, but Vivien Leigh was a brand-new Blanche Dubois. There was a clash of styles and larger-than-life personalities that somehow worked to the movie's advantage when you see all that tension on screen. You can also understand why Brando became such a star and why Leigh, Hunter and Malden all won Oscars. It's quite a movie.

Also tonight, Miss Julie, a Swedish screen version of Strindberg's famous play directed by Alf Sjöberg, and a filmed adaptation of Ibsen's A Doll's House from 1973, when there were two versions filmed, both with star casts. I'm not sure which A Doll's House TCM has on tap, since their page is short on details. They link to a listing with Jane Fonda as Nora, but I believe the picture they're showing is from the other one, with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins. I guess we'll take our chances and see what we get. Miss Julie is scheduled for 9:15, with A Doll's House at 11 Central.

After that, it's Equus, the 1977 film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's play, starring Richard Burton as the psychiatrist and Peter Firth as the boy with the horse obsession, and then Picnic from 1955, which brought director Joshua Logan from the 1953 production to take on the film version, too. William Holden and Kim Novak play the bad-boy drifter and the beautiful woman stuck in a small town. In the early hours of Thursday morning, you can find Cyrano de Bergerac, which won a Best Actor Oscar for its Cyrano, Jose Ferrer, on top of the Best Actor Tony he'd already won, and The Green Pastures, another Pulitzer Prize winning play adapted for the screen. Marc Connelly's "broadly played black miracle play" offers Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and Rex Ingram in its African-American cast.

Thursday night the focus turns to musicals, with a line-up of Broadway shows from the 50s, from The King and I to Carousel, Annie Get Your Gun, Guys and Dolls and Kiss Me Kate running from 7 pm to just about 6 am Central. The Student Prince starts up the musical parade again at 7 am, followed by Kismet and Pal Joey. And if you've hung around for all of that, you will find yourself at 1 pm on Friday, ready for a nap before you start the Billy Wilder films at 7 pm.

Keep in mind that that's just this week. The Stage to Screen festival continues with more musicals, Shakespeare, dramas, history plays and comedies all the way through June. Amazing stuff!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Summer Season Starts... Now!

I feel as if we hardly had a spring (I think I say that every year) but here we are, with a toe dipped in June, and it seems summer is here, whether we're ready or not. With summer come some different theater options we don't see the rest of the year. More things involving the younger set, lighter fare, and fun stuff all around.

Starting tonight, Heartland Theatre is back with its 15th annual ten-minute play festival, this year on the theme "The Art Gallery," with performances June 2-4, 9-11, 16-18 and 23-25. For all the details on what kind of art playwrights chose for their "Art Gallery plays," check out this preview piece, including info on the eight winning plays, playwrights, directors and casts. For show times, you'll want to visit this page.

Also at Heartland, June brings auditions for the "New Plays from the Heartland" project, which offers staged readings of three new one-act plays written by Midwestern playwrights, this year directed by Illinois State University professor Cyndee Brown. The winning plays in need of actors are Key Ring by Steven Peterson from Chicago, Good Morning, Miriam by Jacqueline Floyd-Priskorn of Troy City, Michigan, and Pazediv (Positive) by Alyssa Ratkovich. You may remember Ratkovich, an ISU alum, from her appearances in several Heartland ten-minute play festivals of yesteryear. Brown will hold auditions on Monday, June 6, and Tuesday, June 7, from 7 to 10 pm at Heartland Theatre. You can read more about what she's looking for here.

Illinois Theatre, the production arm of the University of Illinois's theatre department, has announced the return of the Sullivan Project, which pairs Daniel Sullivan, Tony Award winning director as well Swanlund Chair in theatre at U of I, with a new play by a major playwright. This time the play is Long Lost, written by Donald Margulies, the playwright behind Dinner with Friends (a Pulitzer Prize winner, also directed by Sullivan), Sight Unseen, Time Stands Still and Collected Stories. Long Lost concerns two middle-aged brothers attempting to reunite after years of conflict. Seven performances are scheduled between June 8 and 12 in the Studio Theatre inside Urbana's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. For ticket information, look for the green button on this page.

Normal Parks and Recreation's 2016 High School Summer Theatre brings You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown to the Connie Link Ampitheatre on Linden Street in Normal at 7:30 pm on June 9, 10, 11 and 12 and 16, 17, 19 and 19. As they describe it, "Happiness is...Charlie Brown and the Gang!" They're using the script from the 2012 revival of the musical (with music and lyrics by Clark Gesner) based on Charlie Shultz's comic strips and cartoons. Like the cartoons, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown features Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Schroeder and of course Snoopy, the dog who has fantasies of flying his doghouse against the Red Baron. The cast includes Jamie Keller (Sally), Nicholas Koch (Schroeder), Will Koski (Charlie Brown), Brendan Riley (Linus) Paige Woods (Lucy) and Simmy Woods (Snoopy), as well as about 35 more high school and junior high age actors, dancers and singers. The Normal Parks and Recreation Summer Musical Facebook page has a list of the entire cast.

If you have a hankering to return to the big hair and hot dance moves of the 1980s, you're in luck. The Normal Theater goes all the way back to 1986 for Pretty in Pink, where pretty Molly Ringwald yearns for popular Blane, played by Andrew McCarthy, while driven crazy by weird-but-interesting Duckie, played by Jon Cryer, on June 10, and then to 1984 for Footloose, the one where Kevin Bacon just wants to kick up his heels in a town where dancing isn't allowed, on June 16. If the Psychedelic Furs ("Pretty in Pink") or Kenny Loggins ("Footloose") and Deniece Williams ("Let's Hear It for the Boy") are the soundtrack to your life, the Normal Theater is waiting for you.

The Station Theatre opens its summer season July 16 with the vacation comedy Leaving Iowa by Tim Clue and Spike Manton. The authors' website for the play tells us that "Leaving Iowa first premiered at Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre, where it broke box office records and received a nomination for Best New Play from the Detroit Free Press. After a year-long, sold-out run at Chicago’s Royal George Theatre, Leaving Iowa made its west coast debut at the Laguna Playhouse, where it earned another honor as one of SoCal Theater’s 10 Most Memorable Moments." Performance of Leaving Iowa, directed by David Barkley, will continue at the Station Theatre through July 2.

With a presidential race happening right now, especially one with a demagogue front and center, there could be no better time for Charlie Chaplin's 1940 masterpiece The Great Dictator. Cinema Judaica presents the film on Sunday, June 19, at 7:30 pm at the Art Theater Co-op in Champaign. Chaplin plays two roles, one an evil tyrant named Adenoid Hinkle (the country he's got in his grip is called Tomainia), a caricature of Adolph Hitler, and the other an innocent Jewish barber who bears a certain resemblance to Little Tramp, his own classic comic persona from silent films. The Great Dictator was Chaplin's first real talking picture, making the most of his grace and physical humor, with supporting performances from comedian Jack Oakie as Napaloni, the dictator of Bacteria, and Paulette Goddardas a beautiful young woman named Hannah. You need to see The Great Dictator. Even if you've seen it before, you need to see it again. I'm not kidding.

Schoolhouse Rock Live comes to Community Players Theatre on June 24, 25 and 26, showcasing a cast of performers ranging from 5th to 8th graders. This is the inaugural production under Players' new Summer Camp banner. And what's Schoolhouse Rock? It's a pop-culture phenomenon based on the Emmy Award-winning Saturday morning cartoon series from the 1970s. With songs like "Conjunction Junction" and "Just a Bill," Schoolhouse Rock taught grammar, history and math to unsuspecting kids.You can see Schoolhouse Rock Live with your children on Saturday, June 25, at 1 pm and 4 pm, or on Sunday the 26th at 2 pm. Director Kelly Rosendahl's cast includes Olivia Graham, Jacob Matchett, Monica Martinez, Savannah Sleevar and Matthew Williamson and an ensemble of about 40. To purchase tickets, click here.

As a teaser for its summer season, which starts in July, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival visits the Normal Public Library at 10:30 am on June 24 with something they're calling Scenes and Songs from Peter and the Starcatcher. Tickets for all three Festival productions -- Hamlet, Twelfth Night and Peter and the Starcatcher -- are now available, if you're considering a subscription or individual tickets. The Illinois Shakespeare Festival opens in previews July 5, with performances continuing through August 13.

There's plenty more happening in June and I'll try to catch up with that as we move along. But for now... It's time to start making reservations.