Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ALL'S WELL Goes Very Well at ISU

All's Well That Ends Well is not one of Shakespeare's most beloved or most frequently performed plays. While Midsummers and Macbeths come and go, it's not as easy to find an All's Well. In fact, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival has only done it twice, in 1988 and 1997, and you have to go back to the 1999-2000 season to find it at Chicago Shakes.

The reason why All's Well isn't at the top of the charts is probably because its plot is a bit wobbly and some of its major characters are more than a bit limp. That's especially true of Bertram, who isn't much of a hero as we see him, even if he is in the eyes of heroine Helena, who yearns for him mightily. In contrast, Helena is plucky, smart and virtuous. She may be smitten with Bertram, which is decidedly a weakness, but she also knows what she wants and isn't afraid to get it, and she can travel by herself, even through war-torn areas, come up with a fairly crazy (but successful) plan to nab the man she wants, and cure the King of France from a mystery illness without breaking a sweat. Helena is, in short, a pretty cool girl.

But Bertram... Why is she so enamored of Bertram? He really doesn't like her, he's rude and immature, he comes on strong when he sees a virgin he wants to score with, and he hangs out with (and listens to) a lowlife braggart and coward that everyone else sees through. That would be Parolles, one of Shakespeare's most tiresome characters.

For Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance, MFA director Enrico Spada looks to solve some of the problems with Bertram (played by Robert Hunter Bry) and Parolles (played by Daniel Balsamo) by setting the play in mid-18th century France, at a time when fashion was about excessive feathers and frippery and philosophers were spinning new ideas about personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That works well to explain why Bertram is a self-absorbed twit -- he is chafing at having to do what people in charge want him to and expressing his idea of freedom, after all -- and makes Parolles' appearance as a painted, powdered popinjay right on the money.

As played by Paige Brantley, Helena is a headstrong, forthright and no one's idea of a girly girl. Because Bertram is snobby and silly, it also makes perfect sense that she does not represent the girl of his dreams. At times, Bry's version of Bertram seems distant and oblivious to what's going on around him, and that works, too.

Others of note in the cast include Christian Friedan and Jordan Figueroa as a pair of French brothers who conspire against Parolles, and Maggie Joyce, Katie MacLauchlan, Kelly Gross and Rachel Hall as a quartet of Florentine ladies who conspire against Bertram.

There are some lovely stage pictures here, framed and supported by Kim Lartz's elegant scenic design, which makes the most of Westhoff Theatre. Erica Maholmes' lighting design adds texture and mood, while Megan Wood's costume designs are fantastic. Sound designer Aaron Paolucci also makes a strong contribution with music that underscores the play's themes and Spada's choice of setting.

Dances added as a prologue and postscript, choreographed by Madeline Cleveland, are another welcome feature of this production.

Although I'm not sure All's Well That Ends Well will ever end up as anybody's favorite Shakespeare, this production is so pretty and Brantley is so appealing that it certainly makes an argument in its favor.

All's Well That Ends Well runs in repertory through October 28 at ISU's Westhoff Theatre. For more information, click here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

CRAZY EX Is Crazier Than Ever in Season 3

She's back and crazier than ever. Also ex-er than ever.

When we last saw Rebecca Bunch, the title character in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she had just been dumped at the altar. Her crush of crushes, Josh Chan, decided at the very last minute to become a priest rather than marry her. Ouch. But our crazy girl, played by the show's producer/writer/creator Rachel Bloom, was not going to take that lying down. Well, actually she was, but that comes later.

When we pick up Season 3 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, still on the CW but now moved to Fridays, Rebecca is AWOL in the wake of the wedding that wasn't, and her friends and co-workers are wondering what happened to her. They get together for a musical number where they are dressed like the village folk in a Disney flick like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast and sing, "Where's Rebecca Bunch?" At the end of the number, Rebecca sings, too, from her bed (lying down No. 1), ultimately deciding to "Fight back!" As part of her plan to go from a victim to a "woman scorned," she's buying dark nail polish and hair dye and renting movies like Fatal Attraction.

Her best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) also has a plan, but hers involves lie detector tests and sign-in sheets to make sure she can trust her husband, who had an affair last season. And Rebecca's sweet but dim boss at the law firm, Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) is trying to convince his boyfriend White Josh (David Hull) that the two should raise a baby together, while White Josh is focused on a new venture with power bars made of ants.

In the meantime, Rebecca does show up at the office, with darker hair and a hot white dress, à la Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. She also gets together with the rest of her friend squad (deadpan neighbor Heather, played by Vella Lovell, and another of Josh's exes, perfect Valencia, played by Gabrielle Ruiz), cluing them in on her plan to get revenge. Since it involves poop cupcakes, they nix it quickly, so she turns to a fake porno/sex tape idea and starts auditioning actors to find a Josh Chan stand-in to have fake-sex with. That also strikes her friends as wrong wrong wrong, but they pretend to go along for awhile, until Rachel finds a perfect Josh replica (also played by Vincent Rodriguez III, presumably to give him something to do in the otherwise Josh-less episode). When Rachel gets naked with every intention to really get it on in front of the cameras, Paula steps up and shuts it down.

And then we get a slam-bang 80s girl-group number called "Let's Generalize About Men," with the Girl Squad in bright-colored power suits, with short skirts, big earrings and giant shoulder pads, as they bash the male half of the population in the catchiest possible way. Except for gay men. They are specifically excepted from the bash. It's pretty nifty all around, with the self-aware, snarky, fizzy-pop edge this show does so well.

By the end of the episode, White Josh and Darryl have sorted out their issues, Paula has reached a rapprochement with her husband, and the Girl Squad has come up with a much better plot for revenge wherein Rebecca takes Josh to court. But Rebecca... Yeah, she's still firmly ensconced in Crazyville, right back in the bathroom with the feces-laced cupcakes.

What's next? "To Josh, With Love" airs next Friday, and since that's what Rebecca wrote on the lid of the container for her meadow muffins, presumably there will be some fallout from her crappy revenge idea.

I admit I pretty much hate scatalogical humor, so I'm hoping there isn't much on that score, and we jump right to what's happening with Josh in his ill-advised attempt to become a priest.

"To Josh, With Love" is set for Friday October 20 at 7 pm Central time on the CW.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Indiana Rep's CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME


At its best, theater bridges the gaps in our attempts to communicate. It offers a view of the world we might not see otherwise, a view through others' eyes and ears. It is, in other words, a perfect vehicle for Mark Haddon's best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which set out to accomplish that in written form.

To tell his story, Haddon used a first-person narrator named Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old on the autism spectrum, as he tries to navigate a world he has difficulty understanding. Some things make perfect sense -- math, astronomy, geography -- while more ambiguous things like facial expressions or social niceties are baffling. When Christopher's neighbor's dog is killed, he is determined to figure out who did it, setting him on a journey of detection that uncovers more than just one mystery.

Playwright Simon Stephens adapted Curious Incident for the stage, with director Marianne Elliott (War Horse, the recent Angels in America at the National Theatre) and designer Bunny Christie collaborating to find a way to take a stage audience inside Christopher's head, to see events from his perspective. Their vision involved Christie's set design, aggressive lighting and sound by designers Paule Constable, Ian Dickinson and Adrian Sutton, and extensive ensemble work by the entire company of actors to give us a visual picture of the sensations Christopher experiences.

Technically, it was a huge show in London and on Broadway, piling up Olivier and Tony Awards. Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis is one of the few regional theaters so far to get a crack at Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and its technological challenges. It's one thing to create Christopher's world with every possible bell and whistle at your disposal, but how do you make it work with a smaller company like Indiana Repertory?

The answer for Indiana Rep director Risa Brainin and scenic designer Russell Metheny was to scale it back -- no flashy escalator, no magical drawers sliding out of the woodwork -- while maintaining the focus and the intensity of the play. Michael Klaers' lighting and Todd Mack Reischman's sound add layers of stimulus and sensation to ramp up the tension, and Brainin's staging showcases the work of movement coordinator Mariel Greenlee to maximize the space and the interactions among characters.

The show's biggest asset, however, is Mickey Rowe, the first actor with autism given the opportunity to play Christopher. Rowe carries the action from beginning to end, tapping into the character's sweetness and intelligence as well as his conflicted emotions. He also fills out the physicality of the role beautifully, whether it's a small, repetitive hand motion, carrying a pet carrier on his toe, pedaling a unicycle or stretching out in what seems like an impossible balancing act on a chair. There is a joy in Rowe's performance that celebrates Christopher and his differences even as it expresses his humanity and vulnerability.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a special play, given a thoughtful and emotionally expansive production at Indiana Rep. If you are in the mood for a trip to Indianapolis, this Curious Incident is well worth your time. Performances continue through October 14 at the historic Indiana Theatre in downtown Indianapolis.

Note for Central Illinois Theatregoers: Eric Parks, an MFA acting alum from the University of Illinois, is a member of the ensemble in this production.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Juggling Your Dates in October

There's a lot on the calendar in October and I thought a handy reference list might be in order, for me as well as anybody else scrambling to juggle all these dates. Let's get this October party started...


Tuesday, October 3:
  • An all-female All the King's Men from Illinois Theatre continues at Krannert Center at the University of Illinois in the Studio Theatre at 7:30 pm. Through October 8.
  • Illinois Wesleyan University's production of Dancing at Lughnasa opens with an 8 pm performance. Through October 8.

Wednesday, October 4:
  • Professor Bill McBride brings Taxi Driver to the Normal Theater as part of a new Six Week Film School centered on the films of Martin Scorsese.

Thursday, October 5:
  • Prairie Fire Theatre offers a sneak peek at its upcoming production of Starting Here, Starting Now from 5 to 8 pm during a special event at Satio Wine Bar in downtown Bloomington.
  • Waiting for Godot begins at 7 pm from the TwinCitySquared company at Champaign's SoDo Theatre.
  • Parkland Theatre's production of The Crucible continues with a 7:30 pm performance. Through October 8. 
  • The Station Theatre opens its fall season with Title and Deed, starting at 8 pm. Through October 21.


Friday, October 6:
  • Arts@ICC continues its production of Steve Martin's play The Underpants at 7:30 pm. Through October 8.
  • Sticky in the Sticks and their pop-up bar plays return to Firehouse Pizza & Pub in Normal with an 8 pm performance.
  • The new film Victoria and Abdul comes to the Art Theater in Champaign, with screenings at 5 and 7:30 pm. Through October 12.

Saturday, October 7:
  • Illinois Voices Theatre's history walk continues at Evergreen Cemetery. Through October 8.


Friday, October 13:

Thursday, October 19:


Friday, October 20:
  • Prairie Fire Theatre offers Starting Here, Starting Now in the Young Lounge in IWU's Memorial Center, starting at 7:30 pm. Through October 21.

Wednesday, October 25:
  • Young at Heartland's Fall Showcase begins at 7:30 pm at Heartland Theatre. Second showcase is at 2 pm on October 27 at the Normal Public Library.

Thursday, October 26:


Friday, October 27:
  • The ISU School of Theatre and Dance production of She Kills Monsters begins its run at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 pm. Through November 4.
  • Fault Lines opens at 8 pm in IWU's Lab Theatre. Through October 29.

Saturday, October 28:
  • The newly redefined Illinois Voices Theatre holds an open house from 3 to 5 pm at the First Christian Church of Bloomington.

And that's what I have so far. Check back for additions as we proceed through October.

Friday, September 29, 2017

WWI History Comes Alive -- Evergreen Cemetery Walk Begins This Weekend

The annual cemetery walk that brings together the McLean County Museum of History, Illinois Voices Theatre and Bloomington's Evergreen Cemetery is almost here. In the past, the walk has centered on the Civil War and Illinois State University, but this year, eight characters from Bloomington-Normal history will be brought alive to tell about their involvement with World War I. That includes soldiers and nurses as well as those who supported the Great War on the homefront.

On the walk, you'll meet Ethel Hamilton Hanson and Julia Holder, both active with the Red Cross and other important volunteer war efforts in McLean County, along with nurse Carolyn Schertz Geneva, who served at home and abroad, including joining an Army medical unit that was sent to England during the war.

Jennifer Maloy will play Hanson, Abby Scott will take on Holder, and Ann White will play Geneva. All three actors are joining the cemetery walk for the first time, although they are familiar faces to local audiences.

You will also see three military men who faced great challenges just to serve. Brothers Edward and Lincoln Bynum fought together to great acclaim in an African-American unit in France, while Roland Read, rejected multiple times by the United States Army because of his poor vision, ended up serving with French and Serbian forces to do his part.

The Bynum Brothers will be portrayed by Emmanuel Jackson and Timothy Jefferson, with Brian Artman as Roland Read. And they, too, are newcomers to the walk with a variety of credits in local theaters.

Prominent members of local society Carl and Julia Scott Vrooman will round out the parade of World War I participants. Both were actively involved in the war effort, Mr. Vrooman as Secretary of Agriculture under Woodrow Wilson and Mrs. Vrooman as the driving force behind a jazz band put together to entertain troops in Europe.

Dean and Cyndee Brown will portray the Vroomans this time out. Cyndee Brown has performed in this program before, but her husband Dean is a first-timer. Carl and Julia Vrooman were last portrayed in 2008.

If you would like to take part, you have a choice of group tours beginning at 11 am and 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays for the next two weeks. This is a walking tour and you will be on your feet for approximately one-and-a-half to two hours. Some wheelchairs and walking canes are available at the cemetery, but the number is limited and it is much wiser to bring your own if you need one.

The dates for tours are September 30 and October 1, and October 7 and 8, with, again, start times at 11 am and 2 pm.

Because this is a popular event, you are advised to buy your tickets ahead at the Museum of History or Casey's Garden Shop in Bloomington or the Garlic Press in Normal.

For more information, including bios, pictures and a map, click here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Shepard's LIE OF THE MIND Opens Tomorrow at ISU

When playwright Sam Shepard passed away in July, Illinois State University theatre professor Lori Adams decided it would be an appropriate memorial to direct one of his plays as part of the fall ISU season. Adams chose A Lie of the Mind, one of Shepard's best.

Shepard specialized in family drama threaded with dark, cynical humor, and that is certainly true of A Lie of the Mind. The play involves two families linked by a dysfunctional marriage and defined by a history of violence.

There's Jake, a man so consumed by jealousy and rage that he lashes out with his fists, and his wife, Beth, the person he lashes at. When the play opens, Jake has beaten Beth so badly he isn't sure if she's alive or dead. She is alive, but she has serious brain damage. By the end of the play, the reverberations of Jake's violence split the families and their secrets wide open.

On Beth's side, we see her father, Baylor, mother Meg, and brother Mike. They are ill-equipped to deal with her condition, with very few emotional tools of their own, except, of course, rage. Her dad also has a gun and he really likes to shoot things. Jake's side isn't any better -- he has a smothering mother, Lorraine, a sister, Sally, hiding family secrets, and a brother, Frankie, who has a kinder nature than the other toxic men in the play, but also a bad habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After auditions last month, Adams' cast included Parker Carbine as Jake, Gina Sanfilippo as brain-damaged Beth, Dylan Dewitt and Elena Sasso as her parents, Raul Marron as brother Mike, a chip off Baylor's block, Abby Langner as Jake's mother Lorraine, Betsy Diller as sister Sally and Everson Pierce as sweet brother Frankie.

On the production side, Emily Kinasz is costume designer, Kayla Brown has lights, Morgan Hunter is in charge of sound, and Nick Kilgore and John Stark were listed as co-scenic designers.

A Lie of the Mind officially opens at the ISU Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 pm tomorrow night, with performances continuing through a 2 pm matinee on October 1. For tickets or information, contact the CPA box office at 309-438-2535 between 11 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday.

If you'd like to see a sneak peek, the cast will also offer a short scene from their production on the ISU Quad as part of the SEVEN kickoff program. SEVEN is a wellness campaign bringing together a variety of campus groups and resources, including the College of Fine Arts. As their contribution, actors from A Lie of the Mind will perform a short "teaser" scene at Schroeder Plaza on the Quad sometime between 11 am and noon, while other SEVEN activities are taking place. For more information on the SEVEN kickoff, click here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

BBC Top Film Comedies Tonight on TCM

Today is an interesting day on Turner Classic Movies. This morning, they've gone with something of an otherworldly lineup, what with Angel on My Shoulder (featuring the Devil), Angels in the Outfield (divine assistance helps a baseball team), The Heavenly Body (an astrologer gives Hedy Lamarr a reading), Topper and Topper Returns (with ghosts) and I Married a Witch, which has, as you might imagine, a witch. It's a fine batch of movies -- I especially like Fredric March and Veronica Lake as the bewitched couple -- but I don't really know why TCM chose today to spring it. Vernal Equinox?


But it's tonight when things really start to pick up. Or fall down. Or dress in drag, pack a crowd of crazies into one stateroom, turn the volume up to 11, take a ride around giant gears, or put Jack Benny in Hamlet's tights. No supernatural beings, just a lot of super comedy. In fact, TCM is showing five of the best-ever comedy films in existence, all of which appear on a recent BBC list of the "100 greatest comedies of all time."

The movies range from Some Like It Hot, starting at 8 pm Eastern/7 Central, to the original version of To Be or Not To Be at 3:30/2:30 am. In between, there's A Night at the Opera, This Is Spinal Tap and Modern Times. In order of viewing, that's a 1959 caper with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in an all-girl band in the 1920s; the Marx Brothers debating the existence of a Sanity Clause as they mess with an opera company in 1935; a 1984 "mockumentary" about a very bad heavy metal band; a silent film from 1936 with Chaplin in his Little Tramp persona; and a dark comedy from 1942 with a troupe of Polish actors who end up impersonating Nazis (including Hitler) when they get invaded. If that doesn't sound funny, let's just say it has Lubitsch touches all over it.

In terms of the BBC list, these films represent Nos. 1 (Some Like It Hot), 9 (Spinal Tap), 12 (Modern Times), 13 (To Be or Not To Be) and 39 (Night at the Opera) on the list compiled from votes by 253 film critics – 118 women and 135 men – from 52 countries and six continents.

I might argue that A Night at the Opera should be higher than No. 39, but Duck Soup is there at No. 5, and I have a feeling that's getting the most Marx Brothers love, pushing Opera down a bit.

Quibbling about the numbers aside, that is a dandy lineup. As different as these films are from each other, they're each gems. Every single one is worth your time and attention. And repeat viewings.

Charlie Chaplin takes a ride in Modern Times

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

IWU Theatre 2017-18: LUGHNASA and SOUTH PACIFIC Casts, Lab Theatre Info

The new season for Illinois Wesleyan University's School of Theatre Arts will bow in October, so this is a good time to fill in some blanks on the whos, whats and wheres.

IWU previously announced the main part of their season, with four shows set for the Jerome Mirza Theatre in MacPherson Hall.

Beginning October 3, we'll see Dancing at Lughnasa, Brian Friel's memory play about five sisters trying to stay together and find some measure of happiness in a small village in rural Ireland in the 1930s. IWU Adjunct Instructor of Theatre Arts Michael Cotey will direct, with a cast that includes Cadence Lamb, Kamilah Lay, Hailey Lechelt, Cami Tokowitz and Libby Zabit as the Mundy sisters, with Tuxford Turner as Michael, the narrator who steps back in time to tell us about his mother and aunts, Sam Hulsizer as Gerry, a charming man who waltzes in and out of youngest sisters Chris's life, and Will Mueller as Father Jack, the older brother who has returned quite changed from a mission in Africa. Dancing at Lughnasa will play for five evening performances at 8 pm October 3 through 7, with a matinee at 2 pm on the 8th.

The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific will take the stage November 14 to 19, with Emily Hardesty and Madison Steele alternating in the role of cockeyed optimist and Navy nurse Nellie Forbush; Timothy P. Foszcz as planter Emile de Becque, the handsome stranger Nellie meets one enchanted evening; Holden P. Ginn as Lieutenant Cable, a young Marine called by the mysterious power of Bali Ha'i; Megan Lai and Juna Shai alternating as Liat, a beautiful young Tonkinese woman who complicates Cable's life; Paola Lehman and Kira Rangel alternating as Bloody Mary, Liat's wheeling and dealing mother; and Connor Widelka as Seabee Luther Bills, another wheeler and dealer who has a way with a coconut bra.

As we move into 2018, Eugène Ionesco's absurdist Rhinoceros, about the dangers of conformity and groupthink, will be performed February 27 to March 4, with Xanadu, a fantastical musical involving a Greek muse who visits Earth and gets into roller disco, with music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar and book by Douglas Carte Beane, scheduled for performances April 10 to 15.

And what about the E. Melba Johnson Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre?

There's an October option there, too. Fault Lines by Ali Taylor, described as a "razor-sharp new comedy that exposes the dilemmas of working in charity today," is scheduled for performances October 27 to 29, with a cast that includes Andrea Froehlke, Morgan McCane, Emily Strub and Braden Tanner.

The Girl Who Fell Through a Hole in Her Sweater, a "witty adventure for young audiences" written by Naomi Wallace and Bruce McLeod, closes out the Lab Theatre season, with performances March 15 and 26.

Tickets for shows in the Jerome Mirza Theatre range from $10 to $12 for plays and $12 to $14 for musicals, with a season package option as well. Lab Theatre shows are $3 for general admission and $2 for students. For advance purchase for Fault Lines in the Lab Theatre, tickets will become available October 19 and for The Girl Who Fell March 8, 2018.

For information on the entire Mirza season, click here. For the Lab Theatre, click here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Arts@ICC Theater Season Opens Sept 29

Illinois Central College will open its 2017-18 theater season on September 29, when Steve Martin's crazy comedy The Underpants begins a six-performance run in the ICC Performing Arts Center.


Martin based his boisterous farce play on a 1910 satire of middle-class mores written by German playwright Carl Sternheim. The Underpants involves what happens after Louise Markes, the wife of a puffed-up civil servant, loses her undies as she's attempting to get a better look at the king during a parade. Her husband fears his reputation and his career are toast because of his wife's errant intimate apparel, while Louise is starting to get a lot of attention from smitten men who saw her panties drop in public. Those men include two would-be boarders in the Markes household. And hilarity ensues.

Tim Wyman directs The Underpants at ICC with a cast that includes Nathanael Anderson as the king, Darrell Kimbro as Louise, Noah Lane as Theo, Dylan McDonell and Creighton Peacock as the two men who want to rent rooms to pursue Louise, Max Rutschke as an elderly scientist and Adyson TerMaat as the upstairs neighbor.

Tickets for The Underpants are $8 for the general public and $6 for students and senior citizens. Performances run from September 29 through October 8, with Friday and Saturday shows beginning at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. The show is rated PG for "mild adult situations."


In November, ICC Theatre will offer a dinner-theater option with Bullets for Broadway by David Landau, billed as "an audience participation whodunit that combines music, food….and murder!" Look for Bullets for Broadway and its "The Sopranos meet The Producers" antics November 10 to 19 in ICC's studio theater. The food will, of course, be Italian.


And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank by Jim Still is up next. This multimedia experience is "part oral history, part dramatic action, part remembrance" as it focuses on the world of Anne Frank, seen through the eyes of two Holocaust survivors. And Then They Came for Me will play for six performances between February 23 and March 4, 2018, in ICC's mainstage theater. Rated PG for intense material.


Keeping up the intensity level, Martin McDonagh's biting, bitterly funny The Cripple of Inishmaan comes to ICC's studio theater from April 13 to 22, 2018. This tragic comedy centers on an Irish boy whose body holds "a host of troubles." He is a square peg in his small village but dreams of becoming a movie star in Hollywood when a documentary film crew (Robert J. Flaherty's real venture to film The Man of Aran in 1933) comes calling. Let's just say things don't turn out the way "Cripple Billy" hoped. Rated R for adult language.

Both individual and season tickets are available to these shows. To get all the info on ordering, check out ArtsAtICC.com or call the ICC Performing Arts Center box office at 309-694-5136.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

EMMY AWARDS 2017


Unlike the presidency, Emmys go to the winners of the popular vote... Did not expect to see Sean Spicer, I'll tell you that. I'm fine with Stephen Colbert's performance so far. Political, but funny and Emmy-related.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Ron Cephas Jones, This Is Us
Michael Kelly, House Of Cards
John Lithgow, The Crown
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

I was rooting for Ron Cephas Jones, but I think we all kind of knew this was going to Lithgow, a perennial Emmy favorite.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Vanessa Bayer, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep
Kathryn Hahn, Transparent
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Judith Light, Transparent 
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live

Another no-brainer. She won last year and was even better this season.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Regina King, American Crime
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies
Judy Davis, Feud: Bette and Joan
Jackie Hoffman, Feud: Bette and Joan
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Wizard of Lies

This category was a little harder to predict, but I think it's very well-deserved. And it may portend a good night for Big Little Lies.

Random presenter note: Three smoking red dresses in a row. Nicole Kidman, Gina Rodriguez and Issa Rae all looked fantastic.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES
Jamie Babbit, Silicon Valley
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Mike Judge, Silicon Valley
David Mandel, Veep
Morgan Sackett, Veep
Dale Stern, Veep

Glover is also nominated for a writing Emmy for Atlanta. Hmmm... Can he take that one, too?

OUTSTANDING VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
Billy on the Street
Documentary Now!
Drunk History
Portlandia
Saturday Night Live
Tracey Ullman's Show

Yeah, no surprise there.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
The Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things
Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, The Americans
Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, Westworld
Bruce Miller, The Handmaid's Tale
Peter Morgan, The Crown
Gordon Smith, Better Call Saul

Expecting to hear a lot from Handmaid's Tale tonight.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep
Matt Walsh, Veep

This is four awards for actors from SNL (counting Dave Chappelle and Melissa McCarthy, who won last week during the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony) plus the Variety Sketch award above.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A LIMITED SERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Noah Hawley, Fargo
Ryan Murphy, Feud: Bette and Joan
Ron Howard, Genius
James Marsh, The Night Of
Jean-Marc Vallée, Big Little Lies
Steven Zaillian, The Night Of

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies David Thewlis, Fargo
Alfred Molina, Feud: Bette and Joan
Stanley Tucci, Feud: Bette and Joan
Bill Camp, The Night Of
Michael Kenneth Williams, The Night Of

OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A VARIETY SERIES
Full Frontal With Samantha Bee  
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver 
Late Night With Seth Meyers 
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Saturday Night Live

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things  
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Chrissy Metz, This Is Us
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale 

I'm still bitter about the dearth of honors for The Leftovers, but there's no question Ann Dowd deserved and deserves awards for both her stint on that show and her work on The Handmaid's Tale. She knows how to do evil, that's for sure.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES
Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe, Master of None
Alec Berg, Silicon Valley
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Stephen Glover, Atlanta
Billy Kimball, Veep
David Mandel, Veep

I admit I think Master of None is a better show (or at least a funnier show) than Atlanta, so I'm not sorry Donald Glover didn't get that second Emmy for this. The writing on Master of None really is spot-on.

OUTSTANDING REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
The Amazing Race
American Ninja Warrior
Project Runway
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Top Chef
The Voice

Random production note: Why are they playing Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years" after a win by The Voice? Or is there no connection? Because I don't exactly think Walter Becker or Donald Fagen would've done well on that show. Yeah, I think it's just a coincidence, but not very good planning. It wouldn't have gone any better with any of the other choices.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
Stephen Daldry, The Crown
Kate Dennis, The Handmaid's Tale
The Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things
Vince Gilligan, Better Call Saul
Lesli Linka Glatter, Homeland
Reed Morano, The Handmaid's Tale
Jonathan Nolan, Westworld

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A LIMITED SERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror: San Junipero
Jaffe Cohen, Michael Zam and Ryan Murphy, Feud: Bette and Joan
Noah Hawley, Fargo
Ryan Murphy, Feud: Bette and Joan
David E. Kelley, Big Little Lies
Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, The Night Of

A bit of a surprise, I think. And this may just mean that Feud and The Night Of are shut out. You never know about Jessica Lange and Emmy voters, though.

Production note: The In Memoriam reel is always tough, but this one... Right at the heart. And closing with MTM closing the door at WJM. Wow. Beautiful performance by Christopher Jackson as well as a proper amount of celebration of the departed. Well done, Television Academy.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A VARIETY SERIES
Andy Fisher, Jimmy Kimmel Live
Jim Hoskinson, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Don Roy King, Saturday Night Live
Jeremy Konner and Derek Waters, Drunk History
Paul Pennolino, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

OUTSTANDING VARIETY TALK SERIES
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Late Late Show with James Corden
Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Real Time with Bill Maher

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Anthony Anderson, Blackish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets
Donald Glover, Atlanta
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

I am not sure Donald Glover is the best actor in that bunch. I have that problem with the Comedy category fairly often, however.  

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Tracee Ellis Ross, Blackish
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie
Allison Janney, Mom
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Whatever points the Academy got for not going with Jeffrey Tambor again (I get really tired of Emmy repeats and threepeats and fourpeats...) they lost with this one. Don't get me wrong -- I love Julia Louis-Dreyfus. But she's been honored PLENTY. And then some. Let's not always see the same hands. I guess she can only win one more for Veep, anyway.

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
Atlanta
Blackish
Master of None
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Veep

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Lying Detective 
Robert De Niro, The Wizard of Lies
Ewan McGregor, Fargo
Geoffrey Rush, Genius
John Turturro, The Night Of

Can't argue with that! 

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Carrie Coon, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette and Joan
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies

I sometimes kvetch about movie stars winning Emmys when they do TV, but Kidman absolutely deserves this. No kvetch.

OUTSTANDING TV MOVIE
Black Mirror: San Junipero
Dolly Parton’s Christmas Of Many Colors: Circle Of Love
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Sherlock: The Lying Detective
The Wizard of Lies 

OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES
Big Little Lies
Fargo
Feud: Bette and Joan
Genius
The Night Of

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

Not gonna lie -- very happy about this. Sterling K. Brown has been outstanding on This Is Us, elevating everyone around him. Extra credit for a wonderful acceptance speech, mentioning Andre Braugher, Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm and their indelible characters from shows past.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Claire Foy, The Crown
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Not a surprise. And she knows who Dick Whitman is, too.

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
The Crown
The Handmaid’s Tale
Westworld
Stranger Things
This Is Us
Better Call Saul
House of Cards

Margaret Atwood on stage? Holy smokes! 

All in all, I would say that was a spiffy show. Mostly the winners were fine by me, Rachel Bloom was fun, the Westworld robot bit was nicely done, it all moved well and I enjoyed seeing Carol Burnett, Norman Lear and Oprah. In a year when we lost TV royalty like Mary Tyler Moore, I'm glad to touch base with those three. And Margaret Atwood!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Emmy Awards: Part Two

In addition to all the "creative arts" Emmy Awards given out last Saturday, another slew of gold statues were handed out on Sunday by the Television Academy. This time, guest actors, hairstylists and costume designers were among those honored.

Here's the whole list of Emmy Award winners from Part Two of the Creative Arts ceremony.

Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on SNL
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live
 
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series 
Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series 
Dave Chappelle, Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series 
Gerald McRaney, This Is Us

Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series
Kim Estes, Dicks

Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series 
Jane Lynch, Dropping the Soap

Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series
Veep

Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series 
Stranger Things 

Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie or Special 
Big Little Lies 

Outstanding Children’s Program 
Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas 

Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie 
The Night Of 

Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series 
The Ranch 

Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour) 
Veep 

Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour) 
The Handmaid’s Tale 

Outstanding Commercial 
Calling JohnMalkovich.com 

Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Series, Limited Series or Movie 
Big Little Lies 

Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Within a Scripted Program 
Westworld 
 
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Limited Series or Movie 
Feud: Bette and Joan 

Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series 
Westworld 

Outstanding Main Title Design 
Stranger Things 

Outstanding Makeup for a Limited Series or Movie (Non-Prosthetic) 
Feud: Bette and Joan 

Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic) 
Westworld 

Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series 
The Big Bang Theory 

Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special (Original Dramatic Score)
Fargo 

Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score)
House of Cards 

Outstanding Music Supervision 
Big Little Lies 

Outstanding Original Interactive Program 
The People’s House – Inside the White House with Barack and Michelle Obama

Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music 
Stranger Things 

Outstanding Period/Fantasy Costumes for a Series, Limited Series or Movie
The Crown 

Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour or Less)
Veep 

Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More)
The Handmaid’s Tale 

Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period Program (One Hour or More) 
The Crown 

Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Limited Series, Movie or Special 
American Horror Story: Roanoke 

Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series
Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training 

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series 
Master of None 

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series 
Stranger Things

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie 
The Night Of 

Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie or Special 
The Night Of 

Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series 
Stranger Things 

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation 
Mozart in the Jungle 

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) 
Westworld 

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie 
The Night Of 

Outstanding Special Visual Effects 
Westworld 

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role 
Gotham 

Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or Variety Program 
Shameless

Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Limited Series or Movie 
Marvel’s Luke Cage

Monday, September 11, 2017

Emmy Awards: Part One

The Television Academy gives out so many Emmy Awards for excellence in primetime television that they have to split them into three separate nights, with 93 different categories of "creative arts" divided into two early ceremonies and the rest -- big awards like Best Actor, Director and Drama -- reserved for the fancy ceremony a week later.

All of those "creative arts" Emmys were handed out over the weekend, honoring everything from guest actors, casting directors and editors to animation programs, documentaries, variety specials and informative shows. Here are Saturday night's 28 winners (29 if you count the tie for Outstanding Choreography):

Outstanding Special Class Program
70th Annual Tony Awards

Outstanding Variety Special
Carpool Karaoke Primetime Special 2017

Outstanding Short Form Variety Series
The Daily Show – Between the Scenes

Outstanding Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Outstanding Documentary Filmmaking
LA 92

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series
Planet Earth II 

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special
13th 

Outstanding Informational Series or Special
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath

Outstanding Animated Program
Bob’s Burgers

Outstanding Short Form Animated Program
Adventure Time

Outstanding Structured Reality Program
Shark Tank

Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program
United Shades Of America: With W. Kamau Bell

Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series
Viceland at the Women’s March

Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program
Born This Way

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance
Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy

Outstanding Choreography
(tie) Mandy Moore, Dancing with the Stars, for "On Top of the World" and "Carol of the Bells," and Travis Wall, So You Think You Can Dance, for "The Mirror," "Send in the Clowns," and "She Used to Be Mine."

Outstanding Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program 
Planet Earth II: Islands

Outstanding Cinematography for a Reality Program
Born This Way

Outstanding Costumes for Variety, Nonfiction or Reality Programming
RuPaul’s Drag Race

Outstanding Directing for a Nonfiction Program 
O.J.: Made in America 

Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special
The Oscars

Outstanding Hairstyling for a Multi-Camera Series or Special 
Hairspray Live! 

Outstanding Host for a Reality/Reality-Competition Program
RuPaul Charles, RuPaul’s Drag Race

Outstanding Narrator
Meryl Streep, Five Came Back

Outstanding Makeup for a Multi-Camera Series or Special (Non-Prosthetic) 
Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics
"Letter to the Free" by Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins for 13th

Outstanding Writing for a Nonfiction Program 
13th

Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Presents Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Next up: Guest actors, cinematography, editing, stunts and lots, lots more...


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

PBS Fall Schedule Starts in September

PBS has announced its upcoming season, offering new and returning series, miniseries, special events and performances. And that season includes some of my favorite things.

One of the biggest new stories about the new season is the ten-part documentary miniseries from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Episodes of The Vietnam War are set for September 17 to 21 and 24 to 28 on WTVP in Peoria or WILL in Urbana. These episodes will include "testimony from nearly 80 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both sides."


If you're a genealogy buff -- or even if you aren't -- you'll find the October 3 season premiere of Finding Your Roots of interest. Henry Louis Gates Jr. hosts this fascinating search into the family history of an intriguing group of people that includes actors Aziz Ansari, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Rudd and Scarlett Johanssen, writers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Garrison Keillor and Janet Mock, musicians Carly Simon and Questlove, TV hosts Dr. Phil and Bryant Gumbel, director Ava DuVernay, athlete Carmelo Anthony, and a host of other celebrities.

Great Performances comes back in October, as well, with the effervescent Broadway musical She Loves Me, starring Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi, up first on October 20, followed by Noël Coward's classic comedy Present Laughter, which won Kevin Kline his third Tony, on November 3. They'll bring Indecent, a new play from Paula Vogel about a real incident in theater history, to our TV screens on November 17, with Holiday Inn, the stage version of the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie musical, on November 24. Two Lin-Manuel Miranda-related encores -- performances mixed with behind-the-scenes documentary info for In the Heights -- Chasing Broadway Dreams and Hamilton's America -- finish up the Great Performances schedule, broadcast on November 10 and December 1.

For all the details on these programs as well as more Great Performances, American Masters, Frontline, Live from Lincoln Center, Masterpiece, Nature, Nova, Space and special events like David Letterman receiving the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize on November 20, click here to see the whole line-up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Marion Davies in BLONDIE OF THE FOLLIES

Although I am familiar with some basic info about actress Marion Davies -- that she was the long-time mistress of William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane as well as the whole Rosebud thing, and a talented comedienne who probably would've benefited from Hearst taking his mitts off her career instead of trying so hard to control it -- I haven't seen much of her work on screen. I think Cain and Mabel, a comedy she did with Clark Gable, is it as far as Marion Davies and I go.

That one didn't impress me much, but yesterday was Marion Davies Day on Turner Classic Movies and I thought maybe I should give her another chance. To that end, I sampled three of her works, The Red Mill, a silent from 1927 about a Dutch barmaid, Five and Ten, a weeper from 1931 about a dime store mogul and his unhappy family, and Blondie of the Follies, a 1932 cautionary tale about good girls who go bad for fame and fortune in the follies. I lasted less than a minute with Red Mill and maybe five minutes with Five and Ten. The former looked better than the latter in terms of production values, but they were both pretty tough sledding, even with Leslie Howard as Marion's romantic partner in Five and Ten. After bailing so quickly on both of them, I was determined to make it all the way through Blondie of the Follies.

It's interesting to note that both Davies and her costar, Billie Dove, really did have experience in the Ziegfeld Follies. Neither appears to be a singer or much of a dancer, but the numbers staged in the movie are so clunky -- one features three women, including Davies, clomping around and halfheartedly stabbing pirate daggers into the air as a showstopper of a dance move -- it's not like there was a whole lot of talent required. Dove, at least, shows presence. Davies, on the other hand, comes off as more of an oddity than a leading lady. She's not a glamor girl, not a coquette, not an ingenue, not much of anything except odd.

Throughout Blondie of the Follies, she is skittish and jumpy, with little hops and skips here and there for no apparent reason, awkward giggling that goes on and on, nervous clomping around on crutches (it's a plot point -- don't ask) and in general an absolute inability to make a scene feel genuine. The only place she really seems relaxed is when Jimmy Durante enters a party scene about 7/8 of the way through and the two of them spoof Greta Garbo and John Barrymore in Grand Hotel, which came out that same year and was also directed by Edmund Goulding. There is no explanation given for why the movie's plot is put on hold for this little trick, but Davies seems much more comfortable doing her Garbo impression than anything else in the film.

I did find Dove enjoyable as Blondie's BFF, and Robert Montgomery was his usual affable self as the romantic interest who provides conflict between the two pals. James Gleason and Zasu Pitts were also welcome additions as Blondie's weary dad and salt-of-the-earth sister.

As much as I'd like to blame Davies for the film's shortcomings, it's unclear if she was dancing as fast as she could to paper over the plot problems and inconsistency in tone or if that was the way director Goulding wanted it. And then, of course, it's also impossible to know how much William Randolph Hearst had to do with it. The picture was made by his Cosmopolitan Productions, after all, and there have been rumors that this was Billie Dove's last movie because she was so unhappy with how she and her role were treated, as Hearst pushed for changes to keep his Marion front and center. Who knows? The end result is a strange, jittery slog, too long, too forced, too... Marion.

Monday, August 28, 2017

ISU News: LIE Cast, BALM Added, COSI Director and Stark Leading Shakes Fest

A lot has been happening at Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance. Along with the usual auditions and casting for fall shows, they've added a few pieces of information to fill out the overall 2017-18 season and announced who will be the new Artistic Director for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.

John Stark
In the wake of Artistic Director Kevin Rich's departure, there has been a bit of mystery surrounding the Illinois Shakespeare Festival leadership position. It's reminiscent of Shakespeare, where we all wonder who will wear the crown by the end of the play. Wonder no more -- it will be John Stark, Head of the Design/Production Area for ISU's School of Theatre and Dance and a member of the ISU faculty since 1991. Stark has designed for the Shakespeare Festival many times (with at least two Hamlets, Midsummers and As You Like Its to his credit) as well as numerous designs for the University and for theaters from coast to coast. He won a Joseph Jefferson Award in 1997 for his scenic design for The Living at Famous Door Theatre in Chicago and he designed the set for the 2013 Off-Broadway production of Falling that was nominated for three Drama Desk Awards. Falling was directed by Stark's wife, Lori Adams, Head of Acting at ISU; she directed and he designed for its trifecta of productions in St. Louis, New York and back here in Normal at Heartland Theatre. There is no doubt in my mind that under Stark, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival will look fantastic and work like a well-oiled machine. He's just that good. No word yet on the Festival's 2018 lineup, but it will be very interesting to see where he takes it.

The Stark-Adams household is keeping busy, since Adams is at the helm of ISU's first fall show, A Lie of the Mind, Sam Shepard's blistering, violent, sometimes surreal domestic drama from 1985. Adams has cast Parker Carbine as Jake, the out-of-control husband who beat up his wife, Beth, played by Gina Sanfilippo, to the point of brain damage. In the play, Beth is taken to her old family home, a cabin in Montana, to pick up the pieces amongst her own difficult family. For ISU, Beth's father, Baylor, also quick on the trigger, will be played by Dylan Dewitt, with Elena Sasso as his well-meaning wife Meg and Raul Marron as their son Mike, a chip off Baylor's block. On Jake's side of the conflict, Abby Langner will play his enabling mother Lorraine, while Betsy Diller takes on sister Sally and Everson Pierce will play brother Frankie, who is more sensible than his ragey brother, but has terrible timing. Emily Kinasz will design the costumes, Kayla Brown will design the lights, Morgan Hunter is in charge of sound, and Nick Kilgore and John Stark are listed as co-scenic designers. Never a dull moment for Adams and Stark!

Laurie Metcalf (front) and Gary Sinise (back) in Balm in Gilead at Steppenwolf in 1981. William Petersen is at right.
Filling in the blanks previously left in ISU's Spring schedule, we now know that Mozart's Così fan tutte, set for performances March 2 through 6, 2018, in the Center for the Performing Arts, will be directed by Joe McDonnell, and that John Tovar has chosen to direct Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead, to be performed April 13 to 17, also in the CPA. Balm in Gilead is one of the shows that defined Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre -- The Chicago Tribune's Richard Christensen called it "one of those brilliant electric evenings for which the living theatre was made " -- back in the early 80s. Directed by John Malkovich and featuring a host of now-famous actors (Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Francis Guinan, Glenne Headly, Tom Irwin, Terry Kinney, John Mahoney, Laurie Metcalf, Jeff Perry, William Petersen, Rondi Reed, Gary Sinise...), the production was revived Off-Broadway four years later, part of  Steppenwolf's (and its company's) rise to national prominence. Metcalf's performance of a 20-minute monologue still remains in theater-goers' memories as something very special. Since Steppenwolf was founded by a host of former ISU students, one wonders if the likes of Cole, Kinney, Metcalf or Perry will pop in to see how it's going. Maybe Malkovich can even be lured back to campus to give his input.

For all the details on ISU's upcoming season, you can click here to see the latest press release.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Equity Jeff Award Nominations Announced


The committee for Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Awards has announced their nominees -- 158 of 'em -- honoring Equity productions that opened between August 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017. There are 33 different categories for Jeff Awards, ranging from large-scale musicals and plays to actors, designers, directors and solo performers. In an interesting twist, all four Solo Performance nominees come from Greenhouse Theater Center.

Nominees with local connections include ISU alums Joe Court (nominee for Best Sound Design for 10 Out of 12 at Theater Wit), Gary Griffin (two Best Director nominations, for Hand to God at Victory Gardens and Parade at Writers Theater), Theresa Ham (nominated for Best Costume Design for both Disney's The Little Mermaid at Paramount Theatre and Mamma Mia! at Marriott Theatre), Jeffrey Kmiec (Best Scenic Design nominee for The Little Mermaid), Angela Weber Miller (Best Scenic Design nominee for Captain Blood at First Folio), William Osetek (Best Director nominee for Chicago at Drury Lane), Linda Reiter (nominated for Best Solo Performance for Rose at Greenhouse), and Gene Weygandt (another Solo Performance nominee from The Greenhouse, for Uncle Phillip's Coat), along with Eureka College's Cat Davis (nominated for her Lighting Design of The River Bride at Halcyon) U of I's Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (nominated as Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for both Little Mermaid and Parade) and Bri Sudia (also with two nominations, as Best Actress in a Musical for Wonderful Town at the Goodman and Paramount Theatre's Sweeney Todd). IWU alum Evan Dolan was part of the ensemble in that Sweeney Todd, which picked up a nomination as Best Musical.

Here are some of the major nominees:

PRODUCTION (Play-Large)
Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
Hand to God, Victory Gardens Theater
Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

PRODUCTION (Play-Midsize)
Born Yesterday, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
The Columnist, American Blues Theater
End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, American Blues Theater
Silent Sky, First Folio Theatre

PRODUCTION (Musical-Large)
Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Disney's The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Parade, Writers Theatre
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre

PRODUCTION (Musical-Midsize)
Disney's Mary Poppins, Mercury Theater Chicago
In the Heights, Porchlight Music Theatre
The Scottsboro Boys, Porchlight Music Theatre

PRODUCTION (Revue)
Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre
Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Spamilton, The Royal George Theatre

ENSEMBLE
Blizzard '67, 16th Street Theater
East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, American Blues Theater
The Scottsboro Boys, Porchlight Music Theatre
Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Spamilton, The Royal George Thea tre

NEW PLAY
Michael Cristofer, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Selina Fillinger, Faceless, Northlight Theatre
Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Northlight Theatre
Ike Holter, The Wolf at the End of the Block, Teatro Vista
Antoinette Nwandu, Pass Over, Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Madhuri Shekar, Queen, Victory Gardens Theater
Charles Smith, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre

DIRECTOR OF A PLAY
David Darlow, Born Yesterday. Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Gary Griffin, Hand to God, Victory Gardens Theater
Charles Newell, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Ron OJ Parson, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
Ron OJ Parson, East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
Chuck Smith, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre

DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL OR REVUE
Jim Corti, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Matthew Crowle, Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Gary Griffin, Parade, Writers Theatre
William Osetek, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions

PRINCIPAL ACTOR IN A PLAY 
Allen Gilmore, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Allen Gilmore, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre
Erik Hellman, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Northlight Theatre
Daniel Kyri, Objects in the Mirror, Goodman Theatre 
Mike Nussbaum, Relativity, Northlight Theatre
Alex Weisman, Hand to God, Victory Gardens Theater

PRINCIPAL ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Clyde Alves, Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Patrick Andrews, Parade, Writers Theatre
Alex Goodrich, She Loves Me, Marriott Theatre
Paul-Jordan Jansen, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Nathaniel Stampley, The Bridges of Madison County, Marriott Theatre

PRINCIPAL ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Cassandra Bissell, Silent Sky, First Folio Theatre
Chaon Cross, The Hard Problem, Court Theatre
Angela Ingersoll, End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
Elizabeth Ledo, Bright Half Life, About Face Theatre
Eliza Stoughton, Born Yesterday, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Lisa Tejero, W;t, The Hypocrites

PRINCIPAL ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Kelly Felthous, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Bri Sudia, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Bri Sudia, Wonderful Town, Goodman Theatre
Kathy Voytko, The Bridges of Madison County, Marriott Theatre
Aerial "Mon'Aerie" Williams, Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker, Black Ensemble Theater

SOLO PERFORMANCE
Will Allan, Circumference of a Squirrel, Greenhouse Theater Center
Linda Reiter, Rose, The Greenhouse Theater Center
Simon Slater, Bloodshot, The Greenhouse Theater Cen ter
Gene Weygandt, Uncle Phillip's Coat, The Greenhouse Theater Center

SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY 
Marton Csokas, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre
Keith Kupferer, The Mystery of Love & Sex, Writers Theatre
Adam Poss, Queen, Victory Gardens Theater
Tommy Rivera-Vega, Parachute Men, Teatro Vista

SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL 
Larry Adams, Crazy for You, Drury Lane Productions
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Parade, Writers Theatre
Alex Goodrich, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Marriott Theatre
James Earl Jones II, She Loves Me, Marriott Theatre

SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Kristen Bush, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre
Kymberly Mellen, The Columnist, American Blues Theater
Lia Mortensen, The Mystery of Love & Sex, Writers Theatre
Caroline Neff, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Felicia Boswell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre
E. Faye Butler, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Angela Ingersoll, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Marriott Theatre
Iris Lieberman, Cabaret, Theatre at the Center
Meghan Murphy, Mamma Mia!, Marriott Theatre

ACTOR IN A REVUE
Austin Cook, Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre
Justin Keyes, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Yando Lopez, Spamilton, The Royal George Theatre
Evan Tyrone Martin, I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett, Mercury Theater Chicago

ACTRESS IN A REVUE 
Michelle Lauto, Spamilton, The Royal George Theatre
Donica Lynn, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Meghan Murphy, Smokey Joe's Café, Drury Lane Productions
Bethany Thomas, Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre

SCENIC DESIGN (Large)
William Boles, Native Gardens, Victory Gardens Theater
Linda Buchanan, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
Jeffrey D. Kmiec, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Jack Magaw, East Texas Hot Links, Writers Theatre
Courtney O'Neill, Harvey, Court Theatre
Todd Rosenthal, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

SCENIC DESIGN (Midsize)
Angela Weber Miller, Captain Blood, First Folio Theatre
Greg Pinsoneault, In the Heights, Porchlight Music Theatre
Christopher Rhoton, End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
Grant Sabin, Born Yesterday, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Joe Schermoly, Naperville, Theater Wit

COSTUME DESIGN (Large)
Theresa Ham, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre
Theresa Ham, Mamma Mia!, Marriott Theatre
Rachel Healy, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Court Theatre
Susan E. Mickey, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Sully Ratke, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions

COSTUME DESIGN (Midsize)
Kristy Leigh Hall, Pygmalion, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Izumi Inaba, A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch, The House Theatre of Chicago
Kate Setzer Kamphausen, In the Heights, Porchlight Music Theatre
Bill Morey, End of the Rainbow, Porchlight Music Theatre
Mieka van der Ploeg, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, The House Theatre of Chicago

SOUND DESIGN (Large)
Mikhail Fiksel, The Hunter and the Bear, Writers Theatre
Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, Julius Caesar, Writers Theatre
Andre Pluess, Man in the Ring, Court Theatre
Richard Woodbury, Uncle Vanya, Goodman Theatre

SOUND DESIGN (Midsize)
Joe Court, 10 Out of 12, Theater Wit
Heath Hays, The Room, A Red Orchid Theatre
Grover Holloway, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, The House Theatre of Chicago
Jeffrey Levin, The River Bride, Halcyon Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN (Large)
Nick Belley and Jesse Klug, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paramount Theatre
Bart Cortright, The Hunter and the Bear, Writers Theatre
Lee Fiskness, Chicago the Musical, Drury Lane Productions
Greg Hofmann, Jesus Christ Superstar, Paramount Theatre
Jesse Klug, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Paramount Theatre

LIGHTING DESIGN (Midsize)
Erik Barry, Circumference of a Squirrel, Greenhouse Theater Center
Christine Binder, Bright Half Life, About Face Theatre
Cat Davis, The River Bride, Halcyon Theatre
John Kelly, I Am My Own Wife, About Face Theatre
Michael Stanfill, W;t, The Hypocrites

The Jeff Awards will be handed out November 6 in a ceremony hosted by Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook.  Tickets are available for that ceremony. For more information on what's included or how to purchase tickets, check the main Jeff Awards page.