Monday, January 29, 2018

Community Players 2018-19 Season

Community Players Theatre has announced plans for its 2018-19 schedule, opening the season with Peter and the Starcatcher in September of 2018 and finishing it with The Addams Family musical in July of 2019. Their season is the usual mix of plays and musicals, with one Tony-Winning Best Musical (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), one musical based on characters from cartoons (Addams Family), one play based on characters from another beloved play (Starcatcher), one play based on a beloved American novel (Little Women), one musical based on a movie from the 90s (The Wedding Singer) and one play that spawned a movie in the 90s (A Few Good Men).

Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elice's freewheeling, let's-put-on-a-show take on Peter Pan, spun off from a novel with a very similar name (Peter and the Starcatchers) written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Although it features music by Wayne Barker that was nominated for a Tony, it isn't really a musical and it was also nominated as Best Play in 2012. It won a Tony for Best Featured Actor Christian Borle, who played the villainous Black Stache. As described on the Community Players site, "From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the depths of greed and despair… and the bonds of friendship, duty and love." Auditions for Peter and the Starcatcher will take place July 9 and 10, with performances from September 6 to 16, 2018.

Next up is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the Broadway musical that played for 964 performances and won six Tonys in 1964, with another 156 performances and two Tonys in 1972 and 715 performances and one more Tony in 1996. In the original Broadway production, star Zero Mostel, featured actor David Burns, director George Abbott, producer Hal Prince, writers Burt Shrevelove and Larry Gelbart and the show itself all won Tonys. Stephen Sondheim's songs ("Comedy Tonight," "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," "Lovely") were part of the Best Musical award even if he didn't get singled out for his score. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum takes comedy back to its roots, combining situations from time-tested, 2000-year-old comedies of Roman playwright, Plautus, with the infectious energy of classic vaudeville." With auditions in September, Forum is set to open November 1 and run through the 18th.

To open 2019, they'll be back in play territory with Little Women, which is not the 2005 musical, but a 1996 drama version of Louisa May Alcott's Civil War era novel adapted for the stage by Marisha Chamberlain. There have been any number of takes on Alcott's story of the five March sisters growing up and figuring out who they are against the backdrop of war, loss and love, with actresses as different as Katharine Hepburn, June Allyson, Susan Dey, Winona Ryder and Sutton Foster all taking on Jo, the second-oldest, who dreams of becoming a writer. Maya Thurman-Hawke played the role last year in a three-episode Little Women from the BBC. "Interlaced with warmth, family loyalty and traditional values, all these important events provide us with a better understanding of our own lives. Penned by Louisa May Alcott 150 years ago, this much-loved classic tale’s message is still relevant for audiences today." Look for Little Women auditions in November 2018 and performances January 10 to 20, 2019.

The main character in the original film version of The Wedding Singer was a schlubby 80s guy who made his living, such as it was, performing at weddings. On Broadway, stars Stephen Lynch and Laura Benanti took on the roles played by Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore on film, with a new score written by Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics), plus two songs -- "Somebody Kill Me" and "Grow Old With You" by Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler. Herlihy wrote the script for the movie and co-wrote the book for the Broadway show with Beguelin. This is how Players describes the plot: "It’s 1985, and rock star wannabe, Robbie Hart, is New Jersey’s favorite wedding singer. He’s the life of the party until his own fiancée leaves him at the altar. Shot through the heart, Robbie makes every wedding as disastrous as his own. Enter Julia, a winsome waitress who wins his affection. As luck would have it, Julia is about to be married to a Wall Street shark, and, unless Robbie can pull off the performance of a decade, the girl of his dreams will be gone forever." With all the big hair and crazy dances you'd expect from the 1980s, The Wedding Singer will play from March 7 to 24, 2019, with its auditions scheduled for January.

On the big screen, A Few Good Men was famous for Jack Nicholson snarling "You can't handle the truth," but Aaron Sorkin's 1989 Broadway play featured Tom Hulce, Megan Gallagher and Stephen Lang in the roles Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Nicholson took on film. The play also put Sorkin on the map and paved the way for critical successes like The West Wing, The Social Network, Moneyball and Molly's Game. A Few Good Men centers on court martial proceedings where two Marines face possible court martial stemming from the death of a fellow Marine at Guantanamo Bay. "The Navy lawyer, a callow young man more interested in softball games than the case, expects a plea bargain and a cover-up of what really happened. Prodded by a female member of his defense team, the lawyer eventually makes a valiant effort to defend his clients and, in so doing, puts the military mentality and the Marine code of honor on trial."After auditions March 11 and 12, A Few Good Men will be up and running May 2 through 12, 2019.

Ooky and spooky, The Addams Family musical had its try-out in Chicago in 2009 with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth playing Gomez and Morticia. After some tune-ups and fixes from bookwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and composer Andrew Lippa, The Addams Family hit Broadway in March, 2010. It focuses on parental and marital issues as Wednesday comes of age and falls for a regular boy, while Mom and Dad deal with their own romance going stale. Meanwhile,  Uncle Fester is in love with the moon, Mama, Pugsley and Lurch are up to no good, a host of Addams ancestors are swirling around the rafters, and Wednesday's boyfriend's uptight parents are caught in the middle. As Players would have it, "Everything will change for the whole family on the fateful night they host a dinner for Wednesday’s ‘normal’ boyfriend and his parents." This one gets three nights of auditions -- May 11, 12 and 13, 2019 -- with performances set to start July 11 and finish up July 28, 2019.

For details and information, visit the season announcement page at the Community Players website.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Shape of the Oscars, 2018

Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, a fantastical modern twist on Beauty and the Beast, leads the pack with 13 nominations. The film has done very well thus far during awards season, so it's no surprise to see it at the top of the list. What is surprising is the size of its lead: The nearest contender, World War II drama Dunkirk, has eight nominations, with Best Picture favorite Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, with seven. After that, another World War II film, this one with Winston Churchill front and center in The Darkest Hour, and Daniel Day Lewis's proclaimed last movie, The Phantom Thread, each have six nominations. That's a much better take for both than expected, but especially Phantom Thread.

In good news, Jordan Peele's comic horror story, Get Out, made the list for Best Picture and Peele earned nods for Best Screenplay and Best Director as well, Greta Gerwig joins the list of Best Director nominees for Lady Bird, and Mudbound cinematographer Rachel Morrison becomes the first woman ever nominated as Best Cinematographer. On the odd side, Christopher Plummer's last-minute performance in All the Money in the World, replacing Kevin Spacey after he crashed and burned because of sexual misconduct allegations, earned him a spot on the Best Supporting Actor list. Director Ridley Scott reshot all Spacey's scenes with Plummer about five minutes before it was due to open, but that act of heroism was enough to get Plummer a nod

Snubs? James Franco won a Golden Globe for his performance in The Disaster Artist, but he's nowhere to be found on the Oscar Best Actor short list. #TimesUp fallout? Maybe. If there's an explanation for Tom Hanks and Michelle Williams being overlooked for their work in The Post and All the Money in the World, respectively, I don't know what it is. And director Dee Rees certainly deserved a nomination for Mudbound, but she and the film were passed by. Other curiosities: Perennial bridesmaid Steven Spielberg was once again overlooked, this time for The Post, much beloved Wonder Woman got nothing, Martin McDonagh didn't make the Best Director cut for Three Billboards, and Holly Hunter's terrific performance in The Big Sick, which got exactly one nomination -- for its screenplay -- was egregiously overlooked. Personally, I could've taken four or five more nominations for The Big Sick. It ain't easy to do romance well, and this film knocks it out of the park with humor, wit and genuine sentiment.

Of local interest, Illinois State University's Laurie Metcalf has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Lady Bird, while Illinois Wesleyan alum Richard Jenkins earned a nomination as Best Supporting Actor for The Shape of Water.

On to the complete list of nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards:

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green, Logan
James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist
Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, Mudbound

Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water
Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)>
Loveless (Russia)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

"Mighty River" from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige
"Mystery of Love" from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens
"Remember Me" from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
"Stand Up for Something" from Marshall, Diane Warren and Common
"This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Carter Burwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

DeKalb Elementary 
The Eleven O’Clock 
My Nephew Emmett 
The Silent Child 
Watu Wote/All of Us

Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, Baby Driver
Jon Gregory, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Tatiana S. Riegel, I, Tonya
Lee Smith, Dunkirk
Sidney Wolinsky, The Shape of Water

Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Joel Whist, War for the Planet of the Apes
Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould and Neal Scanlan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover and Gerd Nefzer, Blade Runner 2049
Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus, Kong: Skull Island
Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Alex Gibson and Richard King, Dunkirk
Ren Klyce and Matthew Wood, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Mark Mangini and Theo Green, Blade Runner 2049
Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira, The Shape of Water Julian Slater, Baby Driver

Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater and Tim Cavagin, Baby Driver
Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke and Brad Zoern, The Shape of Water
Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett and Doug Hephill, Blade Runner 2049
Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo, Dunkirk
Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker and Michael Semanick, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Consolata Boyle, Victoria and Abdul
Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread
Jacqueline Durran, Beauty and the Beast
Jacqueline Durran, Darkest Hour
Luis Sequeira, The Shape of Water

Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau, The Shape of Water
Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis, Dunkirk
Dennis Gassner and Alessandra Querzola, Blade Runner 2049
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Beauty and the Beast
Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, Darkest Hour

Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard, Victoria and Abdul
Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick, Darkest Hour
Arjen Tuiten, Wonder

Monday, January 22, 2018

Normal Theater Six-Week Film School Focuses on "Wonder Women Directors"

Professor William McBride will be starting a new six-week film school at the Normal Theater tomorrow night. You may recall previous offerings centered on film noir, Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese. This time, McBride will be looking at films directed by women, starting with Dorothy Arzner’s Christopher Strong (1933), starring Katharine Hepburn as an independent-minded aviator, January 24 at 7 pm, and in subsequent weeks moving on to Ida Lupino’s thriller The Hitch-Hiker (1953); A League of Their Own (1992), Penny Marshall’s love letter to professional women’s baseball during World War II; Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003), a highly cinematic look at two lost souls navigating the modern world; Selma (2014), Ava DuVernay’s take on Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for voting rights; and the superhero phenomenon Wonder Woman (2017), directed by Patty Jenkins.

That's quite a range of styles and themes, but Professor McBride is clear on why he chose them:
"On my way out of the Normal Theater following the post-screen discussion of one of Scorsese’s films, a female patron approached me and asked why not do a series of female directors? I have been working on our new series ever since—and given the current cultural moment regarding harassment and gender inequality in Hollywood, Washington, and everywhere else, the timing of Wonder Women Directors seems perfect. Joining me for individual screenings will be Shari Zeck, Interim Dean, Milner Library, Illinois State University; Li Zeng, Head of Theatre and Film Studies and Film Minor, Illinois State University; Chamere Poole, Dept. of English Ph.D. candidate, Illinois State University; and Ann Johnson, Dept. of Sociology Masters student, Illinois State University, who will discuss the overarching cultural concepts of sex, power, history, and film style in these six films directed by women."
Although it's called a film school, there are no tests and no assignments. McBride will be there to introduce each movie and lead the post-show discussion, and he also offers hand-outs and extra material to supplement your viewing, but anyone is free to attend the films for free at the Normal Theater, Tuesday nights at 7 pm from January 24 to March 7, with a week off for Valentine's Day.

This time out, McBride and the Normal Theater are asking you to RSVP or reserve a seat, with a link to do just that on the program's page at the Normal Theater website. You'll find details on each film there, and that's also where the extra materials will go once they're up.

Christopher Strong alone has generated pages and pages of commentary on what it says about gender, feminism, professional women, culture, romance, and what a girl had to do to get by in the 1930s, as well as its sensational costume design, so I know you'll enjoy hearing what McBride and his experts have to say on that one!

Friday, January 12, 2018

MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL Streaming Free All Weekend at

The sprightly Amazon comedy known as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is having a very happy new year. It's already been named the best comedy series on TV by Golden Globes and Critics Choice voters, with Rachel Brosnahan, who really is marvelous as Mrs. Maisel, nabbing Best Actress awards from both groups. To celebrate all that awards success, Amazon is now making The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel available to everyone (not just Amazon Prime subscribers, in other words) this weekend, so that everyone can share the joy. You can stream it for free starting at 12:01 am today and ending at 11:59 pm Monday January 15.

All eight episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel bowed on Amazon last November. I admit: I binged the minute they were available. The series looks great -- no surprise costume designer Donna Zakowska is nominated for awards of her own --  and it has enough humor and heart to really sell its story.

What story? When we first meet Miriam "Midge" Maisel, she's enjoying her life as a housewife on the Upper West Side in the late 1950s. Nice Jewish husband, two babies, lovely apartment in the same building as her parents... Midge Maisel has it all under control. She can hire Broadway dancers and give the perfect speech to make her wedding zing, she can make the perfect brisket to get her wannabe standup comedian husband a slot in a club (he has a cushy day job but longs to don a turtleneck and do standup in Greenwich Village) and she can perform the perfect calisthenics necessary to keep her perfect figure. Unfortunately, her husband shows pretty quickly he isn't really up to all that perfection. He's gone, her parents are having a meltdown, and her whole identity is on the line. And, at that moment, with her well-ordered life tipped upside-down, Midge discovers her talents may be very different from what she expected. After a couple of meetings with Lenny Bruce (winningly played by Luke Kirby of Slings and Arrows fame) and some help from a scruffy comedy manager (very funny Alex Borstein), Mrs. Maisel is on her way.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has all the rapid-fire, breezy dialogue you'd expect from an Amy Sherman-Palladino project. Rachel Brosnahan doesn't exactly offer a Jewish 1958 version of Lorelai Gilmore, but she's close. Her Midge is also funny, smart, complicated and beautiful. And again, that wardrobe!

I am not all that into standup comedy as a milieu, but it doesn't really matter. It's Midge and how she steamrolls her life that makes it magic. Brosnahan carries the show beautifully, with all kinds of help from a terrific supporting cast. Borstein and Kirby are part of that, with Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub making a huge contribution -- they're crazy and infuriating, but fiercely funny -- as Midge's neurotic parents, with guest actors like Nate Cordrry, Joe Grifasi, Jane Lynch, David Paymer, Kevin Pollak, Wallace Shawn and Mary Testa making vivid impressions along the way. And then there's Michael Zegen, given the unenviable task of bringing to life limp noodle Joel Maisel, Midge's husband. He is successful at making Joel a weasel, but it seems like a no-brainer that she's better off without him.

It remains to be seen in Season Two just how independent Mrs. Maisel will become with her newfound standup confidence and whether Mr. Maisel will appear as anything more than a distant memory. Given that she's still got his name and his kids, I have to think Joel will be sticking around in some capacity. But there's plenty of conflict left to explore with her parents and how they'll react to the new downtown Midge, how she manages being a mother while she's on stage, where she lives and how she keeps brisket on the table, and where, if anywhere, Midge looks for romance. Who needs Joel?

You'll find The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel streaming this weekend at

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Opening Tonight: COMPLETE WORKS (ABRIDGED) at Community Players

As you might expect from the name of the theatrical organization itself, the Reduced Shakespeare Company's first in a collection of various kinds of "works" sewn together in a fast, funny and "abridged" condition was the one about Shakespeare. I've seen it called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) and a few other variations on that theme.

The basic idea is that three actors (in early days, Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, who are also credited with the script) perform a very abbreviated romp through all of Shakespeare's plays, done up with silly wigs, goofy props, lots of physical and verbal humor that generally aims for the lowest common denominator, and a certain amount of audience interaction. Puns! Football! Julia Child! And even a little Shakespeare. It's good stuff for performers with lots of energy and very little shame. 

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's Complete Works is a popular choice -- it appeared twice in four seasons on the Illinois Shakespeare Festival schedule -- plus it's been done in pieces by a long parade of high school actors in speech and theater competitions and it's even toured through these parts by the Reduced Shakespeare guys themselves. Each trio that performs it makes it new, dependent upon the skills and special talents they bring to the table. Will it a be a grad-school-hangover Reduced Works, a hillbilly Reduced Works, a serious-actors-stuck-in-purgatory Reduced Works, or something completely different?

Community Players opens its very own version of the "cultural touchstone" that is The Reduced Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) with a preview performance tonight at 7:30 pm, directed by Brett Cottone, with Dave Montague, Chris Stevenson and Missy Freese standing in for Daniel, Adam and Jess, in that order. It's a little unusual to see a woman taking part in a Reduced Work, but, hey, girls want to have fun, too.

This Reduced Works continues through January 21, with all Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm.

For more information, click here for the Players webpage on this production or here to purchase tickets. You can also call the box office at 309-663-2121 for more information.