Thursday, December 30, 2010

Peoria Cabaret Theatre - 2011 Season

Peoria Cabaret Theatre at The Waterhouse has announced their 2011 slate of shows.

"Fully Committed"  -  January 28 & 29

"I Love You Because (A Modern Day Musical Love Story)"  -  February 11, 12, 18, & 19

"Master Class"  -  March 4, 5, 11, & 12

"The Lebanese/Redneck Wedding"  -  April 1, 2, 8, & 9

A season show pass is $140 and includes dinner. tax, gratuity with all four shows.
It can be purchased by calling the box office at 494-9100 or at their website:

The Peoria Cabaret Theatre is a membership based theatre company focused on presenting small cast plays, musicals, and interactive improv comedies in addition to cabaret shows with the Signature Cabaret Series and the Late Night Cabaret Series.

The theater is located in The Waterhouse at 619 SW Water Street, Suite B.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

December Poetry Corner

- Abraham Cowley

Thou robb'st my days of business and delights,
Of sleep thou robb'st my nights ;
Ah, lovely thief, what wilt thou do?
What? rob me of heaven too?
Even in my prayers thou hauntest me:
And I, with wild idolatry,
Begin to God, and end them all to thee.
Is it a sin to love, that it should thus
Like an ill conscience torture us?
Whate'er I do, where'er I go—
None guiltless e'er was haunted so!—
Still, still, methinks, thy face I view,
And still thy shape does me pursue,
As if, not you me, but I had murdered you.
From books I strive some remedy to take,
But thy name all the letters make;
Whate'er 'tis writ, I find thee there,
Like points and commas everywhere.
Me blessed for this let no man hold,
For I, as Midas did of old,
Perish by turning every thing to gold.
What do I seek, alas, or why do I
Attempt in vain from thee to fly?
For, making thee my deity,
I gave thee then ubiquity.
My pains resemble hell in this:
The divine presence there too is,
But to torment men, not to give them bliss.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas!

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
And what have we done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over over
If you want it
War is over

Sunday, December 12, 2010

- Theater Review - White Christmas

Peoria Players Theater got the holiday season off to a somewhat shaky start with their presentation of "White Christmas".

This Irving Berlin classic has given us many musical standards.  In addition to the title song, there are classics such as "Happy Holiday", "Sisters", "I Love a Piano", "Blue Skies", and "How Deep is the Ocean". 
It has come to epitomize the Christmas spirit.

Unfortunately, this production suffers through poor direction and most of all through bad orchestration.

I was very much looking forward to seeing Jimmy LaHood in the lead role, having last seen him in his excellent portrayal of Leo Bloom in Eastlight's "The Producers". 
However, as Bob Wallace in this production, Mr. LaHood appeared nervous and unsure of himself. 
Indeed, he allowed the poor performing orchestra to lead him into several false starts and off-key notes in his musical numbers.  His acting also was lacking.  In his misguided attempt to mimic Bing Crosby, he came across a bit more Jack Benny.

Aaron Elwell turned in a good performance as the smooth womanizer Phil Davis, particularly in his rendition of "I Love a Piano".

Janette Beardsley was well cast as Martha and she sang the role well.

The standout performance in the production was Erin Durbin's portrayal of Betty Haynes.  Ms. Durbin has a great and powerful voice.  She belted out her numbers over the orchestra's missteps. 
Her rendition of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" was the best vocal performance of the show.

Kudos must be given to Danny Fisher's choreography.  The dance numbers were exceptional, with the one exception of "Sisters".  The Haynes sisters' rendition consisted of merely posing with ostrich fans.  Choreography for this number should look like this.

A real irritation during opening night was the gentleman a few rows behind me who thought it was his job to lead the audience in applause.  He clapped loudly at inappropriate times and when numbers were not finished (and again when they  were!) and of course most people followed along.  Perhaps he had a relative onstage, but that type of cheer leading in a production like this merely smacks of desperation born of pity.

The same was true of the undeserved standing ovation, when a few people guilted most others into standing.  It seems particularly true to Peoria Players audiences that any performance deserves a standing ovation, no matter how mediocre.

Well, this patron stayed stubbornly in his seat.  I will stand for excellence, and this simply was not it.

With so much good talent on stage, it is a shame that poor direction and a bad orchestra held back this holiday classic from delivering what it should.

The show runs through December 19th at the theater in Lakeview Park.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Corn Stock Theater - 2011 Season

Corn Stock Theater has announced its 2011 Summer Season:

"Cats"   -  Directed by Linda Grimson - June 3rd - June 11th

"Moonlight and Magnolias"  -  Directed by Clifford Clark - June 24th - July 2nd

"Footloose"  -  Directed byTravis Olson - July 15th - July 23rd

"Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash"  -  Directed by Laura Johnson - August 5th - August 13

"Arsenic and Old Lace"  -  Directed by Sean Howell - August 26th - September 3rd

Individual ticket prices:  Musicals - $18,  Non-Musicals - $12
Season Tickets:  $66

More information and order tickets here.


Arc Light Theater - 2011 Season

Arc Light Theater has announced its 2011 season.

June 3 - "Community Variety Show"

June 23-25 - "Honeymoon at Graveside Manor"

July 22-23 - "Arc Light, Junior"  (Youth Show)

July 22-24 - "Into the Woods"

Arc Light Productions operates in conjunction with the Illini Bluffs School District in Glasford.
Season tickets sales and more info coming soon to their website here.


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Death of Historic Preservation in Peoria

Historic Preservation in Peoria was officially euthanized last Tuesday when nine shortsighted politicians voted to "delist" a designated Historic Landmark. 

Led by Second District councilwoman Barbara Van Auken, these so-called civic leaders gave the green light for the demolition of the Roanoke Apartments.

The Roanoke is a beautiful example of the Prairie School influences on early 20th century construction.  With yesterday's buzzwords of "New Urbanism" all but forgotten by this current council, this building is a wonderful example of urbanism when it was truly new - luxury apartments convenient to the city center. 

Portrayed by a Journal Star hack as "blighted", the building is in remarkably great condition, with its beautiful marble foyer, mission style woodwork and doors, and many original fixtures intact.  Despite efforts by the building's owners at "demolition by neglect" (leaving windows open. etc.), the structure easily could have been restored to its original glory.

By "delisting" a Landmark, the council has, for all practical purposes, completely gutted the Historic Preservation Ordinance. 
Since the adoption of the ordinance over thirty five years ago, it always has been assumed that Landmark status was forever. 

If it can be undone by the whim of any future council, then what meaning does Landmark status have?
The answer now is "ABSOLUTELY NONE."

Ms. Van Auken, who was responsible for this atrocity, has evolved into the consummate politician.  She long ago gave up any pretense of actually representing the wishes and values of her Second District constituents.
Instead, she has become a classic 'quid pro quo' politician.
She has managed to politicize the Historic Preservation process like no one else before her.  Over the past few years she has packed the city's Historic Preservation Commission with her drinking buddies and toadies.  Indeed, the current HPC president is her own campaign manager. 
(And in this process, more historic structures have been lost under this commission than any other in recent memory!)

In her current crusade to repay political favors and campaign contributions (Brian Meginness, et al)  by demolishing the Roanoke Apartments and gutting the ordinance in the process, Van Auken even made willing pawns of the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation.
Along with her buddy, Henry Holling, she arranged "secret" meetings between the CILF leadership and Trinity so that she could go to her colleagues (and the PJStar) and say that all parties were involved in the "solution". 
And thus another of Van Auken's casualties is the credibility of the CILF and its officers in particular.

The only surprise in this debacle was that the council vote was 9 to 1. 
I thought that perhaps there might have been a couple others who would support principle over politics.  But only Councilman Sandberg had the balls to stand up for Peoria's history and for the Historic Preservation Ordinance.

So where do the true preservationists go from here?

With the process now completely politicized, we have no choice but to join the political fray.  Van Auken is clearly a politician for sale, and preservationists definitely were outbid on this one. 

ALL the district council reps will need to be replaced in 2013, particularly those in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd where most of the city's historic properties are located. 

The 4th district person lost his credibility when he tried to force a major city contract to his brother-in-law, and his action here seals that fate.

The mayor and the 5th district representative may well be in jail by then.

Of immediate concern, however, is the at-large contest coming up in the spring. 
Cumulative voting makes it difficult to target any one incumbent, but at this point I am urging folks to vote for anyone BUT Turner and Spain.

As for the other candidates, I am one preservationist ready to put my money where my mouth is.  Sandberg is a given, but who among the other candidates will commit to a firm preservationist agenda? 
Summers?  Akeson?


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks - 2010

Thanksgiving is absolutely the best holiday on the calendar.

No church-going obligations (or guilt for not going!).
No stress and rush with shopping for gifts or addressing cards.
No flags to hoist or parades to attend.

Nope, Thanksgiving is only about eating and visiting with loved ones. And these just happen to be two of my very favorite things in the whole world.

My mother was the glue that held our family together. When she passed at a much too early age, my brothers and sisters and I divided up the holidays with a promise to never drift apart. I was fortunate to claim Thanksgiving as my holiday to host. Although most of my family live 90 miles south, this is the one day of the year when most of them drive up to spend the day at my house.

It promises to be a day of good food and good times...a little reminiscing, a little looking forward, a little laughing, and maybe even a tear or two.

Like most of you, my family and loved ones are at the very top of my things-to-be-thankful-for list.

I could write more, but there's a turkey in the oven, and a ham to glaze, and potatoes to be prepared, and vegetables to chop, and....

Here's wishing everyone a great day with family and friends!

Don't forget to stop and consider ALL the things you have to be thankful for.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Great First Lines

If a poll were taken for best first line of a novel, I am betting that Charles Dicken's "A Tale of Two Cities" would be the top vote getter.  It is a pretty amazing sentence:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

My vote, however, goes to John Irving's "A Prayer For Owen Meany".  This is one of my favorite books and it begins with this line:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

Who can read that line and not want to read the rest of the book?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

- Theater Review - Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

The Corn Stock Winter Playhouse continues its current season with "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead".

This play debuted at the 2004 New York Fringe Festival and was the hit of that year.  It is not often performed since, so I was thrilled to find it in Corn Stock's line-up.

The hilarious premise of the play is based on the trials and tribulations of the Peanuts gang during their teenage years; although the names are (slightly) changed to protect the innocent (from lawsuits from the Charles Schulz estate?). 
Charlie Brown is simply C.B., Linus is Van, etc.

It seems the gang has turned out a little differently than we might have imagined.

The play opens with Charlie and his sister at the funeral for Charlie's dog.  Good ol' Snoopy contracted rabies and killed Woodstock before being "put down".
Sally is a Wiccan goth flake.  Linus is a tweaked out pothead, who smoked his blanket long ago.  Peppermint Patty and Marcie are loose party girls.  Schroeder is perceived as gay and constantly bullied by Pig Pen who is now a germaphobe as well as a homophobe known as Matt. Lucy is incarcerated in a sanitarium after setting fire to the Little Red-Headed Girl's red hair.

As Charlie seeks spiritual answers in regards to Snoopy's death, he stumbles onto some unexpected answers to his own sexual identity.

I was pleased to find Jeremy Behrens in the lead role as Charlie Brown.  Mr. Behrens has lit up the Hartmann Center stage over the last few years, most recently as the demented dentist in Bradley's production of "Little Shop of Horrors". 
In this role he is given the chance to expand his dramatic chops and he indeed rises to the occasion.

Alex Larson as the stoner Van Pelt is the comedic favorite, garnering the biggest audience laughs.  Megan Runyard and Bridgette Richard are equally funny in the roles of Marcie and Patty respectively.  Ms. Runyard's facial expressions will make you smile before she speaks a line.

Melissa Grimson turns in a great performance as Charlie's sister Sally.  This character has a bit more depth that some of the others, as Sally changes from flakiness to self-assured maturity.  Her performance piece within the play emphasises this metamorphosis.

Michael David Luchies is convincingly mean as the villain of the piece.  Landen Zumwalt is effective as a young gay man struggling with his sexuality and the pressures of being bullied.  And as Schroeder ought to, he plays a mean piano.

While Heather Dyer is fine in her portrayal as Lucy, the character is somewhat problematic.  She does not quite fit into or contribute to the underlying themes of the play....nothing against Ms. Dyer's performance, but perhaps a flaw in the play itself.

The truly wonderful thing about this play is how it so perfectly straddles the line between comedy and drama.  There are plenty of funny situations full of laughter.  At the same time, its themes of coming out and of gay bullying are seriously examined; and given current headlines, they are particularly timely.

The production is dedicated to The Trevor Project, a nationwide not-for-profit supporting acceptance of GLBTQ youth that aids in crisis and suicide prevention.  Learn more about the organization here.

And please see this delightful play at the theater in upper Bradley Park now through November 20th. 
Call the box office at 676-2196.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November Poetry Corner

Death, Be Not Proud
                    - John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

- Theater Review - subUrbia

Bradley University Theatre's second offering of their 2010 - 2011 season is Eric Bogosian's intense drama "subUrbia".

Set in the early 90's against a soundtrack of grunge rock, it is the stark tale of a group of disaffected youth in a dead-end suburban town, appropriately named Burnfield.

And believe me, by the end of this play all that remains is scorched earth.

This group of young losers spends most of their waking hours hanging out in the parking lot of the corner convenience store. 

There is Sooze (Erin Kennedy), a wannabe performance artist who longs to move to New York in order to pursue a career.  Her boyfriend Jeff (Kevin Logsdon), is an unmotivated slacker who is negatively influenced by his friendship with the mean and dark Tim, played excruciatingly well by Ross Cochran.
Other members of the idler gang are Buff (Brian Zinda), whose life is one constant party quest, and the emotionally fragile Bee Bee (Katy Robinson).

This night marks the return of Pony (Dakota Kuhlman), the one member of the group who was able to get out of Burnfield and make something of himself as a minor rock star.  His lingering affection for Sooze brings him back to his former local haunt.  He returns along with his sexy publicist Erica (Janice Gerlach) in a stretch limo, which serves here as a symbol of success, the trophy for finally "getting out".

The cast is rounded out by Raj Bond and Arianna Brown, who play the Pakistani brother and sister 'Norman' and Pakeeza, owners of the convenience store and the targets of Tim's racist aggression.
Mr. Bond turns in a perfect performance as the hard-working immigrant in search of the American dream.

The cast is made up of some newer faces and all the acting here is excellent, without exception.  As is often the case, the stand out performances are those of the darkest characters. 

Ms. Robinson is superb as the damaged, self-loathing Bee Bee, who is fresh out of rehab and destined for destruction.

Mr. Cochran is exceptional as the loathsome Tim.  This character is a drunken, racist, self-destructive loser.  After watching this performance, I felt like I should go home and shower.  Mr. Bond plays the part with such dangerous precision, I can only imagine that he will require an extended beach vacation to get this guy out of his head.

Such performances as these must be partly attributed to the excellent direction of Steve Snyder.

Special mention must be made of the setting as well.  The designers have constructed an entire 7-11 style store on the Hartmann Center stage, and the effect is simply incredible!  Kudos to the set designers.

This play is rooted in such gritty reality as to make it difficult to watch in places.  Some of the rants, heavy with the N-word, the C-word, and the F-word had the audience squirming in their seats.  There were many in the already sparse audience who did not return for the second act.

Regardless, the performances and set make this show well worth a look. 

It runs through November 21st.  Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling 677-2650.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Now THAT'S Historic Preservation!

I recently returned from ten days in Greece.  Most of that time was spent in Athens, with a one day tour of three of the nearest islands - Hydra, Poros, and Aegina.

Athens is a city overflowing with history.  It is home to many museums and I do believe I visited them all.  Chief among these is the brand new (2009) Acropolis Museum, situated a few blocks from my hotel at the foot of the Acropolis.  This amazing building was built directly over active excavations of early Christian sites.  The first level effectively uses glass floors so you can see directly down into these sites.

While in Athens, I saw pottery that was 8,000 years old.  How incredible to look at these pots (intact and reconstructed) and think that they were molded by human hands, fired, and decorated with intricate designs for utilitarian and religious purposes a full 6,000 years before the birth of Christ!
I was struck by the similarity of the geometric designs of these vessels to those of Native American pottery.  It seemed to underscore a common humanity that originated there in the cradle of Western Civilization.

I also visited buildings and structures that were a couple thousand years old.  This made me think of the difficulty encountered by preservationists here in Peoria as we try to save structures that are only a hundred years old.
Thank goodness the Athenians had the forethought and respect for their culture to save these structures, that are visited by throngs of tourists daily. 
I am not saying that people will travel from around the world to visit a restored Madison Theater, but what a shame that our city leaders have such limited vision that they are unwilling to fight for those symbols of Peoria's identity and rich cultural history.

Another of the museums in Athens is dedicated to the Battle of Marathon and the birth of democracy.  As an American, it was humbling to stand in the land where democracy was "invented", and realize how different the world would be if that single battle had gone differently.  If the Persians had been victorious, the entire Western world would be different and America as we know it would not exist.
It was a reminder not only of what we take so easily for granted, but of the fragility of all political and social structures.

It was a most exciting and expanding vacation.  You can see my poor attempts at photography on Facebook:!/profile.php?id=100000416750539&v=photos

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October Poetry Corner

The Tiger
- William Blake

Tiger Tiger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile His work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

- Theater Review - Spring Awakening

Teen angst and raging hormones took center stage at the Peoria Civic Center Theater Saturday night, as "Spring Awakening" made its Peoria debut.

I first saw this play on Broadway in 2008 and I was blown away by its high-energy, in-your-face treatment of an age old theme.
That theme is the awakening of the adolescent body, and all the anxieties and insecurities that often follow.
These insecurities are compounded by adults who refuse to explain sexuality, or who treat sex as evil, dirty, and something to be ashamed of and suppressed.

The play takes place in 1890's Germany in a small provincial village.  Melchior is an intelligent and free thinking young man at an all-male school. 
He befriends and helps the nervous Moritz, who struggles with his studies and fears the failure that will disappoint his controlling father. 
Melchior is seduced by the desires he experiences for the young and beautiful Wendla. 
Wendla is an extremely sheltered girl who begs her mother tell her where babies come from.  When her mother fails her, she seeks the experiences that she barely understands from Melchior.
The three are set on a path to tragedy, with only one whose spring awakening leads to "Purple Summer".

All of the adult roles are played by two actors (one male, one female).  This is a very effective device, and the actors did a spectacular job.

This show features simulated intercourse, partial nudity, simulated masturbation, and songs with titles like "Totally Fucked" and "The Bitch of Living".

Needless to say, I wondered how this would play in conservative Peoria.

To my surprise, the audience responded in-kind to this high-energy musical.  Indeed, the biggest and longest lasting ovation was for the song "Totally Fucked".

Do I have a distorted view of Peoria's provincialism?   Perhaps.

The Civic Center was only willing to take a chance on a single performance, so I can't tell you to rush out and see the next performance here.  (You can catch it at Sangamon Auditorium in Springfield on November 14th)

But I will say that if you missed this, you missed what may well turn out to be the theatrical event of the Peoria theater season.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

- Theater Review - The Diary of Anne Frank

Peoria Players continued their season with the Friday night opening of "The Diary of Anne Frank", just a few days after the 55th anniversary of the play's debut.

After more than half a century, this drama remains amazingly relevant and meaningful. 

It is, of course, the true story of eight Jews hiding from the Nazis in cramped quarters above an office in Amsterdam.  The intense 3 years is documented in her diary by the young girl, Anne Frank. 

During the period of hiding, Anne achieves physical maturity as well as a maturity beyond her years in  both character and spirit as she chronicles the human interactions around her.

This Peoria Players production, directed by  Charles Killen, provides an absolutely wonderful evening of theater.

Usually in these reviews, I try to single out the performances that I consider to be particularly noteworthy.
It is simply impossible to do so in regards to this production. 
There are ten actors on stage and each and every one delivers a performance that is very nearly perfect to the role.

Doug Orear as Otto Frank, is the patriarch of the entire group.  He opens the show with an emotional portrayal of the father's post-war return to the Amsterdam apartment, where he discovers his daughter's diary. 
Sally Hodge plays his dutiful wife Edith, who  finally explodes from the pressures of their confinement. 
Alexis Wraight plays their prim and perfect daughter Margot and Toni Franken shines as daughter and narrator, Anne.
Joining the Franks in hiding are the Van Daan family. 
Curt and Anita Rowden are superb as the parents, as is Nathan Apodac as their son and Anne's romantic interest, Peter.
Doug Day is extraordinary as the surly dentist, Dr. Dussel, and Aaron Ruder and Lanie Vogel round out the cast as Mr. Kraler and Miss Gies, who risk their own lives by assisting in the hiding of the group.

Oh yes, there is an eleventh character.  Xena Killen-Clardy  doesn't miss a cue as Mouschi the cat.  She plays the role with  true star quality.

Speaking of star quality, the program states that Toni Franken has been acting since the age of six.  With the stage presence that she brought to the title role in this production, we can only hope that she will continue her acting career for another sixty years.
I know that I will certainly anticipate her next appearance on a local stage!

On opening night, the house was somewhat light.  I know it is a bit tougher to sell a drama in the age of musicals.  But for those who want to see an entire ensemble of brilliant acting performances, this is the show for you. 

The standing ovation was truly deserved.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" runs through this weekend  at the theater in Lakeview Park and continues from October 14th through the 17th.

Just Imagine!

John Lennon would have been 70 years old today.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Friday, October 8, 2010

- Theater Review - Annie

The Caterpillar Chorus opened their 2010 Caterpillar Musical, "Annie" on Thursday night in the East Peoria High School Auditorium (Eastlight Theatre).

"Annie" is an American classic that is beloved by children and adults everywhere.  I bet there are not too many people who cannot sing at least a line or two of "Tomorrow" or "It's a Hard-Knock Life". 
Even though the play is so very familiar, this production still manages to make the musical fresh and fun.

With a policy of never turning down any employee who wants to participate,  the annual Caterpillar Musical over the years has been hit or miss with a real stinker or two.

This show is definitely not one of those. 

As a matter of fact this is one of their best productions in years!

Sally Baker does a swell job as the boozy and mean Miss Hannigan.  While she held back a little on "Little Girls", when she teamed up with Jason Werner and Teresa Neptun (as Rooster and Lily), the trio really belted out "Easy Street".

John Marincic is a great Daddy Warbucks and his duet with Annie on "I Don't Need Anything But You" is a true highlight.

Nicole Barth is one of the oldest actresses that I have seen in the title role.  It took  me awhile to get used to an Annie that was as tall as Miss Hannigan, but Miss Barth has a lovely voice. 
I will look forward to seeing her again in the near future in some adult roles.

There is, of course, the required group of orphans and the kids here really bring it home. 
What's not to like about 20 little girls, each one as cute and talented as the next?

The Caterpillar Chorus has been presenting their annual musical for 69 years.  At $8 a ticket, it is still one of the best live theater bargains around.  For the price of a movie, you can afford to take the kids or grandkids to see this family favorite.  I guarantee that they (and you) will love it.  But hurry!  It is a limited run  only through this weekend (matinee and evening performances on Saturday and Sunday).  Tickets are still available at 699-SHOW, at the Eastlight box office, or at the door.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

- Theater Review - The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon

Illinois Central College opened their 2010 - 2011 Season with "The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon", a messy and disjointed retelling of the Grimm fairytales.

One of my favorite shows is "Into the Woods", the Steven Sondheim classic that is a brilliant musical adaptation of classic fairytales.  It is dark and funny with an amazing score.  I was expecting something similar from this ICC opener.

I could not have been more disappointed.

The first act consisted of five uncredited actors running manically around the stage and through the audience while shrieking at the top of their lungs.

I say 'uncredited' because while the program lists cast biographies, it gives no hint of who is playing which characters.

Although seldom up to the level of Bradley Theater, Illinois Central College has, in the past, presented some great shows.  "No Exit" and "The Underpants" come immediately to mind.

"The Brothers Grimm", however, takes the amateur in amateur theater to a new low.  I have seen better productions than this at the grade school level.

Perhaps the show got better in the second act. 

I couldn't bear to stick around and find out.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Corn Stock Winter Playhouse - 2010-2011 Season

Cornstock Winter Playhouse has announced its 2010-2011 season:

"Sweeney Todd"  directed by Nate Downs - Oct 22 - Oct 30

"Dog Sees God"  directed by Nyk Sutter - Nov 12 - Nov 20

"A Christmas Carol: Reader's Theatre"  directed by Roberta Koch - Dec 3 - Dec 11

"Playwright Festival" (Original Plays)  produced by Sean Howell - Jan 21 - Jan 29

"Angels in America: Millenium Approaches"  directed by Dani Keil - Feb 18 - Feb 26

"Five Women Wearing The Same Dress" - Directed by Paula Graves - Mar 18 - Mar 26

A great lineup with some ambitious undertakings (particularly "Sweeney Todd" and "Angels In America"!)

Season Tickets are only $50 and can be reserved by calling 676-2196.

- Theater Review - Little Shop of Horrors

Bradley University Theatre opened their 2010-2011 season with Ashman & Menken's perennial off-Broadway favorite, "Little Shop of Horrors".

This charming musical is the tale of shy and backward Seymour Krelborn. Seymour works at Mr. Mushnik's flower shop on Skid Row and harbors an unrequited love for his coworker Audrey.
However, Audrey only has eyes for the cruel and abusive Orin Scrivello.
Orin is a sadistic dentist who selected his profession primarily for the opportunity to inflict pain upon his patients (...that and the nitrous oxide!).

Seymour's fortunes change, along with those of the failing flower shop after he develops a new species of plant. The sweet little plant, whom he christens Audrey II, thrives on human blood and she soon grows to be a real man eater.

The show features several familiar faces and a couple of fresh new ones. 

Andrew Kuhlman, a fixture on the Hartmann stage for the last couple years, is cast as Mr. Mushnik.  This is just the type of roll that Mr. Kuhlman relishes - loud and funny.  His comedic timing only gets better and he does this roll true justice.

Racheal Waldron as Audrey and Ben Sellnow as Seymour do an equally fine job as the star-crossed lovers.  Their voices blend well, especially on the song "Suddenly Seymour" which is the musical highlight of this production.

As good as all these performances are, the incomparable Jeremy Behrens steals the show as Orin, the S&M D.D.S.   This is a great character that any good actor can sink his teeth into. (check out Jack Nicholson in the original movie!)   Mr. Behrens, who has shone in several previous BU shows, has a ball as the laughing-gas huffing bad guy who is also happens to be very hilarious, and the audience has a ball right along with him.

Hope Grandon, Morgan Green, and Dominique Reed do a great job as the Greek Chorus straight out of Motown.  These three do a wonderful musical narration of the story from start to finish.

You can't have a good "Little Shop" without a good Audrey II, and I couldn't wait to see what the Bradley prop folks came up with. 
In the end, they went to Hollywood, and got an Audrey II from the company that makes the professional and touring company versions of the lovable people eating plant.

All in all, this opening production can be summed up in one single word:


The joy of watching theater at Bradley is the vitality that these young actors always exhibit. This production definitely is no exception. The cast brought such an infectious energy to the stage that they had the audience continually laughing, applauding, and on their feet by the finale.

The play runs through October 3rd, and there is absolutely no reason for there to be an empty seat at any performance!  Reserve yours by calling the Bradley University Theater box office at 677-2650.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

- Theater Review - Frankenstein, A New Musical

Peoria Players Theatre opened their 2010-2011 season with the regional premiere of "Frankenstein, A New Musical".

This was a play that I had never seen before.  Having read some reviews with comparisons to "Les Miserables", I  truly anticipated seeing this one. 

While not quite the same caliber as "Les Mis", this musical nevertheless has an excellent score and book.  It is a dramatic retelling of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley classic in a lush operatic setting.

This Peoria Players production features a few excellent performances and a stunning set. 

Roger Roemer is perfect as The Creature.  With a powerful voice and a larger than life stage presence, he captures just the right combination of malevolence and pathos.  If only he had better makeup to make him more 'horrible'!

Another standout performance was delivered by Julie Boesch as Dr. Frankenstein's love interest, Elizabeth.
Her powerful and operatic voice was perfectly suited to the role.

John Huerta, in the lead role of Victor Frankenstein, was somewhat disappointing.   A good musical actor is a double threat; he must be able to act as well as sing.  When not vocalizing, Mr. Huerta's acting was self-conscious and unconvincing. 
While he has a pleasant enough voice, it lacked the forcefulness and power that was needed. However, he finally hit his stride toward the end of the play with the song "The Coming of The Dawn", which was beautifully done.

I admit I was greatly prejudiced when I saw that the director had cast not only his wife but his daughter as well in important roles. 
Nepotism seldom makes good theater, and that was certainly true here.  Both actors were merely adequate in their roles.
By far the biggest problem with this production was the uneven and faulty sound system.  It reminded me that this was one of the reasons that I stopped going to Players years ago.  I thought that they had since invested in upgrading the system, but apparently not (or perhaps they had untrained technicians at the helm?).

Some of the actors were muffled and lyrics indecipherable.  Sound cut in and out as the actors turned their heads. 
Then, directly before the beginning of the second act, the sound system emitted an ear-splitting screech that was actually painful.  This was not the quick screech that startles (although there were also several of those during the production!).  This was an awful grating noise that went on for a full couple minutes. 

Had I not driven my companions to the theater, I would have left then and there!

Another technical problem with this production was the light aimed at the audience when the doors on stage were opened.  I understand the effect that was desired, but was a 300 watt light really necessary?  With my seats front and center, I could only see spots, and not the actors, for several minutes each time this door was opened.

With all the effort put forward in setting, staging, and performance, I do not understand why more attention was not paid to these technical distractions that ended up ruining the experience.

This play definitely had the potential to be a great one, and I will look forward to seeing it again in a professional venue, or in one with better sound technology and better direction.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

- Theater Review - The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Eastlight Theatre ends their shortened regular season with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" playing this weekend and next.

Just as the title states, this is a musical comedy that takes place at a grade school county spelling bee. The play provides a fun opportunity for adult actors to play the roles of stereotypical children, with all their talents and foibles.

This ensemble cast, featuring a few fresh faces, dives right in.

Each child has his or her own method to ensure their spelling success. One contestant must spell the words out with his foot, another writes the word on her forearm, another speaks the word into her hand first in order to prevent a misspoken letter.

The bee is conducted and supervised by Miss Rona Peretti (Katie McLuckie), a former winner herself, and by Vice-Principal Douglas Panch (Mike Reams) who is returning following a five year absence due to an undefined "incident". The losing children are given a hug and a juice box by "comfort counselor" Mitch Mahoney (Anthony Hendricks) who serves in this role as a community service condition of his parole.

In the first act, it seems to be the boys who shine. "Magic Foot" sung by Will Loftus as William Barfee was excellent, as well as "I'm Not That Smart" by Kyle Motsinger as the home-schooled free spirit, Leaf Coneybear. When I have seen this play in the past, the Barfee character always seems to be the audience favorite. However, in this production, it is Mr. Motsinger who steals the show. His Coneybear is perfectly played and never for one second is he out of character.

The second act starts off with a bang when Chip (Jarod Hazard) sings "Chip's Lament".  I was perplexed by the tepid audience response to this funny number. Perhaps too many were not comfortable with a song that is all about "my unfortunate erection"? In any case, this was an excellent performance by Mr. Hazard.

The rest of act two belongs to the girls.

Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Ingrid Weiman) is a young girl pressured to succeed through any means necessary by her two dads.
Marcy Park (Clarissa Childs) is the snooty parochial school girl whose deepest wish is to simply stop being perfect (and perhaps only Jesus can grant that wish!).
Lastly, there is Olive Ostrovsky (Bethany Freitag), a girl whose mother is on a self-absorbed quest for meaning in India and whose workaholic father seldom has time for her.

Although this is definitely a comedy, the show takes a decidedly serious turn in the lovely "I Love You Song" sung by Olive and her parents (Anthony Hendricks & Katie McLuckie in dual roles). This is an absolutely beautiful song that is all about the complex emotions between parents and child, between mom and dad, and the insecurities that can trouble these relationships. This trio certainly does justice to this wonderful number.

Mike Reams is well cast and turns in a good performance as the troubled vice-principal.  The play also features a bit of fun audience participation, with some patrons selected to participate in the bee along with the 'children'.

With only three shows this year, Eastlight has left me longing for more.
Please see this one while you can, and let us hope that they return to a full season in 2011.

Thanks to ALL the talented folks at Eastlight for such a memorable season!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day, America!

I Hear America Singing
~ Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day-at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Have a Dream - 47th Anniversary

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline." -- MLK

See the complete speech here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Great Peorians - Dolores Klein

Congratulations to local feminist and activist Dolores Klein on her recent inclusion in "The Book of Lives and Legacies" that is maintained by the National Women's Hall of Fame!

Ms. Klein has devoted her lifetime to working for gender equality and for the civil and human rights of the homeless, the young, the abused, the disenfranchised, and the entire spectrum of humanity.

Read all about Dolores at the NWHF site.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bradley University Theatre - 2010-2011 Season

Bradley University Theatre has announced its 2010-2011 season:

"Little Shop Of Horrors" book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken - Sept 23 - Oct 3

"subUrbia" by Eric Bogosian - Nov 11 - Nov 21

"New Faces" showcase of new theatre students - Dec 3 & 4 *

"The Learned Ladies" by Moliere - February 24 - Mar 6

"America Live" by George Brown, Jim Ferolo, & Jeff Worth - Apr 26 - May 1

Season tickets are $45 for adults, $38 for seniors, $23 for students
and can be purched through the Cultural Events Box Office at 309-677-2651

* not included in season subscription

ICC Performing Arts Center - 2010-2011 Season

Illinois Central College Performing Arts Center has announced its 2010-2011 lineup:

"The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon" September 24, 25, 26 & October 1, 2, & 3

"Crimes Of The Heart" November 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, & 21

"Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll & Hyde Play" February 25, 26, 27 & March 4, 5, 6, & 7

"Recent Tragic Events" April 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, & 17

General Admission season tickets are only $24 ($16 student & senior) and can be purchased through the ICC box office at 309-694-5136.

Friday, August 6, 2010

- Theater Review - All Shook Up

Eastlight Theater opened the second selection of their 2010 season, "All Shook Up" to a Friday night packed house.

And that house was left standing, clapping, and yelling for more.

With a subtitle that states "Inspired by and featuring the songs of Elvis Presley", this show hopes to do for Elvis what "Mama Mia - The Musical" did for Abba.

Well, "Mama Mia" it ain't. With a hokey and somewhat predictable storyline, this is the type of show that in less talented hands could stand to fail miserably.

But here at Eastlight under the expert direction of Mark Baugher, working (literally) with a stage full of talent, this show really delivers.
It offers what any good musical should; a rollicking night of great songs, exceptional voices, and good choreography.

Jeremy Kelly, who impressed in Eastlight's previous production of "Altar Boyz", is perfectly cast as Chad, The Roustabout. In addition to his superb voice and dance moves, Mr. Kelly exudes the comfortable and genuine sex appeal that the role demands.

Bree Carroll, as the female lead character, Natalie, also brings to the stage a truly beautiful voice. She seemed increasingly comfortable in the many aspects of her role; as grease monkey, as love-struck girl, and as one-of-the-guys Ed.

Carmen McCarthy shines as Sylvia, the hard-nosed bartender, as does Kelsey Burd as the cultured Miss Sandra.

In addition to the music and dance, the play offers a good bit of humor.
Much of this is courtesy of Stephen Peterson, who turns in a delightfully over-the-top performance as Dennis, the lovable nerd. (And he can sing and dance too!)

The rest of the ensemble cast are just that, a cohesive ensemble who perform well together and play off each other effectively.

Another aspect of theater production at which Eastlight always excels is in the area of lighting and sets. This performance is no exception.
With a few seamless moves we are taken from automotive garage to tavern to fairgrounds fun house to wedding chapel.
Kudos to the sets and staging crew!

As I have stated before, Eastlight continues to set the bar for local theater, and this is yet another production that you definitely should not miss.

Performances continue on August 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, and 14.

So see it soon!


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

"Let us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things."

- Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Places That Matter in Peoria, Illinois

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is the nation's premiere organization dedicated to the preservation of America's structural treasures.

Headquartered in Washington D.C., this group has been fighting for our country's significant homes and buildings since it was established by U.S. Congressional charter in 1949.

What an honor it is then, that the National Trust is currently featuring Peoria as part of its "This Place Matters" feature on the NTHP website.

The slide show of significant structures was provided by the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation.

This national exposure for our local treasures is surely a good thing. Perhaps it will garner some tourism from history buffs who will want to come see our historic city in person.

After all, this slide show is only a fraction of what Peoria has to offer!

Visit the National Trust site here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Help Wanted

When I started this blog last fall I had no idea where it would go. I thought it would simply be a collection of personal thoughts and opinions with a sprinkling of politics.

As I look back now I see that it has morphed into something quite different. The vast majority of the posts have been either theater reviews or theater/arts related.

That is why this blog garnered a bit more attention recently after the Peoria Journal Star made their unfortunate decision to suspend reviews of local theater.

If I can pick up some of that slack through this blog and help to promote these local venues, then I am more than happy to do so.

But the truth of the matter is this; I cannot do it complete justice alone.

Yes, I am a theater buff and I have for several years kept season tickets to Peoria Civic Center Theater's Broadway Series, Eastlight Theater, and Bradley University. This past season, I saw all but one of Corn Stock Lab Theater's offerings, and I recently purchased season tickets for Peoria Players 2010-2011 run.

Quite frankly, that is about as much theater as one person can comfortably fit into one's life.

So, I am asking for help from some of you other theater buffs out there!

If you have first weekend tickets to any of the local theater groups, please consider writing your own reviews on your personal blog (I will gladly post a link here) or email me the review to post on this site. I only ask that you use your real name or a consistent and recognizable screen name.
(Please, no one from the theater groups reviewing your own productions!)

Reviews don't have to be extensive or any special format. Just let us know what you thought was good and what was not so good.

I particularly welcome reviews of Corn Stock which I NEVER attend.
(I have an aversion to outdoor theater, but that is another post for another day!).

I also seldom get to ICC or to some of the smaller town venues in the area. But even if anyone wants to review a performance that I have reviewed...well, two opinions are better than one and I will post these as well.

So, if you are attending the Corn Stock season opener ("The King And I") this weekend , please email and let me know how it was.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Arc Light Theater - 2010 Season

Arc Light Theater begins its 2010 season this Friday, June 4th with “Night at the Improv” (a sketch comedy show). The rest of the season is as follows:

“Nunsense” by Dan Goggin running June 24-25-26

“Edgar and Ellen: Bad Seeds” by Phillip Dawkins (a youth production for children seven to twelve) on July 22.

“M*A*S*H” by Tim Kelly, on July 22-23-24

Arc Light Productions operates in conjunction with the Illini Bluffs School District in Glasford.

Season tickets are a steal at only $20 and may be purchased here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Peoria Players Theatre 2010 - 2011 Season

Peoria Players has announced its 2010 - 2011 Season:

Frankenstein - A New Musical*
The Diary of Anne Frank
Irving Berlin's White Christmas*
The Wizard of Oz
The Women*
The Drowsy Chaperone*

*Regional Premier

This is an exciting season, with more than half of the offerings being presented locally for the first time.

The Drowsy Chaperone is one of my musical favorites, so I will especially look forward to this one!

Season tickets are on sale now for only $75.
Please do your part to support local theater!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peoria Civic Center Theater 2010 - 2011 Season

The Peoria Civic Center has announced its 2010-2011 Broadway Theater Series Season.

Regular Season:
Fiddler on the Roof
Legally Blonde
Blue Man Group
The Color Purple

Optional Additional Choices:
Spring Awakening
Bus Stop
Cirque du Soliel: Dralion

As I have stated here before, this last season was one of the worst series ever.

This new 2010-2011 season is one to be excited about!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Spring! (a blessing for your garden)


by e.e. cummings


O sweet spontaneous

earth how often have



fingers of

prurient philosophers pinched




, has the naughty thumb

of science prodded


beauty . how

often have religions taken

thee upon their scraggy knees

squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive




to the incomparable

couch of death thy



thou answerest

them only with


Saturday, April 24, 2010

- Theater Review - Twelfth Night

Bradley University Theater closes their 2009-2010 season with the William Shakespeare comedy "Twelfth Night".

Up until last night, the absolute worst production that I had seen at BU was a few years ago when they did "Macbeth". (Perhaps they should avoid the Bard!?).

In the production of that tragedy, Lady Macbeth (a difficult role I realize) was so over-the-top melodramatic, that I was one of many in the audience who spent the entire performance suppressing inappropriate laughter.

Last night's comedy, which could have used some of those laughs, instead elicited mostly sighs and people constantly checking their watches.

This production's Lady Macbeth was the character of Sir Toby, played here as a one-dimensional stumbling drunk.

Shakespeare is difficult to do, and extremely difficult to do well. There is A LOT of dialog for the actors to learn. And, since it is so foreign to modern day conversational English, it is tough to deliver the lines distinctly and convincingly.

As usual, the Bradley student actors memorized their lines well and no one missed a cue.

If only they had had a director to help them understand that Shakespeare need not be shrieked at the audience to be effective.

In all the shrieking, much clarity was lost, and anyone unfamiliar with the play was probably left wondering what was actually going on.

Bradley University Theater had entitled this year's season "8 GR8 PLAYS 4 U".

After this closing clunker, I am calling it "7 GR8 PLAYS 4 U, AND 3 HRS OF MY LIFE DOWN THE 2B"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

- Theater Review - Altar Boyz

Praise the Lord!
Eastlight Theater opens their 2010 season with a big bang.

Or more accurately, with a joyful noise.

"ALTAR BOYZ" is presented as a concert event by a touring boy band that specializes in Christian music.

The five boys are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham.
Matthew (Jeremy Kelly) is the ambitious leader of the band. Mark (Brandon Chandler) is the gay one with a not-so-secret crush on Matthew. Luke (Derek Pitzer) is the bad boy fresh from a stint in rehab for "exhaustion". Juan (Bryan Blanks) is the 'ethnic one' who longs to find the parents he never knew. Abraham (Stephen Dean Peterson) is the Jewish one and the band's lyricist who finds himself as the only non-Christian in a Catholic boy band.

The group's "Raise the Praise" tour is intended to evangelize and they measure the success of their mission through the Sony Soul Sensor DX-12, a machine that measures the number of troubled souls in the theater.

Each gospel-flavored song lowers the number until only four remain.
It turns out that those four belong to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan who have each signed a solo record deal and are struggling with the issues of loyalty and trust.

Abraham brings them back and heals their souls with the beautiful song "I Believe".

One great line is delivered during a flashback sequence showing how the Altar Boyz originally met.
When Abraham wanders into the Catholic church, he encounters Luke who wonders if Jews are even allowed in the church.
Abraham replies "Oh, I'm pretty sure they are. I just saw one on a cross over the altar."

This play is funny with a good score. Each of the five actors do an excellent job. They have good voices and the choreography, which is sometimes scaled back for a local theater group, is full throttle here. These boyz tear it up, and Luke's 'worm dance' is a real showstopper!

I last saw this show in Chicago with a professional touring company and I honestly think these local boyz did it better.

For the last many years, Eastlight Theater, under the guidance of Kathy Chitwood, has set the bar for local theater. They have hosted a couple world premiers, and first time community theater events (e.g. "Rent"), and consistently have brought fresh new professional-quality theater to the area. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time "Altar Boyz" has been presented locally.
I was saddened to hear of Kathy's decision to leave Eastlight. I hope that whoever succeeds her will be able to continue their fine tradition of exciting and innovative theater.

Eastlight has a shortened season this year (only three featured plays and the perennial "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat".) I suppose this is due to the money woes that are facing all Arts organizations.

So, please get out and see this one.
Local theater can continue only with YOUR support.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

- Theater Review - Tick, Tick... Boom!

One of my favorite musicals ever is "RENT" by Jonathan Larson. This rock adaptation of the Puccini opera "La Boheme" is one of the most creative, touching, and fun works I have ever seen on stage.

Broadway was robbed of so much potential when Larson succumbed to an aortic dissection at age 35 immediately prior to the meteoric success of "RENT".

"Tick, Tick... Boom!" is an earlier and even more autobiographical work by Larson that was produced off-Broadway in 2001, five years after his death.
I had never seen this one, so I was thrilled to find that it was being presented by the Peoria Cabaret Theatre at the Waterhouse.

And what an experience it turned out to be!

While this show is not quite the same caliber of "RENT", it is nevertheless a solid theatrical work with outstanding music, lyrics, and book. It is Jonathan Larson's own story as a struggling artist in New York City trying to break through in musical theater, and facing his dreaded thirtieth birthday.
He has a waning relationship with Susan. She is a dancer who, facing the reality of her limitations, begins to choose other dreams.
The third major character in the play is Jon's roommate Michael. These two have been friends since boyhood. Michael has already abandoned his own theater ambitions for a successful career on Madison Avenue. We soon learn that Michael has recently been diagnosed with AIDS.

There are several standout numbers, but one that seemed a particular audience favorite was "Sunday". This is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Larson's idol Steven Sondheim and a song by the same name from his play "Sunday in the Park With George". However, this "Sunday" is all about Sunday brunch!
Like several other numbers, this one is smart and funny.

In the end, what makes this great piece of theater really shine are the performances.

Kates Sitton does an excellent job as Susan and as Jon's potential new girlfriend, Karessa (the three actors play multiple minor roles).

The two male leads, Anthony Jumaane Hendricks (Michael), and Adam Sitton (Jon) were largely responsible for making "RENT" the standout production of Eastlight Theater's 2009 season (indeed, it was the standout production of the Peoria Area theater season!), Anthony as Collins and Adam as Roger.

Here they once again inhabit their roles and deliver flawless performances, choreography, and vocalizations.

The program informs that Mr. Sitton is a Communications Specialist for State Farm, but I believe this young man could enjoy a self-sustaining career in musical theater if he chose to pursue it.

His performance here is Broadway worthy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Places That Matter in Peoria

Peoria is a city with a long and rich history.

For many years, The Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation has worked hard to celebrate and preserve the structures that exemplify this history.

The CILF has posted their current list of "Peoria Historic Properties" on their Facebook Page. There are some truly wonderful buildings and awesome photography here. Please take a few minutes to visit the site and be sure to FAN the CILF!!/album.php?aid=156478&id=216454314536

As it was stated when the Peoria City Council voted to receive and file this list, it is a work in progress.
And since the document is fluid, please let us know what structures you think should be included that are currently missing from the list.

What are the places in Peoria that really MATTER to you?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lady Gaga Takes Beyonce For a Ride

Lady Gaga continues to push the envelope and this time she takes Beyonce along for the ride.

Watch more AOL Music videos on AOL Video

The gospel according to Gaga:

"Once you kill a cow, you gotta make a burger"

"Trust is like a mirror. You can fix it if it's broken, but you can still see the crack in that m*f*ing reflection."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Roy Rogers Riders Club Rules (from 1948)

1. Be neat and clean.
2. Be courteous and polite.
3. Always obey your parents.
4. Protect the weak and help them.
5. Be brave but never take chances.
6. Study hard and learn all you can.
7. Be kind to animals and take care of them.
8. Eat all your food and never waste any.
9. Love God and go to Sunday school regularly.
10. Always respect our flag and our country.

Still good advice 62 years later...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

- Theater Review - Dancing at Lughnasa

As I have said before, the Corn Stock Winter Playhouse season has been simply excellent this year. They have chosen some really great plays.
All the choices have been edgy or seldom presented plays. With so many local groups doing the same things over and over, this line-up has filled a real niche in Peoria's cultural scene and defines what a "lab theater" should be.

Their final drama of the season, "Dancing at Lughnasa", can be summed up in one word....Wow!

This is the tender and engaging story of the five unmarried Mundy sisters living in Ballybeg, Ireland during the fall of 1936.

One of the sisters, Christina, has a young "love child", Michael. The adult Michael serves as the play's narrator.

The other sisters are Kate, the matriarch and bread-winner (Helen Englebrecht); mentally-challenged Rose (Katy Hawley) who along with sister, Agnes (Victoria Kapanjie-Rians) makes hand-knitted gloves for sale, and the free-spirited chef of the household, Maggie (Cheri Beever).

The sisters have recently welcomed home their older brother Jack. Father Jack is a priest who has spent the last 25 years working with lepers in Uganda. He was sent home by the church after abandoning his Catholic faith and embracing the pagan rituals of the African tribe.

The sisters are also visited by Michael's father, Gerry Evans. Gerry is a ne'er-do-well charmer who promises everything and delivers nothing.

There is one other named character in the play. Marconi is the wireless radio that delivers dance-inspiring music into the drab lives of the Mundys.

Nathan Irwin does a fine job as Gerry. Gene Bourke as Father Jack and Hugh Higgins as Michael are both excellent.

As for the Mundy sisters, these five actresses turn in virtually flawless performances. I cannot single out any one of them. Each is a good as the next in this ensemble cast.

This Corn Stock Winter Playhouse season has been a great one for strong female roles, from "The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia" through the deeply emotional women in "The Rabbit Hole", and then to close with this wonderfully rich show featuring FIVE great female characters is just the perfect choice.

"Dancing at Lughnasa" runs through next weekend. Do not miss it.

Thanks to everyone at the Playhouse for such an exceptional season!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

- Theater Review - Beauty and the Beast

OK, I confess.

I am a bit prejudiced against this play. It is definitely not one of my favorites and one that I have seen (at least) once too often. While I usually anticipate going to the theater, I spent days actually dreading this one. I considered giving the tickets away, but in the end my friend convinced me to give it a try.

After sitting through it yet again, I have come to the conclusion that it is not such a bad play....


The kids in the audience loved the show and why not? It is a special night out, possibly their first theater experience, and a live action version of a favorite cartoon.

But for adults, there just isn't much here. Aside from "Be Our Guest" and the title song, this is a largely forgettable score. The sets and effects were good and actually overpowered the performances. While Belle sang well in the higher range, she missed several of the lower notes. The other players turned in adequate performances, offering no threat to Angela Lansbury.

Let us hope that it will be a long, long time before this beastly show plays Peoria again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

- Theater Review - Rabbit Hole

The Corn Stock Winter Playhouse continues its stellar 2009-2010 season with "Rabbit Hole" by David Lindsay-Abaire.

This Pulitzer Prize winning play is a dead serious drama about loss and grief and emotional recovery. It is the story of a young couple, Becca and Howie (Mollie Huisman and Tim Wyman) who are dealing with the death of their four-year-old son, Danny. The boy ran after his dog into the street and was struck and killed by a young teenage driver, Jason, played by Tadd Maddalozzo.

Other characters are Becca's newly-pregnant sister Izzy (Katherine Marchetta) and Becca's and Izzy's mother, Nat, played by Connie Sinn. This play is filled with complicated emotions and interactions. Becca and Howie deal with their grief as Becca also deals with the news of her sister's pregnancy, coming so soon after the loss of her own child. We also learn that Becca shares with her own mother the loss of a son, one an innocent 4 year-old; the other a 30 year-old heroin addict who has taken his own life.

A play of this emotional intensity demands a high level of skill and engagement on the part of the actors, and this troupe very nearly delivers. While Tadd Maddalozzo's Jason is decidedly one-dimensional, the others turn in admirable performances. Kathryn Marchetta's Izzy is especially convincing, and Connie Sinn comes through in her delivery of what is perhaps the most important dialogue of the play, an explanation of the grieving process and how its internalization is necessary for survival.

In the end, the performance hits shy of its mark. Perhaps it is the fault of the direction or perhaps this is simply too complex a play to tackle at a local level. However, I am grateful for my first exposure to this exceptionally written piece and I will look forward to seeing it again someday in a professional venue.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The End of Western Civilization

By now everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of "The Snuggie". The apparel of choice for couch potatoes everywhere is part blanket and part straitjacket.

Originally offered in only two colors, the manufacturer gradually expanded the palette. Eventually they were offered in jungle prints, perfect for those more formal nights on the sofa.

Then, just in time for the Holiday shopping season, Snuggies were introduced for children and even for the family pet!

But brace yourself....the Snuggie era has come to an end!
The latest and greatest innovation in sloth couture is:


According to the ad copy these are

"Pajamas you live in. Jeans you sleep in."

There is no more need for that pesky and time consuming change of clothes or needless morning shower.
Now, one can simply roll out of bed and head right on down to the Wal-Mart!

Such convenience!

And one more sign of the coming apocalypse.

Friday, January 29, 2010

J. D. Salinger - (1919 - 2010)

"What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while...What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."

- Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in The Rye)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Gotta Feeling

The Grammy Awards are coming up this weekend, and I've got a feeling what the Album of the Year will be.

At least I know which one of the nominees SHOULD capture this honor.

"The E.N.D." from The Black Eyed Peas is unquestionably the best album released in 2009.

Fergie and the fellas have been making great pop music for years now, and this is their best effort to date. While this may not fit everyone's definition of a 'concept album', it nonetheless has a beginning, a natural progression, and an end (pun intended), all united by a common theme.
That underlying theme here is the expression of youthful energy in a modern technological society.

The CD features 15 cuts and there is not a dog in the lot, even when the fun borders on silliness. ("Ring-A-Ling" may be a sly wink to the emerging ring-tone market, but what is not to like about a song whose subject is that 2am 'booty call'.)
Fergie is at her finest on "Meet Me Halfway" and at her baddest on "Imma Be". In the former she channels an early 80's Madonna with the 'borderline' chorus. I listened to this song many times before realizing she was not sampling the actual song by that title.
Other cuts on this CD such as "Boom Boom Pow", "Party All The Time", "Rock That Body", et al are quite simply some of the greatest party tunes you are likely to hear.

And on this best "Album of the Year", you will experience what ought to be the Grammy's "Record of the Year", "I Gotta Feeling".
This song sums up the theme of youthful energy and even those of us who are not so youthful cannot listen without dancing and singing along.
This song inspired one of the best viral videos of the year. Seldom does a fan-created video surpass that of the original band, but this one does just that. Created by a group of students in Montreal, it was supposedly filmed in just one take with one continuous camera shot. I have watched it dozens of times, and I bet you can't watch it just once!

If you are having a party, be sure to put "The E.N.D." on, and if you are not, put it on anyway.
The party will surely follow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

- Theater Review - Playwriting Festival

The Corn Stock Winter Playhouse has a deal for you.

Not one.
Not three.
Nor even five plays.

Their currently running "Playwriting Festival" features EIGHT plays for one admission. These short one-act plays are first run performances presented as a competition for budding playwrights. These eight plays are the products of five different writers. I had assumed that all of the playwrights were local and was somewhat disappointed to discover that most are not. It is intended that this will become an annual event, so hopefully, there will be more local writers entering next year's competition.
The audiences decide the competition by voting for their three favorites.

The eight plays are:

"When Jason Was In Kindergarten" by Carey Daniels
Jason's prison guard father shows up on career day to regale the kiddies with tales of the big house, including the difference between a shiv and a shank, the intricacies of prison sex, and the grisliest crime he knows of.

"Janitor and Grad Student" by Gordon Petry
A sweet romantic tale about a chance encounter that explores assumptions about class, gender, and career aspirations.

"Catch and Release" by Carey Daniels
An unsettling story about an abusive father who takes to heart the adage "Give a man a fish and he eats for one day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime." You can bet his kids will indeed remember this lesson for the rest of their lives.

"Shoot" by Neal Ryan Shaw
A somewhat puzzling short about a photographer who asks an author friend to photograph him for his book jacket. He has photographed her for her jacket photo previously and now the tables have turned.

"Optimism" by Patrick Mark Mullowney
Grandma Crenshaw plots world domination, but only if she can sell the grandkids into white slavery.

"You Don't Remember Me, Do You?" by Gary Hale
A man celebrating a new home purchase with a friend encounters a waitress whom he can't quite remember, although she implies their past involvement was much more than casual.

"No(ah) Complaints" by Gordon Petry
Noah along with his wife and three sons delivers some Old Testament shtick.

"Red, Blue, Whatever" by Gary Hale
A scathing yet hilarious indictment of Republican and Democratic strategists from 1994. Red state, blue state, they're all the same, and the players are all dogs!

Although the choice is tough, my three votes go to:

#1 "You Don't Remember Me, Do You? - clever, funny and the most perfectly cast of the entries.
#2 "Janitor and Grad Student" - some might say too schmaltzy. I say charming, simple and sweet.
#3 "When Jason Was in Kindergarten" - funny and irreverent. The actors capture their inner child perfectly (especially Jeff Craig).

This festival is a great idea. There are ample opportunities in the area for aspiring actors and many opportunities for aspiring directors. Now we have an event offering recognition to aspiring playwrights.

Eight great plays for only ten bucks!?
Don't miss out on this deal!
And take your friends along to the upper Bradley Park theater next weekend.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

- Theater Review - Rain

The most recent offering from the Peoria Civic Center Theater's Broadway Series, like the LAST offering from the Peoria Civic Center Theater's Broadway Series, ain't really theater!

This is a simulated concert by Beatles impersonators.

Since there are countless people who can convincingly imitate the vocal stylings of the famous, I think any impersonator should approximate the physical appearance of the impersonated. This group gets this part half right. The Ringo and George characters are passable. The other two fail miserably. John Lennon had many looks over the course of his public life. None of these involved pudgy.

Also, the impersonator should stick to the catalog of the impersonated. While I enjoyed hearing "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance", these are NOT Beatles songs! They belong to John and Plastic Ono. (Thankfully, no Wings numbers were included).

The show was accompanied by a video recreation of the Beatles career and the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. Since this was a "tribute to the Beatles", I wished they had used the actual photos and memorabilia, rather than photo-shopping the impersonators into every frame.

Having said all this, I will admit that this show was much more enjoyable to me than the previous "gymnastics exhibition". As a self-professed aging hippie, I lived through the Beatles experience. I love the Beatles, and I am thankful to have experienced that era.

As I looked around at the enthusiastic audience, I was reminded of the impact these four men had on world culture. There were many in the audience who already knew the answer to that age old question "Will you still need me...when I'm 64?" And there were also pre-teen youngsters dancing and singing along with lyrics they knew by heart.

For a brief couple hours, yours truly was transported back to the 1960's and secure in the knowledge that when all is said and done, all we REALLY need is love.

What's So Great About Peoria?

Well, for one thing there's


Located in the RiverFront Arts Center Building at 305 SW Water Street in Peoria, the Contemporary Arts Center is a true city treasure.

While Peoria is home to countless artists of exceptional ability, as a community we are extremely fortunate to be home to an artist of the caliber of Preston Jackson. Mr. Jackson is a world-class artist who could have been successful establishing a gallery in New York City or in Chicago where he continues to teach at the Art Institute. Instead, Preston chose Peoria as the location for his Checkered Raven Gallery in 1995.

That gallery has since evolved into the Contemporary Arts Center, which is a wonderful and extensive urban arts center. It consists today of three separate galleries (two on the second floor and one on the third floor of the building) featuring regular exhibitions of art, often by local or regional artists. The building is also home to many artists' studio spaces and classrooms. In addition to visiting the galleries, the public is encouraged to visit the studio spaces where art in many forms and media can be observed in various stages of creation. Often, there are artists present who are eager to show off and discuss their work.

Aside from showcasing the visual arts, the main gallery is also the location of "Live at The Five Spot" every Friday night. Here one can enjoy some of the finest live music to be found locally, and enjoy drinks and great food from the Rhythm Kitchen Restaurant on the first floor.
Also, on the third Thursday of the month there is poetry reading and written word sharing.
On the last Sunday of the month, there is a Gospel/R&B event.
Besides all these regularly scheduled events, there are many special and unique cultural events held here as well.

There are many people in the community who label themselves as Preservationists or as New Urbanists. Well Folks, this is how it is done!
The Contemporary Arts Center is a prime example of how to reuse an historic building in a way that benefits the city and enhances the quality of life for the entire community in an easily accessible manner.

You can visit their website here. But please, do yourself a favor and visit the galleries in person Tuesday through Saturday down on Water Street.
Tell 'em Paul sent you!

And please consider a CAC membership to support an institution that helps to make Peoria a great place to live.