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.