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.