Thursday, December 29, 2011

December Poetry Corner

I Remember When I Was Born
                       - Pearl Buck

I remember when I was born.
I do remember!
Through eternity I slept.
By its quiet waters swept,
In the silence safely kept.
All unknowing, night or day,
All unthinking, there I lay.
Suddenly, by life compelled,
I was free, no longer held,
Free to hear and feel and cry,
Free to live, or free to die;
Free to be that which am I.
I remember when I was born-
I do remember!


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eastlight Theatre - 2012 Season

Children of Eden
March 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31 at 7:30pm
March 25 at 2:00pm
From Stephen Schwartz and John Caird comes a joyous and inspirational musical about parents, children and faith...not to mention centuries of unresolved family business! Freely based on the story of Genesis, CHILDREN OF EDEN is a frank, heartfelt, and often humorous examination of the age-old conflict between parents and children. Adam, Eve, Noah, and the “Father” who created them deal with the headstrong, cataclysmic actions of their respective children. The show ultimately delivers a bittersweet but inspiring message: “the hardest part of letting go.” Rated PG

June 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30 at 7:30pm
June 24 at 2:00pm
Nothing works on the stage like a well-crafted tale, and OLIVER! is just such a show. Based on the Dickens novel, it will be engaging with its pathos and drama, while delighting everyone with its outstanding musical numbers. Food, Glorious Food, I'd Do Anything, Where is Love?, Consider Yourself, As Long As He Needs Me, Who Will Buy and Reviewing the Situation are musical theatre classics. Dickens' characters are brought to life-perhaps larger than life-with all their facets glowing in this production.Rated PG

Legally Blond the Musical
~ Regional Premier ~

August 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11 at 7:30pm
August 5 at 2:00pm
Sorority star Elle Woods doesn't take “no” for an answer. So when her boyfriend dumps her for someone “serious”, Elle puts down the credit card, hits the books, and sets out to go where no Delta Nu has gone before: Harvard law. Along the way, Elle proves that being true to yourself never goes out of style. Rated PG

September 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15 at 7:30pm
September 9 at 2:00pm
This epic story recounts the struggle against adversity in 19th century France. Imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, petty thief Jean Valjean is released from his 19-year term and not only becomes an honest man, but the mayor of a prosperous town and a loving adoptive father - violating his parole in the process. The relentless Inspector Javert, who makes a decent life for Valjean impossible, consequently pursues him. Only years later, after Valjean proves his mettle during a bloody student uprising and saves the life of a young man hopelessly in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter, does the ex-convict finally feel fully redeemed.Rated PG

The ALL NEW Joseph 2012!
November 30, December 1, 5, 6, 7, 8 at 7:30pm
December 2 & 9 at 2:00pm
The ALL NEW Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat returns for it's 22nd year on Eastlight's stage! This Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical tells the story of Joseph and his eleven brothers. It was created as a soft rock fantasy that is fit for the entire family. Thousands of people have enjoyed the magic that is Joseph, so be sure to join us for this Central Illinois holiday favorite! Rated Family Friendly


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks - 2011

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.

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 13, 2011

November Poetry Corner

The Wanderer
           by W.H. Auden

Doom is dark and deeper than any sea-dingle.
Upon what man it fall
In spring, day-wishing flowers appearing,
Avalanche sliding, white snow from rock-face,
That he should leave his house,
No cloud-soft hand can hold him, restraint by women;
But ever that man goes
Through place-keepers, through forest trees,
A stranger to strangers over undried sea,
Houses for fishes, suffocating water,
Or lonely on fell as chat,
By pot-holed becks
A bird stone-haunting, an unquiet bird.
There head falls forward, fatigued at evening,
And dreams of home,
Waving from window, spread of welcome,
Kissing of wife under single sheet;
But waking sees
Bird-flocks nameless to him, through doorway voices
Of new men making another love.
Save him from hostile capture,
From sudden tiger's leap at corner;
Protect his house,
His anxious house where days are counted
From thunderbolt protect,
From gradual ruin spreading like a stain;
Converting number from vague to certain,
Bring joy, bring day of his returning,
Lucky with day approaching, with leaning dawn.

- Theater Review - Annie

Peoria Players continues their 2011-2012 season with the perennial favorite, "Annie".

While this show is done a bit too frequently by amateur groups, it nevertheless has great value in that it offers a lot of young people what may well be their first theater experience. 
That experience may be onstage or as an audience member.

The Peoria Players' production that opened on Friday is a wildly uneven presentation.

Maddy Hoskins is positively charming in the title role.   She has the voice, the moves, and the stage presence to make it work.

All of the other orphans are delightful as well.  Their singing, dancing, and acting are right on target.
"Its A Hard-knock Life" is one of the highlights of the show.

Another highlight was Bryan Blanks' performance as Rooster.  I have seen Mr. Blanks in this role before (I believe at Eastlight) and he honed it even better here for a truly professional quality performance.

Dave Schick was excellent as Daddy Warbucks, and Anne Gonzalez' Grace Farrell was equally good.

While Cheryl Dawn Koenig was good as Miss Hannigan, her performance was marred by a bad microphone - a constant problem at this theater.

While the choreography was good in the orphan numbers and in "Easy Street", it was virtually non-existent in some of the other numbers. 
"Hooverville" was particularly awful with the actors flailing aimlessly about the stage.

But the fatal flaw for this production was the orchestration. 

Now in my last Peoria Players review, when I criticized the direction, I received the most hate mail ever for a review.
So get your poison pens ready.... 

Here goes:

A musical requires good music, and this was the absolute worst orchestration I have ever heard in a production above high school level.

Perhaps there were grade school kids down in the pit, I don't know.  It certainly sounded like children learning to play without a conductor present. 

Or perhaps the conductor was Harold Hill, relying on his "think system".

Indeed, the orchestra threw a couple numbers into chaos when the singers did not know what to do with sudden unpredictable changes in tempo.

If Players cannot secure a better orchestra or musical director than this, then please, please consider professionally recorded music for your next musical!

Anyway, go see this show for the orphans. 

They sing loud enough to drown out the orchestra.

"Annie" runs through November 20th at the theater in Lakeview Park.


- Theater Review - Almost, Maine

Bradley University Theatre opened their second show of the 2011-2012 season on Thursday evening.

"Almost, Maine" is an absolutely delightful little romantic comedy. 

It consists of a series of ten vignettes that all take place at the same time on the same day in the fictional town of Almost, Maine. 

Six actors play a total of nineteen different roles.

The six actors are Ross Cochran, Ashley Bendien, John Carroll, Chloe Dzielak, Jake Hayes, and Krystal Uhl.

The common themes that tie the pieces together are falling in love (and out) and the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis. 
Perhaps the latter - a beautiful, rare, and natural phenomenon - is symbolic for the former.

The show opens and closes with a sweet bit about life on this globe, and and how when we think we are close to someone, that perhaps we couldn't be further apart. 
And it takes a bit of effort indeed to get truly close to someone.

Another story involves a pair of drinking-buddy best friends who find themselves falling in love - literally!

There also is a young woman who journeys northward to view the Northern lights bearing her recently broken heart - literally!

Another tale concerns a young woman who seeks to get back all the love she has given her lover of eleven years - literally!

While a couple of the stories are poignant/sad, the majority are funny and clever romps.  They seem pleasantly simple on the surface, and yet are layered with symbolism and deeper meaning.

All the young actors do a wonderful job with this show. 

It was particularly enjoyable to see Ross Cochran, who has been drawn to darker roles in past productions, deliver some fun and funny performances here.

Chloe Dzielak, who was so wonderful as Mother in the season opener, "Ragtime", returns here with some equally superior performances.

"Almost, Maine" is pure enchantment.

Go see this show, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

It runs through November 20th at Hartmann Center on the BU campus.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

- Theater Review - Wicked

I have procrastinated in putting up a review of "Wicked", now playing at the Peoria Civic Center Theater, because...well, what more can be said?

Oh, alright, here goes:

"Wicked" is without a doubt, the theater event of the season here in Peoria.
With so many performances, this is a show that will attract many theater people, as well as folks who will see only this one show this year.

This is one of those shows that truly does have something for everyone. 

The book is a clever reassignment of relationships for iconic characters whom everyone knows.  These relationships are revealed in a believable behind-the-scenes retelling of the Oz story.

In addition, the show has a wonderful score of memorable songs with beautiful lyrics. 
Foremost amongst these are "For Good", with words that can be used to describe all those people who "come into our lives for a reason"; "Defying Gravity", an uplifting (pun intended!) declaration of self-realization and the power of confidence;  "Dancing Through Life", a song that may well describe the "unexamined life" led by far too many today; and "Wonderful", a song that says much about our lives in modern day America.

In addition to the music, the dancing, and the fine voices of all the principals, this show delivers what has become a major draw in American Musical Theater - sheer Spectacle!

The staging and special effects are guaranteed to wow all attendees!
From the Witch's defying of gravity, to Glinda's bubble, to flying monkeys, to rain in the woods, this production is a wonder of modern stage technology.

As I said, this is the major Theater Event of the year here in Peoria...
Don't be the only one to miss it!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Poetry Corner

Congratulations to poet Tomas Transtromer for winning the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Further In

On the main road into the city
when the sun is low.
The traffic thickens, crawls.
It is a sluggish dragon glittering.
I am one of the dragon’s scales.
Suddenly the red sun is
right in the middle of the windscreen
streaming in.
I am transparent
and writing becomes visible
inside me
words in invisible ink
which appear
when the paper is held to the fire!
I know I must get far away
straight through the city and then
further until it is time to go out
and walk far in the forest.
Walk in the footprints of the badger.
It gets dark, difficult to see.
In there on the moss lie stones.
One of the stones is precious.
It can change everything
it can make the darkness shine.
It is a switch for the whole country.
Everything depends on it.
Look at it, touch it…

Friday, October 14, 2011

- Theater Review - Over the River and Through the Woods

Peoria Players Theater opened their most recent offering last Friday night."Over the River and Through the Woods" is a small intimate comedy with a cast of six.

It is the story of a young second generation Italian-American and his relationship with his four grandparents. 

Nick Cristano (Jarod Hazzard) is a successful young businessman who dutifully visits his grandparents in Hoboken every Sunday for dinner.

His maternal grandparents Frank (Mark Atkisson) and Aida (Judy Tilley) host dinner and his paternal grandparents Nunzio (Mike Dentino) and Emma (Maureen O'Haenny) live nearby and always attend.

As the play begins, Nick has arrived for a rare mid-week visit to share some unwelcome news with his grandparents. 

Facing the crisis of turning 30,  Nick has decided to take a job promotion that will send him a continent away from his family (his parents have retired to Florida).

The grandparents begin plotting a scheme to keep their grandson near.  It involves fixing him up with Caitlin (Kerri Rae Hinman) a relative of Grandma Emma's canasta friend.

What ensues is a series of funny and tender events before Nick makes his final decision on whether to stay or go.

All the actors do a fine job with this piece.  Ms. O'Haenney does steal the show somewhat, but I cannot decide if it is due to her great timing and stage persona or simply that her character has some of the best lines.

In any event. what's not to like about six charming people in a light and endearing comedy?

The show runs through October 16th at the theater in Lakeview Park.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Jazz On A Sunday Afternoon

Please join us for a relaxing afternoon of COOL music in a cabaret setting.
Featuring vocalist Stephanie Aaron with Larry Harms & Company.

Sunday, November 6
1:00 - 4:30 p.m.
G.A.R. Hall, 416 Hamilton

Complementary soups and desserts.

Art, Antiques, & Collectibles in a Silent Auction.

$25 per person; tables of 4, 6, and 8 may be reserved.
For reservations please call:
309-636-7022 or 309-674-6864

A fundraiser by Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation to preserve the GAR Hall and to promote community wide historic preservation.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Yet Another Blow To Peoria's History

Reprinted with his permission is the following letter to the PJStar editor from Daniel Callahan. Dan is a longtime resident of the Moss-Bradley neighborhood and lives directly next door to Westminister House.

The dogwood leaves are loosening themselves and drifting earthward here on Malvern Lane.The gentle descent into autumn has begun.

The mood is somber, as is the news about the regal presence of this street - Westminster House at 1508 Moss. That Prairie Style/"Early Modern Rectalinear" home has graced the neighborhood for over a century. After a four-year effort by Westminster Presbyterian Church, three trials and an about-face by the Peoria City Council on its historic preservation ordinance, it looks like Westminster House will be demolished. On Sept. 8, a local circuit judge ruled that Westminster Church is exempted from historic protection and has the right to tear the house down.

We who live nearby and countless other visitors to the neighborhood expected this house to survive. Built in 1901 by William Reeves, architect of Peoria's City Hall, this residence was sturdily constructed of the finest materials. These included red slate (no longer mined,) Roman brick (which accentuates its smooth planar surfaces), beveled glass, copper, limestone and fine woods. In this era, we've come to realize the ecological cost of abandoning such precious elements. Its materials alone would have merited adaptive re-use. This house also carries an incredible cultural pedigree as the private home of a master designer. It could have endured another century as both a testament of good design and superior construction.

Sadly, its church owners could not or would not see this. I have never witnessed such fervor, such determination to throw out something of great value. In a neighborhood experiencing a renaissance, where there has been so much renewed energy and reinvestment, it makes no sense to work so hard to destroy a place that could have been a lovely, inviting home. Or used for any number of institutional or community functions. Neither ethically nor economically is demolition justified. Even more ironic and disingenuous are the claims of "religious mission" that require it to be destroyed.

And yet, we must prepare ourselves to say goodbye to this grand sentinel of the bluff. I encourage readers to make a last visit before it's too late, while keeping in mind the confluence of events that have precluded its future, the failure to appreciate what an incredible architectural heritage we've inherited, the politics that have diminished the role of historic preservation locally, and the waste of resources and energy it will take to replace them.

Let us hope that we will renew our commitment to prevent future losses like this. A first step would be for the City Council to review the hastily approved revisions of Feb. 8. Those changes to the historic preservation ordinance have made it far too easy for a jewel like Westminster House to be discarded.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

- Theater Review - Ragtime

Bradley University Theater opened their 2011-2012 season on Friday with "Ragtime, The Musical".

The musical is based on the E. L. Doctorow novel of the same name. With an epic storyline and a cast of dozens, the show is a huge undertaking for any amateur theater group.

I am pleased to say Director Steve Snyder and his large cast deliver one of the finest productions recently seen on the Hartmann stage.

"Ragtime" is a snapshot of America during the first decade of the twentieth century. The show explores issues of racism, Labor strife, immigration and assimilation, as well as personal human relationships.

It intertwines the stories of three different groups - a wealthy WASP family, a group of European immigrants, and a group of African Americans seeking the American dream in an often hostile environment.

The cast of characters includes actual historical figures such as Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman, and Harry Houdini.

Th show opens with a huge bang. The lavish title song introduces the entire company in a wonderful and catchy number. Featuring thirty-some actors in a perfectly synchronized performance, this opening number alone is well worth the price of admission.

...and it sets the tone for the two and half hours of excellent theater to follow.

While there is a range of vocal talent, each role is, without exception, well acted here.

With such a large number of great performances it is difficult to acknowledge just a few, but some of the top performances are as follows.

Chloe Dzielak stands out as Mother, the upper class matriarch who chooses a different course of compassion than her conservative husband. Ms. Dzielak has a beautiful voice and her acting is simply perfect. Her rendition of "Back to Before" is a knockout!

Morgan Green and Cecil Blutcher are excellent as the star-crossed lovers Sarah and Coalhouse. Their chemistry makes their performances even better.

Dakota Kuhlman is great as Tateh, the Latvian Jewish immigrant who captures the American dream for himself and his daughter.

Sarah Tilford is excellent and brings Emma Goldman to life. As Booker T. Washington, Julian Stroop shows serious maturity as an actor.

The set is simple yet functional and perfectly suited to the production. Costuming is some of the best and most elaborate that I have seen at Bradley.

The orchestra, directed and conducted by Julie A. Clemons, is wonderful.

My one and only issue with the production is that the orchestra did overwhelm some of the vocal performances. None of the actors wore microphones, and a couple of the singers did not project over the music.
...a minor complaint for an excellent production.

If this opening offering is any indication, I cannot wait for the rest of the Bradley University Theatre's season!

"Ragtime" runs through October 2nd at the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts on the Bradley campus.
For tickets, contact the Box Office in the Hartmann Center at 677-2650.

You should not miss this show!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

September Poetry Corner

The Mourning Bride (excerpt)
- William Congreve

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I've read, that things inanimate have mov'd,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
'Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
The silent Tomb receiv'd the good Old King;
He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg'd
Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
Why am not I at Peace?


Saturday, September 10, 2011

- Theater Review - Oklahoma!

"Oklahoma!" is a true American classic. It quite literally changed the face of musical theater at its debut in 1943. The very first collaboration by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the play opened to rave reviews, a record run, and even a Pulitzer.

It offers one of the most beautiful scores ever, and who can listen to a line like "The wind is so busy it don't miss a tree" and deny the genius of the lyricist?

After nearly 70 years, this still should be on anyone's list of the five greatest American musicals of all time.
Due to the show's appeal and popularity, it has been frequently staged at all levels.
Indeed, one of my own first theater experiences was when the drama club at my high school put on the play. I loved it at once and immediately rushed out to buy the soundtrack.

That vinyl soundtrack was long ago worn out and replaced by CD.
In the intervening years, I have watched the movie version literally dozens of times (really!) and I have seen the stage version several times.

So it was with high anticipation of revisiting a favorite classic that I attended Peoria Players Theater's Friday night opening of the show's debut on PPT's stage.

I hoped beyond hope that they would give this beloved show its due. Instead I was given a decent but uneven and deeply flawed production that was badly directed.

In a much earlier post, I shared my pet peeve of people talking through the overture. In a musical, the overture is PART OF THE PLAY! And for this play in particular, the overture was one of the things that made it ground-breaking in 1943. It is a beautiful and lush intro that goes well over five minutes.
Well in the Player's production, the (recorded) overture abruptly ended only a couple of minutes in; before the rude folks even ended their chattering.
There was no fade-out. The music just stopped and the curtain went up. This was a very inauspicious beginning to say the least.

The lead roles of Curly and Laurey were played by Jordan Lehman and Sarah Mayo. Mr. Lehman has a good voice and good acting abilities. I blame his rote delivery of "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" on poor direction rather than any lack of talent on his part. He needed to love and respect the words he was singing.
Ms. Mayo has a beautiful voice and her performance rose above the lack of direction.

Of the entire production, the truly standout performances were Amanda Bishop as Ado Annie and Aaron Elwell as Will Parker. These actors gave superb performances, both separately and in duet.

Sally Hodge was great as Aunt Eller and Alex Larson was perfectly cast in the non-musical role of Ali Hakim.

While Derek Childs did a good job as Jud Fry, it was hard to take him seriously in some of the worst makeup I have ever seen.
Jud Fry is a volatile and cruel character, but he is not intended to be a Zombie as his makeup suggested.

One of the bright spots of this production was the "dream ballet"; it was well staged and well executed.

Some of the other dance numbers, however, were way too crowded and roughly done. I felt like I was watching an early dress rehearsal rather than opening night.

The last and perhaps greatest insult of the evening was the finale featuring a surrey with the fringe on the side.
Yes, the surrey actually had fringe sewn on the sides of the seats and no top at all!
Even that high school production back in the 70's managed to come up with an actual surrey WITH THE FRINGE ON THE TOP!

I hate to beat up on director Bryan Blanks too much (he was also responsible for the uber-turkey "Xanadu" that opened Eastlight's season), but any director who would open with half an overture and close with a surrey with the fringe on the side clearly has no respect for or understanding of his material.

"Oklahoma!" runs through September 18th at the theater in Lakeview Park.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ICC Performing Arts Center - 2011-2012 Season

Illinois Central College Performing Arts Center has announced its 2011-12 Theatre Season:

"Lend Me a Tenor" (rated PG-13). Nominated for seven Tony Awards, this is a laugh-out-loud, perennial favorite of audiences around the country.
September 23, 24, 35, 30, October 1, 2, 2011.

"U.S. Drag" (rated R) by Gina Gionfriddo is a hilarious and witty, jet-black comedy centered around two recent college grads on the hunt for love, money, meaning, and a serial attacker (after all there is a reward).
November 11 - 20, 2011.

"The Haunting of Hill House" (rated PG-13). Adapted by F. Andrew Leslie from the 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson, it follows a small group of "psychically receptive" people who are brought together in a dark, gothic mansion.
February 24 - March 4, 2012

Lastly, ICC presents the wacky yet poignant comedy "Fuddy Meers" (rated R). Penned by David Lindsay-Abaire, it's the story of Claire, an amnesiac who awakens each morning not knowing who or where she is.
April 6 - 15, 2012

Season tickets cost $24 for adults and $16 for students and senior citizens. Tickets to individual shows cost $7 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

August Poetry Corner

The Library of Congress named Philip Levine, 83, as the new poet laureate of the United States on Aug 10, 2011.

The Pulitzer-winning writer's work has appeared in The Atlantic a number of times over the years, the first instance being the publication of his poem "Holy Day".

Holy Day
-Philip Levine,

Los Angeles hums
a little tune --
trucks down
the coast road
for Monday Market
packed with small faces
blinking in the dark.
My mother dreams
by the open window.
On the drainboard
the gray roast humps
untouched, the oven
bangs its iron jaws,
but it's over.
Before her on the table
set for so many
her glass of fire
goes out.
The childish photographs,
the letters and cards
scatter at last.
The dead burn alone
toward dawn.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

- Theater Review - Hairspray

Eastlight Theatre closes out its regular season with the regional premiere of "Hairspray".

...and a fine finale it is!

"Hairspray" is a brilliant musical; a funny and surprisingly sweet valentine from the twisted mind of auteur John Waters. 
 The show takes place in 1962 Baltimore at the dawn of the 60's civil rights era.
Based on his 1988 movie of the same title that featured the inimitable Divine, this stage vehicle was created as a high-energy production with one memorable musical number after another. 
The show debuted on Broadway in 2002 and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Although it took nearly a decade for the musical to hit a Central Illinois local theater stage, the Eastlight production makes it well worth the wait.

First off, recognition must be given to Steve Cordle's direction and Mark Baugher's flawless choreography.

Dancing is, of course, at the very heart of this show and though some numbers felt at times to be confined by the size of the stage, Baugher coaxes every bit of energy and skill from the sizable cast.

With such a large cast it is impractical to recognize everyone, but a few standout performances must be acknowledged.

The two roles that I consider critical to the success of this show are "hair-hopper" activist Tracy Turnblad and her waiting-to-blossom mother Edna.

Katy Hawley's Tracy is right on the mark.  She brings a great voice, great moves, and an incredible energy to the lead role.  Her rendition of the wonderful opener, "Good Morning, Baltimore", kicks the show off  with a bang!

Likewise, Eric Ewan is absolutely perfect as Edna Turnblad.  As an homage to the late Divine, this role is always played by a man. 
Here Mr. Ewan is more Divine than John Travolta could ever hope to be!
His duet with veteran actor Dan Challacombe, "You're Timeless To Me" is the true show-stopper it was intended to be. 
It had been awhile since I have seen Challacombe onstage and his return as Wilbur Turnblad (particularly in this number) was a welcome sight.

Another veteran actor, Chip Joyce, can always be counted on to deliver a great performance, and his Corny Collins is no disappointment.

Kelsey Burd is simply delightful as "checkerboard chick" Penny Pingleton and Brandon Chandler shines as her love interest, Seaweed.

Amanda Skinner as Motormouth Maybelle has two very important numbers. Although I felt she held back a bit on "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful", she totally nailed the hauntingly beautiful "I know Where I've Been". 
While this song is ostensibly about the struggles of the civil rights movement, it is universally applicable about overcoming life's obstacles by tapping one's personal inner strength.

Jeremy Kelly is great as heart-throb Link Larkin,  He shines in "It Takes Two" and he achieves the needed chemistry in his duets with Tracy.

Ingrid Weiman and Jessi Palkovic turn in good performances as Velma and Amber Von Tussle respectively.

There are two actors in multiple roles that really impress.
Sally Lawrence-Knapp plays Prudy Pingleton, The Gym Teacher, and The Prison Matron. 
Joel Shoemaker plays Mr. Pinky, Mr. Spritzer, and The Principal.
Both of these actors take these 'minor' roles and turn them into stand-out performances that are integral to the play.  Kudos!

The opening night performance contained some of those sound issues that drive me crazy.  Some of the important lyrics were lost through these microphone cut-outs.
There were also some problems with the revolving stage, that sent out the wrong sets for the scene and exposed the backs of previous set pieces.

Hopefully these were opening night glitches that will be corrected in the remaining performances.

"Hairspray" is one of my personal favorites and I was thrilled to see this excellent opening performance with a nearly full house.

There are plenty of chances remaining to see this great show (or see it again!) 
Performances continue tonight, tomorrow, and August 10, 11, 12, & 13 at the East Peoria Community High School stage.

Call the box office at 699-SHOW for your tickets. 
"Hairspray" should not be missed!


Monday, July 18, 2011

July Poetry Corner

Bavarian Gentians
      - D. H. Lawrence

Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off light,
lead me then, lead the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on
the lost bride and her groom.

D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Published posthumously.
From 'Last Poems', 1932.


Monday, July 11, 2011

That Phone Call From Steve Pierz

When I was a Historic Preservation Commissioner, I voted against allowing the Paulson-Pierzes to put vinyl siding on their High Street property in accordance with the Historic Preservation Ordinance at that time.

Both Pierz and his wife work at the same major employer as I do.
When I returned to my desk following that HPC meeting (the initial public hearing), I received a call from Pierz from his Mossville office. Our office phones have caller-ID, and I answered "Hello, Steve".

He began with these exact words (I wrote them down):

"You dirty scum-sucking dog."

He then chuckled and went on with a "just kidding" attitude, but it definitely was not funny to me.

I called HR after the call to ask if they kept a record of phone calls. They said they did not unless I wanted to file a harassment incident, which I declined to do at that time.

I knew the Paulson-Pierzes on a superficial social level. I had been to their house on a couple group occasions and they probably had been to mine.

However, I did not know them well enough to take such a comment as a joke.

And with his wife in a position of relative power at work (reporting directly to a vice-president) in my building, the threat and the implication were very clear to me.

Someone who would resort to threats and intimidation in an attempt to influence a case before a city commission is not someone I would trust to serve on ANY commission.

Mayor Ardis calls statements made by HP Commissioner Tim Herold "disturbing" in today's PJStar. 

I wonder why Ardis does not consider Pierz's statements to me to be equally disturbing.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

- Walt Whitman
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, 
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, 
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Van Auken Crosses a Line

uncouth (n-kth)
lacking in good manners, refinement, or grace

Speaking on the racial rant by local blowhard and president of the Altamont Park Neighborhood Association Paul Wilkinson, this quote by Barbara Van Auken in the Peoria Journal Star is simply unbelievable:

"We have some very gullible new council members who were dumb enough to believe him," she said.

To publicly call Akeson and Weaver "gullible" and "dumb" for responding to ANY constituent is over the top, even for someone as uncouth as the 2nd district rep.

Doesn't the council have rules against that type of incivility between council members?

I speak for many in the 2nd district when I say we are sick and tired of BVA playing politics with everything and everyone  (Her feud with Wilkinson is well known).

Our own little Empress Nero, she continues to fiddle while Peoria burns.

She further states in the PJStar article that the situation is a "national embarrassment".

Ms. Van Auken continues to be a LOCAL EMBARRASSMENT.

Barbara, you owe an apology not only to the council members you have defamed, but to your constituents as well.

Actually, the best apology of all would be your immediate resignation!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pierz Appointment to HPC

Reprinted with permission, a letter to Mayor and Council from CILF VP Margaret Cousin:

Dear Mayor Ardis and City Council Members,

Last summer I was appointed to the Library Board of Trustees. I didn't seek this appointment, but I was proud and pleased to accept it, understanding the privileged opportunity it afforded me to serve Peoria in a capacity where I could put my interest in education and literacy to good use. The past twelve months have given me a chance to see firsthand the way in which a group of dedicated and purposeful citizens from greatly varied backgrounds and life experience can work together successfully to meet defined, legitimate goals that further the community good. Lively but respectful debate has been our constant companion during our meetings and not all issues have been resolved with unanimous votes, but we have been strongly united always with an unwavering sense of purpose and a common cause - to meet our mandate to serve the library system's patrons and employees well. In so doing, we have also served our city well.

This is what lies at the heart of every City-appointed board and commission: the ability to properly carry out its mission statement and accomplish its specific function. The Historic Preservation Commission has its own particular set of objectives, distinctly different from that of the Peoria Public Library's board, yet its potential for optimal operation depends on the presence of exactly the same qualities in its members. Industry, integrity, respect for fellow commissioners' opinions, and a willingness to compromise are just a few, but there is also an overriding fundamental ingredient. Simply put, it is an understanding of and commitment to that board or commission's charter and a genuine desire to carry it out. This is absolutely crucial to creating a true sense of cohesion and motivation within the group. The Library Board of Trustees is lucky. We have this. The HPC deserves it, too.

It is not counterproductive to seat the HPC with commissioners who believe in historic preservation. On the contrary, it maximizes the commission's chances to successfully carry out its prescribed task, which is to make sound decisions based on the historic preservation ordinance as a recognized part of Peoria's governing law. A similar level of adherence among these seven folks to the intrinsic value of this responsibility creates the sort of unity of purpose which makes for measured, reasonable, and appropriate judgments. It does not mean all applications and recommendations are met with automatic, arbitrary, and zealous nods of approval. It does not mean there is never room for disagreement on the degree of applicability of the ordinance's rules. The commissioners are not robots who blindly and swiftly consider and then rubber stamp everything that comes before them with a mantra of "preservation for preservation's sake." They are volunteers who wish to serve Peoria by sharing their time, their knowledge, their focus, and their passion for the merits of our past.

How do I know? Because for two and a half years, I have sat in the audience month in and month out, first as a concerned citizen and then as a member of CILF. I have watched the commissioners work hard to make decisions that were fair, not frivolous, mindful of the needs of the owners before them and mindful, too, of their obligation to fulfill the role they were chosen for - to protect and preserve Peoria's historic resources. I have seen them thrilled to help a house get a facelift, a new roof, or an elegant wrought iron fence . I have also seen them struggle to accept compromise or defeat when a structure has fallen prey to the ravages of time, lack of interest, or just plain bad luck. It has been an honor to witness.

I urge you to respect the nature of the HPC when selecting nominees to fill its vacancies. Do not deliberately hobble it by filling positions with appointees who are not committed to historic preservation in an attempt to temper and perhaps weaken its choices. This is neither efficient nor logical. You would never consider endorsing a candidate for the Library Board of Trustees who flagrantly and publicly burned books just to create a balanced profile and test the resolve of others in the group. Where, then, is the wisdom of considering an individual for the Historic Preservation Commission who chose willingly to live in a historic district, dismissed its regulations, and sought a litigious solution for redress of his grievances when asked to comply with the very things his neighbors value and respect? This is the type of management decision at a council level whose lack of basic common sense we cannot afford. It demoralizes those who truly wish to make a difference through their participation on this particular commission, and it is a real disservice philosophically to all those people whose hours without pay make it possible for much of our city's work to get done. Strategically speaking, it just isn't smart.

Respectfully submitted,

Margaret E. Cousin
Vice-President, Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Continued Assault on Historic Preservation

Gosh, I guess it wasn't quite enough for Eric Turner and his City Council henchmen to destroy the Historic Preservation Ordinance by making owner's consent a requirement for landmarking.

I guess it wasn't quite enough for Barbara Van Auken and her City council henchmen to introduce "de-listing" a landmark, that led to the destruction of the Roanoke Apartments and now threatens scores of other structures.

Now comes Chuck Weaver and his City Council henchmen who want to appoint Steve Pierz to the Historic Preservation Commission.

You may recall that Mr. Pierz and his wife sued the city as well as the sitting Historic Preservation Commissioners in 2008, when the commission ruled against their request to vinyl side a historic house next to their own on High Street.

In the end, the city caved in, and the Pierz-Paulsens were allowed to destroy the character of the home with vinyl siding.

It sits in its present state as a testimony to their contempt for true preservation.

Mr. Weaver (and Mr. Ardis) now want to seat Mr. Pierz on a commission that should be promoting and working for Preservation, not subverting it.

And they want to seat him alongside several people that he previously sued and a few of whom have already expressed their outrage at the idea of his appointment.

During the campaign, Mr. Weaver danced around Historic Preservation issues saying he needed six months to consider all the issues.

Well, it didn't take nearly that much time for him to show his true colors.

I publicly call on Mr. Pierz to withdraw his name from consideration.
C'mon, Steve, do the right thing!

In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of those commissioners that the Pierz-Paulsens sued.
There is also a bit more to the story as well involving a phone call to my work phone from Mr. Pierz's work phone when their case was active.

...but I won't go into that right now.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

- Theater Review - Avenue Q

Eastlight Theatre continues their twentieth season with the Friday night opening of the regional premier of "Avenue Q".

"Avenue Q" is a delightful play, smart and funny. It is a parody (extension?) of Sesame Street.
Unlike the Muppets, these puppets are definitely not for children.
Rather, they are for those adults who grew up with Sesame Street and now have grown-up issues to face.
And like the denizens of its PBS inspiration, these puppets also have life lessons to relay.

The cast consists of three human characters and a gaggle of hand puppets. All the actors/puppeteers are clearly visible as they speak and sing for their characters.

The play requires talents beyond the actors' usual abilities to sing and dance. Here, they also must move and manipulate the puppets in such a manner that the actors soon become lost in their fabric alter-egos.
It is definitely a challenge for an amateur group to do well.

Damon Hackett, making his directorial debut here, delivers the most professional and exciting production on the Eastlight stage since "Rent".

All the actors/puppeteers execute their roles flawlessly, even when there are two actors controlling one puppet. In this situation, they must move in tandem around the stage and still maintain the believability of the puppet character.

Aside from the technical aspects of the performance, there are some beautiful voices that deliver the clever lyrics just as they were intended.

Assembled here are some of our favorite actors as well as some exciting new faces.

Jarod Hazzard and Kates Sitton shine as the sweet young lovers, Princeton and Kate Monster.

Chip Joyce and Adam Sitton are wonderful as roommates Nicky and Rod (think Bert and Ernie with a gayER edge). Both of these actors are pillars of the local theater community and they deliver the performances here that we have come to expect.

The role of Brian, the wannabe comic, is perfectly suited to Derek Pitzer's considerable talents.
And he certainly delivers the goods, as does Phil Raso as the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster. Mr. Raso nails Trekkie's voice perfectly.

Chris Black and Kyle King are audience favorites as the Bad Idea Bears.

Dominique Reid makes her Eastlight debut as Gary Coleman (yes, THAT Gary Coleman!). I have seen Ms. Reid in some relatively minor roles in Bradley Theater productions, but her first post-graduation performance here is so impressive that I sure hope to see her again soon on local stages.

Some other 'new faces' are Kristen Williams as Lucy The Slut and Carmen McCarthy as Brian's Asian wife Christmas Eve. Ms. Williams brings the required over-the-top sexuality to the role of Lucy.
Ms. McCarthy manages to make the role of Christmas Eve pivotal to the action of the entire play. Her performance is nothing short of amazing.

I have seen this show professionally, here and in London, and I would put this cast and this direction up against those any day.
Yes, it's that good.

My one and only disappointment with this production is the ill-advised decision to censor the "simulated puppet sex" scene. Is it really any more risque than left-in lyrics such as "she sucks like a hoover", etc.??
If you are going to do theater, please do it as written and respect the intelligence of your audience enough to allow them to decide their own level of tolerance and maturity!

Having said that, this play is still one that must not be missed.

Seeing this performance of "Avenue Q" so soon after Peoria Players' "Drowsy Chaperone" makes me grateful to live in a community with such quality theater options.

The show runs through June 25th at Byron Moore Auditorium in East Peoria High School. Reserve your tickets today by calling 699-SHOW.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tony Awards

Sunday night!!

I predict a sweep for "The Book of Mormon" !

Tomorrow IS a Latter Day...


Friday, June 10, 2011

Corn Stock Winter Playhouse - 2011-2012 Season

Corn Stock Theater has announced its 2011-2012 winter season:

"The Vagina Monologues" - directed by Amy Wyckhoff - Oct 14-22, 2011

"Angels in America: Perestroika" - directed by Dani Keil - Nov 11-19, 2011

"Plaza Suite" - directed by Jen Whitmore, Alex Larson, & Howard Gorman - Dec 2-10, 2011

"God of Carnage" - directed by Paul Gordon - Feb 17-25, 2012

"Glengarry Glen Ross" - directed by Renee Boesch - Mar 16-24, 2012

In addition, a play reading workshop will be held in January (dates and details to be announced later.)

Season tickets are still a bargain at only $40 for the five show season. They can be purchased by mailing a check to:

Corn Stock Theater
1700 Park Road
Peoria, IL 61604

...or call the box office at 676-2196.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eastlight Theatre "20 for 20" Capital Campaign

The following is from Eastlight Theatre's Executive Director:

Can you believe Eastlight Theatre is 20 years old? In celebration of our 20th Anniversary, we have a tremendous 2011 Season lined up for you that includes 3 Tony Award winning Best Musicals - "Avenue Q," "Hairspray," and "Phantom and the Opera," April's regional premiere "Xanadu" and the seasonal favorite "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Over the past 20 years, Eastlight Theatre has provided some of the Peoria area's best quality shows and we would like to continue to do just that for the next 20. To that extent, we have embarked on a capital campaign to raise $20,000 in honor of our 20th Anniversary and we are asking for your support. Would you consider making a tax deductible donation to our "20 for 20" Campaign? If every Eastlight Patron in your family would donate at least $20, we would easily reach our goal. Every dollar donated to Eastlight Theatre also benefits East Peoria Community High School, so your donation serves a dual purpose!

You will quickly see your donation be put to use for our 2011 Season, as our goals in raising money include:

New smart lights to enhance stage lighting.
Specialty needs for this season's shows such as puppets for "Avenue Q" and specialized set pieces such as a chandelier and a boat for "Phantom of the Opera."
Upgrading Byron Moore auditorium electrical wiring, benefiting both Eastlight and EPCHS
Many more items that enhance the quality of shows we perform for you at Eastlight Theatre.
If you are willing to participate, please fill out the 20 for 20 campaign form by clicking here. Your donation can be mailed to Eastlight Theatre, Attn: "20 for 20", PO Box 8055, East Peoria, IL 61611. As Eastlight Theatre is a Not-for-Profit organization, your employer may provide matching funds for your donation. Please contact the Eastlight Box Office if you need a Matching Funds Form. Thank you so much for your support!

We are also looking for Show Sponsors and video advertisers for our 2011 Season. Please contact Campaign Manager, Robin Hunt at 648-4383 or if you or your business would be interested in more information about this opportunity.

With gratitude,
Steve Cordle
Executive Director


Sunday, May 15, 2011

May Poetry Corner

My Thoughts
- Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilev

Why did you come, my thoughts, in instant,
Like thieves to rob my quiet habitation,
Like vultures, gloomy and malignant,
With thirst for dread retaliation.

My hopes are gone, and ran away my visions,
My eyes were opened by fierce agitation,
And, in the sacred books of new religions,
I read my words, my deals and plans for future actions.

For that, that I with looks so calm and quiet,
Watched them who sailed to victory and glory,
That with my lips I touched the lips in fire,
Which did not have the former sinning story,

That those hands of mine, my own fingers,
Didn’t know a plough, were so thin and pliant,
And that my songs, the rambling meistersingers,
Could only sing, while making a sad sound,

For all this now came repudiation.
Blind men will smash the gentle, deceptive temple,
And thoughts will come into my habitation,
And strangle me, like thieves – a shabby tramper.


Friday, May 6, 2011

- Theater Review - The Drowsy Chaperone

Peoria Players Theater closes out their regular 2010-2011 season with the regional premiere of "The Drowsy Chaperone".

This play within a play is one of my current favorites. It is a brilliant musical for people who love musicals.
The entire play takes place in the apartment of the nameless Man In Chair. This is a character with whom it is easy for me to identify, having spent many nights in my life remedying "the blues" by losing myself in a Broadway cast album.

I am fortunate to have seen this show professionally, once with Georgia Engel, who originated the role of Mrs. Tottendale on Broadway.

Having such a fondness for the show, I was somewhat nervous to see it undertaken by a local amateur group.

Well, I am pleased to say that not only does Peoria Players rise to the occasion, they knock this one completely out of the park!

Under Mike Ream's flawless direction, the cast delivers a wonderful and memorable evening that will take you back to the glorious days of the Busby Berkeley-style musicals.

As the curtain rises we meet Man In Chair, who is feeling somewhat blue and decides to spend the evening listening to one of his favorite cast albums, a 1920's musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone".

As he listens, the musical comes alive in his living room.
This play within the play is about a wedding hosted at the home of Mrs. Tottendale, a ditzy and eccentric woman with her servant Underling always in tow.
The bride is Broadway star, Janet Van De Graaf, who is at the peak of her career yet ready to give it all up to marry Robert Martin, the wealthy son of an oil baron.
Janet's producer is on hand to try to stop the wedding and keep his revenue-producing star.

The extensive cast also includes a pair of mobsters posing as pastry chefs, a shrill chorus girl who wants to replace Janet, best man George, Latin Lothario Adolfo, and of course the chaperone accompanying the bride.
The Chaperone loves her drink, even though it tends to make her "drowsy".

The plot soon becomes complicated and involved, moved along by some of the most clever and delightful songs you are likely to hear.

The cast here is uniformly good.

Nate Downs is quite simply perfect as Man In Chair.
Molly Smith wows as Janet. She sings, dances. juggles, does cartwheels, and generally "shows off" in this role. That signature number is worth the ticket price in itself.
Not to be out done, Jacob Hazzard as her groom, also sings, dances, and even roller skates blindfolded!
Barb Couri perfectly captures the essence of the title character. Her rendition of "As We Stumble Along" is wonderful.
Also delightful is Jim Willard as Underling. His deadpan performance is a comedic classic.
Steve Bartolotti wrings every bit of comedy out of his larger than life portrayal of Aldolpho. His performance is as good as I have seen in this role.
Katie McLuckie as Kitty and Matt Stubbs and Robert Pugh as the Tall Brothers are all great, as is Dave Montague as George.

Kudos to Mr.Reams and the entire cast for ending their season with such a bang.

I will go as far as to say that "The Drowsy Chaperone" is the best show that I have seen on the Players' stage in ...well, ever.

In the end, this show "does what a musical is supposed to do. It takes you to another world and it gives you a little tune to carry in your head when you're feeling blue..."

The show runs this weekend and next (through May 15th) at the theater in Lakeview Park.



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Grand Tour 2011

The Grand Tour 2011 will be held Sunday May 15th from noon til 5pm.
Featured homes are:

1723 West Moss - (Jan Krause)

301 NE Madison - (Peoria Women's Club)

802 N Sheridan  #A-3 - (Paula Sepich and Richard Elam)

802 N Sheridan  #A-1 - (Ron Homan)

201 West Columbia Terrace - (David Stotz, George Traylor)

802 West Moss - (Stacey Robertson, Tom Thurston)

1118 N Glenwood - (Sue Nowland)

Tickets: $12 in advance or $15 the day of the tour.
Tickets can be purchased at the following area locations: Sterling Flower Shoppe, Marilyn's Bow K, Floral Expressions, Geier Florist, The Olde Hair Shoppe, Rhythm Kitchen, Best Buds and Haddad's Restaurant at 319 Main St.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Peoria Civic Center Theater - 2011-2012 Season

The Peoria Civic Center has announced its 2011-2012 Broadway Theater Series Season.

Regular Season:
"Wicked"  -  Oct 12-30
"Young Frankenstein"  -  Nov 12
"Rock of Ages"  -  Jan 17-18
"South Pacific"  -  Feb 28-29
"Shrek the Musical"  -  Apr 24-25

 Optional show:

"The Rat Pack is Back!"  -  May 2


Bradley University Theatre - 2011-2012 Season

Bradley University Theatre has announced its 2011-2012 season:

"Ragtime: The Musical" - book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahern, music by Stephen Flaherty - Sept 22 - Oct 2

"Almost, Maine" - a romantic comedy by John Cariani - Nov 10 - Nov 20

"The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)" - a hilarious farce by Jess Borgeson, Adam Long, and Daniel Singer - Feb 29 - Mar 4

"The Glass Menagerie" - an American classic by Tennessee Williams - Apr 19 - Apr 29

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

Additionally, Bradley Theatre will participate in a special event:

"Three University Shakespeare Festival"

.          "The Tempest" by Bradley University - Feb 24 at 8pm
.          "Measure for Measure" by Loyola University - Feb 25 at 8pm
.          "Henry VI" by Western Illinois University - Feb 26 at 2:30pm

Subscribers can attend the Shakespeare Festival for an additional cost:
$25 for adults, $20 for seniors, $15 for students


- Theater Review - America Live!

Bradley University Theatre closes their 2011 season with "America Live!"

The production is a unique and interesting multi-media event. 
Rooted in America's current obsession with reality television, the show is audience-interactive and live-streamed on the internet during the entire production.

The premise is that we are on the set of a live TV show.  Theater patrons may choose any level of involvement in the interactive aspect of the show. 
They can opt to simply watch the show as passive viewers. 
They can register their cell phones for voting. 
Or they can choose to participate directly as members of the cast, members of security, part of the technical crew, or even the janitorial staff.

Indeed, it soon becomes unclear just who is an actor and who is not; what is scripted and what is ad lib.
And obviously that is the point here.  Written and directed by Slane Scholar in Residence Jeff Wirth, this play intentionally blurs the lines between theater and reality, between stage and audience.

The result is an interesting theater experience that is definitely out of the norm.  While I was expecting a more profound statement on voting and politics in America, I was not disappointed to receive instead a funny and high-energy comment on the "reality" of America and American television.

Some of the funniest bits are the pre-recorded television commercials.
One of the commercials includes a music video that is professional quality and simply delightful.

If you are looking for a show that is funny, smart, and truly innovative, then this is one you should not miss.

The show is produced in collaboration with Bradley University's Department of Interactive Media and runs through May 1st at the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April Poetry Corner

From Gitanjali
                    by Rabindranath Tagore


I was not aware of the moment
when I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery
like a bud in the forest at midnight!
When in the morning I looked upon the light
I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world,
that the inscrutable without name and form
had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother.

Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me.
And because I love this life,
I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out
when from the right breast the mother takes it away,
in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.

Parting Words

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.
I have tasted of the hidden honey of this lotus
that expands on the ocean of light,
and thus am I blessed
---let this be my parting word.
In this playhouse of infinite forms
I have had my play
and here have I caught sight of him that is formless.
My whole body and my limbs
have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch;
and if the end comes here, let it come
---let this be my parting word.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Peoria Civic Center Theater has announced that the 2011 touring company for "Wicked" will be making its only stop in Illinois at the PCC theater.

The show will run from October 12th through October 30th for an amazing total of 24 performances.

Ticket information will be announced at a later date.


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Sky Is Falling At Bradley U !!

Is anyone else getting weary of all the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair over WCBU's format change?

It seems every other day brings a new whining letter to the editor or online posting over the public radio station's decision to change from a classical music/news format to all news/talk.

One well-known Patroness of the Arts was so upset, that in her rush to telephone in her outrage, she fell and broke her hip!

To those of you who simply cannot continue living without your daily dose of the 1750 hit parade, let me offer a suggestion. 

Go immediately to Best Buy or K-Mart or any other venue selling recorded music.
I guarantee they will have a bin of 99¢ CDs of this genre. 
They are cheap and prolific because....well, nobody wants 'em.

Use that $25 that you gave to WCBU last year (and assumed you were paying everyone's salary) and buy enough CDs to play all day.

As for me, I will continue to enjoy "Morning Edition" every day and "This American Life" when I can catch it.
And I just sent my increased check to help pay for them.

Oh, and in that little memo portion of the check, I wrote "In Honor Of Esther Cohen's Hip".

Please consider upping YOUR support to make up for the boycotters.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

- Theater Review - Xanadu

Eastlight Theatre opened their 20th season on Friday night with the regional premiere of "Xanadu".

I have made the statement here before that I feel Eastlight sets the bar for local theater.  Their productions have always been professional and well done, and I always anticipate their short season of three plays.

However, I am sad to say that all the gods on Olympus could not make this turkey sing.

There have been a lot of successful musicals made from films that were not necessarily successful.  Examples of this include "Hairspray" (coming later in Eastlight's season), "The Producers", "Spamalot", etc.

The difference is that these films, while not blockbusters, were smart and funny gems that achieved some level of cult devotion. 

"Xanadu", on the other hand, was a truly bad movie that is not much improved by its transfer to the stage.

Having said this, there were some excellent performances that might have saved this production, if not for technical issues.

First and foremost is Jeremy Kelly.
Mr. Kelly previously lit up the Eastlight stage with his wonderful performances in last season's "Altar Boyz" and "All Shook Up".
Here, as Sonny Malone, he does everything an actor can do for the role.  His singing and dancing are truly excellent.

Ayana Pankey and Erin Miller shine as Melpomene and Calliope respectively.  Ms. Miller in particular was an audience favorite as she captured all the comedic elements of her role.

Julie Boesch brings the required sweetness to her role as Kira/Clio. (and she is not too bad on roller skates!)

Carl Williams as Danny McGuire/Zeus has a fine voice, although his acting performance can only be described as wooden.

With an exception or two, the choreography was sub-standard, as is the direction.

Part of the problem, and this is particularly true of the closing title number, is that the performers require an energetic response from the audience. 
Sadly, this was the sparsest crowd I have ever seen at Eastlight.  The older crowd did not help the cast deliver the knockout finale that could have been achieved.

And now about those technical issues.

I have often criticized the poor sound quality at Peoria Players.  This has never been a problem at Eastlight.
Until last night. 

While the male lead came through loud and clear, the other players were at times unintelligible.  The women particularly were muffled and unclear during the entire first act.

What happened, Eastlight?
Did you get a new sound system?  If so, please try to get the old one back.
Did you get new mics?  If so, please try to get the old ones back.
Did you get new sound technicians?  If so, please try to get the old ones back.
Is this a classic case of fixing something that wasn't broken?

I can honestly say this is one of the very few times I have been disappointed with an Eastlight performance.
Let's hope that it can be chalked up to opening night jitters and technical snafus that will be improved for the rest of the run.

"Xanadu" continues April 9th, 10th, and the 13th through the 16th at East Peoria Community High School Auditorium.  Tickets can be reserved through the box office at 699-SHOW.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Civil War Ghosts & Legends

Prairie Folklore Theatre is hosting a special performance of "Civil War Ghosts and Legends" to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first shots fired on Fort Sumter.

This is an original musical program featuring Barry Cloyd and Brian "Fox" Ellis.

True stories and legends are woven with traditional songs and poetry from this most un-Civil War.

Join us as we travel back in time to the bloody battlefields, prison camps and haunted graveyards of America’s deadliest conflict.

Horror stories by Ambrose Bierce and songs by Stephen Foster bring to life this chapter in history.

The show features storyteller and historian Brian “Fox” Ellis with folksinger, and songwriter, Barry Cloyd.
In the persona of Mathias Stritt, Fox puts the grand arc of the war into perspective.
Cloyd portrays Joseph Henry Munroe, the Drummer Boy of Shiloh who, later in life, taught music at Peoria High and shares his love for the songs of the era.

Together, these two old ghosts, Stritt and Munroe, weave true stories with original music; their first hand knowledge of the war with traditional folk tunes.

The single performance will be April 12th, at 7:00pm at the GAR Hall at the corner of Madison and Hamilton in Downtown Peoria.

Tickets are only $10 for adult s and $5 for children. Please call 309-689-8000 for reservations.


Friday, April 1, 2011

City Council Endorsements

As I have stated in a previous post, Historic Preservation has been politicized as never before by current representatives on the Peoria City Council. This has forced preservationists to step up to the political plate in the current election.

The vast majority of our city's structural treasures exist in the first three council districts, which encompass the oldest areas of the city.

I believe that the most committed citizen preservationists live in the second district, and traditionally the second district councilperson has been the leader in representing this ideal.

There has also been some history of preservation leadership in the third district seat (particularly under Bob Manning's tenure). A commitment to Historic Preservation by the first district representative has always been lacking, although, fortunately, there exists in the near north neighborhoods, a committed group of citizen activists .

In the second district, Barbara Van Auken has been largely responsible for the politicization of the issue and she long ago abandoned representation of her constituents on this issue. Her actions in destroying the Roanoke apartments led to the eventual evisceration of the Peoria's Historic Preservation ordinance.

Tim Riggenbach, in the third district exhibits little commitment to, or understanding of the broad advantages of Historic Preservation.

First district representative Clyde Gulley also shows little interest or respect of the city's rich history.

With this 'dereliction of duty' by the representatives in the first three council districts, leadership on preservation issues from the at-large councilmen has become increasingly important. Of the current five at-large reps, the first three districts can claim only one as an actual resident (Gary Sandberg in the second district).

The recent actions taken in regards the Historic Preservation Ordinance give great importance to this at-large election.

The good news is this: The slate of ten candidates vying for the five at-large seats is one of the best slates in recent memory. It seems that a lot of good people are stepping up to serve.

As a "capital HP" Historic Preservationist, I am comfortable in endorsing four of these people.

First and foremost is Gary Sandberg. While Gary can come across as combative and confrontational, he is and always has been a dependable friend of Historic Preservation. As an architect and historian, he realizes the true value in preserving the unique identity of the city through her important structures. In speaking with others, the most frequent criticism I hear is this: "I know what Gary is against, but what is he FOR?" Well, I can emphatically answer: He is FOR Historic Preservation!
Councilman Sandberg MUST be retained.

The other three (in no particular order) are as follows:

Beth Akeson is a self-defined preservationist. As an alumna of the Heart of Peoria Commission, she has developed a true understanding of what it takes to make heritage neighborhoods viable and desirable. Her commitment to Historic Preservation is unquestioned.

CJ Summers served alongside Beth on the Heart of Peoria Commission, and the experience also left him with the same respect for true New Urbanism. As a resident of the Uplands, he understands what it takes to build and maintain a neighborhood, and the role that Historic Preservation plays in that equation.

Chuck Grayeb has given his personal pledge to restoring the Historic Preservation Ordinance and to seeing that true preservationists are appointed to the HPC. While there are some within the preservationist community who question Chuck's true dedication to the issue, I remind them of his role in the preservation and restoration of Historic Springdale Cemetery. Also, of the ten candidates, he is the ONLY one who actually lives in an Historic District. His home on High Street is beautifully maintained and reflects his respect for its history. Additionally, he owns rental buildings on the northside that also are well maintained with respect to their period architecture.

Please consider lending your support and your votes to these candidates.

To have ALL FOUR of these sent to the council would be an Historic Preservationist's dream!

What then about the other six candidates?
Briefly, here is my evaluation:

Andre Williams comes across as a good and likable man. He is intelligent and well-spoken. I am not sure that he has a good understanding of preservation issues yet, but I would not at all be disappointed with his election. Regardless of the outcome of this election, I hope he will continue and expand his public service profile.

Chuck Weaver also is a likable man. However, his comment of taking six months to evaluate the Historic Preservation Ordinance is off-putting. How many buildings can be bulldozed in the time it takes him to DECIDE if he wants to support preservation or not. Also, I have never seen the labels "preservationist" and "developer" reside comfortably in the same body.

George Azouri is a nice kid. He is, to put it nicely as possible, simply out of his league. While I admire his desire to serve, he exhibits little understanding not only of preservation, but other major issues as well. The city is at too critical a juncture to entrust important decisions to one so green.

Ryan Spain has a record that speaks for itself. He has voted against designation of worthy and obviously historic buildings like the Spurck House (Family House) and the Duroc Building (Amvets). He also supported the destruction of the Roanoke Apartments. He has been no friend of Historic Preservation.

A not-so-nice-guy, Jim Stowell has exhibited a meanness in online posts and on the 150 BOE that is not needed at the horseshoe. He has supported ownership veto power for historic designation, and has no other qualities to recommend his election.

Last and certainly least is Eric Turner. His recent decimation of the ordinance was not only devastating to Historic Preservation, but a classic example of bad legislating. Writing an ordinance on the fly as he did is simply sloppy and opens a whole can of worms that is already bearing fruit in a lawsuit from Westminster Church. His bad decision will end up costing the city a bunch in litigation fees. Mr. Turner has a history of knee-jerk responses and flip-flopping, with little vision to larger issues. Enough is simply enough.
Councilman Turner MUST be defeated.

Whether or not you agree with these personal evaluations and recommendations, please do your civic duty and get out and vote on April 5th!
The future (and history!) of your city depends on it.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Global Warming Solutions Group - City Council Candidate Survey Results

What follows is a guest editorial from Kassy Killey of the Global Warming Solutions Group of Central Illinois.

Global Warming Solutions Group of Central Illinois is pleased to release the results of its environmentally-focused survey of the 2011 Peoria City Council At-Large candidates. Eight of the ten candidates responded to a five-question survey. Only Eric Turner and George Azouri did not. The candidates were polled for ideas on increasing recycling participation, views on the piggyback landfill expansion, beliefs about human-caused climate change, and approaches to making Peoria a more sustainable city. They were also given a chance to showcase how they are making their own lives more sustainable.

In April 2010 Peoria Disposal Company (PDC) became the city’s waste hauler, offering free curbside recycling with a once-a-month pickup. At that time, PDC told the Peoria Journal Star (5/25/2010) it was targeting 30% participation. Right now, around 15% of Peoria households are enrolled. When asked what should be done, all candidates expressed support for recycling. Many suggested education and incentives. Sandberg would increase recycling pickup frequency and pay for it by reducing yard waste pickups. Spain would fund increased recycling pickups by replacing Waste Management as the landfill operator, a move he believes would save the city $350,000 a year. Summers supports a “pay as you throw” model with free, more frequent recycling pickups. Akeson would study mandatory recycling programs in other cities and look at requiring landlords to provide recycling for all tenants.

Candidates were also questioned about the proposed piggyback expansion of the city/county municipal waste landfill. As background, when PDC won the landfill contract it proposed a 10 million ton standalone expansion. Now alternative designs under consideration include an 18 million ton expansion piggybacked on top of the existing landfill projected to create landfill capacity through 2070. Grayeb, Sandberg and Akeson share the environmental community’s concerns about the long-term integrity of a piggyback landfill. Sandberg also points out that creating excess capacity drives the wrong behavior—burying waste instead of reuse and recycling. Neither Stowell nor Summers believe Peoria should be taking waste from other communities. Weaver, Williams and Spain all see the need for further study.

When asked whether they believed “human activities are the most significant contributing factor to the very real threat of abrupt and disruptive climate change,” five candidates gave an unequivocal “yes.” Weaver and Williams did not fully commit to the belief, but emphasized that regardless of whether climate change is human-caused or not, we must act. Summers flatly answered “no,” but shared his belief that humans need to be better stewards of the environment.

Everyone recognizes that with the long-term fiscal outlook, there will be very limited local, state and federal funds for making Peoria more sustainable. Candidates were asked how Peoria could be more competitive for these scarce funds, what low- or no-cost initiatives could be pursued, and how to best utilize existing tools such as the energy efficiency revolving fund. Many candidates indicated the need for a shared vision and a local approach. Sandberg believes that government is not the solution, using the example of a decision to subsidize downtown parking rather than mass transit. Spain pointed to his track record of securing scarce funds for initiatives such as sustainable streetscapes, storm water management and alternative energy. Summers and Akeson, both vocal proponents of the Heart of Peoria plan to combat sprawl, see dense, walkable neighborhoods as a route to sustainability. Weaver suggests using “global conscience” to determine where sustainability funds are best spent, even if it is not Peoria.

All eight candidates have made laudable personal lifestyle changes. Seven of eight recycle. Grayeb and Spain drive hybrids. Williams and his wife share a car. Sandberg drives his 50 mpg motorcycle year round. Grayeb and Weaver have both made energy efficiency improvements in buildings they own. Sandberg keeps his carbon footprint small in a 1000 square foot home and uses his single-room air conditioner fewer than 10 nights a year. Summers comes from an older, walkable neighborhood. Akeson made the decision to send only one campaign mailing, keeping excess campaign literature out of the landfill.

Global Warming Solutions Group thanks the responding candidates for their thoughtful answers and looks forward to working with the new council to make Peoria a more sustainable community. The candidate survey was intended as a public education tool, not to endorse any particular candidate. To that end, we have attempted to create an unbiased summary and published the full set of candidate responses on our web site, And, regardless of where you stand on environmental issues, Global Warming Solutions Group encourages you to get out and vote on April 5, 2011.

About our group:

The Global Warming Solutions advocates for practical local solutions to the problems posed by global warming. We are a coalition of individuals and organizations interested in a more sustainable Central Illinois. We began as an offshoot of the Heart of Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club in 2007. Anyone is welcome to get involved and help us promote energy conservation, recycling and exploration of alternative energy sources in our community.

Visit our web site at or join us on

Facebook ( or

Twitter ( for details.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CILF Candidates Forum

The Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation is pleased to offer this opportunity for the general public to hear and ask questions of the City Council candidates.

All 2011 council candidates have been invited to attend.

• Thursday, March 24, 2011
• 7:00 pm
• G.A.R. Hall, 416 Hamilton in downtown Peoria

Peoria At-Large City Council Candidates

• Beth Akeson
• George Azouri
• Chuck Grayeb
• Gary Sandberg
• Ryan Spain
• Jim Stowell
• C.J. Summers
• W. Eric Turner
• Chuck Weaver
• Andre Williams

Please pass the word to anyone who would like to attend.


And The Oscar Goes To...


Ok, there were 141 other people who also got all of the Oscar picks right in the Peoria Journal Star contest.

But my entry was drawn as the second place winner for Rave Theater.

I received my prize in the mail - THIRTY-SIX free movie passes!

Not bad for a guy who saw only four of the ten Best Picture nominees!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

March Poetry Corner

What Is So Rare As A Day In June
                       - James Russell Lowell

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,-
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!

Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,-
'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.