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Thursday, June 3, 2004 12:45 pm

Summer theater

Summertime on area stages always seems to hark back to the old days of summer stock -- big tried-and-true musicals, comedies, light fare. That's mostly the case for the summer of 2004, but a few interesting, new works are floating around out there, too.

• The Springfield Muni Opera opens the season this weekend with the musical Honk!, a show that's been seen at some area high schools and community theaters in the past couple of years. Based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling, Honk! had the distinction of beating out The Lion King for Best Musical in London's West End. The Muni production, directed by Rich McCoy, runs June 4-6 and June 9-13.

The Muni season continues with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (June 25-27 and 29-30 and July 1-3); A Chorus Line -- seen for the first time on the Muni stage (July 16-18 and 21-25); and Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Aug. 6-8 and 11-15). Muni shows begin at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 217-793-MUNI or go to www.themuni.org.

• The outdoor amphitheater at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site, near Petersburg, is one of the nicest outdoor performance venues in the area. There's a good mix of shows this summer, including Quilters (June 11-13 and 17-20); Two for the Show (June 25 and 26); John Ahart's award-winning drama Your Obedient Servant, A. Lincoln, which returns for the first time in many years (July 2-4 and 8-11); Ken Bradbury in The Return of Hootenanny! (July 16 and 17); The Spitfire Grill (July 23-25 and 29-31); Prairie Folklore Theatre (Aug. 6-8); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Aug. 13-15 and 19-22); and The Dean Church Variety Music Show from Branson (Aug. 27 and 28). For tickets, call 217-632-5440.

• The Jacksonville Theatre Guild is producing a stage version of the popular children's book Ramona Quimby, running June 10-13. Their summer musical is Man of La Mancha, running July 29-Aug. 1 and Aug. 5-8. Ken Bradbury directs. For tickets, call 217-245-1402.

• Illinois Times columnist Grace Smith gives a repeat performance of her one-woman show Grace Talk #1 at Stella Blue on June 12.Grace Talk #2 debuts on July 30 and 31.

• We're lucky in central Illinois to have as professional and respected a theater company as the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. The season commences at Ewing Manor in Normal with a trio of plays that will run in repertory (June 23-Aug 14). This year's lineup includes Hamlet, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Cyrano de Bergerac.

• The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign always delivers an interesting trio of plays for the summer audiences, also running in repertory, and this year is no different: The Glass Menagerie (opening June 18), a mystery titled Guilty Conscience (opening June 19), and a 1937 Hungarian comedy, Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo (opening June 24). The shows run through Aug. 1.

• For those looking for something brand-new, a musical has been in development at Blackburn College. The show -- titled Noah and the Big Boat -- will be performed July 1-3 and 8-11 in Bothwell Auditorium on the college campus. For tickets, call 217-854-3231.

• The professional Little Theatre on the Square celebrates its 47th season in Sullivan with a great lineup of audience-pleasers. The season begins with Hello, Dolly! (June 9-27). Anna McNeely returns in the starring role. (McNeely, an Illinois native, apprenticed at the Little Theatre before working on Broadway in the original cast of Cats, as well as in Gypsy with Tyne Daly). The Sullivan season continues with The Boy Friend (June 30-July 11), Nine (July 14-25), Where's Charley? (July 28-Aug. 8), and Seussical (Aug. 11-22). The Little Theatre also stages great children's-theater shows on Saturdays; this year the titles include Cinderella, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland. For information, call 217-728-7375 or visit www.thelittletheatre.org.

• The Lincoln Community Theatre stages two musicals and a play this summer at the Johnston Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Lincoln College. The shows are Little Shop of Horrors, starring Springfield's Amanda Ratz and Derry Dalby, (June 11-13 and 15-19); Sing On! (July 9-11 and 13-17); and The Pirates of Penzance (Aug. 6-8 and 10-14). Their children's musical this year is The Secret Garden (June 24-27). For ticket information, call 217-735-2614.

• The Muny, in St. Louis' Forest Park, begins its season celebrating the 1904 World's Fair with Meet Me in St. Louis (June 21-30), and continues with Cats (July 5-11), Annie (July 12-18), Breakfast at Tiffany's (July 19-25), The Music Man (July 26-Aug. 1), Guys and Dolls (Aug. 2-8), and 42nd Street (Aug. 9-15). For ticket information, call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.com.

• St. Louis Shakespeare stages its summer productions at the Grandel Theatre. The company presents the hilarious The Complete History of America (Abridged) (July 16-25), followed by Amadeus (Aug. 6-15), and Richard III (Aug. 27-Sept. 5). For information, call 314-361-5664 or visit www.stlshakespeare.org.

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