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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005 08:10 pm

A glimpse back, a look ahead

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Let me mention some of the many good things that happened on area stages in 2004 before taking a look at what's planned for the Springfield-area theater scene this year.

The Hoogland Center for the Arts is undoubtedly the main story of the arts community this past year. Not a week goes by in which performance spaces in the center are not fully used, giving Springfield a much-needed place for art, theater, music, and dance. Yes, the kinks in the year-old facility are still being worked out, but to have a new temple for the arts in the capital city is something of a miracle.

When I look back at the exciting work that took place on our stages, I think of such productions as The Spitfire Grill at New Salem (one of the best musicals seen here in a long time) and View of the Dome at the University of Illinois at Springfield, the choreography in A Chorus Line and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Springfield Muni Opera, Marian Levin in the Springfield Theatre Centre's Three Tall Women, the Roxy Group's channeling of World War II-era USO shows in Swingtime Canteen, Loretta Hess and Don Russell in Death of a Salesman, Ann Collins in Halloween Dreams, and Barry Weiss' show-stopping performance in Honk!

Best of all was Sunday in the Park with George, Springfield Theatre Centre's opening production at the Hoogland Center in September. Directed by Leigh Steiner and designed by Dave Shaw, with vocal direction by Sue Hamilton, an orchestra conducted by Doug Hahn, and a perfect cast led by Dallas Street and Mary Jo Curry, this show was thrilling from beginning to end.

So what do we have to look forward to?

STC brings a hit play from the 1970s, Deathtrap, to Theatre I at the Hoogland Center. Ira Levin's long-running Broadway thriller, which plays here Jan. 14-16 and 21-23, is directed by Valerie Parga and features Paul Cary and Darin Harms in the lead roles. STC is also staging the 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy You Can't Take it With You in February. It will be interesting to see how the show, written during the Great Depression, plays today.

Sangamon Auditorium brings a national tour of Contact, the Tony Award-winning musical, for two performances on Saturday, Jan. 22. This unusual musical, which comprises three stories told in exhilarating dance, won the Tony for Best Musical. Sangamon Auditorium is also bringing the tour of the musical The Full Monty on April 22 and 23. Fans of the musical Rent will be glad to hear that the show is continuing its long-running tour of the country and will play the Fox Theatre in St. Louis Jan. 7-9.

Unfortunately, local theater groups are not producing many new works, though Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson is bringing Fifth of July, by Lanford Wilson, to the UIS Studio Theatre this spring. The Muni has Ragtime, one of the great new musicals of the '90s, on its summer schedule.

Most of the shows scheduled for this year are the tried-and-true: Bye, Bye Birdie at STC, The Sound of Music and Annie Get Your Gun at Muni, Paint Your Wagon and Little Shop of Horrors at New Salem. Muni also will stage one of the area's many productions of Disney's Beauty and the Beast this summer.

• On Jan. 16, the Muni hosts a workshop for parents and children (grades one through eight), "No Business Like Show Business," explaining what is involved in auditioning for and performing in local theater. The workshop, which includes vocal and dance demonstrations, is offered in two sessions: 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Advance registration is required; e-mail Patti Joyner at producerpatti15@aol.com.

• I have just begun a new job running theatrical programs at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The museum, which opens April 19, has two theaters, as well as a portable "front porch" stage. An outdoor stage, across the street from the museum, is also planned. The biggest of the theaters, the 250-seat Union Theater, is a beautiful space equipped with a Broadway-caliber stage and décor resembling that of a 19th-century stage, so there could be possibilities there. In fact, we will need actors for one of the on-going shows. For information, e-mail me at the address shown below.

Local director, actor and playwright Phil Funkenbusch writes about theater for Illinois Times. Contact him at Phil_Funkenbusch@ihpa.state.il.us.

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