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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005 03:22 am

Milo learns a lesson

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The theater department at Parkland College in Champaign invites community members to participate in campus productions. By combining the talents of student and community actors, Parkland has been able to give us such outstanding recent productions as Assassins and The Laramie Project. This week, the college stages a play for young people, The Phantom Tollbooth, based on Norman Juster's children's book about young Milo, a boy who can't see the point in learning and is thrust into an adventure when a mysterious tollbooth appears in his bedroom. Jennifer Goran directs the show, which is presented at 7 p.m. Jan. 21, 22, 27, and 28 and at 3 p.m. Jan. 29 and 30. For tickets, call the Parkland College Theatre at 217-351-2528.

Making a stop in Springfield on Saturday (Jan. 22) is a one-day, two-show performance of the tour of the Tony Award-winning musical Contact. Performances are presented at 2 and 8 p.m. at Sangamon Auditorium. A few years back, Lincoln Center gave choreographer/director Susan Stroman an offer she couldn't refuse -- free rein to workshop anything she wanted to create. The show she created, Contact, is all about dance -- what little dialogue it features is by John Weidman of Assassins fame -- created quite a controversy at the 2000 Tony Awards. Despite having no live orchestra or original music -- and really no story, either -- and it still won Best Musical. Contact is an exhilarating show, and not only for dancers and those interested in dance. The dramatic action, especially in two of the show's pieces, is powerful stuff, and Stroman (director/choreographer of the megahit The Producers) stretched herself and the audience as well. For tickets, call 217-206-6160.

Springfield Theatre Centre concludes its run of the comedy thriller Deathtrap this weekend (Friday-Sunday) and holds auditions for James and the Giant Peach at 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. For information, call 217-523-2787.

Auditions are being held 4-8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Jan. 20 and 21, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library for male actors ages 20-40 for one of the shows at the new museum. For audition appointments, call 217-785-6085.

In recent years, I've noticed that January is the month for new, different, and little-known theatrical productions at area venues. Perhaps this is a result of the fact that only diehard theater fans will trek to other towns during cold winter weather just to see something different. Two shows now playing that are worth the trip:

The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre in Champaign is staging Michael Frayn's award-winning play Copenhagen, a hit in London and on Broadway, Jan. 20-23 and 26-30 and Feb. 2-5. This play, which requires an attentive audience, has as its subject a meeting in 1941 between German scientist Werner Heisenberg and Danish physicist Niels Bohr. The play, about the early plans for the atomic bomb, is a true morality tale. For ticket information, call 217-384-4000.

Stones in His Pockets, a play about what happens when a Hollywood film is being shot on location in Ireland, with all the various characters played by just two actors, is being given a great production by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and is a must-see. Stones runs through Feb. 4. For tickets, call 314-968-4925. You'll be glad you saw this one.

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