This new season is all over the place
Sangamon Auditorium offers something for everyone in the director’s last hurrah
The far-reaching 2017-2018 Sangamon Auditorium season will take audiences from Motown to mariachi and from murder mystery to Mummenschanz. It is the final season to be programmed by Bob Vaughn, who will retire in September after serving 11 years as auditorium director. Vaughn graduated with the first class of the Community Arts Management Program back when University of Illinois Springfield was Sangamon State University. The program, he says, was essential to his career. “It provided opportunities in the world I wouldn’t even have come close to without the program,” he said. Vaughn will continue to live in Springfield but has plans to travel in order to spend time with family and friends in destinations including Texas, Santa Fe, Taos, northern California, Alaska and Washington state.
“Broadway shows are about opportunity for a tertiary market like this,” Vaughn said, regarding this season’s Broadway series. “It’s a question of bringing what the major urban centers have already experienced to our community. We had such a great time with Jersey Boys when we brought it in before, we decided to revisit it for three performances (Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20 and 21).”
Continuing in the Broadway vein, Vaughn explained that he was motivated to bring Motown the Musical to Springfield (Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 29 and 30) because of his observation that “most of the current pop music is one or two steps removed from Motown, but those audiences aren’t very aware of the whole story of Hitsville USA and Berry Gordy – but that stuff is important.”
The plot of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Wednesday, March 7) concerns “a very wealthy family,” Vaughn said, “where one of the younger members sees an opportunity to inherit a great deal of money from the estate but there are people ahead of him in line so he has to devise means of doing away with them.” The macabre musical features songs in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The hugely popular Cyndi Lauper-scored musical Kinky Boots will make its Sangamon Auditorium debut this season on March 25, with its glamorous story of familial fealty and fabulous footwear. “It has so many wonderful levels to it – just an extraordinary show,” said Vaughn.
Husband and wife duo Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel (Wednesday, Sept. 20) will bring their soulful musical revue to this year’s Kitchen Sink Series of smaller scale shows. Whitlock might not be a household name but he in fact served time in Derek and the Dominos alongside perennial guitar god Eric Clapton, memorably providing the evocative piano coda to that group’s best-known song. “People tell me they haven’t heard of Bobby Whitlock,” said Vaughn, “but I tell them, if you’ve heard ‘Layla’ you’ve heard him.”
Another classic rock-adjacent offering this season is The Weight Band (Friday, Oct. 6), a tribute to legendary rockers The Band, featuring sidemen Jim Weider, Brian Mitchell and Marty Grebb, all of whom spent time on the road and/or in the studio with erstwhile Band-mates Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and/or Garth Hudson, for a show that promises to put the load right on you, the audience member.
Rebetiki Istoria (Saturday, Nov. 11) is a Greek folk ensemble from Athens, Greece. “I had no familiarity with them,” Vaughn acknowledged, “but UIS [ethnomusicology instructor] Yona Stamatis is a member of the group as well as one of the authorities on the particular form of music.” That form is known as rebetika and is the Greek musical style most associated with songs of social justice.
The Julian Bliss Septet will perform A Tribute to Benny Goodman on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. Vaughn described Bliss as “one of the premier clarinetists,” adding that one would have to be that good in order to play Goodman’s repertoire. “The music is exquisite,” he added. “Benny was so far ahead of his time.”
A particularly novel offering this season is The HillBenders Present The Who’s Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry (Friday, March 23, 2018), which has a fittingly oddball origin story. “One of the founders of the South By Southwest festival thought it was a good idea to do a bluegrass version of The Who’s rock opera – and it turned into an amazing piece,” enthused Vaughn, assuring fans that characters such as the Pinball Wizard, the Acid Queen and Uncle Ernie are each on hand to receive the bluegrass treatment. “Fiddle about,” indeed.
Gothic at Midnight -- An Evening of Hilarity and Horror! (Monday, April 30, 2018) is described in press materials as “a roller coaster ride of terror and laughter.” New York-based actor Joshua Kane is a devotee of Orson Welles and Vincent Price, bringing together a show inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Charles Dickens and others.
Black Violin (Saturday, Sept. 23) fuses jazz, hip-hop, funk and classical. Two classically trained violinists and their DJ present an eclectic exercise in genre-bending which Vaughn said “ought to resonate with a younger demographic.” As a bonus, the UIS Orchestra will join the unconventional trio onstage that night for an encore. Other musical offerings this season include the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (Sunday, Oct. 15) and Mariachi Sol De México de José Hernández (“one of the premier mariachi companies in the world”) on Sunday, Nov. 12.
The flamboyant, acrobatic Swiss troupe Mummenschanz’s wild, constantly surprising visual style has been a huge influence on popular acts such as Blue Man Group. Now they are back on the boards after a lengthy absence with a family-friendly new show called “you & me,” (Sunday, March 4, 2018) promising to showcase old and new work. “Talking to our younger staff, they’ve never seen or heard of Mummenschanz,” remarked Vaughn. “Which makes sense if you think about it – they used to go on Johnny Carson! But what people don’t realize is that a lot of groups have evolved out of their ideas.” Other family-friendly performances this season will include a Broadway-based production of The Wizard of Oz (Sunday, Jan. 28); the magic of Vitaly: A World of Wonder (Sunday, Feb. 11; and Sleeping Beauty as performed by the Moscow Festival Ballet (Friday, Jan. 19).
No season is truly complete without a dance show or two, and this season does not disappoint on that front. Dublin Irish Dance’s Stepping Out (Thursday, Feb. 15) is what happens “when you’re done with Riverdance and you’re done with Lord of the Dance and you’re done with Celtic Woman – you start this other thing where you can study the form in more depth,” according to Vaughn; another terpsichorean treat on the calendar this season is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Monday, March 12, 2018) which promises “contemporary works that touch on timely topics,” according to press materials, as well as a rendition of Ailey’s masterwork, “Revelations.”
In what has become an auditorium holiday tradition, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas will touch down on Nov. 27. “When I first heard Mannheim Steamroller, I’d heard a lot of progressive and classical rock, but it was really unfamiliar,” recalls Vaughn, noting that the show has become a favorite in Springfield, always drawing a big crowd.
“This season is my departing gift,” Vaughn said wistfully. “I feel like a rank beginner, still learning about music and performing arts.”
For further descriptions, show times, updates, pricing and available packages, visit www.SangamonAuditorium.org.
Contact Scott Faingold at email@example.com.