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Thursday, March 17, 2005 07:57 pm

backstage pass 3-17-05

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So many companies in the region have scheduled productions of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast during the next few months (including the Springfield Muni, St. Louis’ Muny Opera, and the Little Theatre in Sullivan), I wish they could have been spread out a bit. Undoubtedly one of the best of the lot is the current production at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, which runs through this weekend.

Steve Kaplan directs an ensemble of talented SHG students, led by John Michael Rotello as the Beast. The role of Belle is shared by Allison Povse and Elizabeth Eckert; Mrs. Potts is played by Sarah Stoll and Stephanie Fahey. Sometimes a director has the good fortune of an abundance of talent and can have students share a part. That’s the case at SHG, where Kaplan has a truly gifted cast.

Another show for the kids is Laurie McCoy and Mark Coultas’ production of James and the Giant Peach, concluding a two-week run this weekend at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. It’s another example of ensemble work, with enough splashes of color and action to keep even the smallest child enthralled.

Porta High School in Petersburg stages Cole Porter’s Anything Goes for two shows, 7 p.m. March 18 and 19. Bill Bauser Jr. of the Springfield Theatre Centre directs. Call 217-632-3216 for ticket information.

For the adults, Illinois State University is in rehearsal for Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, probably my favorite of the O’Neill dramas. This production is presented at the university’s Westhoff Theatre March 30 and 31 and April 1 and 2. It will definitely be worth the drive to Normal.

The MacMurray College theater department is offering a new production of Godspell, directed by J. Nick Dickert, playing March 17-19 and March 31-April 2. The show is being staged on the college’s campus, in the studio theater, which offers just the right kind of intimacy to present this pop opera from the late 1960s. It’s almost a period piece these days, but Dickert has a talent of looking at a show such as this one with new eyes, so it will be interesting to see his production, which features Nicholas Schell in the lead role. For reservations, call 217-479-7208.

Probably the most exciting theater production to take in is Jose Rivera’s 1993 play Marisol, presented at the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The play, about a Puerto Rican woman living in the Bronx and her guardian angel, won many awards when it premiered off-Broadway. For tickets, call 217-333-6282.

For musical-theater lovers: Last weekend I saw a great production of the 1975 musical The Robber Bridegroom, playing at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Ave. in downtown St. Louis. The show, produced by the New Line Theatre and directed by Scott Miller, uses the entire space of the theater, with scenes and songs spilling off the stage and out into the audience. Miller has directed the musical, based on Eudora Welty’s novel set in late-1700s Mississippi, as a show within a show. Bridegroom had a short life on Broadway (it opened the same year as Chicago and A Chorus Line) but has achieved a kind of cult status among theater fans. The show runs through March 26 (call 314-534-1111).

In one month, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum opens amid grand fanfare, including Civil War soldiers, puppets, a torchlight parade, 19th-century music, a fireworks and laser show, and a multitude of Lincoln impersonators descending on Springfield. Mark the dates: April 16-19.

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