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Thursday, May 29, 2003 02:20 pm

Summer onstage 2003

“Abraham!” at Theater-in-the-Park

Summer theater has experienced a bit of a boom in central Illinois over the past few years, with more eclectic choices offering something for everyone.

Springfield's Muni Opera breaks new ground with two area premieres--Titanic (June 6 through 15) and Big (June 27 through July 6). Director Paul Presney Jr. has been working on Titanic for two years, and it promises to be the scenic highlight of the summer. The musical Big is based on the Tom Hanks hit film; it features Greg Donathan and Nick Sullinger, and is directed by Scott Richardson. Rounding out the season will be a couple of old favorites: My Fair Lady (featuring Troy Kemp and Kari Kincaid, July l8 through 27) and The Wizard of Oz (with Lauren Vala as Dorothy and Judy Burnette as the Wicked Witch of the West, August 8 through 17). Call 793-6864 for ticket info.

Theatre-in-the-Park--the outdoor theater at Lincoln's New Salem outside of Petersburg--features an interesting season that starts with 110 in the Shade, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's seldom-seen musical version of The Rainmaker (June 13 through 22), starring Cynda Wrightsman and Gus Gordon; Don Russell directs. Bob Large stars in a one-man mini-Chautauqua show Revival! With Billy Sunday (June 27 and 28), followed by Ken Bradbury and friends in Hootenanny (June 29). July 4 brings a new stage presentation, War Letters, based on Andrew Carroll's book of letters from Civil War times to Vietnam. The Rodgers & Hammerstein classic Oklahaoma! (directed by Bill Bauser and featuring Steve Williams and Jamie Chestnut) plays July 5 through 13. Produced every summer since 1979, Abraham! is back (July 18 through 27), followed by its sequel, Distant Thunder (August 1 through 10). The season ends with Oliver!, Lionel Bart's musical retelling of Dickens's Oliver Twist, directed by Rich McCoy and featuring Dennis Rendleman, John O'Connor, and Carly Shank (August 15 through 24). For ticket and show information, call 632-5440.

Don Russell performs his one-act He Knew Lincoln in New Salem's indoor theater at 2 p.m. on May 31 and June 5, 15, and 29, and at 12:20 p.m. on June 5; it's free.

P.A.V.E., Springfield Theatre Centre's summer youth program, returns under Jason Goodreau's direction. The three sessions include: "Operation: P.A.V.E.," June 9 through 21; "Peace, Love, and Freedom," July 7 through 19; and "Put Me In, Coach!," July 28 through August 9. Classes run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students must be registered by May 31. Call Alicia Colbert at 523-0878.

Lincoln Community Theatre's three-show season includes Nuncrackers (June 13 through 21); Steel Magnolias (July 11 through 19); and 1776 (August 1 through 9). Shows are held in the Johnson Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Lincoln College, one of the nicest stages in the area. Call 732-7542.

The U. of I.'s summer repertory season in Urbana runs June 13 through July 27. This year's rotating repertoire includes the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning Proof by David Auburn; a comedy by Nick Hall titled Marriage Is Murder; and the 1944 Broadway hit Dear Ruth. Call 333-6280.

One of the area's best theaters is the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre in Champaign. This summer they are mounting two shows: the musical She Loves Me (June 12 through July 5) and Christopher Durang's comedy Betty's Summer Vacation (July 17 through August 7). Call 384-4000.

The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan has a summer line-up featuring Oklahoma! (June 4 through 15); Pirates of Penzance (June 18 through 29); I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change! (July 2 through 13); Grand Hotel (July 16 through 27); and Grease (July 30 through August 17). Call 888-261-9675 for ticket information.

Corn Stock Theatre in Peoria fills out its season under the big tent in upper Bradley Park with the musical comedy revue Sugar Babies (May 30 through June 7); the 1940s comedy My Three Angels (June 20 through 28); Jesus Christ Superstar (July 11-19); a September 11 drama about New York City firemen, The Guys (August 1-9); and Meet Me in St. Louis (August 22-30). Call 309-676-2196 for tickets.

Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria is a semi-professional theater company producing two shows this summer: the Barry Manilow musical Copacabana (June 20 through 28) and Little Shop of Horrors (August 1 through 9). Call 309-699-7469.

Central Illinois boasts an exceptional theater company in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, playing outdoors at Ewing Manor in Normal. This season features productions of Shakespeare's King Lear and As You Like It as well as a 1607 comedy by Francis Beaumont, The Knight of the Burning Pestle. The shows run in repertory from June 18 through August 10. Call 309-438-8110.

The 85th season of the Muny Opera at Forest Park in St. Louis begins with Fiddler on the Roof (June 16 through 22) and continues with weekly shows Side By Side By Sondheim (June 23 through 29); Show Boat (July l7 through 13); Cinderella (July 14 through 20); Godspell (July 21 through 27); a new Gershwin musical, Crazy for You (July 28 through August 3); and South Pacific (August 4-10). Call 314-361-1900.

This summer's big show in Chicago is The Lion King, currently playing through November in the Loop at the Cadillac Palace (for tickets, call 312-902-1400). Another company of The Lion King comes to the Fox in St. Louis this August (call 314-534-1111). Also in Chicago, the one-woman show by legendary Elaine Stritch, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, plays the Shubert June 10 through 15 (call 312-902-1400). Steppenwolf Theatre brings back original company member Laurie Metcalfe for Frankie and Johnny in the Claire-de-Lune, July 9 through August 29 (call 312-335-1650). And the Goodman Theatre premieres Stephen Sondheim's much-anticipated new musical, Bounce, directed by Harold Prince, June 20 through August 10 (call 312-443-3811).

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