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Thursday, June 16, 2005 10:57 pm

backstage pass 6-16-05


Great things are happening on summer stages.

I just saw 42nd Street in Sullivan at the Little Theatre on the Square. Having seen back in 1980 the original Broadway production, which began with a slow curtain rising on what seemed to be 100 pairs of tap-dancing feet, I wondered how effective the opening would be handled here. Well, let me just say that it was thrilling and that the Little Theatre proved once again its ability to beautifully re-create big musicals on a small stage.

The show, which runs through this weekend, is the season opener for the Little Theatre. The fast-paced production, directed and choreographed by Ann Nieman in her Sullivan debut, boasts a great cast that includes Michael Haws as Julian Marsh. Other standouts are Gina Hardy as Maggie Jones; Chrissy Wright, wonderful as the somewhat over-the-hill actress Dorothy Brock; and young Kristen J. Smith as Peggy Sawyer, the understudy who becomes a star. The strong singing and dancing ensemble will be showing off their stuff next in the dance show Swing!, which runs June 22-July 3. For tickets, call 217-728-7375 or 888-261-9675.

Things are nicely under way at Theatre in the Park at New Salem with that group’s colorful, well-sung production of the Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon. The show, which concludes its run this weekend, fits the outdoor stage well, and it’s a good example of the 1950s period-piece musicals, even though it’s definitely not in the same league as Lerner and Loewe’s classics My Fair Lady and Camelot. For tickets, call 217-632-5440 or 800-710-9290.

The Muni has ended its run of Sound of Music, which brought in huge crowds. Next up is Ragtime, opening Friday, June 24, and running two weekends, through July 3. Ragtime features Mary Jo Curry, Tony D. Young, Duane Fant, Clarissa Williams, Stephen A. Kaplan, and a large cast of singers to bring E.L. Doctorow’s novel about turn-of-the-century New York to life onstage. Interspersed with the fictional characters are the real-life characters of Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, Booker T. Washington, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. Laurie O’Brien directs this mammoth production, with vocal direction by Steve Rotello, musical direction by Dia Langellier, and choreography by Kathy Wagner. Call 217-793-6864 for tickets.

Auditions for the Springfield Theatre Centre’s season opener, The Man Who Came to Dinner, continue at the Hoogland Center for the Arts at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, June 21 and 22. I had a great time directing this 1939 comedy by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman in California a few years ago; here, the Theatre Centre has landed Richard Norton Smith for the title role.

Smith, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, will play Sheridan Whiteside, modeled after author and critic Alexander Woolcott. The ensemble play, which was revived on Broadway in 1996 with Nathan Lane as the star, features a large cast. The show runs for five performances, Sept. 22-25; rehearsals begin in mid-August.

Phil Funkenbusch directs STC’s production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, is the dramaturgist for the Muni’s production of Ragtime, and heads theater programs at the presidential library and museum.

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