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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005 11:24 am

Who's the Man?

Springfield Theatre Centre stages 1939 comedy hit

The Man Who Came to Dinner, the popular comedy by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, opens a five-performance run tonight (Thursday, Sept. 22) at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. Back in 1939, when it premiered at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, audiences knew that the lead character, Sheridan Whiteside, was based on critic and radio personality Alexander Woollcott, a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table. Because the play includes so many topical references from the period, Springfield Theatre Centre’s program will include a glossary, a sort of road map for contemporary audiences. The Whiteside character wasn’t the only one drawn from real life. Glamorous actress Lorraine Sheldon (played here by Cynda Wrightsman) is loosely based on Gertrude Lawrence, who starred in Private Lives, Lady in the Dark, and The King and I. Beverly Carlton, a songwriter/performer friend of Whiteside’s (played here by Gus Gordon), was based on Noel Coward. The role of Hollywood actor Banjo (played by Rick Dunham) was based on Harpo Marx, a friend of Woollcott’s. The plot is pure old-fashioned comedy: Famous lecturer Whiteside (Ron Seney) is on a tour in Ohio when he accepts a dinner invitation at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley (Karl Bockemeier and Martha Plog) during the Christmas holidays. Before he even enters their residence, he slips on a piece of ice, fractures a hip, and is forced to recuperate in their home. He takes over the household, and soon everything is topsy-turvy. There is the usual boy-meets-girl plot involving Whiteside’s secretary (Mary Young) and a local newspaper editor (Mac Warren), as well as a few other twists and turns. There are visits from Whiteside’s celebrity friends throughout the three-act play, and lots of laughs. Performances of The Man Who Came to Dinner, directed by yours truly, are at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Sept. 22 and 23; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25. The show is a fundraiser for STC. For tickets, which cost $15, call 217-523-ARTS. Also in area theater: • Sangamon Auditorium brings in a tour of the hit musical Chicago for two performances next week, Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 27 and 28, featuring Tom Wopat in the role of Billy Flynn. Chicago has become a huge hit since it was revived on Broadway in 1997 and is still playing at the Shubert Theatre with Brooke Shields. Wopat, who starred in television’s The Dukes of Hazzard for seven years, has been enjoying a career on the Broadway stage for the past several years. He was featured in last season’s Tony Award-winning revival of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and was nominated for a Tony for his starring turn opposite Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun. Listen to his 2000 CD The Still of the Night and hear what a great crooner he is, especially his renditions of songs such as Stephen Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” and Jimmy Webb’s “If These Walls Could Speak” and “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.” Wopat is also featured on a new studio recording of Sherry! (a musical version of The Man Who Came to Dinner), along with Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters, and Carol Burnett. • Randi Collins Hard directs the area premiere of The Exonerated, one of the most powerful plays of recent years, at Parkland College. Playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen culled material from interviews, letters, transcripts, and case files to create a play that tells the true stories of six wrongfully convicted people on death row, performed in monologues. A postshow discussion with Delbert Tibbs, one of the exonerated, will be held after the Sept. 30 performance. The Exonerated runs Sept. 28, Sept. 30, Oct. 1, and Oct. 6-9. Call 217-351-2528 for tickets and information.
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