Last week the new theater season took off with Rich McCoy's production of The Hobbit at the Springfield Theatre Centre. The show has three more performances this weekend, January 17-19.
Jason Goodreau plays Bilbo Baggins. Goodreau has become one of the most visible talents onstage here, having performed in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Mame at Muni Opera last summer, taking on the lead in Over the River and Through the Woods at Springfield Theatre Centre last fall, and even showing up in Springfield Ballet's The Nutcracker in December. He's just signed on to play Snoopy in Lincoln Land Community College's March production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
The Hobbit also boasts some of the area's strongest actors, with Karl Bockemeier as Gandalf and Troy Kemp is Gollum. Thanks to Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films, kids are very much into Tolkien these days, so it will do them some good to see the story come alive onstage, where giving oneself up to the magic of live theater can leave some indelible memories. (Call 523-0878 for tickets.)
There's a resurgence of interest in the works of Edward Albee, sparked a few years back by his play Three Tall Women, which won the Pulitzer Prize. His recent, Tony-winning play The Goat closed on Broadway (in a production starring Sally Field) in December after a healthy nine-month run. There's now a lot of talk about a Broadway revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
This week the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre in Champaign opens a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The play will run through February 1. The company staged an impressive version of Three Tall Women, and the intimacy of the space promises a great night out with George and Martha (call 384-4000).
Jacksonville Theatre Guild stages the comedy Greater Tuna this weekend, January 17-19, at the Jacksonville Theatre Guild Office (not the mainstage) at 210 W. College. Bob Large directs the play, in which two actors portray more than 20 residents of a small Texas town. It features George Brizendine and Eric Thomas. Call 245-1402 for ticket information.
Highlights on area stages in 2002
The most polished (and fun) productions:
Roxy Group's concert version of She Loves Me showed us that smaller, unsung musicals deserve to be seen, and no one does them better. Muni Opera's Anything Goes was the show I wished I could have seen three or four times. Gordon Productions' My Way (a tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra) boasted some unbelievable singing performances, and the Jane Hartman Trio made the show.
Among the many examples of standout acting:
Rebecca Sykes and John McAdam in Crimes of the Heart and Felicia Coulter in The Gazebo, both at the Springfield Theatre Centre; Laurie Ann Fahnders channeling the spirit of Patsy Cline in Always, Patsy Cline; Ron Waltrip's command-the-stage performance in Shenandoah; Loretta Hess and Regan Smith in Come Blow Your Horn at New Salem.
Some other pretty wonderful performances:
Patricia Young in Wildloon Productions' Healin' Home; newcomer Dutch Grove in It's Only a Play at UIS; Troy Gorda in A Christmas Story at Springfield Theatre Centre; Karla Joell Butcher in South Pacific at Muni; Nancy Cole in Quilters at New Salem; Paul Presney Jr. in Roxy Group's Barnum.
Proof that Springfieldians will buy tickets to more serious, less well-known works:
The drama The Laramie Project, produced at UIS and City Arts Venue over two weekends, played to large crowds last spring. Even Shakespeare played to sell-out crowds at New Salem last summer with Leigh Steiner's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. And Kari Catton also saw appreciative crowds flock to the premiere of her play The Orphan Train: The Track Home in the indoor theater at New Salem.
Gone but not forgotten:
It's sad to see the indoor theater at New Salem go dark this winter, but it'll be back on track, hopefully, sooner than later. I was also sorry to see the closing of City Arts Venue, which was a little oasis in downtown Springfield.