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Thursday, July 17, 2003 02:20 pm

Backstage pass

“Abraham!” returns to New Salem, “My Fair Lady” at the Muni, and something in the water at Rushville

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This week marks the return of the Ken Bradbury and Robert Crowe musical Abraham!, playing July 18 through 27 in the outdoor amphitheater at Lincoln's New Salem. Now in its seventh year, Abraham! follows Lincoln's early years at New Salem. Returning in the title role is Nathan Carls. The ensemble features Greg Floyd, Bob Large, Sandra Fritz, Phyllis Hoover, Victor Holstein, and Kristen Van Aken.

"It's been a kind of luxury having the same cast back three years in a row," says Bradbury. "They've really grown into their roles, and I noticed at rehearsal they were bringing some of their own new touches to the show, including some line changes. I reminded them that the show has a following that comes back year-to-year and that they know every line. We always hope to not be corrected by the audience!"

For theatergoers looking for an alternative to the favored summer fare, check out Betty's Summer Vacation, produced by the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre in Champaign. Written by Christopher Durang (Beyond Therapy, Baby with the Bathwater, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All to You), this dark comedy looks at America's fascination with violence. The plot revolves around Betty, who's looking for some rest and relaxation at a beach house. There's a supposed serial killer on the loose, and one of the show's devices is a laugh-track that has a mind of its own. The comedy runs July 17 through August 2 and is directed by Aaron Polk (call 384-4000).

Lincoln Community Theatre ends its run of the comedy Steel Magnolias, directed by Paul Cary. Locals featured in the production are Sherry Miles of Springfield, Erica Smith of Auburn, and Debbie Poynter of Greenview. The show plays on the campus of Lincoln College (in a cool, air-conditioned theater) through July 19. Call 735-2614 for reservations.

Also continuing this weekend is another popular repeat: the musical Grease, this time playing at Jacksonville Theatre Guild July 17 through 27. Eric Thomas directs the popular show at the Sophie Leschin Theatre (call 245-0838). It's a fun, tongue-in-cheek valentine to another era, and the large, energetic cast makes for a joyful time.

Troy Kemp and Carrie Kincaid are playing the leads in Muni's next show, My Fair Lady, opening this weekend and running July 18 though 27. The classic Lerner and Loewe musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1904 play Pygmalion, is directed by Chuck Hoots and also features Dennis O'Brien, Ron Seney, and Matthew Schwartz.

Though My Fair Lady differs from most musicals, in that it's really a play with songs, the songs are what's made the 1956 musical a classic. Songs include "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Wouldn't It be Loverly?," and "I'm Getting Married in the Morning" (not to mention "The Rain in Spain," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, etc.). Vocal director Debbie Holmes says she's impressed with all the leads, and she was grinning ear-to-ear when she told me how fine their voices are (she actually said "sparkly"). Holmes is also touting the chorus--oftentimes overlooked in a Broadway musical--for strong vocals, characterization, and attention to detail.

For Carrie Kincaid, playing Eliza Dolittle has been a long time coming. She was last onstage at the Muni as Tzeitel in Fiddler On the Roof five years ago. "I was in the ensemble of My Fair Lady at Western Illinois University years ago and now to have the chance to play this part is a dream come true," says Kincaid. "It's really been the 'lifetime great role' for me for years. Now I can finally mark it off the to-do list of roles I've always hoped to play."

Another interesting side note is the casting of Troy Kemp and Ron Seney as Higgins and his colleague, Colonel Pickering. These two actors played Captain Hook and his sidekick Smee in Muni's Peter Pan three years ago.

For Muni tickets, call 793-6864, or on show nights only after 7 p.m. call 529-5787.

If you've never been to one of Rushville's outdoor musicals, it's always worth the drive over to see what they have to offer. There must be something in the water because this small town has abundant talent. This summer the musical is Oliver!, playing this weekend on the new outdoor stage in SchyRush Park, located south of Rushville on Route 67. The show runs July 18 though 20 (take along a lawn chair). Show time is 8:30 (call 322-6136).

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