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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 01:01 am

See Oliver and Abe outdoors this summer

A promising theater season is in store for central Illinois

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A scene from the musical The Civil War at Union Square Park.
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

Summer theater in our area gets better every year and this summer looks promising with a not-to-be-missed new production of an old favorite: Forever This Land at New Salem, Carly Shank’s take on Oliver! at the Muni and a top-notch cast in Into the Woods in Jacksonville.

Muni Opera opens its season with Oliver! (June 5-14); followed by the hit Broadway musical and the “hot” show of the summer The Producers (June 26–July 5); the classic Fiddler on the Roof (July 17-26); and the popular High School Musical (Aug. 7-16).

Carly Shank, director of 2007’s hit Grease, is back with Oliver!, the Lionel Bart musical based on Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Shank has been inspired by the films of Tim Burton (Nightmare Before Christmas, Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands) as she creates a new look at an old musical for today’s audience. She has also found the perfect youngster, Jimmy Riemer, to play the title role. For Muni Opera tickets and info call 793-MUNI (or online at www.themuni.org).

Theatre in the Park, the beautiful outdoor theater at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg, opens its season with a stage version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women (May 22-24 and 28-30); followed by Songwriter’s Circle (June 5-6) featuring Jaigh and Josie Lowder and Paul Ingle; the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (June 12-14 and 18-21); They Knew Lincoln (June 26-27); Forever This Land (July 3-5 and 9-12); Heritage (July 17-19); a powerful family drama, Mother Hicks (July 24-26 and July 30-Aug. 1) helmed by Valerie Parga, the director of last summer’s The Elephant Man; Ken Bradbury and Roger Wainwright’s look back at adolescent adventures at a summer Bible camp, the musical Camp Sunshine (Aug. 7-8); a new musical Abe (Aug. 14-16 and 20-23); ending with Shakespeare Shorts (Aug. 28-29), an Over the Moon Productions show with Kevin Purcell, Aasne Vasagne and local actors performing scenes from Shakespeare.

Theatre in the Park is devoting a great deal of its season to the Lincoln Bicentennial. Kermit Hunter’s Forever This Land premiered at New Salem in 1951, commissioned by Gov. Adlai Stevenson. A big, pageant-like epic about Abraham Lincoln (originally played by the late, great Harlington Wood, Jr.), it was actually quite an adventure to track down a script this year. “A few of the original cast members were contacted,” says producer Kari Catton, “and the search expanded from Petersburg, to New York, to Texas and to North Carolina!” Eventually, Theatre in the Park obtained the rights and found the original music. Don Bailey, who worked on the original production, is directing.

They Knew Lincoln is a production featuring three monologues of people in Lincoln’s life; and Heritage is a play about the women who influenced Lincoln’s life. The musical Abe covers Lincoln’s life from his earliest days through the 1860 election. Abe premiered in Quincy last February and is written by Lee Goldsmith and Roger Anderson. Call 632-5440 for tickets (online at www.theatreinthepark.net).

It will be worth the drive to the Sophie Leschin Theatre in Jacksonville to see the musical Into the Woods, featuring favorites Greg Floyd and Kristin Jamison. The Jacksonville Theatre Guild production of the show about what happens after “they lived happily ever after” plays July 30-Aug. 2 and Aug. 6-9. Call 245-1402 or 473-9038 for tickets (or online at www.jaxtg.com).

The musical The Civil War is back in Union Square Park (across from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum) for six performances, July 24-26 and July 30-Aug. 1. The musical with a cast of 20 tells the personal stories of those living on both sides of the conflict, with 26 songs, concert-style, featuring an all-star cast and Ed MacMurdo’s unforgettable musical staging. The museum’s new show, One Destiny by Richard Hellesen — a one-act play that takes place on the stage of Ford’s Theatre a week after Lincoln’s assassination — will continue to play throughout the summer during daytime hours. For tickets and info for The Civil War and One Destiny, call the museum box office: 217-588-8934 (or online at www.presidentlincoln.org).

The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan offers professional summer stock musicals. This year’s lineup includes Singin’ in the Rain (June 10-21); The Wedding Singer (June 24-July 5); Funny Girl (July 8-19); The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (July 22-Aug. 2); and High School Musical (Aug. 5-16). Call 217-728-7375 (or online at www.thelittletheatre.org).

The Summer Studio Theatre season at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana also presents three shows in repertory from June 5-July 1, featuring Charles Ludlum’s hilarious spoof of melodramas, The Mystery of Irma Vep; Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play I Am My Own Wife, the true story of a German transvestite who managed to survive during the Nazi regime; and the stage adaptation of Mitch Albom’s bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie. For tickets, call 800-527-2849 (or online at www.Krannert Center.com).

Finally, for fans of the musical RENT, that show will be performing at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis June 2-7 with original stars Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp. And the new Broadway musical, Mary Poppins, will play the Fox Aug. 13-30. Call 314-535-1700 (or online at www.fabulousfox.com).

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