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Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2003 02:20 pm

Break a leg or two

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Feb. 20, Sangamon Auditorium

Next year offers a full playbill of exciting theater, but before we leave 2003, a few exceptional performances bear another mention. A Springfield high school, Sacred-Heart Griffin, raised the bar for local theater with its staging of the musical Les Misérables. Parkland College in Champaign produced an unforgettable The Laramie Project with a cast of 78 actors. And actresses Cynda Wrightsman and Carly Shank gave standout performances on local stages: Wrightsman in 110 in the Shade and Shank in Proof.

The new year will see the return of the '70s musical Annie, with Cassie Gaddis in the title role and staged by Julie Davis at Springfield Theatre Centre (Jan. 9-11, Jan. 15-18), followed by Three Tall Women, Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. STC's season will also feature productions of Shakespeare's As You Like It (March 5-7, March 12-14); the rock opera Tommy (March 26-28, April 2-4) and Louis Sachar's award-winning children's book Holes (May 7-9, May 14-16). Auditions for Three Tall Women will be held on Jan. 3 and auditions for Tommy will take place on Jan. 31. For STC information, call 217-523-0878).

The big news for 2004, of course, is the opening of the Center for the Arts in downtown Springfield. The ribbon-cutting ceremonies took place last week, and a striking new marquee advertises the Center's location on South Sixth Street. The fact that we now have a facility downtown with several performance spaces is a great gift to us all.

Bob Bartel's play about George Harrison's connection to Benton, Ill., titled All Those Years Ago, is scheduled for two performances at the Center (Feb. 14). It features Chris Katholi as the youngest member of the Beatles. Bartel's play, which he is also directing, is a piece of Illinois history, looking back to 1963 when George Harrison came to Benton with his brother Pete. Originally staged by Joni Paige at Southeast High School in 2001, the play is based on a documentary Bartel made titled "A Beatle in Benton, Illinois." Also, at the Center, Gordon Productions will reprise their popular Forever Plaid (April 16-18, April 22-25). For Center information, call 217-523-2787.

Jacksonville Theatre Guild offers Robert Anderson's drama I Never Sang for My Father, featuring Jim Nevins and Doc Holloway, at the Sophie Leschin Theatre (Jan. 29-Feb. 1). For information, call 217-245-1402.

Sue Linn, the new director at Sangamon Auditorium, will be bringing in some more good theater this winter and spring. Jesus Christ Superstar plays for five performances (Jan. 30-Feb. 1). This tour has been receiving rave reviews the past few months and will be a good one for those Superstar fans (and for any who have never seen it).

Also at Sangamon Auditorium in coming months: Comedy from Chicago's Second City (Feb. 7); Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Feb. 20); Shakespeare's Richard III, presented by The Acting Company (Feb. 27); Verdi's opera La Traviata (March 6); and A Streetcar Named Desire, staged by the Montana Repertory Theatre (April 6). A tour of the recent Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate will stop here for a matinee and evening performance (May 1). For information, call 217-206-6160.

Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson, director of the recent Proof at UIS, will stage Noel Coward's comedy Hay Fever, about a British theater family in the Studio Theatre of UIS's Public Affairs Center (April 9-10, April 15-18). Call 217-206-6738 for audition information.

Heartland Theatre Company in Normal has brought many stagings of new plays to central Illinois the past few years and will be offering Diana Son's off-Broadway hit Stop Kiss, (Feb. 12-14, Feb. 20-22, Feb. 27-28). For information, call 309-452-8709.

Parkland College stages A.R. Gurney's comedy Sylvia (Feb. 4-15), followed by the musical 1776 (April 14-May 1). For information, call 217-351-2528.

A touring company of The Music Man plays Kirkland Fine Arts Center at Millikin University in Decatur (Jan. 31), followed by the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical A Little Night Music (April 30-May 2). Call 217-424-6318.

The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre in Champaign is another small theater offering innovative works. They will offer Edward Albee's latest Tony award-winning play The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (Jan. 22-Feb. 7), another new play, The Drawer Boy (March 25-April 3), and the hit '60s off-Broadway musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (April 15-May 8). Call 217-384-4000.

March brings audition-time for the Springfield Muni Opera's summer season. Auditions will be held for the shows Honk, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, A Chorus Line and Big River. Check out the Muni Web site, www.muni.org, for audition information.

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