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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 10:55 am

A rich season for local theater

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Gil Opferman and Shelly Flickinger take a peek From Behind the Curtain, at the Springfield Theatre Centre Feb 11-13, and 18-20.

The new year has begun with some new titles on area stages and several more are coming up in the coming weeks.

Seeing the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee recently (a Springfield Theatre Centre production at the Hoogland Center for the Arts) was such a lift from the winter blahs. This organization has been doing its part to produce new and interesting works. It was such a good production with a perfect cast of actors, it was fun to see a show that was relatively new. (It played on Broadway a few seasons ago.)

Not only is the next Springfield Theatre Centre production new, it’s a premiere. Ken Bradbury is directing a new musical, From Behind the Curtain. Bradbury interviewed people involved in the theater scene in the area and, along with his writing partner, Roger Wainwright, has created a brand new show. The musical is described as “a ride through the memories, the nightmares and the joys of our local acting community.” It runs Feb. 11-13 and 18-20 at the Hoogland Center, 217-523-2787.

Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie was a bestselling book and also filmed for television, but many do not know there is also a popular stage version, which will be given its Springfield premiere the end of this month. Veteran Springfield actor Barry Weiss plays Morrie opposite Matthew T. Dearing in a local production at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, directed by Rich McCoy, running Feb. 18-20 and 25-27.

Pat Pennington is directing a new drama, Four Places, by playwright Joel Drake Johnson from Chicago, where it premiered two years ago. The play has recently been nominated for Best New Play by the L. A. Drama Critics for its 2010 Los Angeles production. Four Places is a series of lunches with two adult children and their aged mother. Johnson is an Illinois playwright (he grew up in Dixon) and wrote a terrific play, The Fall to Earth, that won Chicago actress Rondi Reed (also a native of Dixon – the two were high school students there together) a Jeff Award when she starred in it at Steppenwolf Theatre. Four Places will run in Theatre III at the Hoogland Center for the Arts March 11-13 and 18-20.

Another Chicago playwright, Rebecca Gilman, is represented here this spring when her controversial play, Spinning Into Butter, is staged at the UIS Studio Theatre, located on Level 1 in the Public Affairs Center (PAC) on the UIS campus, running April 8-10 and 14-16. The widely-produced play tackles the subject of race relations and political correctness on a small college campus, as the playwright challenges our preconceptions about race. Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson directs. Tickets are on sale at the Sangamon Auditorium box office, 206-6160.

Finally, Ed MacMurdo and I are staging a new play titled Flight by Charlayne Woodard in the Union Theatre at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in March. The play takes place on a Georgia plantation in 1858. It is a powerful drama in which a small group of the slave community gathers and the slaves tell stories about their lives. It plays March 17-19 and 24-27. For information call 217-558-8934.

Phil Funkenbusch is director of the Shows Division for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, a position he has held since the museum’s opening in 2005. He can be reached at phildeanf@yahoo.com.

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