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Thursday, May 26, 2011 06:26 am

A rich season of summer theater


Actors practice a choreographed sword fight for Theatre In the Park’s presentation of Romeo and Juliet

August Roy as Juliet and Jonah Walker as Romeo.
Summer theater is upon us and there’s quite an exciting list of possibilities for area theater-goers over the next three months.

Theatre in the Park at New Salem outside Petersburg opens its season June 3 with Romeo and Juliet (in a co-production with Over the Moon Productions), running June 3-5 and 9-11.  The production features 17-year-old August Roy, a junior at Southeast High School, making her stage debut as Juliet, along with Lincoln Land Community College student Jonah Walker as Romeo. The season continues with the musical, The Secret Garden (June 24-26 and June 30-July 3), based on the children’s classic novel; the premiere of a new theater work by Tara McClellan McAndrew titled The Lighter Side of Springfield History, staged on two nights (July 9 and July 30); the 1970s Broadway musical Shenandoah (July 15-17 and 21-24); a youth musical called Camp Rock (Aug. 5-7 and 11-14); and ending with Kari Catton’s play about the 19th century orphan trains, Healin’ Home (Aug. 19-21 and 26-27). Information at www.theatreinthepark.net or call 217-632-5440.

Muni Opera has something for everyone this year: the classic Huckleberry Finn musical, Big River, with music by Roger Miller, is back after a seven-year absence, featuring Luke McQuillen and Joel Tinsley-Hall as Huck and Jim (June 10-12 and 15-19); next is the 1950s classic, Guys and Dolls (July 1-3 and 6-10); then the smash hit Broadway show Hairspray (July 22-24 and 27-31); and family favorite The Wizard of Oz (Aug. 12-14 and 17-21), featuring local radio personality Johnny Molson as The Wizard and Channel 20’s Gus Gordon as The Cowardly Lion. Information at www.themuni.org (or call 217-793-MUNI).

A production of The Diary of Anne Frank will play for three performances in Rushville at the Phoenix Opera House (June 2-4), directed by Western Illinois University Theatre professor Ray Gabica. Rushville is known for its talent and its beautiful upper-story 19th-century opera house, so it is always a pleasure to drive over to this Schuyler County town. A pre-show discussion with director Gabica takes place at 6 p.m. June 2. For more information call 217-322-7630 or 217-322-2532.

I’m looking forward to seeing Cincinnatti actor Bill Hartnett as Mark Twain in his new show An Evening With Mark Twain, playing at the Hoogland Center for the Arts July 8-10 (Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.). The Hoogland will also offer a production of the 1960s Neil Simon comedy, Barefoot in the Park, July 23-24 and July 29-31, and at the end of the summer, the musical Smoke On the Mountain, a fun show about a family gospel-singing group in 1938 North Carolina (Aug. 26-28 and Sept. 2-4). Information at www.hcfta.org (or call 217-523-2787).

We are fortunate in central Illinois to boast of an exceptional theater offering Shakespeare with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Normal. Artistic Director Deb Alley has announced their summer offerings, running in repertory (June 23 – Aug. 7): Romeo and Juliet, followed by the hilarious Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) – 37 plays in 97 minutes! — and ending the season with Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. Information at www.thefestival.org or call 309-438-8974.

Bill Hartnett presents An Evening with Mark Twain July 8-10.

I’m happy to report that the Summer Studio Theatre season at Krannert Center is back at University of Illinois-Champaign. The theater was dark last summer so this is very good news, and the shows picked are each must-sees:  Peter Parnell’s play, QED, about the scientist Richard Feynman, followed by the hit off-Broadway musical about a group of friends writing a musical, [title of show]; and the classic 1940s Noel Coward ghost comedy, Blithe Spirit. Information at www.kran-tix@illinois.edu or call 217-333-6280.

Jacksonville Theatre Guild presents a youth production, Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum June 9-12, followed by the musical Footloose (July 28-31 and Aug. 4-7) in the Sophie Leschin Theatre in Jacksonville Community Park. Information at www.jaxtg.com or call 217-245-1402.

Our nearby professional summer stock company, The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, has another full schedule of big musicals produced on the intimate stage, opening with Cats, featuring Broadway’s Anna McNeely, who starred in the original Broadway production (June 1-12); Footloose (June 15-26); Oklahoma! (June 29-July 10); The Producers (July 13-24); and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (July 27–Aug. 14). Information at www.thelittletheatre.org or call 217-728-7375.

The Station Theatre at 223 N. Broadway in Urbana has two shows playing this summer: the musical Hairspray (June 16-July 9) and the recent hit show The 39 Steps, a highly theatrical production based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film (July 21-Aug. 6). Information at www.stationtheatre.com or call 217-384-4000.

Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria is staging the Tony award-winning Broadway musicals Avenue Q (June 17-19 and 22-25) and Hairspray (Aug. 5-7 and 10-13). Information at www.eastlighttheatre.com or call 309-699-7469.

Broadway’s Anna McNeely performs in Cats.
The granddaddy of outdoor theatre is still The Muny in St. Louis, with more than 10,000 seats. Here is this summer’s schedule: Legally Blonde (June 20-26); Kiss Me, Kate (June 27-July 3); Disney’s The Little Mermaid (July 6-14); Singin’ in the Rain (July 18-24); Little Shop of Horrors (July 25-31); Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Aug. 1-7) and Bye Bye, Birdie (Aug. 8-14). Information at www.muny.org or call 314-361-1900.

Finally, renowned theater and opera director, Peter Sellars, one of the leading innovators in the performing arts in America and abroad will be in Springfield Thursday, July 28, giving a presentation, followed by QandA and dialogue from 9 a.m. till noon at Sacred Heart Convent, 1225 W. Monroe. Peter Sellars’ groundbreaking interpretations of the classics from Mozart, Handel, Shakespeare and Sophocles have been seen on stages around the world. How does someone of Sellars’ stature find his way to Springfield? This visit is sponsored by the Dominican Institute for the Arts. There will be an opening reception for Sellars on Wed., July 27, at 7 p.m. Call 217-787-0481 for information.

Phil Funkenbusch has been writing for Illinois Times on theater for many years. He can be reached at phildeanf@yahoo.com.

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