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Thursday, March 11, 2004 12:48 pm

Backstage Pass

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As You Like It at Springfield Theatre Centre

Shakespeare's As You Like It, staged by Michael Savage at Springfield Theatre Centre, concludes its run this weekend, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 12-13, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 13. Utilizing a bare stage with only two benches, the small company of some of the area's best actors (including Felicia Coulter, Jim Cox, Sandra Fritz, Darin Harms, Mary Young, Erin Saunders and Mac Warren) take the audience on a fast and furious romp through the forest of Arden. See it before it closes this weekend. (For tickets, call 523-0878.)

One of the most interesting new performance venues in Springfield is the Museum of Funeral Customs, located on Monument Avenue at the entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery. A poetry reading will be held there at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 13. Several area poets (both professional and amateur) will read works on the topic of death and dying, grief and mourning, funeral customs and elegies.

Saturday night, Prairie Grapevine's series of concerts and storytelling performances continues with professional storyteller Donna Dettman at 7:30 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 745 Woodside Rd. Dettman is one of the best and offers a unique take on life.

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry's ground-breaking drama about a black family moving into a white Chicago neighborhood, plays Friday-Sunday, March 12-14, in the Colwell Playhouse at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The production features guest artist and professional actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce. (For tickets, call 217-333-6280).

Let the games begin: The big show this weekend is the annual Muni Opera auditions -- some call it a cattle call, but one thing for sure is it's a chance to see and hear what's out there in the local talent pool and to even make some new discoveries.

Adult auditions (for ages 13 and up) take place at the Center for the Arts on Saturday and Sunday, March 13-14, and on the following Saturday, March 20. Dance registration begins at 8:30 a.m., with the dance/movement auditions starting at 9 a.m. each day. Vocal registration will follow at 11 a.m. and vocal and reading auditions begin at 12:30 p.m. each day. For detailed information on the shows (Honk!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, A Chorus Line, and Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), check the Muni Web site at www.themuni.org.

Sangamon Auditorium brings a touring company of the popular musical Grease, playing one night, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 18. (For tickets, call 206-6160).

High school theater has gone through changes the past few years, with local schools taking more risks and offering their students more challenging material. Last year Laurie O'Brien directed a top-notch Pippin at Glenwood High School and this year she's gone back in time to stage an old chestnut, Brigadoon. The vocals, orchestra, dance and strong acting in the cast brought a great richness to the show.

The same occurred over at Rochester High School where Dave Shaw's West Side Story was exciting and shattering. Shaw put the actors playing the two gangs through a sort of boot camp the first week of rehearsals and it obviously paid off. The scenic design used the entire gym with the audience seated in five sections around the playing area. The ensemble of students gave what I can only call a ferocious, gripping performance, exhibiting such a tight, cohesive unit, it made me think this is truly the way to experience this classic musical -- performed by kids the correct age.

Watch for more news of what's on local stages this spring.

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