Think Waiting for Guffman meets cavemen, suggests David Barkley, veteran Champaign Urbana Theatre Company director, about the forthcoming Station production, Ug, The Caveman Musical.
If you don’t know Guffman, don’t beat yourself up too hard. It’s the hardly famous 1997 cult classic from Spinal Tap and Best in Show mastermind Christopher Guest. It’s a niche film that anyone involved with Mid-Western community theater should have, and probably has, seen by now.
Ug, however, (that’s fun to say) sounds hardly that niche, and hardly that old and exposed. It’s a new piece, debuted 2007, that’s hardly been seen in the Mid-West, having been staged in the area, as far as I can tell, only at St. Charles East High School and Indianapolis’s Theatre On the Square this past fall.
Barkley thinks the show holds appeal for far more than high school Broadway wannabes (Glee-Myspace-Vomit-Purge…). It isn’t an insiders-only sort of show. “It deals with the beginnings of theatre — in caveman times. And a lot of stereotypical things you’d expect: diva fits, panic attacks. If you’ve been around the performing arts at all, you’ll get it. And even if you haven’t, it’s a fun, light-hearted comedy.
“If you haven’t seen live theatre in a while,” Barkley follows up, “this is the perfect way to come back into it.”
The musical theatre aficionado had to strip down a bit for this one. Having whet his dramatic whistle directing crowd-pleasing and perpetually produced numbers like Oklahoma, Big River, and Jesus Christ Superstar for CUTC at the historic Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign, he’s now working at a black box space by the railroad tracks in Urbana. Also, he’s got a comparatively diminutive cast of eight to train, and a four-piece combo instead of the usually requisite full-orchestral pit.
But don’t let the scale fool you. While Ug (ha!) takes several jesting jabs at showbiz, craftsmanship is still in demand. The show’s set-design (I have yet to see one at the Station that was less than superb) was assembled by Charles Miericke and has taken an estimated two-hundred-and-counting man-hours of pure papier-mâché construction.
Oh, and Barkley has also taught private voice lessons for some twenty-plus years. He sees this show as a fit for the Station’s summer line-up of lighter, comedic-though sometimes still intellectually stimulating-fare, following on the heels of Picasso, and heading into the endgame with the maybe-meatier The Little Dog Laughed.
“This is a small cast in a cave, and the great thing about it is that when they’re all up there singing, they fill up the whole space.”
This is what I love about the Station. It’s intimate. It’s small. You can touch anyone on the floor in front of you, and you feel like you know them that much better, with no pretense, maybe less bombast, and always solid theatrical chops.
Ug debuts tomorrow July 1st and runs through the 17th. Get yourself a seat.