Seemed fitting to title a theatre season announcement with a Shakespeare quote, especially considering what’s driving all the changes that are taking place at Parkland this year. I was braced for radical reductions in the Arts programs: it just seems to be the way these things go when money becomes an issue. It’s reassuring to see the new production schedule, where constraints have caused only one show to be removed from the normal season. For the leadership of the Fine Arts & Design department to have found a way to accommodate the season as it stands is a major coup.
The most noticeable change appears to be in content, and even that was just happenstance. My curiosity piqued by the differences, I managed to get some inside information from artistic director for Parkland College Theatre Joi Hoffsommer.
Most years, Parkland’s season consists of four shows with an additional student-run production; this year, one of the regular productions needed to be cut, and the remaining four turned out to be musicals. As usual, the final show of the season is a large musical intended to accommodate a cross-section of disciplines within the Fine Arts & Design department. In alternating years, there is a family or youth theatre offering, usually also a musical, and this is the “on” year for that. In addition, the faculty author of the student production included music when he submitted the first treatment, which was a surprise. That just leaves the first show of the year, and it was chosen for topical interest, and just so happens to be a historical musical.
First Lady Suite
And why not? The hottest ticket all around the country is Hamilton, so kicking off a new season with First Lady Suite seems like a smart idea. After all, Hoffsommer said, it is “an election year when a former first lady is campaigning for president.” It’s also a year when anyone even vaguely woman-shaped is having her personal agency threatened. This group of loosely-related one-act musicals demonstrates that even the highest lady in the land has to fight to feel like a person: Jacqueline Kennedy, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman, and even Eleanor Roosevelt sing with wry humor about the challenges they each faced as women. Book, music, and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
This year’s holiday show is also the family offering, and it is indeed based off the Charles M. Schulz television special we already know and love. Featuring the music of Vince Guaraldi, all the music in this work will be choral, states Hoffsommer, “so non-singers can audition and be cast.” I just want to know who gets to do the Snoopy dance.
Kazam! Intrepid Inspector Ingrid of Interpol and the Crimson-Caped Killer Caper
This year’s student-run production is being written by Theatre and Communications professor Kerry Bean and will be directed, designed, acted and crewed by students. A new piece of knowledge for me is that the income from this show will help fund student awards to help with the expenses that come along with schooling. Since this will be the world-premiere of an original work, all I can give you is the plot summary from the website: “Kazam! is a ‘musical murder mystery melodrama’ invoking slapstick, running gags, unforgivable puns, gaping plot holes, and deliciously original songs.” In addition, there seems to be an interactive portion with the chance to win a prize for identifying the guilty suspect, so take notes and watch carefully!
I’ve seen this Cole Porter classic repeatedly, and I honestly never noticed that the book was written by P.G. Wodehouse (among others) — no wonder I continue to enjoy it. It appears that Parkland will be presenting the 1987 revival script, which offers newer jokes and (some think) quicker pacing, but swaps out several songs. I’m sad to see “Heaven Hop” and “Let’s Misbehave” disappear off the list, but I’m interested to hear updated dialogue. The big numbers, especially “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” are there, and sources tell me it will feature a lot of tap, so differences aside, it should be a good time.
Change can be good, and if I have to cliché here, I’ll choose “necessity is the mother of invention.” Parkland has found a way to stay challenging to its students and keep its commitment to enriching the community, despite unforeseeable hardships. That in itself is worth applause, and I look forward to offering more with each production.