Smile Politely

Parkland Theatre prepares for a season-long adventure

The upcoming theatrical season at Parkland College will be an important one, not only based on its impressive roster of plays and musicals, but also because it will be the inaugural season for Parkland’s new Second Stage black box theater. Anyone who has been in the Parkland Theatre lobby this past season will recall designs of the structure on display, and theatre lovers will be waiting impatiently to see what wonders it will hold. In the meantime, there’s a season’s worth of comedies, dramas, and musicals to consider, as well as two visiting shows from Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company.

As it has in recent years, Parkland will play host to two CUTC musicals this summer before beginning its 2014-2015 theatre season. First up for CUTC will be the venerable Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, directed by Tim Broeker. This production is the 9th annual Kathy Murphy Student Production, featuring talented area youth aged 18 and younger. Seven Brides will run two consecutive weekends at Parkland College Theatre, June 12-15 and 19-22. For those of you who don’t know the plot (or haven’t seen the beloved film version starring Jane Powell and Howard Keel), expect a lot of courting and quarreling, some barn-raising, and a “feisty sexpot” named Dorcas.

In August, CUTC will present the musical Mary Poppins, based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film, with original music & lyrics by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman and book by Julian Fellowes. New songs and additional music & lyrics for the production were created by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and the whole venture is the co-offspring of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh. LaDonna Wilson will direct a pretty huge cast in this family affair running July 31-August 4. That’s just one weekend, folks, so make plans if you want to see it.

And now, without further ado, let us turn to Parkland College Theatre’s upcoming fall/spring season, which includes a zany farce, an imaginative family adventure, a tale of teens and super powers, and a foot-stomping musical comedy. It would appear to have all the elements of a diverse, truly crowd-pleasing season, and the roster of directors only adds to the promise.

The season is as follows:

Leading Ladies

Directed by Sandra Zelinski

October 2nd-12th

It’s a little Charley’s Aunt, a little Some Like It Hot, and it will undoubtedly result in a lot of laughs for the audience. A comedy set in the 1950s, Leading Ladies is another broad farce from the mind of Ken Ludwig, who wrote the (honestly, pretty hilarious) community theatre chestnut Lend Me a Tenor. In this go-round, we find two down-on-their-luck classical actors who pose as the long-lost nieces of a rich and ailing woman. Their plan, naturally, is to outlast the old lady and cash in on her inheritance. But, as tends to happen, complications arise in the form of romantic entanglements with other (legitimate) relatives.

Around The World in 80 Days

Directed by Tom Mitchell

November 14th-23rd

Parkland will hold the Grand Opening of its new Second Stage venue with the opening of Laura Eason’s Around The World in 80 Days. Over the last few seasons, Parkland has established a tradition of producing shows aimed at kids and parents (Pinkalicious, How I Became a Pirate), and Eason’s adaptation of the classic Jules Verne tale should continue the streak. Of the world premiere production of 80 Days at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, the Chicago Sun-Times said it was “a high-spirited, imagination-filled escapade that makes use of a slew of theatrical tricks, among which the most notable is the ability of a polymorphous eight-person cast to suggest a cast of hundreds.” With its small-cast multitasking and emphasis on the magic of storytelling, this promises to be an auspicious beginning for the new Second Stage theater building, about which you may expect more information to come.

The Sparrow

Directed by Gary Ambler

February 19th-March 1st

Also to be performed at the Second Stage, this tale of childhood tragedy and the supernatural has the earmarks of both current comic book mythology and coming-of-age allegories like Stephen King’s Carrie. In brief (and not to give too much away): teenager Emily returns to her hometown ten years after a school bus crash that only she survived. Once she is brought back into the fold, however, Emily begins to display unusual abilities that have both positive and negative outcomes for her and those around her. It’s exciting to anticipate what director Gary Ambler will do with this 2007 piece (written by Chris Mathews, Jake Minton, and Nathan Allen), which received glowing responses to its imaginative handling of an original and emotional story.

The Drowsy Chaperone

Directed by JW Morrissette

April 16th-May 2nd

With its book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music & lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, The Drowsy Chaperone will conclude Parkland’s spring semester of shows. This musical comedy, which was a huge hit on Broadway and in its lengthy touring productions, should be of special interest to a certain subset of theatre fans. You might remember the names Bob Martin and Don McKellar as major contributors to the most excellent Canadian television series Slings & Arrows, which brings a whole new level of geek chic to this production, a parody of American musical comedies of the 1920s. A play within a play (or “musical within a comedy,” as its Broadway poster proclaimed), the plot revolves almost literally around a middle-aged fellow who puts on a recording of his favorite musical, only to have it come to life around him.

This is, most likely, what the audience will be experiencing as well. Hopefully for Parkland, the feeling will last all season long.

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