Smile Politely

Summer theatre season preview 2016

Townies (and students who choose a non-migratory lifestyle) tend to grumble about the fact that C-U feels a lot emptier in the summer. Phrases like “roll up the sidewalks after graduation” or “tumbleweeds drifting through downtown” are tossed around. I’ve been known to say a few things like that, especially when seeking material for articles. But I stopped to think about the town where I grew up — 18,000 people with corn stretching 40 minutes in every direction (not a typo, we had to measure distance in time because the mileage was too depressing) – and I realize that we only bitch about being bored because we are so spoiled for choice during the rest of the year. It’s with pride that I bring you a local theatre summer schedule that is robust for anywhere, let alone a college town where both students and faculty tend to be absent for an entire quarter.

Synopses are in alphabetical order by theatrical company, a calendar can be found at the bottom of the page.

Bah Humbug! Productions

A Week in Mercy Falls — Phoenix Theatre, Monticello, IL – June 4th-12th
Written by Jennifer Goran
Directed by Nick Schneider
Produced by Gil Yohnka 

Although this play will be staged in an entirely different county (gasp!), Bah Humbug is local to C-U, and this summer’s play was penned by a C-U resident, Jennifer Goran. In fact, A Week In Mercy Falls was read aloud at Parkland in 2012, and the former drama teacher has been shopping for a producer/director since then. The play follows the personal challenges and victories of three small-town sisters over the course of a week. It sounds about as unassuming as Welcome to Tolono, and I wish her as much success. 

Celebration Company at the Station Theatre 

Leaving Iowa – The Station Theatre, Urbana, IL – June 16th – July 2nd
By Tim Clue and Spike Manton
Directed by David Barkley 

After the death of his father, a middle-aged writer returns to Iowa in an attempt to fulfill the last wish to be returned to his childhood home. In a move reminiscent of Grosse Pointe Blank, the house has been replaced by a grocery store, and the son embarks on a road trip across the state to find a resting place worthy of the man he remembers behind the wheel during countless family vacations. Barkley is a Station staple onstage, most recently seen as Tolstoy in Discord, and since I missed him directing Ug, the Caveman Musical,  I’m curious to see what he will bring from behind the scenes. 

Bat Boy the Musical – The Station Theatre, Urbana, IL – July 14th – August 6th
Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe
Directed by Mikel L. Matthews, Jr.
Musical direction by Griffin Jenkins

Bat Boy from the Weekly World News story in the early 90s has become such an iconic image throughout pop culture, that I’m not surprised it has spawned its own musical. I can’t stop you from reading the plot synopsis somewhere else online, but I think this tale of deformity, acceptance, Christian charity, star-crossed love, failing marriage, plot twists and squicky reveals of Grecian classic proportions is probably one you want to watch unfold in front of you. Admittedly, this Frankenstein via Frank N. Furter tale is in good hands with the director who brought us Evil Dead: the musical and She Kills Monsters.

Champaign Park District Youth Theatre

Annie Kids – The Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL – May 12th-14th
Director and choreographer, Monica Samii
Musical director, Nicole Morgan
Assistant director, Leigh Kaiser.
Producer, Patty Dudley.

Annie Kids is a condensed version of the classic musical, and this weekend’s production is performed by children in 2nd – 4th grade. The sun will be sure to shine as a plucky orphan is adopted by a millionaire as a publicity stunt and ends up warming everyone’s hearts.


Fame Jr. – The Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL – July 21st-23rd
Based on the musical conceived and developed by David De Silva
Production staff TBD 

Great, now I have that theme song stuck in my head, but at least so do you. Even though this version has been edited down for time and content (it runs only 60 minutes), it’s a great vehicle for focusing on a talented cast that is diverse in both discipline and background. With energetic pop numbers and an ensemble cast of leads, the 6th-9th graders should turn out in droves.

Champaign Urbana Theatre Company 

Oklahoma! – Theatre TBD – August 4th-7th
by Rodgers and Hammerstein
Directed by Steve Fiol
Music Direction by Aaron Kaplan
Dance Choreographer: Rebecca Nettle-Fiol

Rodgers and Hammerstein became renowned for their revitalization of the American musical, and it began here, with their first real collaboration. The straightforward tale of two love triangles creating drama in a small country town is peppered with favorite songs and showstopping numbers. It’s a crowd-pleasing favorite with memorable characters and a direct plot that should provide an enjoyable evening out during the late summer.


Oliver! – Harold and Jean Miner Theatre, Parkland College – June 16-26
music and lyrics by Lionel Bart
Directed by Jessica Elliott

This year’s Kathy Murphy Student Production also features a plucky orphan, but this one goes from rags to rags to comfort to rags to comfort again after a kind of frighteningly violent confrontation. He does, however, manage to sing the entire time, and so do the adults, despite them leading relatively darker lives. Like most young thespians, I got my start in Oliver! and it holds a fond place in my heart. While I’m glad to see community productions give a chance to literally scores of kids, this all-youth production makes me wonder how Sykes and Nancy will play out, let alone Fagin and Bumble.

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Dreamgirls — Studio Theatre, KCPA — Aug 5th-7th
Music by Henry Krieger
Lyrics and Book by Tom Eyen
Link to auditions here.

A collaboration of the Banks Bridgewater Lewis Fine Arts Academy and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The moving but turbulent tale of a girl-group on their road to fame and real life beyond. It’s another case where the movie doesn’t equal the play, and our local talent really have a chance to show us what they’re made of. Auditions haven’t happened yet, so I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that this one is a “can’t miss.”

Twin City Squared

American Idiot – Harold and Jean Miner Theatre, Parkland College – May 27th-June 5th
Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Meyer
Directed by Mikel L. Matthews, Jr.

It’s a busy summer for Mr. Matthews, although this production hearkens back more to his production of RENT and Chess more than the weird and macabre. Taking songs straight from his albums, Billie Joe has constructed a narrative about three suburban boys trying to make it big in the post-punk city, reducing each of the women in their lives to placeholders in both name and action. I hope that’s the part that makes them “idiots”, but it’s probably the drugs, the army, and the apathy. Or maybe it’s a multilayered metaphorical masterpiece?

Five Women Wearing The Same Dress – Parkland Theatre’s Second Stage – July 22nd-31st
A play by Alan Ball
Directed by Monica Samii 

Our friends must all be friends because each one likes us, right? Well, sometimes. And sometimes it turns out that putting your five best friends in the same bridesmaids gown and making them all stand up at your wedding can bring them even closer together. With Six Feet Under and American Beauty to his writing credit, there’s no question that Alan Ball can write a woman’s story, and with an experienced director at the helm, this play has definitely piqued my interest.   

Urbana Park District Youth Theatre

Willy Wonka – Harold and Jean Miner Theatre, Parkland College – July 15th-17th
Songs by Tim McDonald and Leslie Bricusse with Anthony Newley
Directed by Katie Odem
Music direction by Noah Larson 

A mashup of the novel and the 1971 film, with brand new songs written by new and old collaborators, I’m not really sure what to expect from the upcoming Willy Wonka. Each of the ticket winners has an expanded chance to sing, with solos and by joining Oompa Loompas, and UPD Youth Theatre’s all-inclusive cast list has announced quite the large ensemble. There are some names I’ve learned to look for, however, such as Josh Harris and Jasmine Elam, so I’m prepared for an evening of “Pure Imagination.”


Annie – May 12-14
American Idiot – May 27-June 5
A Week In Mercy Falls – June 4-12
Long Lost — June 8-12
Oliver! – June 16-26
Leaving Iowa – June 16–July 2
Bat Boy the Musical – July 14-August 6
Willy Wonka – July 15-17
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress – July 22-31
Oklahoma! – August 4-7
Dreamgirls – August 5-7

About Rebecca Knaur…

Arts Editor for Smile Politely, rk is in the habit of imbibing mind-altering beverages while publishing thoughts to the world at large. It’s also given her the ability to recognize some of these local names without Googling. Feel free to listen to more random twaddle by following @rknaur on Twitter.

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