Summer theater and the upcoming season

Theater seasons traditionally begin in the fall, but summer productions provide us with year-round entertainment. A new show opens nearly every week, and variety spices our lives.

Winesburg, Ohio, a new musical

Alerted by a card from Gary Wingert, we made arrangements to attend an opening week performance of Winesburg, Ohio. A musical adaptation of Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 novel, its dark themes explore the inner secrets of small-town America. Dramatically intriguing, it is the music that resonates, reminding one of early Stephen Sondheim.

Eric Rosen, co-founder of About Face, created the book and lyrics with artistic associates Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman composing the music. Adapting a novel to another genre is difficult, and adding music presents additional complications. Rosen, Pluess and Sussman achieve their aim, and an exceptional cast dramatizes Sherwood Anderson’s concept with the intense emotion dominating his work.

A reflection of Anderson’s life in a small Ohio town, the Willard family mirrors his own. George (Ryan Gardner), a newspaper reporter with dreams of literary greatness; Elizabeth, his mother (Jane Blass); and Tom, a failing businessman (Matthew Lon Walker) reveal their inner feelings in “Memory.” As the young Elizabeth, Kristina Martin dressed in men’s clothes rides her bicycle defiantly down Main Street. Outstanding in multiple roles are Jeff Parker, Jeff Dumas, Gary Wingert and Lesley Bevan.

Winesburg, Ohio was originally commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and its one-act version premiered in the winter of 2002. Subsequent workshops developed new material, and the product, the current two-act version. The show runs through July with a possible extension. Tickets are available through About Face. Steppenwolf Box Office–(312) 335-1650.

Gary Wingert shared with us his joy in being a part of such an exceptional cast. Wingert joined the company for the current production. Lookingglass Theatre opens its fall season with 1984. The recently renovated space in Water Tower Place on Michigan Avenue is Lookingglass’s new home. Gary appeared in The Baron in the Trees, The Great Fire, The Idiot and George and looks forward to his new collaboration with Lookingglass Theatre.

Artists’ Ensemble Theater

Much like a family reunion, friends and supporters of Rockford’s latest theater company met recently at Kiki B’s for a reception honoring the artists who have joined together to form a new company. Their new brochure states:

“Artists’ Ensemble is, first and last, a theater company created by and for people who love the theater. Artists’ Ensemble is committed to produce ensemble-driven theater that challenges both actors and audiences. Who is the Artists’ Ensemble? About a dozen dedicated theater professionals who are old friends bound by mutual respect and enduring love of the stage.”

Familiar faces at the event were: Richard and Margaret Raether, Steve Vrtol III and Linda Abronski, Ken and Pat Staaf, Rod and Jessica MacDonald, and a host of others. The season opens on Sept. 10 at Rockford College’s Cheek Theatre with Donald Margulies’ Dinner With Friends. A Pulitzer Prize winner, it is an adult comedy about marriage, divorce and friends.

To order tickets and for further information, call 391-5111.

We wish you well.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!