Deric Kimler has been busy. He directed the very successful production of “Rent” for Peoria Players this past spring and then he played Huey Calhoun, the male lead, in Cornstock’s recent wonderful production of “Memphis.” He is as good a performer as director. “Memphis” is a musical with depth and breadth as it remembers race relations, rhythm and blues, gospel and the eventual cross-over popularity of “race music.” Popular music has never been the same since Elvis, the Beatles and the Stones.
Huey Calhoun (his surname is synonymous with Southern white supremacy) is our early guide into this music when he dares to show up at an African-American (Negro, then) club to listen to the music. It is there he hears Felicia, played by LaTaisha Howell. Miss Howell won over the audience with her amazing performance of singing and acting. She is quite accomplished and hopefully we will be treated to many more performances by her as she still is in high school at Richwoods. There may be only one person in town who has the street cred to put this mixed cast together and that is Bryan Blanks, a talented young director who recently staged “The Wiz” for Cornstock as well. Mr. Blanks gave us an exciting and satisfying evening of theater.
Cornstock’s summer season was dedicated to the late Rodney Leininger whose estate made a big financial contribution to the theater. Mr. Leininger attended Von Steuben, Woodruff and Bradley where he majored in theater arts. He also volunteered at Cornstock for several years beginning in 1955 before moving to California where he was employed at UCLA. He always had fond memories of his time at the tent and has made a generous contribution to the future of theater in Peoria. His patronage is an inspiration to us all.
Bradley is opening its season with a play with music, titled: “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.” I saw an early run through 10 days before opening and based on the work at that time feel confident in recommending your attendance. The student actors were off-book and working to refine their performances. Scott Kanoff is the director and the show will be very good when it opens. The musical director is Susie Brown, who also provides percussion for the unusual and mesmerizing score. It is not your typical “tin-pan alley” score and, as such, integrated into the subject of life following the end of electricity due to nuclear power meltdowns and the resulting confusion of survival in a radiated, violent world. The New York Times wrote the play would “leave you dizzy with the scope and dazzle of its ideas.” The story weaves the retelling of The Simpsons’ “Cape Feare” episode over a period of 70 years and explores our penchant for storytelling. That famous episode was itself an amalgam of both the 1951 and 1962 films of the suspense drama. Mr. Kanoff stated the students were still discovering connections in the multi-layered writing. The play will run through Oct. 2 at the Hartmann Center, 677-2650.
Those who want to get into the Halloween spirit will enjoy an original musical by Derek Childs, a local writer and composer who will revive his show “Mr. Silver’s Children (the haunted musical fantasy)” at the Apollo Theater on Main Street. Jeff Sloter will direct, and he has assembled a talented cast of children and adults for this Halloween spooktacular. Run dates will be Oct. 27-31 and tickets will be available at the theater.