Augustana College’s Brunner Theatre Center
Friday, July 7, through Sunday, July 16
In April of 1996, a new show by the creative team of Dana P. Rowe and John Dempsey opened off-Broadway. Titled Zombie Prom, the song-filled comedy was described by the New York Times as “a girl-meets-ghoul musical set in the atomic 1950s,” and praised for the “clever variations on a theme in Mr. Dempsey’s book and lyrics” and “Mr. Rowe’s tuneful checklist of period pop styles.” But as that production’s director Philip Wm. McKinley explains, there’s a reason you may not be familiar with it.
“It was one of those frustrating things,” says McKinley. “We had these great workshops, and we opened, and people said, ‘This is gonna run forever. ... You’re gonna run as long as Little Shop of Horrors.’ And then this little show called Rent came along – kind of like this little show now called Hamilton. And it took all the focus. We were this really fun musical comedy, but if a show didn’t have the gravitas of Rent back then, it just wasn’t considered viable.”
Leave it to a musical titled Zombie Prom, however, to find a way to be reborn.
“What’s interesting,” McKinley says, “is that it now has this cult following, with hundreds of productions being done around the country.” It also has an award-winning 2006 short-film adaptation starring RuPaul, plus a feature-film version currently in development. It also, in May, was cited by TheatreNerds.com under the headline “15 Off-Broadway Musicals You Wish Moved to Broadway.” (Theatre nerds must know, huh?)
And from July 7 through 16, Zombie Prom has the distinction of being the first production in the inaugural season for the Mississippi Bend Players (MBP) – a debuting summer-theatre company, with McKinley serving as producing artistic director, whose works will be staged at Augustana College’s Brunner Theatre Center. (Full disclosue: I’m fortunate enough to be a cast member in the MBP’s forthcoming presentations of Wait Until Dark and Brighton Beach Memoirs.)
McKinley, whose credits include directing Hugh Jackman to a Tony Award in The Boy from Oz and taking over the reins for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark before its official Broadway opening, will again direct Zombie Prom, and says he’s glad to revisit this satiric tale of an Eisenhower-era school, a charming ingénue, and her undead beau.
“As much as we loved it,” he says, “I think the authors and I always felt that it wasn’t quite finished. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do Zombie Prom with the Mississippi Bend Players, because the authors wanted to try this whole new prologue; the first 12 pages are new, and they’ve re-written and adjusted lines all through it. And that’s something I would love to see this [the MBP] develop into: a regional theatre that can eventually workshop new works and send them on.
“But I also wanted to choose a piece that I thought other companies wouldn’t necessarily do,” adds McKinley, “because that’s a mission of the Mississippi Bend Players. We want to do things that aren’t well-known, or that maybe didn’t get off the ground the first time around, or that haven’t been done in recent memory. It’s important to us that we not step on the toes of other groups, and every night we’ll announce from stage what’s going on with all the companies in the area, and let people know what’s available and what they should make sure to see. We want to be an ‘addition to,’ not an ‘instead of.’”
With Zombie Prom, McKinley says the company – members of which include Associate Artistic Director Corinne Johnson (a St. Ambrose University professor) and Education Director Jeffrey Coussens (an Augustana professor) – is also fulfilling its goal of uniting for their stage productions a healthy blend of professional actors, local talents, and area students. “I think one of the biggest misunderstandings is that people think it’s Augustana College’s theatre department that’s doing the MBP. And we do have Augustana people involved” – which, beyond Augie graduate McKinley, include fellow alumni Ron May (music director) and Susan Holgersson (scenic designer), plus current theatre major Keenan Odendirk.
“But that was a bonus,” says Zombie Prom’s director. “We also have students from St. Ambrose University, students from WIU [Western Illinois University], a technical director from Bettendorf, an actress who’s coming from New Jersey, a stage manager who’s coming from Germany ... .”
Adding familiar local performers including Don Denton and spouses Tom and Shelley Walljasper, choreography by frequent Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse director Ann Nieman, and additional on- and off-stage talents, the MBP’s debut, says McKinley, “is taking a big team effort to make happen. And it’s been great to combine all these facets and put ’em together, and hopefully come up with a diamond.”
Zombie Prom runs Fridays and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m., and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)794-7306 or visiting MississippiBendPlayers.com.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
QC Theatre Workshop
Friday, July 14, through Saturday, July 22
Three summers ago, in the Prenzie Players’ production of Doctor Faustus, actor Aaron Sullivan’s title character took a piece of chalk, drew a circle on the stage floor, and summoned a terrifying demon. In the Prenzie Players’ new production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Sullivan’s Azdak character takes a piece of chalk, draws a circle on the stage floor, and directs a young boy to stand in the center while the women fighting for his custody are instructed – Judgment of Solomon-like – to pull on his arms.
Just thought I’d mention this if you ever see Aaron Sullivan, in real life, approaching you with a piece of chalk. You may wanna head in the other direction.
Lovers of epic theatre, meanwhile, will no doubt want to head in the direction of Davenport’s QC Theatre Workshop, where the Prenzie Players will stage Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle July 14 through 22. One of the best-known and most-celebrated of the legendary German author’s works, this revered stage parable is one of the Prenzies’ rare forays outside the realm of William Shakespeare, and an even rarer one for having been written less than a century ago. Yet fans of the verse-theatre troupe needn’t worry that the company is straying too far from its roots with Brecht’s 1948 masterpiece. The structure is still classical in nature. Numerous Prenzie veterans take part, several of them in multiple roles. And, y’know ... Sullivan draws a scary circle.
Before he does, though, The Caucasian Chalk Circle tells the tale of Grusina, a kitchen maid who, during an uprising in Russia, saves the life of a royal child inadvertently abandoned by his mother. For two years, she raises the boy as her own amidst much national strife, but is devastated when soldiers finally find the missing Michael and – at his mother’s request – Grusina is charged with kidnapping. What results is a tremendously affecting morality play exploring themes of maternal responsibility, political upheaval, thwarted romance, and law versus justice – and, as admirers of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera will particularly appreciate, one with songs and unexpected comedy, to boot.
Kate Farence, who also helmed the Prenzies’ 2015 production of Antony & Cleopatra, serves as director for this new Caucasian Chalk Circle. Mattie Gelaude, who performed in the group’s As You Like It this past December, portrays the heroine Grusina, while Sullivan plays her eventual judge. And with Genesius Guild veteran Tim Miller making his Prenzie debut, the rest of Farence’s cast boasts numerous talents familiar from previous roles for the troupe: Angela Rathman, Matt Moody, Andy Curtiss, John Turner, Alaina Pascarella, Payton Brasher, Chris Sanders-Ring, Andrew Bruning, Virginia Atwell, Dani Helmich, Elizabeth Sager, Kitty Israel ... .
Wait a minute. In Doctor Faustus, Israel played the terrifying demon that Sullivan’s Faustus conjured. Now, as the accompanying photo proves, they’re being reunited. I blame that freakin’ chalk.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. (with a “social-media preview performance” on July 13) and Sunday at 3 p.m., and more information and tickets are available by calling (563)484-4210 or visiting PrenziePlayers.com.
Deere-Wiman Carriage House
Wednesday, July 12, 6:30 p.m.
One of the most joyous sights I’ve seen in the past several years was that of my friends’ daughter Avery – who wasn’t yet two years old – marching and dancing and grinning ear-to-ear in a living-room performance of Laurie Berkner’s “We Are the Dinosaurs.” On July 12, the children’s musician herself will be performing a Music on the Lawn concert at Moline’s Deere-Wiman Carriage House. If you attend the event and see someone frantically rushing the stage, I promise there’s no need to panic; I just want to give her a hug.
As will, I’m betting, loads of area parents whose children have been delighted by the musical output of this beloved singer, songwriter, and guitarist. A France-born American whose professional career began in 1992 with the all-female rock band Lois Lane, Berkner (pictured with her Laurie Berkner Band) segued into children’s music when writing and performing songs for East Coast birthday parties in the mid-’90s, a side career that led to the release of her 1997 album debut Whaddaya Think of That? Within four years, Berkner would go on to form her own independent record company, release a pair of additional albums, receive a Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media Award, and appear on NBC’s The Today Show – a gig that would land her appearances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Whaddaya think of that?!
Known and widely admired for her smart, up-tempo songs that helped popularize the current kindie-rock genre, Berkner’s talents have been regularly featured on several Nick Jr. TV series and showcased on the Sprout network’s animated series Sing It, Laurie! She has written two children’s books and performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And as any parent, or hanger-on of a parent, can likely tell you, the lady sure knows her dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, just how well do you know her discography? Find out by filling in the blanks to the following six out of many dozen hit songs written and/or sung by Laurie Berkner.
1) “I Know a _____”
2) “I Love My _____”
3) “_____ Boogie”
4) “Do the _____”
5) “_____ on Her Head”
6) “_____ in My Toolbox”
Admission is free to Laurie Berkner’s 6:30 p.m. Music on the Lawn concert, and more information on the evening is available by calling (309)743-2700 or visiting ButterworthCenter.com.
Answers: 1 – B, 2 – D, 3 – A, 4 – F, 5 – E, 6 – C. I’d admit that finding a mouse in my personal toolbox would be less delightful than deeply upsetting ... but that would suggest I’ve ever opened my toolbox.
What Else Is Happenin’ …?
Friday, July 7, and Saturday, July 8 – 80/35 Music Festival. Tenth-annual music celebration featuring nearly 50 bands performing on several outdoor stages and concerts with headliners The Shins and MGMT. Western Gateway Park (1330 Grand Avenue, Des Moines). $42-50 one-day pass, $65-90 two-day pass. For tickets and information, visit 80-35.com.
Saturday, July 8 – Dawn & On Music Festival. Third-annual outdoor music festival with scheduled performances by more than a dozen bands including Old Shoe, Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts, Chicago Farmer, The Candymakers, and hosts The Dawn. Len Brown’s North Shore Inn (700 North Shore Inn, Moline). Noon-midnight. $5 at the gate. For information, visit TheDawnBand.com/festival.html.
Thursday, July 13, through Saturday, July 15 – Walcott Truckers Jamboree. Annual celebration featuring an antique truck display, the Super Trucks Beauty Contest, more than 175 exhibits, the Iowa Pork Chop Cookout, carnival games, live country music with Mary Sarah and Collin Raye, the Trucker Olympics, fireworks, and more. Iowa 80 Truck Stop (755 West Iowa 80 Road, Walcott). Free. For information, visit Iowa80TruckStop.com/trucker-jamboree.
Tuesday, July 18, through Saturday, July 22 – Rock Island County Fair. Annual outdoor festival featuring carnival rides, games, live music, pageants, a demolition derby, truck and tractor pulls, a talent show, vendors, and more. Rock Island County Fairgrounds (4200 Archer Drive, East Moline). $1-5 gate admission; $5-10 grandstand admission. For information, call (309)796-1620 or visit RockIslandFair.org.
Friday, July 7 – Here Come the Mummies. The Daiquiri Factory’s 13th-anniversary party featuring an outdoor concert with the tightly wrapped rockers and openers 10 of Soul. District of Rock Island. 8 p.m. $25. For information, visit DowntownRockIsland.org.
Friday, July 7 – The Texas Tenors. Concert with the Emmy-winning classical-crossover trio composed of country-music singer J.C. Fisher, pop singer Marcus Collins, and opera singer John Hagen. The University of Dubuque’s Heritage Center (2255 Bennett Street, Dubuque). 7:30 p.m. $20-45. For tickets and information, call (563)585-7469 or visit Dbq.edu/heritagecenter.
Thursday, July 13 – The Beach Boys. Iconic surf-pop musicians and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members in concert. Adler Theatre (136 East Third Street, Davenport). 7:30 p.m. $65-95. For tickets, call (800)745-3000 or visit AdlerTheatre.com.
Saturday, July 15 – David Dondero. Songwriter, guitarist, and former lead singer of Sunbrain in a Moeller Nights concert. Triple Crown Whiskey Bar & Raccoon Motel (304 East Third Street, Davenport). 7 p.m. $12. For tickets and information, visit MoellerNights.com.
Saturday, July 15 – Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys. Concert with the Nashville-based rockabilly and Western-swing musicians. Rock Island Brewing Company (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island). 9 p.m. $10. For information, call (309)793-1999 or visit RIBCO.com.
Sunday, July 16 – Josh Ritter and Brett Dennen. Concert with the folk and Americana singers/songwriters. Codfish Hollow Barn (5013 288th Avenue, Maquoketa). 7 p.m. $35-40. For tickets and information, visit CodfishHollowBarnstormers.com.
Thursday, July 6, through Sunday, July 23 – Footloose. Tony-nominated stage-musical adaptation of the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie. Clinton Area Showboat Theatre (311 Riverview Drive, Clinton). Thursday through Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday and Wednesday 3 p.m. For tickets and information, call (563)242-6760 or visit ClintonShowboat.org.
Thursday, July 6, through Saturday, July 8 – Cinderella ... After the Ball. Family-musical comedy in which Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty fight to save their kingdom from a villainous Pinocchio. Timber Lake Playhouse (8215 Black Oak Road). 11 a.m. $8. For tickets and information, call (815)244-2035 or visit TimberLakePlayhouse.org.
Friday, July 7, through Sunday, July 16 – West Side Story. Quad City Music Guild presents Stephen Sondheim’s and Leonard Berstein’s musical classic adapted from Romeo & Juliet, directed by Bob Williams. Prospect Park Auditorium (1584 34th Avenue, Moline). Thursday through Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. $11-16. For tickets and information, call (309)762-6610 or visit QCMusicGuild.com.
Saturday, July 8, through Sunday, July 16 – The Trojan Women. Genesius Guild’s production of Euripides’ ancient-Greek tragedy. Lincoln Park (11th Avenue and 38th Street, Rock Island). Saturday and Sunday 8 p.m. Donations encouraged. For information, visit Genesius.org.
Sunday, July 9 – Royal Shakespeare Company: Antony & Cleopatra. An HD screening of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, directed by Iqbal Khan. Englert Theatre (221 East Washington Street, Iowa City). 3 p.m. $15-18. For tickets and information, call (319)688-2653 or visit Englert.org.
Thursday, July 13, through Sunday, July 23 – Rounding Third. Two-man baseball-themed comedy by Richard Dresser, directed by Dana Skiles. Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (600 Robinson Drive, Geneseo). Thursday through Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m. $12. For tickets and information, call (309)944-2244 or visit RHPlayers.com.
Thursday, July 13, through Saturday, July 22 – Scapino! Slapstick burlesque comedy by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale. Timber Lake Playhouse (8215 Black Oak Road, Mt. Carroll, Illinois). Tuesday through Saturday 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Wednesday, and July 15 at 2 p.m. $17-25. For tickets and information, call (815)244-2035 or visit TimberLakePlayhouse.org.
Friday, July 14, through Sunday, July 23 – The Dixie Swim Club. Southern comedy by Jamie Wooten, Jessie Jones, and Nicholas Hope, directed by Jacque Cohoon. Playcrafters Barn Theatre (4950 35th Avenue, Moline). Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m. $13. For tickets and information, call (309)762-0330 or visit Playcrafters.com.
Friday, July 14, through Sunday, July 16 – Church Basement Ladies. Lutheran-themed musical comedy by Jim Stowell, Jessica Zuehlke, and Drew Jansen, directed by Richard Hall. Ohnward Fine Arts Center (1215 East Platt Street, Maquoketa). Friday and Saturday 7 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. $15-21. For tickets and information, call (563)652-9815 or visit OhnwardFineArtsCenter.com.
Wednesday, July 19, through Saturday, September 16 – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Tony-nominated frontier romance based on the 1954 movie musical, directed by Ann Nieman. Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island). Friday, Saturday, Wednesday, and July 19 and 20: 6 p.m. buffet, 7:15 p.m. pre-show, 7:45 p.m. show. Sunday: 4 p.m. buffet, 5:15 p.m. pre-show, 5:45 p.m. show. Wednesday: 11:45 a.m. plated lunch, 1 p.m. pre-show, 1:30 p.m. show. $44.94-51.73. For tickets and information, call (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visit Circa21.com.
Friday, July 14 – Tig Notaro. An evening of stand-up with the touring comedian and star of Amazon’s One Mississippi. Englert Theatre (221 East Washington Street, Iowa City). 8 p.m. $35. For tickets and information, call (319)688-2653 or visit Englert.org.
Friday, July 7, through Sunday, July 30 – Shadows & Shapes: Photography by Laura Heath. First public showing of works by the artist and owner/operator of Trash Can Annie Vintage Clothing. Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island). Tuesday through Friday 2 p.m.-1 a.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Opening reception July 7 at 5 p.m. Free. For information, call (309)200-0978 or visit RozzTox.com.
Thursday, July 13 – Curator Talk with Chad Pregracke. Event held in conjunction with Pregracke’s Message in a Bottle exhibition, featuring 40 bottle-held missives collected on his annual cleanup campaigns along rivers including the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio. Figge Art Museum (225 West Second Street, Davenport). 7 p.m. Free. For information, call (563)326-7804 or visit FiggeArtMuseum.org.
Monday, July 10, through Sunday, July 16 – John Deere Classic. Annual professional golf tournament on the PGA Tour. TPC at Deere Run (3100 Heather Knoll, Silvis). $25-550 daily and complete-tour packages available. For information, visit JohnDeereClassic.com.
Saturday, July 15 – Rivers Edge Homebrew Festiv-ale. Event featuring samples by more than a dozen homebrew clubs from around the Midwest, with over 50 different brews available. Rock Island Brewing Company (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island). 2 – 6 p.m. $20 includes tasting glass & 15 sample tickets. For information, call (309)793-1999 or visit RIBCO.com.