ensemble members of Child's Play Thirty years after the group's inception, executive director June Podagrosi remembers the moment that she and her husband, Victor, embarked on the project that would become Child's Play Touring Theatre, the professional, Chicago-based organization dedicated to producing stage works for children, written by children. Moreover, she remembers the frog and the hillbilly that inspired them.

the Promises, Promises ensemble During a recent post-show conversation, an actor friend and I agreed that perhaps the most exciting moments at any theatrical production are those few seconds before the production even starts, when the lights dim, cell phones (please God) are turned to silent or vibrate, and the venue becomes alive with possibility - with the awareness that, in this live art form, absolutely anything can happen.

Daniel D.P. Sheridan In describing Davenport Parks & Recreation's recent choice of Daniel D.P. Sheridan for its performing-arts-coordinator position, the organization's senior recreation manager, Theresa Hauman, says, "We want to become a vital performing-arts center, with the main hub of that being the Junior Theatre program, and with his school training, the experiences that he's had nationwide, and the fact that he is from the community and a product of Junior Theatre ... he really hit it out of the ballpark."

Reader issue #690 As you'll see in these pages, I attended five theatrical productions between Thursday and Sunday, and after writing some 4,200 words on my experiences, my editor asked if I wouldn't mind writing a couple hundred more as an introduction.

That bastard.

the Elegies ensemble Describing composer William Finn's Elegies: A Song Cycle, the first presentation by the Quad Cities' new theatrical company the Riverbend Theatre Collective, artistic director Allison Collins-Elfline says of the show, "It's quirky, it's fun, it's upbeat ... ."

Yet it's also a considerable risk for a fledgling theatrical organization's first outing, as the subject of the Tony-winning composer's quirky, fun, upbeat musical revue is, as its title suggests, death. "An elegy is a hymn of praise for someone who has passed on," states Collins-Elfline, "and Elegies is about all the people William Finn knew that he's lost."

Reader issue #682 The latest undertaking by the Quad Cities' classical-drama troupe the Prenzie Players is an adaptation of Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca's Life's a Dream, and at one point during a recent interview, group co-founder and Dream director J.C. Luxton tells me, "This show is just running, running, running. There aren't a lot of breaks for anybody."

Including, as it turns out, the audience.

Mel Johnson Jr. as Frederick Douglass Last winter, in conjunction with his impending Visiting Artist residency with Quad City Arts, I had the opportunity to interview Los Angeles-based actor/director/playwright Tom Dugan. He was heading to our area to perform Robert E. Lee: Shades of Gray - a self-written solo production in which he portrayed the Confederate general under the direction of Mel Johnson Jr. - and during our phone conversation, Dugan recalled the process by which much of the play was written: In the back of a van, surrounded by books, while touring On Golden Pond with Jack Klugman.

Mel Johnson Jr.Though a familiar television presence through such series as The Practice, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - in which the actor played the Cardassian Broca in the program's final two episodes - Mel Johnson Jr. is primarily a stage actor, with more than 30 years of professional credits on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theatres and touring productions across America; most recently, he portrayed Hoke Colburn in an acclaimed presentation for Hartford TheatreWorks of Driving Miss Daisy (which the New York Times called "a splendid 20th-anniversary revival").

Eddie Staver III in Fully CommittedFive minutes into our interview, local actor Eddie Staver III says something that I can't quite believe: "Comedy scares me."

He does, however, quickly amend the statement: "Comedy scares the hell out of me."

West Side StoryI love making lists. Love it. And I get an annual charge out of composing "10 best"s for the Reader based on my movie-going experiences: 10 Best Films, 10 Best Guilty Pleasures, 10 Best Action Blockbusters Based on a Pre-Existing
Toy ... .

So when I started thinking about my forthcoming Year in Theatre recap a few weeks ago, I thought it might make for a fun change of pace to compose "best" lists for area stage productions.

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