Tom Wopat So, how are you doing today?

"Eh ... I'm okay," replies Tom Wopat, calling from Manhattan. "I just got a parking ticket. Sixty-five bucks."

And hardly a deserved parking ticket. "I parked in a school zone but there's no school there anymore," Wopat says. "They don't know that, you know?"

He laughs. "But that's okay. It's like I told my girlfriend: It's New York City. That's just how it works."

 "I was really nervous," recalls Jackie Madunic. "I love Tina Turner - she's, like, one of my idols - and I was terrified."

Madunic is describing the first time she rehearsed her role as Turner in the Quad City Music Guild's production of Beehive, and the actress' fears are understandable. The revue, running March 23 through 25, is a celebration of the 1960s' most prominent female musicians - among them Turner, Janis Joplin, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Connie Francis, and Annette Funicello - yet in addition to portraying one of our country's most identifiable rock icons, another factor is conceivably adding to the performer's nervousness: Madunic is white. (As, it should be noted, is actress Sarah Ulloa, who plays both Franklin and Ross.)

Brian Bengtson & Kyle Roggenbuck rehearse Explaining the decision to turn Tim Robbins' Oscar-winning Dead Man Walking into a work for the stage, Sister Maureen Fenlon begins with six simple words: "A stage play can go anywhere." And she would like the show to be seen everywhere.

"If you want to have a transformation," Fenlon continues, "a social transformation, then minds need to be engaged so they [people] can be open to learning, and hearts have to be opened so that that learning can go further, and seep into your own soul. When people's minds and hearts have been opened through the arts, the quality of your exchange is more than a conversation, it's surely not [merely] a debate ... and here, it's a powerful art form dealing with a very powerful issue."

Tom Dugan as Robert E. Lee When actor/playwright Tom Dugan premiered his one-man show Robert E. Lee: Shades of Gray in Richmond, Virginia, in 2004, the packed audience at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts gave the production a standing ovation. Crowds were similarly enthusiastic after subsequent performances in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Georgia, and when Dugan performed Shades of Gray in Lexington mere days before his Quad Cities arrival, the show was sold-out long in advance of its January 11 opening.

Southern audiences, it seems, have been most appreciative of Dugan's historical endeavor. But what of Northern audiences?

"I'll let you know after I get through Davenport," says Dugan during a recent phone interview. "You guys - you count as the north, don'tcha?"

We certainly do.

Dugan laughs. "I'm finally invading the north!"

612-reader-cover2 My mother sends out an annual holiday letter, which serves as a de facto State of the Union for our family - a recap of what that she and Dad did during the year, a checklist of casinos they visited (which pretty much covers the same ground), and, of course, an update on the lives of their children.

In the past, recipients of Mom's missives would get the skinny on my brother and his wife, my sister, her husband, and their pets, and my adventures would be detailed with a succinct "And Mike went to the movies." (I was thrilled last year when she provided the addendum " ... and the theatre.")

"Cabaret" In the 11-week period between June 1 and August 12, I saw 28 area productions. And how did you spend your summer vacation?

Considering the overall great time I had last summer, though, I was hardly dreading this relentless schedule. I'd spent 10 whole months eagerly anticipating my return to the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre (CAST), Mt. Carroll's Timber Lake Playhouse, and - for Genesius Guild productions - Rock Island's Lincoln Park; the summer-theatre triad would be responsible for 17 of those 28 offerings. (Summer 2006 would also provide my introduction to Eldridge's Countryside Community Players, whose Cinderella I missed last year.)

"Aida"There seems to be a pretty safe rule of thumb regarding the productions at Quad City Music Guild and the Richmond Hill and Playcrafters Barn theatres: When the actors appear to believe in their material (whether that material is strong or weak), the shows are terrific, and when they don't, they're not.

"Grease"I got pretty choked up at Quad City Music Guild's production of It's a Wonderful Life: The Musical, especially when George started yelling at his kids. (They were so cute!) I was truly affected by the anguished performance of John VanDeWoestyne in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

But, in 2006, do you know what area production made me cry like a little girl?

Freakin' Grease.

Risky Business

"The Winning Streak"Theatre can be a great escape, but it can also be so much more. In 2006, most of the area's challenging works were presented by the New Ground Theatre, My Verona Productions, and the Prenzie Players, and over the past year and a half, I've had the pleasure of interviewing the impresarios of these organizations: New Ground Artistic Director Chris Jansen, My Verona producers Sean Leary and Tristan Tapscott, and Prenzie founders Cait Bodenbender, John Luxton, Aaron Sullivan, and Denise Yoder.

So, as I'm on a first-name basis with all of them, permit me to direct a few holiday cards their way:

"Much Ado About Nothing" In the realm of educational theatre, the audience's enjoyment should always be secondary to what the students take from their theatrical experiences. So I certainly hope that 2006's productions were meaningful for the students in Augustana College's, St. Ambrose University's, and Black Hawk College's theatre programs, because this particular audience member had a great time at their shows.

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