Jay Berkow As the director of music theatre performance at Western Michigan University, Jay Berkow is well aware of the historical significance of Oklahoma!, which he is currently directing for the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse.

"It is kind of the grandfather, or the progenitor, of the contemporary musical-theatre piece," Berkow says, referencing the work's fame as one of the first "book musicals" in American theatre, wherein songs are fully integrated into the drama, and the lyrics and score are as essential to character understanding as dialogue.

634 Cover - Summer Guide 2007 Ted Neeley portrayed Jesus Christ in the 1973 film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's seminal rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. He is currently reprising the role in a national tour of the show, which lands at Davenport's Adler Theatre on May 23. And in between these gigs, Neeley has performed the part in numerous other touring productions, benefits, and, once, alongside a cast of grade-school apostles.

It's impossible to ignore the irony: Ted Neeley has now been playing Jesus for longer than Jesus was alive.

"Yeah, I've been doing it now for just over 2,000 years," says Neeley with a laugh.

Wilder Anderson in The Tempest When Rock Island's summer-theatre organization Genesius Guild opens Gilbert & Sullivan's comic operetta Patience on June 9 - taking place in the city's Lincoln Park, and co-produced with Opera @ Augustana - it will mark the group's first production in a half-century not under the helm of Guild founder Don Wooten, who retired at the end of last season. And when asked what it's like serving as Genesius Guild's new executive director, and assuming a majority of Wooten's tasks, Doug Tschopp has a succinct one-word answer.

"Wow."

Jeff DeLeon as King Henry the Fifth With King Henry the Fifth, the overall effect of the Prenzie Players' Henriad trilogy can be demonstrated in about five minutes of stage time. Shakespeare's titular ruler, played by Jeff De Leon, is invading the French province of Harfleur, and the scene begins with a literal explosion of sound - an edifice-shaking cannon boom, followed by the impassioned cries of the English and French soldiers engaging in battle. Over the next few minutes, the bellowing and booming hit greater and greater peaks of intensity, until finally Henry is standing at the gates of Harfleur, demanding that the governor surrender his township.

Alysa Grimes and Joe Urbaitis in Swinging on a StarIt may seem like an odd thing to praise right off the bat, but in Swinging on a Star - the musical revue currently playing at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre - director/choreographer Cindy Ramos-Parmley delivers some absolutely first-rate scene transitions.

David Hare's Stuff Happens is a political drama based on events that transpired between the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and 2003's invasion of Iraq, and in his director's notes for Augustana College's fascinatingly uneven production of the play, Scott Magelssen writes that the "national, racial, and ethnic backgrounds" of the show's characters - which include Colin Powell, Sadaam Hussein, and Yo-Yo Ma - presented "a steep challenge to Augustana College Theatre's casting pool."

Ray Gabica and Adam Michael Lewis in Tuesdays with Morrie You can often pinpoint your favorite moment in a particular stage performance, when an actor does something so fresh or unexpected or wonderfully human that the worlds of fictional "reality" and actual reality blur in the most extraordinary way. Ray Gabica, in My Verona Productions' current presentation of Tuesdays with Morrie, doesn't provide one of these moments. If you try really hard, though, you might be able to narrow your favorites down to about 50.

Lauren Van Speybroeck & Janos Horvath in Charlotte's WebWhen the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse produced Charlotte's Web in 2003, I was lucky enough to perform in the show opposite Janos Horvath's Wilbur, and I vividly remember being amazed that someone could give such a touching, wholly credible performance while wearing a rubber pig nose.

The theatre has now revived the production, and luckily for audiences, Horvath and his adorable pink honker are back, too. Yet with all due respect to Horvath - who's as marvelous in the role now as he was then - this version of Charlotte's Web is currently being stolen by someone else entirely. And she's only in fifth grade.

Kimberly Furness & Jack C. Kloppenborg in Creme de CocoBefore Friday night's presentation of Crème de Coco commenced, St. Ambrose University theatre professor Corinne Johnson briefly took the stage, and related how proud she was of the evening's entertainment - a world premiere by Broadway playwright William Luce, directed by Broadway veteran Philip William McKinley (both of whom were in attendance). As theatrical coups go, this one was way up there.

Yet as understandably proud as the school's staff was, it's inconceivable that they were any less proud of St. Ambrose alumna Kimberly Furness, who portrayed famed designer Coco Chanel in Luce's 80-minute one-act. For those in attendance for last weekend's shows, memories of Crème de Coco's grandeur will likely last several years. Memories of Furness' performance may last even longer.

Dave Rash, Jim Driscoll, & Molly McLaughlin in Actors frequently speak of performers who "raise the bar," whose personal performance standards are so high that they challenge - and inspire - their co-stars to match them. In Death Takes a Holiday, the comedy/drama/supernatural romance currently playing at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre, James Driscoll raises the bar so high it's practically celestial.

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