After living in Springfield for almost seven years, I can still say there are plenty of things I haven't done. One of those things, recently checked off that list, was seeing a production at The Springfield Municipal Opera, Springfield's outdoor theatre off of East Lake Drive.
I'll break this post up into two parts. The first part will be about the Muni?what I thought about it my first time there and how Saturday's performance was cut short. The second will cover the show we saw.
I first heard of the Muni in 2003, not long after having moved to central Illinois. Why did I wait six years to see a show there? I have no aversion to live theatre. In fact, I've been a fan of it since attending over a half-dozen shows in London during my three-week stay there in the summer of 2000. I've also seen several shows at the Fox Theatre, UIS, The Hoogland Center for the Arts (read about Rod Blagojevich Superstar!) and the Theatre in the Park at Lincoln's New Salem. Despite all that, going to the Muni was something I just never got around to doing until this past weekend. Hey, you can't have all your fun at once, right? I like to space it out.
Anyway, a bit about the venue. The Muni is an outdoor theatre that has been a part of Springfield since the 1950s. It's open during the warm (sometimes hot!) summer months and generally features several shows during the season. It is located off of East Lake Drive in the southeast part of Springfield. Getting there is simple, so you can't make any excuse about getting lost. From I-55, you just take the Stevenson exit and head South (that would be the opposite direction of Dirksen parkway). You'll pass CWLP and drive over Lake Springfield on a two-lane bridge. The Muni will be just a few miles down the road on your left.
Parking is first come, first serve in a grassy field on the Muni grounds. I saw parking near the entrance that appeared to be reserved for handicapped and the elderly. There was also a golf cart shuttle helping older folks back to the parking lot (it's a little hilly there). The volunteers directing the parking were mostly teens (I bet they were thrilled to be doing that) but I had no problems getting a spot. Leaving is a mass exodus, so be kind and let someone go ahead of you at least once.
The Muni is built on a hillside and is surrounded by trees. The grounds include a picnic area outside of the ticket office. Inside the main entrance is a snack area with tables/chairs and a large building where you can buy popcorn, drinks, ice cream and candy for pretty reasonable prices. We got a bottled Mountain Dew, bottled water and box of popcorn for about four dollars, which is a lot cheaper than what you'd get at a movie theatre. If you're not up for candy or popcorn, their food rules are pretty lax. Many people bring their own food in coolers or pick up something on their way. I only saw one set of restrooms (there may be more?). The restroom line during intermission was pretty long, so if you gotta go, go before the show!
Seating and tickets are divided up between assigned seating and lawn seating. We were lucky enough to get seats near the middle of row B on Saturday night. A word of warning regarding The Muni's seating policy: seats are first come, first serve, even if you have a ticket for it! Maybe row B is just cursed, but there was a couple who had the exact seating assignment as us. They got an usher (I guess they weren't ones for confrontation) who verified their tickets were duplicates of ours. The usher, just a kid, got his manager, who seated them somewhere else. We had the same problem Sunday night (see below for why we went twice). Whoever runs the ticketing for the Muni needs to get their act together. Some of the people who had to be re-seated were border-line pissed off. I guess I can't blame them. I'd be unhappy, too, if my seats near the front were gone before I got there. Despite the issues with tickets, the prices weren't bad. Our two seats were $12 each. Lawn seating was available for $8. The Muni also does family nights where kids get in free with a paid adult. See the Muni's ticket page for more info on seating and where to buy. If you're sitting on the lawn, bring some blankets and folding chairs.
BRING AND USE BUG SPRAY. You will need it. 'Nuff said.
About their photo/video policy?There is no mention of audio, video, or photographs on the Muni's policy page. I also checked the Web page for the performance, but found nothing. Maybe this varies from show to show? Because I dabble in photography, I thought it would be fun to snap some photos for the blog while I was there. I had the point-and-shoot camera Saturday, but brought my Canon 50D Sunday night. Here's where the story gets interesting. Before the show began each night, the announcer (not a recording) said no audio/video recordings were allowed because of the agreement with the copyright holders of The Producers. Photographs weren't mentioned, so I presumed they had no issues with photography. Several other people near me took snapshots during the performance on Saturday, too.
On Sunday, when I had the big camera, I walked into the concession building with it hanging from my neck. As I was paying for my food, a guy near the register (didn't catch his name) said, 'Hey, you know you can't take pictures during the show because of the copyright.' I replied I was there the evening before and only audio/video recordings were announced as not being allowed, along with the fact many other people had cameras. He came back with a modest 'Well, no flash photography, which I see you don't have a flash?,' but then changed his mind again and said "no photography." Weird, I thought, and went back to my seat.
If the Muni has copyright issues with a show, they need to make an effort to clearly identify it on the Web site and in the announcement before the performance. People, like me, who photograph for fun and really enjoy local shows like this don't want to see the venue get in trouble, but, come on?this isn't Broadway and I'm not trying to sneak photos of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. I've posted some pics from the show below. If the Muni really has a problem with this, then I'll gladly help them out, but I didn't record any audio or video, which was the only restriction that was announced. Out of the dozens of volunteers there, this one guy, who didn't identify himself, was the only one to say something and he didn't sound too sure of himself when it came to still photos. I re-read the program for last weekend's show tonight. Page three says no flash photographs, audio or video recordings?so, according to their rules, I'm in the clear! In fact, you can see a ton of photos at Donna Lounsberry's SmugMug gallery. I really wonder, now, why this guy even brought it up.
Lastly, check the weather. The Muni's rain/weather policy is listed on its policy page. The weather Saturday was a lot less than ideal for an outdoor show. It was a very hot, humid day. We were sweating as we waited for the show to begin. Even after sundown, the temperature held steadily for most of the performance. I really felt for the actors. Sweat poured from their faces and drenched their costumes. Despite the heat, they did an absolutely fantastic job. Almost one hour into the show, the wind began to pick up and flashes of lightning grew closer. The lights suddenly went out, followed by the show announcer informing the audience that they were halting the performance because of weather. By that point, the wind was blowing around props on the stage. We waited in the car for 30 minutes before the Muni called the show. Many had left before that. When we returned Sunday night, we lucked out and got tickets just two seats down from where we were Saturday. Wouldn't you know it that someone else had duplicate tickets, too? We got there early, again, and were able to keep our seats.
I hope you found some useful information in my ramblings above and I hope you don't think I sounded too critical. My girlfriend and I both enjoyed the Muni very much. The grounds were nice, clean and the staff was friendly (even the 'camera guy'). We both look forward to going back. I just hope they fix their seating assignment problem and clarify their policies a bit.
This past weekend's show was The Producers (or, Gus Gordon as You've Never Seen Him Before?not me, at least), a Mel Brooks musical adapted from the 1968 film of the same name (just read the link!).
If you didn't read the link, here's a short, spoiler-free synopsis: once Broadway-hit producer, Max Bialystock (bee-allee-stock) is a washed-up has-been whose days of fame are behind him. His latest production is a huge flop. Later, at his office, he's visited by a nervous, timid accountant named Leo Bloom who has come to examine Max's finances. In a creative-accounting epiphany, Bloom realizes a producer could potentially make more money on a flop than a hit. Bialystock perks up instantly at this and proceeds to try and convince Bloom to go into business with him. Bloom has secretly wanted to be a Broadway producer from an early age, but is too timid to make the move. Only after returning to his dull job does Bloom find the courage to do something bigger with his life by joining Bialystock. Now as partners, their only tasks ahead are to find the worst script, director, and actors in order to produce a sure-fire Broadway flop. What could go right?
I can easily say this was one of the best performances I've seen in Springfield yet. The Producers was a laugh riot the entire time. I've never seen the movie nor the live musical before. The story was interesting throughout and never dragged on. The pit orchestra sounded great and the music was well mixed with the vocals. All the actors, most of them local to the Springfield area, did a fantastic job. The show has some mature content in it, so consider that before bringing your younger kids. Anyone in their teenage years (your kids have already seen/heard far worse on the Internet, trust me) or older will love it. We saw both young and old at each performance this past weekend.
Gus Gordon, more commonly known as the chief meteorologist at WICS, played the part of Max Bialystock. I've heard for many years that Gus was very involved in theatre. It shows. Seeing the man play a character like Max is worth the ticket price alone, because Max is such a far cry from the mild-mannered weather man we're all used to. Gus played the part with skill and grace. He ad-libbed like a pro during a wardrobe malfunction on Sunday night. No, stop it, not that kind of wardrobe malfunction. Below is a video of what Gus has to say about playing the character Max Bialystock:
The other lead male role, Leo Bloom, was played by Joey Cruse, a senior (I believe) at UIS. When he first appeared on stage during the scene at Max's office, I thought to myself, 'this guy looks familiar.' It turns out I was right. My girlfriend and I first saw him in A Period of Adjustment last year at UIS. I found some pictures of the performance posted online, but there are no good ones of Joe. He did a great job portraying the nerdy, timid accountant Leo Bloom who goes on to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a Broadway producer.
Some of the other performers definitely worth mentioning are Rich Kuschel as Franz Leibkind, Sean VanAusdall-Rose as Roger De Bris, and T. J. Grasch as Carmen Ghia.
(Spoiler alert!) Franz, author of the worst musical in the world as according to Max and Leo, is a closet Nazi who dreams of showing the word the 'true' Adolph Hitler in Springtime for Hitler. Rich's portrayal is hilarious. The 'Der Guten Tag Hop Clop' scene was probably my favorite of them all. Sean, as Roger De Bris, is the worst director Max and Leo can find. He also happens to be the gayest. In order to hire Roger and further their plan of failure, Max and Leo give Roger permission to make Springtime for Hitler as gay as he wants after the 'Keep it Gay' scene. Sean's scenes were over-the-top funny every time. T. J. as Carmen, Roger's 'common-law assistant', stole the show several times and always got great laughs with his dialogue ('Yessssssssssssssssss') and floating around the stage.
If you're looking for something to do this holiday weekend, I'd highly recommend you see The Producers at the Muni. It's a great show and is something you shouldn't miss. You can read a pro review at The State Journal-Register. The remaining performances are July 1-3 and July 5.