CHAMPAIGN – Jeffrey Chandler admits he had a personal reason for wanting the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company to revive "Hello Dolly!" this spring. He sang in the chorus when the community theater company first presented it 18 years ago.
"I wanted to grow up and direct the show," he said Tuesday, after he and others on the company's board of directors announced they had canceled the show and replaced it with Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods."
"It's not about me. It's about having the company maintain its integrity financially and artistically," he said.
The decision to cancel came after only 20 people – 10 of them kids – auditioned this past weekend for "Dolly!" Usually 100 or more adults and children turn out at CUTC auditions.
Chandler said he and others had publicized "Hello Dolly!" for six months and had urged people to audition. In the past, when the CUTC needed more for its casts, it would recruit.
"We would have had to pull 40 or 50 people for 'Dolly!' and that's a very daunting thing to ask and the show would have suffered," Chandler said.
He said another reason for the lack of interest in "Dolly!" might be that spring is a more difficult time to put on a show because of competition from other theater companies and high schools.
"I think it was the wrong time for 'Hello Dolly!'" he said.
Chandler said the local theater community appears more interested in the Sondheim piece, which premiered in 1987 on Broadway. "Dolly!" was first produced there in 1964.
"There's a lot of buzz for 'Into the Woods,'" he said.
That show also requires a smaller cast.
The cancellation of "Dolly!" is believed to be the first post-audition cancellation for CUTC, which formed in 1991. The company had planned to present "The Producers" this past fall but pulled that because the Parkland College Theatre was not available for the times CUTC wanted. No auditions had taken place for "The Producers."
"It is never CUTC's intention to announce a show, and then cancel or change it, but we must also concern ourselves with financial matters as we maintain our plans for the company's future," Chandler wrote in the company newsletter e-mailed Tuesday. "We hope you will understand our decision and will continue to support our spring production of 'Into the Woods,' as well as our theater company as a whole. We also hope that you will see our collective choice to change course as a testament to our concern for CUTC's financial stability, our respect for its artistic integrity, and our desire to provide entertainment that our membership and patrons want to see."
Chandler said the CUTC is in the same situation as every non-profit – very conscious about its tight budget. To save money on rent, it had moved its productions last year from the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre to the Parkland Theatre. The Virginia also was closed for several months for renovations.
"Of course I think there is still some sentimental attraction to the Virginia," Chandler said. "We're not done with or angry with the Virginia. Financially we had to make a more sound choice for ourselves."
"Into the Woods" will run April 21 to 30 at the Parkland Theatre, the same time as "Dolly!" was to have been presented. Auditions for "Woods" will be Feb. 12 and 13.
More than 150 people had pre-ordered season tickets for CUTC's 20th season. Those tickets for "Dolly!" will be good for "Into the Woods," and season ticket sales to the public will open in a week.