WCIA 3 Broadway Series not the same old song and dance

WCIA 3 Broadway Series not the same old song and dance

CHAMPAIGN -- There will be a whole lot more calls to "break a leg" these next couple of months at the State Farm Center, and not because they're letting mobsters in.

The WCIA 3 Broadway Series of top touring musicals is back at the State Farm Center after a more than three-year hiatus.

State Farm Center Director Kevin Ullestad told The News-Gazette's PAUL WOOD that the shows are great and the hall is spruced up.

The lineup includes "42nd Street," "Once" and "Pippin." "Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles" is not included in the series, but series subscribers have had early access to tickets, Ullestad said.

"The touring shows are the best out there. We wanted to see the top tier on our calendar. And we wanted to have a diversified group, which we do," Ullestad said

Lighting and sound systems have had heavy upgrades during the long renovation. Ullestad said there's also better seating — and a bit closer to the stage, thanks to new platforms.

"You'll never be closer to the action," he said.

More information on all the shows is at statefarmcenter.com.

See this at least 'Once'

Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards, "Once" comes to the Start Farm Center on March 6.

Based on a movie of the same name, "Once" tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant over the course of a week as they fall in love and create beautiful music together.

The 2007 Academy Award-winning film was written and directed by John Carney, and starred Glen Hansard and Markta Irglov, with their original music and lyrics.

The independent Irish film was made for $150,000, a tiny fraction of its Broadway splendor budget. It won the Academy Award for best original song for "Falling Slowly."

I want to see your band, whoa, whoa, I want to see your band

We wanted to ask John Lennon what he thought about Beatles tribute "Rain," which will perform the entire Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at State Farm Center on March 7.

Sadly, we all know that couldn't happen. The closest we could get was Steve Landes, who plays Lennon in the "Rain" tribute, which has actually been together longer than The Fab Four were.

Landes knows the songs note-by-note and can't pick a favorite.

"There's seriously not a song in their catalog that isn't the best music ever," he said.

"(But) I love the early period of their career, the classic Beatle haircuts, black suits and Beatle boots we wear during that period in the show. I love that look — it's classic, quintessential 'Beatles.' And the feeling of the music of that era, there's such a youthful energy to it that speaks to me."

As fate would have it, Lennon is his fave.

"It can be quite daunting to step into those shoes, so to speak. John Lennon has got to be one of the most iconic figures in rock, and one of the most loved," he said.

The screaming fans help inspire Landes.

"It also helps that my bandmates are all so great at re-creating the other Beatles," he added.

Landes was an obsessive Lennon fan even before joining "Rain."

"I have in my collection over 200 books, and 100 DVDs, on John and The Beatles. So the research on who he was, why he did the things he did, how he moved and acted on stage, was all there," Landes said.

"From there," he added, "it was just a matter of truly delving into the music, listening to it over and over again, picking apart all of the various parts; who's playing what, chord inversions, even little mistakes here and there. It all goes into the big picture of making the music sound like it does."

Besides Sgt. Pepper, "Rain" performs "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Hard Day's Night," "Let It Be," "Come Together," "Hey Jude" and others.

Get out your taps

"42nd Street" is the tap dance extravaganza that is Broadway's "reality show" about how a show is put together from the ground up.

Coming March 22, the musical filled with backstage drama centered around the dream of becoming a star. It includes Broadway standards, including "We're In The Money," "Lullaby of Broadway," "Shuffle Off To Buffalo," "Dames," "I Only Have Eyes For You" and of course "42nd Street."

The musical tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a young dancer who leaves her quiet home for New York City to audition for the new Broadway musical, "Pretty Lady." When the leading lady breaks her ankle, Peggy takes over and, against all odds,becomes a star.

The original Broadway production was produced in 1980 by David Merrick, and featured direction and dances by Gower Champion. It played on Broadway for 3,486 performances, winning 1981 Tony Awards for best musical and best choreography. The Broadway revival, which opened in 2001, played for 1,524 performances and earned two Tony Awards, including best revival of a musical.

Songs, dance, acrobatics

"Pippin," coming here April 14, won four 2013 Tony Awards, including best musical revival for Stephen Schwartz, who also composed "Wicked."

We talked with touring director Mia Walker about what makes the musical special.

"Pippin is based on the tradition of the morality play in which the 'everyman' would go through the trials and tribulations of life and come out learning a moral lesson," she said.

"What I love about Pippin is that it takes this tradition and has become a living, breathing musical theater artifact based on history," she said.

That old idea has many new traditions.

"With the twist of Bob Fosse's dark edge, the timelessness of its music and the brilliance of Diane Paulus' revival production set in a circus tent, it is now a conglomeration of multiple generations and aesthetics," Walker said.

She said the touring show is very similar to the Broadway version.

"For the most part, the staging, set, costumes, choreography, circus tricks are all true to the Broadway revival. Because the show is now traveling the country and going to different cities almost every day, the set has to be put up and broken down daily, so there had to be some physical adjustments to allow the show to travel so often," she said.

For the acrobatics and dancing, the director said: "We rehearsed for a month, and then had technical rehearsals for about a week until we opened. Because of the demands of the show, some of the performers began preparing even before rehearsals. Chet Walker, our choreographer, did a 'boot camp' with some of the dancers to introduce them to the vocabulary of the piece. The circus performers started training and preparing their tracks in the show starting the day they were cast."

The acrobatics are by Les 7 Doigts de la Main.

IF YOU GO

All performances are at State Farm Center, and information for each is available at statefarmcenter.com.

'Once'

When: 7 p.m. March 6
Tickets: $39 to $58

'Rain'
When: 7:30 p.m. March 7
Tickets: $35 to $51

'42nd Street'

When: 7:30 p.m. March 22
Tickets: $39 to $58

'Pippin'

When: 7:30 p.m. April 14
Tickets: $39 to $58

-