'Big Bad Musical' targets kids

CHAMPAIGN — Sixty years ago this spring, the Champaign-Urbana Junior Woman's Club began putting on plays in members' garages, just to entertain themselves and their children.

After a few years, the club moved its annual Tom Thumb Theatre shows to high school auditoriums.

Soon, they became the club's major fundraiser, taking in $2,000 to $8,000 each year.

The club turns over the proceeds to community nonprofits and pays for a free book for every second-grader in C-U's public schools.

"This has been a great, wonderful tradition of children's theater," said Sue Aldridge, drama director at Centennial High. "When we first moved to town, it's what I brought my son to."

The 60th annual Tom Thumb production, "The Big Bad Musical," will take place this weekend in the Centennial auditorium.

The 38-member Junior Woman's Club is in charge of nearly everything, from sets to costumes to choreography.

Aldridge's students take care of light and sound, and she's there as a school district representative to oversee but not direct the show.

"We're amateurs for sure," Tom Thumb director Laurie Johnson said. "We're amateurs who have fun.

"We have families who have come back forever. We have parents who say they came as children and now they're bringing their children."

And some club members have children, albeit grown up now, in the show. Johnson's 24-year-old daughter Jennifer, a dancer, plays Red Riding Hood and is in charge of the choreography.

Her younger sister, Ashley, 21, is one of the four Wolfettes, singing backup for the Big Bad Wolf, played by Michelle Roberts.

The Johnson sisters are club members. Four even younger members called Juniorettes — membership in the club is open to women 18 and older — also act, sing and dance in the show.

Altogether, 19 of the club's 38 members play fairy-tale and other characters. The other members work behind the scenes; member Linda Pein provides the musical accompaniment on keyboard.

The cast and crew had several rehearsals in October, then returned to the Centennial auditorium this month, amping up the time they spend each evening to prepare for the show.

"We will be ready," Johnson said Monday evening. "It's going to be awesome."

"The Big Bad Musical" runs 1 hour, 15 minutes, with no intermission. It's aimed at kids in preschool through middle school.

Toddlers able to watch a 90-minute Disney movie should be able to make it through the musical, Johnson said. To keep their attention, club members will do "silly things off to the side."

At the end of the show the audience will vote on the guilt or innocence of the Big Bad Wolf — she's on trial for crimes committed against other fairy-tale characters.

Club president Kelli Meents of Fisher plays TV reporter Sidney Grimm in "The Big Bad Musical." This is her 12th Tom Thumb Theatre show.

"It's great. I just absolutely love it, and the kids just love it," she said. "It's fun for them, and we raise a lot of money for the community, which is what it's all about."

If you go

What: The Champaign-Urbana Junior Woman's Club presents its 60th annual Tom Thumb Theatre production, "The Big Bad Musical," written by Alec Strum, with music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur

When: 7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Centennial High School auditorium, 913 S. Crescent Drive, C

Tickets: $5 in advance at Schnucks supermarkets in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy; via cujwc.org; or by calling 353-5005 ($7 at the door)

Extra: Pizza lunch with the characters, noon Saturday, Centennial cafeteria; tickets $10 each (reservations required and due by Thursday; to reserve a spot go to cujwc.org)

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