URBANA — Three area high schools will take full-length productions to the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday at the University of Illinois.
And four Champaign high school students have parts in the festival all-state production of "Memphis," a musical written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro and first produced on Broadway in 2009.
"Memphis" is loosely based on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the '50s. The Broadway production won four Tony Awards, among them best musical.
Chad Kimball, the leading actor in "Memphis," also was nominated for a Tony. He will join the high school cast and crew on Wednesday evening, when they will do their dress rehearsal, according to Suzanne Aldridge, drama director at Champaign Centennial High School. Aldridge, who is producing the all-state production, said others from the New York production of "Memphis" also will attend the festival.
Appearing in the "Memphis" cast are Cameron Cornell, a junior at Judah Christian School in Champaign, as Mr. Simmons; Adrian Rochelle of Champaign Central as Bobby; Johynn-a Evans of Central as Ethel; and Riley Hill-Kartel of Centennial as a store shopper and dance captain.
Playing in the orchestra for "Memphis" are Andrew Myers and Kate Myers, both of Central. Aaron Kaplan, a UI graduate student in conducting, conducts the chorus, with assistance from Cullyn Murphy of Champaign, now a student at Illinois State University.
"Memphis" will be presented during the 38th annual Illinois High School Theatre Festival but is open only to those registered for the festival, which each year draws 4,000 students, teachers, university representatives, exhibitors and volunteers.
The 2013 festival — its executive director is Greg Chew, retired Urbana High drama director — will feature more than 25 high school productions and more than 150 workshops.
Judges with the Illinois Theatre Association travel to high schools to see plays and musicals and then select productions to be produced at the state festival.
The three area schools and the shows they will take to the festival are:
— "Chicago," the musical, presented by Urbana High, directed by Tim Broeker.
— The Dining Room," presented by Unity High and directed by students Claire Dust, Josh Gavel, Megan Maidens and Maggie Potter.
— "Life (as we know it)," presented by St. Joseph-Ogden High, directed by drama director Larry Williams.
The festival — the largest noncompetitive high school theater festival in the country — also features college/university auditions for high school seniors and professional development for teachers.
The 2013 festival theme is "Theatre for a Change: Social Justice and the Stage."
"While the media have always both reflected and changed the society of its time, only theater actively extends its reach to audiences of the future on a daily basis," Chew wrote for the festival program. "Yesterday's newspaper yellows unnoticed in a recycling bin, but the play 'Hamlet,' first staged around 1600, relives on a blog spot in a young Syrian protester holding up a sign with two lines of black text in Arabic: 'Imma an takuun aw la takuun.'
"'To be or not to be' remains the question for those struggling against corrupt rulers in the streets of the Arab Spring. Throughout the world daily, new audiences take inspiration in theater."