The last offering this semester of Lyric Theatre at Illinois was the 1993 musical "Crazy for You," with songs by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, largely from their 1935 musical "Girl Crazy." This production ran from April 25 to a matinee performance on April 28, which I attended.
All in all, this show was an overwhelming success. The enthusiastic audience in the Tryon Festival Theatre was the largest Sunday afternoon turnout in my memory. Such famous Gershwin classics as "Embraceable You" and "I've Got Rhythm" were delivered with expert singing in production numbers with at times dazzling choreography by Charlie Maybee.
The overall direction by Sarah Wigley was excellent in successfully developing comic situations and gaining maximum dramatic results from the imaginative sets designed by Daniela Cabrera.
In the plot, a young man named Bobby Child, from a rich, New York family, is sent out west to foreclose on a moribund theater in Deadrock, Nev. But Bobby, a wannabe song and dance man, contrary to family orders, works to resurrect the theater by putting on a successful show.
In the role of Bobby, Owen Connor Stout showed consistent and outstanding talent in singing, dancing and acting.
The girl with whom he falls in love in Nevada, named Polly Baker, was played with both affecting charm and lively excitement by Colleen Bruton.
Fabian Guerrero was highly successful as the Broadway producer Bela Zangler, a character who would have been instantly recognized by a 1935 audience as a caricature of Florenz Ziegfeld, he of the renowned "Follies."
The light-as-a-feather plot involved Bobby Child's wooing of Polly Baker while disguised as Zangler and the confusions that result when the real Zangler shows up in Nevada.
Another romantic pairing was well played by Logan Piker as Irene Roth from New York and Cameron Young as Lank Hawkins from Nevada.
An outstanding asset to the production was the Follies Girls, an assemblage of eight very blonde chorines from New York. They were played with winning liveliness by Sara Dolins, Anastasia Kasimos, Madysen Simanonis, Abby Steimel, Sophia Byrd and Lisa Buhelos.
The pit orchestra, composed of talented young UI musicians, gave an enormous lift to the stage goings on and was expertly conducted by Michael Tilley.
The response from the audience was very strong throughout, and the finales of both acts were coordinated triumphs, as well as the staged curtain call. In sum, the whole show was, in the words of the Follies Girls, "Nice Work If You Can Get It!"
On April 30, the UI Symphony Orchestra gave its final concert of the spring season. Joined by the UI Chamber Singers and the UI Oratorio Society conductor, Andrew Megill, the whole ensemble was conducted by Donald Schleicher in a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Mass in C Major, Op. 86.
In the second part of the program, Igor Stravinsky's famous "Rite of Spring" was played.
In 1807, Prince Nicholas Esterhazy II, for whose family Joseph Haydn had written Masses, commissioned Beethoven to write a Mass. Beethoven's Mass in C was performed in 1807, and Prince Esterhazy was not pleased with it. Part of this Mass was performed in 1808 at the marathon concert at which Beethoven's Fifth as well as his Sixth Symphonies were premiered.
In 1813, the famous author E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a sympathetic account of it. Overshadowed by Beethoven's massive "Missa Solemnis," Op. 123, this Mass in C is seldom performed, but many consider it a neglected masterpiece.
The writer Hoffmann expected something like the Fifth Symphony, and to be sure, the Mass does not have thunderbolt contrasts like other Beethoven works. The Kyrie section opens softly and beautifully, and the last section also ends peacefully.
At this concert, the choruses sang with admirable discipline and combined in excellent cooperation with a fine quartet of soloists that included Grace Thompson, soprano; Sadie Cheslak, alto; Andrew Turner, tenor; and Scott Cuva, bass.
Throughout, conductor Schleicher led an impressive and well-unified performance. I thought especially fine the end of the Sanctus portion. I was somewhat surprised when the concluding Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) section was introduced by a fanfare of trumpets and a high-volume choral entry on the word "Agnus." This Mass by Beethoven proved to be a lovely work, worthy of more frequent performances.
At the end, Andrew Megill joined Donald Schleicher on stage, as the vocal quartet, the UI Chamber Singers, the UI Oratorio Society and the UI Symphony, all together, were rewarded with enthusiastic applause.
The orchestra for the Beethoven Mass was small in comparison to the throng of 94 or so instrumentalists that crowded the stage for Igor Stravinsky's 1913 epoch-defining ballet score for "Rite of Spring." The UI Symphony ensemble included nine horns and six trumpets. From the opening bassoon solo to the final massive chord, the UI Symphony and conductor Schleicher did themselves proud in a splendid performance.
I have strong memories of a fine reading of the "Rite" by the UI Symphony conducted by Schleicher on Sept. 29, 2006, and I am grateful to the opportunity to hear this wondrous score yet once again.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at email@example.com.