Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Center Stage

The Wiz, a Dream, and a whiz


Past production of Iowa Stage Theatre Company Shakespeare on the Lawn at Salisbury House & Gardens. This year’s offering will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo credit: Iowa Stage Theatre Company/Salisbury House & Gardens.

July brings a variety of stage enticements, from opera to plays to musicals. Free your inner cultural adventurer and explore these immersive performance worlds. 



One of the most beloved stories to hit the stage is L. Frank Baum’s adaptation of his initial Oz book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” published in 1900. This story was first produced on stage in 1902 and ran on Broadway for 293 stage nights. This story was very different from the version popularized 36 years later in the landmark 1939 MGM cinematic version that shot its star, Judy Garland, to instant fame. Baum was a prolific, if not controversial, writer of his day, creating 14 Oz books and more than 400 other works.

Urbandale Community Theatre (UCT) produces this crowd-pleaser. Board Member Kevin Allemagne shared insight about this company and its 2024 production.

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“This will be one of the largest productions we have had in recent years — 35 cast members and 25 orchestra members, plus our crew and creative team. We have multiple family members involved in other creative elements of the show, such as my wife, Julie, and I are both playing in the pit orchestra. UCT promotes opportunities for people with a wide range of skills, experiences, and abilities to participate in putting on a large-scale Broadway production, a true community theatre.” 



The timelessness of Shakespeare’s works continues its modern relevance through such regional traditions as Shakespeare on the Lawn. Presented in the bucolic, oak tree surroundings of Salisbury House & Gardens, Iowa Stage Theatre Company produces stellar Shakespeare each summer. This year brings one of the Bard’s most popular plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 

Presenting Shakespeare through the partnership of Iowa Stage and Salisbury House & Gardens is a wonderful match. Even the grand hall entrance boasts beams from the White Hart Inn, transported from England, purportedly under which William Shakespeare himself performed with his troupe.

Shakespeare’s plays, while predominantly presented live on stage, have been cinematic fodder since the early days of motion picture. “Dream” is no exception, first put to film in 1909 with at least nine additional film versions since. The critically acclaimed 1935 version had a star-studded cast that included James Cagney, Olivia de Haviland, Joe E. Brown, Jean Muir and Mickey Rooney. Written in 1595, this popular play has spanned centuries, presented globally by traveling troupes. The works of Shakespeare was second only to the Bible to books owned by American pioneers.

While Iowa Stage’s version of this romantic comedy fantasy may not have the silver screen star power of that 1935 film, the company’s track record for producing high-caliber Shakespearean productions has been exceptional. Director Taylor Millar shared some thoughts about this show.

“I’m just a sucker for the language. I feel very lucky to get to do a deep dive on Shakespeare every rehearsal night. Each day a new line pops out to me. And, of course, for these Shakespeare on the Lawn productions, getting to perform at the Salisbury House is incredible. Brad (Dell, producer) calls it ‘Shakespeare in Paradise’ and it truly feels like that.”



Carousel Theatre is the vibrant company located just a few minutes south in Indianola. It continues to embrace the latitude its loyal core audience base allows, sometimes bringing edgy and thought-provoking theatrical fare to their stage. This year’s summer musical is “Urinetown: The Musical,” the satirical musical comedy that made an eye-opening splash more than 20 years ago on Broadway.  

Carousel has, as key member Alex Lindsley stated, “expanded from its previous trend of comedies and musicals to more challenging and diverse shows. 

“Last season we wrapped our run of shows with the family classic, ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid,’ but this season we decided to take a trip off the beaten trail in presenting ‘Urinetown,’ ” Lindsley continued. “An irreverent and, at times, raunchy story that pokes fun at politics, capitalism and musical theatre itself, ‘Urinetown’ is a hilarious show that is sure to leave you laughing all evening long. Carousel has seen significant growth over the last few years, both onstage and in our audiences. We hope that growth continues as we look forward into our next season.”


But wait, there’s more

This wonderfully busy month includes several other noteworthy opportunities to experience diverse shows. These include Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre’s “The Prom,” the Des Moines Playhouse’s “School of Rock: The Musical,” and CAP (Class Act Productions) Theatre’s summer tradition of a classical play, this year “Antigone,” in Altoona’s Haines Park. 

Add the final performances of the nationally recognized Pyramid Theatre Company’s “The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body,” and the finishing touches of Des Moines Metro Opera’s 2024 Festival Season, and a true bounty awaits the cultural adventurer.

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.

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