'Over the River and Through the Woods' opens at Peoria Players

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With a veteran cast that includes some of the area's funniest and best-known actors, such as Mike Dentino and Judy Tilley, one would think Liz Landes Reed would be excited about raising the curtain on "Over the River and Through the Woods" at Peoria Players Theatre on Friday.

Oh, she loves her cast, make no mistake about that.

(Photo by Paul Gordon) Mike Dentino, who plays Nunzio in the Peoria Players production of "over the River and Through the Woods," which opens Oct. 7, gestures while making a point during a recent rehearsal.But Reed, who has directed musicals and non-musicals in the area for many years, is even more excited about the script of the only non-musical that is part of Peoria Players' 2011-2012 season.

"I am enjoying directing this show because it is a fun show. It's a show about family that evokes memories of everyone's grandparents and the way they were when we were growing up. The things they do in the show to get their way ring true and the truest things are usually the funniest," Reed said during a break at a recent dress rehearsal.

At the same time, she added, the play is appealing in that "it is not a farce. It has a lot of touching moment. Our audiences will laugh a lot and they will certainly be touched."

"Over the river and Through the Woods" tells the story of the relationship between two sets of Italian grandparents and their young adult grandson Nicky, all of whom live in New Jersey. The relationship is put to a test when Nicky, portrayed by Jarod Hazzard, is offered a job in Seattle, a job he wants to take.

His grandparents – portrayed by Dentino, Tilley, Mark Atkisson and Maureen O'Haenny – scheme to keep him from moving, including arranging for him to meet the young and beautiful Caitlyn, played by Kerri Rae Hinman, in hopes he would fall in love and stay.

Does any of it work? If you really want to know, tickets are $12 for adults and $9 for patrons 18 and under and can be ordered at www.peoriaplayers.org or by calling 688-4473.

Reed said when Peoria Players asked her to direct the show she wasn't how she felt about it until she re-read the script. "It is a modern play by some standards, being first produced in the mid-1990s, and so many modern plays have really adult themes and/or language. This does not. It is wholesome entertainment the whole family can enjoy and it is refreshing," she said.

Reed said she and her cast are aware they are carrying somewhat of a bigger load being the only non-musical in Peoria Players' season. Non-musicals typically cost less to produce but don't bring in as much revenue because ticket prices are lower and audience sizes are smaller.

"Personally I consider it an honor to be asked to direct the only non-musical of the season and I think the cast is honored, too. And it is such a strong cast, with names people know, I am confident people will want to see it," she said.(Photo by Paul Gordon) Judy Tilley, who portrays Aida, and Jarod Hazzard as Nicky share a scene during a recent rehearsal of "Over the River and Through the Woods" at Peoria Players. It opens Oct. 7.

The set, designed and built by Dave and Denise Miller, will make audiences "feel right at home" when they walk in, Reed said. The performers will make audiences reminisce about their own grandparents.

"I can't wait to see how people react," she said.

Neither Hazzard nor Dentino were in the original cast but stepped in late after those chosen from auditions to portray Nicky and Nunzio had to withdraw. Both have played the roles in past productions of "Over the River and Through the Woods," she said, "and I am very lucky they agreed to step in for me."

"Over the River and Through the Woods" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15 and at 2 p.m. on Oct. 9 and 16.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).