'Mame' ready to play at Peoria Players

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Liz Landes Reed has been involved with community theatre long enough to know how important it is to do shows that will generate large audiences. That's why those theatres make sure their seasons include such old and popular musicals as "Mame."

But for Reed, her desire to direct the show that showcases a bigger-than-life leading character and her bigger-than-life friends had little to do with putting butts in the seats at Peoria Players Theatre.

(Photo by Blake Stubbs) Wendy Blickenstaff, right, portrays Mame Dennis and Camilla Russell is Vera Charles in the Peoria Players Theatre production of 'Mame,' which opens an eight-show run on Friday, Feb. 1. Here the characters performing the rousing song "Bosom Buddies" during a recent dress rehearsal. "It's a great show with a great philosophy and I've wanted to direct it for a long time. I love this show," Reed said before the start of a recent dress rehearsal at Peoria Players at University and Lake streets.

"Mame" opens an eight-show run on Friday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m. Others shows are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 and at 2 p.m. on Feb. 3 and 10.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for patrons 18 and under and can be ordered by calling (309) 688-4473 or visiting www.peoriaplayers.org. All tickets are $12 on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

"Mame" is the musical based on the Patrick Dennis novel "Auntie Mame" and tells the story of Mame Dennis and how her eccentric, bohemian lifestyle in interrupted when her nephew comes to live with her after the death of her brother.

Some of the best known songs from the include the title song "Mame," the duet between Mame and her friend Vera Charles called "Bosom Buddies," and "We Need a Little Christmas." Jerry Herman wrote the music and lyrics.

The Peoria Players production stars Wendy Blickenstaff as Mame, just a matter of months after she played the lead in another warhorse musical, "Hello Dolly!" at Corn Stock Theatre.

Other cast members include Camilla Russell as Vera Charles, Susan Knobloch as Agnes Gooch, Aaron Elwell as Ralph Devine and Steve Post as Beauregard Burnside. Drew Conley portrays the young Patrick and Brian Witkowski is the older Patrick.

The orchestra is directed by Justine Kothenbeutal and choreography is by Michelle Loeffler. The set was built by Travis Olson and Clifford Clark. Jen Whitmore is stage manager.

Reed said she first saw "Mame" performed by a touring company at the University of Illinois, a production large enough it was staged in the Assembly Hall. She fell in love with it and has wanted to be part of it since.

"It was last done in Peoria in 1987 and I felt it was time to do it again. That's why I submitted it for consideration. And it is one of the shows that Peoria Players used to be asked to do again by patrons. It's just a great show and I think I have a great cast assembled to do it. They all have good chemistry between them with some great voices," Reed said.

She added she believes the Mame Dennis philosophy "to live life to the fullest, no matter what others think," appeals to a lot of people, helping to keep "Mame" such a popular musical.

"It is a comedy, but it has some important messages, too, about loyalty to your family and especially to yourself and your principles," Reed said.(Photo by Jenny Parkhurst) The ensemble cast of the Peoria Players Theatre production of "Mame" perform the title song of the show during a recent dress rehearsal.

Reed has directed many shows at Peoria Players and at Corn Stock Theatre. Her last production was the comedy "Over the River and Through the Woods" at Peoria Players in 2011. Prior to that she directed "South Pacific," another classic that draws audiences.

Reed said one thing she likes about the classic musicals is that they all have songs people know and remembers. "It seems that with the newer musicals you don't hear people humming the songs when they leave. I think it's important for community theatres to do those shows to bring in big audience and also to expose the younger generations to them. Then maybe they will keep doing them in the future," she said.

The classic musicals also usually have more dialogue to set the story, which Reed said helps to develop characterization. "That isn't always easy to do with a musical because there is so much going on, with learning music and choreography. But it's part of the process and the fun," she said.

Peoria Players is selling a mini-season ticket package for the remaining musicals of the 2012-2013 season for $45. Besides "Mame" they are "Godspell" scheduled for March 15-24 and "Fiddler on the Roof" on May 3-12. For another $7 the package could be upgraded to include the play "Bus Stop," which will run June 6-9.

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).