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Published: 2/29/2008

Kids and con men: Theater League's '08-'09 season mixes old classics and new

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Competitive schoolchildren, a pair of con artists, and lots of orphans are headed to Toledo as Theater League prepares its 2008-09 Lincoln Mercury Broadway series in the Stranahan Theater.

Billed as "A Season of Classics, Old and New," the "old" comprises Annie and Oliver, and the "new" is composed of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Footlose, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

And as an enticement to those contemplating season tickets, Theater League is dangling the promise of the phenomenally successful Wicked for the following year. Those who buy the 08-09 package will get the first choice of seats for the '09-10 season 2009-10.

The 2008-09 season is bookended by the two classic tales of orphans trying to find homes.

Oliver gets the fun going Nov. 13-16. The 1963 multiple Tony nominee (winner for best composer) is based on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, about a gang of young pickpockets and petty thieves in 19th-century England. Well-known songs in the Lionel Bart show include "Who Will Buy?" "As Long as He Needs Me," and "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two."

Annie closes the season on April 23-26, 2009. The show won seven Tony Awards in 1977, including best musical. Based on the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" by Harold Gray, the show, which has become a staple of community theaters, is about an orphan with a big heart and even bigger spirit. When she is invited to spend Christmas at the home of a lonely billionaire, she captures his heart, but the orphanage's nasty matron, Miss Hannigan, has plans for the little girl. The signature song of Annie is "Tomorrow."

Footloose, the musical based on the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon, runs Jan. 15-18, 2009. It's the story of a teen who moves from Chicago to a straight-laced Texas town where dancing is forbidden and most forms of happiness are frowned upon. When the show reaches Toledo, it will be on its 10th anniversary tour, having opened in October, 1998, on Broadway, where it played for 709 performances and earned four Tony nominations.

From the American West, the season moves to the French Riviera for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, based on the 1988 movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. In their quest to live the life of the rich and famous, the title characters get more than they bargained for. The show opened on Broadway in 2004 and ran for 627 performances. Among its 10 Tony nominations, it won for best actor, losing the best musical award to Spamalot.

Also losing to Spamalot was The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which opens in Toledo on March 19, 2009, running through March 22. I saw this charmer in Columbus last year and can't wait to get a chance to see it again. It is indeed the story of a group of kids in a spelling competition. But their competitive spirit is sometimes hampered by their personal baggage and the foibles of their parents.

It's easy to fall in love with every one of the youngsters: Leaf Coneybear, the offbeat son of former hippies; Olive

Ovstrovsky, whose mother is on a spiritual quest in India and father is working late, as usual; Logainne Schwartzand-grubenierre, who tries hard to please two very competitive dads; Chip Tolentino, last year's spelling bee winner; the overachieving Marcy Park; and William Barfee, whose name is always mispronounced. Add to these some members of the audience who are tapped to try to spell, and it's a recipe for hilarious, sometimes poignant fun.

Theater League is also bringing back Mamma Mia in 2009 as an added bonus. It's not part of the package, but season-ticket holders get first dibs on buying tickets.

Then there's Wicked.

Waiting in the wings for spring of 2010, this is the story of Glinda the Good Witch of Oz and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. But before Dorothy arrived in Oz, they were schoolgirls together, and Wicked explains how their paths diverged. Earning nine Tony nominations, it won three, including best actress for Idina Menzel, who played Elphaba. Even more telling of its success, the show opened on Broadway in October of 2003, and it's still going strong.

Information on the Theater League season is available from www.theaterleague.com. Information on season-ticket prices is available from the Stranahan box office, 419-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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