theater

Laura Spencer / KCUR

With its new production of West Side Story, Spinning Tree Theatre takes an intimate approach to a large classic musical.

It’s thought to be the first in Kansas City with an all-local, all-professional cast. And while maintaining the original choreography, two veteran cast members are putting their own stamp on it. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Heidi Van says that Kansas City needs to send original, locally created theater out into the world every bit as much as it needs a baseball team. That means experimenting on stage, taking risks, re-tooling scenes and sometimes failing. In front of an audience. Get a window into the world of experimental theater in Kansas City. 

Guests:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

During the day, Robert Hingula works as an attorney for one of Kansas City’s most prominent law firms.

But for the next few weeks, he’ll be spending his evenings as Shrek, starring in productions at the Jewish Community Center and at Shawnee Mission's Theatre in the Park.

J. Robert Schraeder / courtesy of The Coterie Theatre

The extraordinary freedom of expression that we have in this country is routinely utilized by artists who choose to perform on stage, along with audiences that seek to be engaged by their efforts.

Keep that in mind this Fourth of July weekend, while enjoying the talents of actors and musicians who are free to go wherever their creative spirit leads.

That kind of liberty? Only in America.

1. ‘Pippin’

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival has graced Southmoreland Park for 23 seasons — and actor John Rensenhouse has been there for 10 of them. This year, he takes on the role of King Lear, with his volatile moods and ungrateful daughters. 

"He still wants to be king but he doesn’t want to do the work, so he is going to divide his kingdom up into three parts and give a part to each of his daughters," Rensenhouse says. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The downtown performance space known as The Living Room arrived on the scene in 2010 with a debut season that included two plays by John Kolvenbach. Five years later, Scott Cordes and Katie Gilchrist are back in the directors’ chairs with both plays being performed in repertory.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In 1961, in the heat of the civil rights movement, black and white college students rode buses through the South to challenge segregated public transportation. These "Freedom Riders" are the subject of a new play being staged by the University of Missouri-Kansas City's theater department. It's a collaboration between students, several playwrights, a director, and a choir. They hope to inspire a conversation about how the lessons of the past can have meaning in the present. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Spencer Theatre, the main stage for Kansas City Repertory Theatre, opened in 1979 on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The interior was updated with new seats in 2002, but over the past three decades, other changes have been limited. Starting May 18, however, a $5.5 million renovation gets underway. 

"It is my pleasure to welcome all of you today to the lobby of the Spencer Theatre, which six months from now will look significantly different than it does today," Scott Boswell, chair of the Rep's board of directors, said to a crowd of supporters and UMKC faculty and staff on Monday morning. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theater insiders will call someone who acts, writes, and directs a triple threat. Kyle Hatley, Kansas City Repertory Theatre's resident director, is such a person. Following his acclaimed performance in An Iliad earlier this year, he's now at the helm of Sticky Traps, the theater's third play by Kansas City's own Nathan Louis Jackson.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Hatley talks about his history with Jackson, a playwright-in-residence at the Rep, and what it means to rehearse a show with the playwright in the room.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

As curator of The Fishtank, an evolving performance space in the Crossroads Arts District, Heidi Van has helped ignite a growing interest in experimental theater. She's produced shows in the building's front windows with the audience in the street, performed a play in a lingerie shop around the corner, and tweaked the art of clowning.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Heidi Van talks about how her avant-garde sensibility might influence her first directing job at The Coterie: a production of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Musicologist John Lomax set out to do field recordings in the early 1930s of African-American songs in the southern United States. With the help of his son, Alan, he recorded ballads, reels, work songs, and the blues – some were recorded in prisons. That’s where John Lomax met the guitar player Huddie Ledbetter, better known as "Lead Belly."

A version of this story – with two women as the lead characters – is the focus of the play Black Pearl Sings! written by prolific Kansas City playwright Frank Higgins.

Don Ipock / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Angels in America is Tony Kushner’s two-part epic now playing at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. Set in New York in the 1980s, it’s a commentary on AIDS, religion, politics, and love in the Reagan era.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Graduate students in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City recently spent a week expanding their creative horizons with artist-in-residence Tony Fuemmeler, a mask maker and puppeteer based in Portland, Ore.

Their task: Create a mask using natural materials and thrift-store finds.

Don Ipock / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

"This is the story of two great fighters: Achilles and Hector," says the Poet, a storyteller played by Kyle Hatley in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's production of An Iliad. "What drove them to fight? The gods." 

An Iliad, adapted for the stage by Lisa Peterson and Kansas City native Denis O'Hare, is based on "The Iliad," a nearly 3,ooo-year-old epic poem attributed to Homer. The story takes place in the final year of the 10-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theatre for Young America honors President's Day with the play Starring Abe Lincoln, written and directed by the company's co-founder Gene Mackey. The show is a biographical portrait of the 16th president told by the man himself, who happened to be attending another play the night in question.

Director Gene Mackey talked about the production as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts.

Helix Architecture + Design

Kansas City Repertory Theatre will announce Tuesday that it’s close to its $5 million fundraising goal for renovations. To date, $4,793, 700 has been raised. 

The Hall Family Foundation contributed a $3 million lead gift. The Rep received other major gifts from individual donors and foundations, such as the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts, and the William T. Kemper Foundation for the Arts. 

Suzanne Opton / The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

In the photograph, a young soldier with a downy blond buzz-cut lies perfectly still, face down on the ground. On stage, an ancient Greek warrior goes through the four stages of events that lead to post-traumatic stress.

The arts community is asking big questions about the life of the soldier. What role does art play in public discourse around combat?

Guests: 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

  The Greek myth about the short-lived marriage of Orpheus and Eurydice is traditionally relayed from his point of view. Playwright Sarah Ruhl's version turns that around in her play Eurydice, opening next week at The Living Room.

Directing the show is Natalie Liccardello, who talked about the production as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

Courtesy David Wayne Reed

Theatergoers anticipating Help Yourself, the new show by Kansas City playwright and actor David Wayne Reed, got some insights into Reed’s inspiration on Wednesday’s Central Standard.

"Problems are the gasoline that runs the self-help car." So says David Wayne Reed, who wrote the play Help Yourself. On the heels of a discussion of this darkly humorous new play, a librarian and a psychologist discuss the self-help genre, its history and the human condition that fuels it. Is change possible? And when might acceptance be just as important?

Guests:

courtesy of the family

Three notable arts figures died in Kansas City in recent weeks: Ann K. Brown, Brenda Nelson, and Tommy Ruskin.

Drummer Tommy Ruskin, 72, died the morning of Jan. 1, after a long illness.

A native of Kansas City, Ruskin’s career spanned nearly half a century. He began performing as a teenager with singers such as Marilyn Maye, and went on to play with other jazz greats like Al Cohn, Scott Hamilton, Gene Harris, Zoot Sims, and Bill Watrous.

Cynthia Levin / Unicorn Theatre

Hollywood super agent Sue Mengers was never a household name. But, in the 1970s, she was considered the most powerful woman in show business. The play, I'll Eat You Last, opening this weekend at the Unicorn Theatre, shows that Mengers could be as vulnerable as she was cut-throat. 

Sidonie Garrett, the show's director, answered some questions about the show as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

Courtesy of Lindsey Roesti

University of Kansas theater professor Peter Zazzali wanted to challenge his students. So, heading into Thanksgiving, they're putting on a play called “The Big Meal.”

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Now that it's in its fourth season, Spinning Tree Theatre is proud to be Kansas City's youngest Equity theater company. Though it doesn't always do musicals, it has built a reputation with them, including its current production, Violet, with a title character unlike any musical theater heroine audiences have ever seen.

Here’s the cast on the night of a recent rehearsal:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of writer William S. Burroughs, an icon of the Beat movement.

Burroughs lived in Lawrence, Kan., from 1981 until his death in 1997.

As a way of honoring him, the Lawrence Arts Center is focusing some of its programming on Burroughs' work and influence, including a production of the 1950s musical The Nervous Set.

Here, Megan Birdsall sings one of the songs from the production called "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most":

Cynthia Levin

Hands on a Hardbody, the show now playing at the Unicorn Theater, isn’t particularly sexy. There’s a little bit of romance, but the “hard body” isn’t a person -- it’s a pickup truck on the lot of a fictional Nissan dealership in Longview, Texas. There, ten contestants try to keep one hand on the truck for as long as they can. The last person with a hand on the truck gets to drive it home.

Andi Enns / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play about small town life in Grover's Corners, has been a staple of high school theater for so long, one would think its commercial prospects would be slim. 

But director David Cromer's 2009 production Off-Broadway was a smash hit, chalking up the longest run in its 76-year history. Cromer directs the current production at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. 

David Cromer answered these questions as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The dew was still on the grass in a parking area next to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival grounds in Bonner Springs, Kan., early Saturday morning.

Performers started to gather, on this opening day, putting finishing touches on elaborate Tudor-era costumes and practicing 16th century speech and accents. They huddled in groups, catching up on the latest news, before checking in at the gate. 

Beth Lipoff / KCUR

From Falcon Crest to Friends, Morgan Fairchild is a familiar face on the silver screen and in your living room. But what’s the secret to being a successful working actor?

On Friday's Up to Date, we talk about her life in front of the cameras as she joins us in the studio. We also take a look at how she spends her time away from Hollywood, being an activist and performing live on stage at places like the New Theatre Restaurant.

Guest:

  • Morgan Fairchild, actress
Julie Denesha / KCUR

When the musical South Pacific debuted in 1949, it was considered radical for its treatment of issues of race and interracial romance. Opening this weekend is a production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic by Musical Theater Heritage, who've carved out a niche in Kansas City for the unique manner in which they stage their shows.

Here’s the cast on the night of a recent rehearsal:

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