In a time of diminishing budgets, guest host Brian Ellison learns how fine-arts program Harmony Project is helping underserved kids in Kansas City do better in school. Then, actor Bryan Cranston says a large part of his successful career has to do with hard work and good luck. This week's Local Listen features the classic rock band Kansas, touring in support of its first album since 2000.

Dario Acosta

Tenor Ben Bliss is considered a rising star in the world of opera. And, like opera diva Joyce DiDonato, he grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas. Bliss credits "the support of arts and education and public education" for leading to his musical career. It's something, he says, he "got a really good dose of growing up."

Bliss's father is a freelance cartoonist and his mother sings with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City chorus.

J. Robert Schraeder / Courtesy of the Coterie Theatre

The Coterie Theatre, in its nearly 40-year history, has often challenged audiences with difficult subjects, such as bullying or the Salem witch trials. The theater continues the tradition with its current production, The Nine Who Dared: Courage in Little Rock.

Kevin King

Can a play – even a short, ten-minute one-act – change the world we live in?

That question is part of the mission of Alphabet Soup: Stories From Queer Voices, a collection of new short plays assembled by playwright and producer Kevin King.

Each of the plays, by six different local authors, confronts different themes within the LGBTQ community, although King feels the production, playing for this weekend only, has a more universal appeal.

Shirley Jones and Patrick Cassidy are the mother-and-son team starring in  Have You Met Miss Jones, a musical that chronicles the life of the talented actress and soprano. They share what it's like to balance show business with everyday life and how a family that works together stays together. 

'Have You Met Miss Jones' premieres at New Theatre Restaurant September 22 and runs through November 27. Find more information at

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City theater audiences know Damron Russel Armstrong’s work – he’s been an actor and director in town for years. But Armstrong’s new role is his most challenging yet: He’s starting a new theater company.

Brian Paulette

Tennessee Williams' masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948, has been called the greatest play ever written by an American, and the character Blanche DuBois is at the center of nearly everything that happens in it. It's a daunting role that Kansas City actress Cinnamon Schultz has spent months preparing for. No pressure, right?

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

For this year's production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival has set the play in the Roaring Twenties.

Its three female characters represent distinctly different approaches to the gender politics of Shakespeare's time, so KCUR asked the actors for their thoughts on the characters of Viola, Olivia, and Maria.

Actor: Bree Elrod
Character: Viola

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

It may look like just another hefty tome, but Shakespeare's First Folio is a big deal. Up To Date hit the road for a live, first-hand look at one of the most valuable, and rare, literary documents in the English language.


As Sue Sylvester on Glee, actress Jane Lynch delivered some of the best zingers ever written for television. Lynch has built a portfolio portraying what one media outlet called, "full-throttle, sexed-up, hyper-confident female wack jobs.” We catch up with Lynch as her musical tour gears up to come to Overland Park, Kansas. 

courtesy: Barn Players Community Theatre

Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, tells the story of a young woman, an orphan, who takes a job as a governess. She falls in love with the owner of the estate, the darkly brooding Mr. Rochester, who has a secret past.

The musical adaptation of Jane Eyre premiered on Broadway in 2000, and the Barn Players Community Theatre presents the first Kansas City production. Alisha Richardson and Matt Richardson, who married in 2015, play the two lead roles.  

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Sound and lighting designers at Kansas City's Unicorn Theatre are pulling out all the stops for the world premiere of the play The Ghosts of Lote Bravo. Thanks to a six-figure grant, the Unicorn has been able to upgrade to the latest technology the theater world has to offer.

courtesy Heart of America Shakespeare Festival

Spencer Fane LLP's commitment to arts funding dates back to 2006, and the early days of the campaign for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. 

"We made a $75,000 challenge grant at the beginning of their fundraising efforts. That obviously was a large donation for us," says Nate Orr, a partner at the firm's headquarters in Kansas City. He heads up the charitable giving program. 

Courtesy Logan Black

Logan Black is an Iraq War veteran and an actor. Last year he moved Kansas City Fringe Festival audiences with Bond: A Soldier and His Dog, a one-act play he wrote about his relationship with a specialized search dog named Diego.

With another run for the show this month, however, Black has faced a tough reality, with implications for the play’s future: Diego hasn't been well.

Black was Diego's handler. Together, they cleared roads of roadside bombs and searched homes and discovered other stockpiles of ordnance.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Updated, 2:15 p.m. Friday:

At least five journalists have taken voluntary buyouts from the Kansas City Star.

Those departing include editorial page editor Steve Paul, columnist Barb Shelly, theater critic and arts reporter Robert Trussell and assistant sports editor Mark Zeligman.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Starlight Theatre offers nearly a dozen performing arts education programs, but staffers are often working around the schedules of the Broadway musicals or concerts. 

Officials with the theater hope a new addition will alleviate some of the logistical issues. On Thursday, the 66-year-old theater unveiled a new education pavilion and a dedicated space for education programming

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Many actors say they finally get into character when they put on their costumes. An effective costume design can transport audiences to ancient Greece or to the nifty 1950s of the musical Grease. The wardrobe created for the Unicorn Theatre's production of The Whale brings to the stage the life of a 600-pound shut-in. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

What does it mean to be an American teenager? That's been a question posed everywhere from The Catcher in the Rye to Huckleberry Finn. It's also the subject of the Spinning Tree Theatre's production of the musical 13, a show about adolescents — with a cast made up of nineteen of them.

At a recent rehearsal for the company's production of 13, sets are under construction and the musical director is tinkering with the score.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

It's a rare person who can make a full-time living as a playwright in Kansas City. Nathan Louis Jackson is such a person. His gig as playwright-in-residence at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre was recently renewed.

Kansas City Repertory Theatre

In the 1930s and 1940s, many Jews in Europe lived in fear — or in hiding — from the Nazis. 

A cramped attic in Amsterdam served as a makeshift home for two years for Anne Frank, her family, and four others. 

This secret annex was discovered, and Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only one to survive the concentration camps – but their stories live on through Anne’s diary, first published in 1947. 

Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl, was turned into a play and a film in the 1950s. Now, decades later, there’s an update for a new era. 

The Enlightenment was a time marked by logical thought and a questioning of traditional authority. Among the great male minds of this period were some notable women. One in particular equaled, and often outshone, many men during the Age of Reason.


Creative Commons

A food-borne virus traced to an Overland Park dinner theater has sickened even more people than originally thought, health authorities say.

More than 600 people have now reported symptoms of norovirus after attending the New Theatre Restaurant in mid-January.

Since the first reports of the illness, state and local health authorities have been working with the popular venue on cleanup and safe food practices.

Hannah Copeland / KCUR 89.3

Thirty-five local playwrights will capture the mood of Kansas City's present and future at the city's first One-Minute Play Festival this weekend on City Stage at Union Station.

Founded in New York by producing artistic director Dominic D'Andrea, one-minute play festivals have spread all over the country, "with the goal of promoting the spirit of radical inclusion by representing local cultures of playwrights of different age, gender, race, cultures, and points of career," according to the festival's website.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

A new one-act play re-examines an enormous explosion that rocked Kansas City and killed six firefighters. The jury convicted five men of setting the 1988 fire, but investigative reporting has cast doubt on key facts in the case.

The process of producing the play, called Justice in the Embers, meant writing a script with a dogged journalist and visiting a convicted felon. 

Creative Commons / Public Domain Images

More than 100 people who attended the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park on Sunday, Jan. 17, reported becoming ill, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

In a news release Wednesday, the agency says it’s investigating an outbreak of norovirus infection. Symptoms of the extremely contagious virus include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.

KDHE says it’s conducting a confidential online survey of people who attended the matinee and evening performances staged that day at the popular dinner theater.

Many Kansas Citians still remember the morning of Nov. 29, 1988. That was the day a blast miles distant woke tens of thousands in the metro in a tragedy that claimed the lives of six Kansas City firefighters. Now, a stage production explores some of the mysteries that remain about the events leading up to the explosion.


Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Starlight Theatre has been an integral part of Kansas City summers since 1950. But a new initiative is under way to stage shows when the theater is usually empty — during the winter. This year's January slate offers four Off-Broadway type productions. 

The impetus for the winter shows comes from Richard Baker, who took the job of president and CEO of Starlight in March 2014 after nearly three decades running the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

After playing Bob Cratchit in Kansas City Repertory Theatre's A Christmas Carol for the past six years, it seems actor Walter Coppage was up for a change.

In this year's production, Coppage was asked to take on two new roles — as the ghost of the miserly Jacob Marley and as the generous businessman Mr. Fezziwig. And, like others he's taken on throughout his career, these characters offer some unorthodox challenges. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

A large crowd of supporters and donors gathered Friday morning in the freshly renovated lobby space of the Spencer Theatre on the UMKC campus.

After a seven-month, $5.6 million reconstruction, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's primary venue now has a new stage floor, new seats, updated lighting and acoustic design as well as an expanded lobby. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

For a solid 10 years, actor Don Richard performed on nearly every Kansas City stage. A production of the musical Jane Eyre that began in Wichita, Kansas, eventually landed in New York City on Broadway, where he often appears today. He's currently back in town for Musical Theater Heritage's production of Urinetown: The Musical. 

As part of the monthly series Actors Off Script, Richard, who's now based in Chicago, talks about his journey from modest parts in local theaters to the Broadway stage.