Titanic Aftermath ensemble membersAs Oregon-based playwright Michael Wehrli is the author of Titanic Aftermath - the historical drama being staged at Moline's Playcrafters Barn Theatre May 11 through 20 - I initially presume that he's seen James Cameron's Oscar-winning movie. In our April 25 phone interview, he tells me he has, and that it was even the inspiration for his play.

That's not exactly the compliment it might seem, though, considering he calls Cameron's Titanic "visually stunning and incredibly, maddeningly frustrating because of the fictional characters.

"I mean, they took up half the story," says Wehrli of the young lovers played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, "and it was the actual survivors' stories, to me, that were ... interesting. That, and the corporate-negligence side to the tragedy, which is hardly ever addressed in dramatic form.

"So I thought, 'All right, well, I'm just going to write a play about all this.'" Wehrli laughs. "'How the hell do I do that?'"

Benjie Lewis, Aaron Lord, Max Moline, and Andrew Bruning in Spring AwakeningDino Hayz is the creative director and co-owner of the Center for Living Arts, the Rock Island-based venue that, since 2006, has offered music and theatre (and musical theatre) classes for ages 18 and under, and has produced such stage presentations as Schoolhouse Rock Live! and Disney's High School Musical.

Consequently, Hayz says that he and his performers have a pretty fair idea of how patrons might react to the Center's latest theatrical offering.

"When we're in rehearsal," says Hayz, "at the end of Act I, we always say, 'A-a-and ... blackout. Actors off, lights up, a good third of the audience walks out the door ... ."

the touring production of Damn Yankees, coming to the Adler TheatreAfter compiling the list of stage presentations coming to area venues this spring, three things became immediately clear.

(1) Audiences are getting a rather intimidating number of options, with (at last count) no fewer than 57 plays or musicals scheduled to open between March 1 and May 31.

(2) Audiences are getting a rather incredible variety of options - everything from a comedy by Woody Allen to a musical by Woody Guthrie.

(3) Absolutely none of these numerous and diverse theatrical productions features me.

While drying your eyes, though, do your best to get excited about this spring's lineup anyway ... which, I hasten to add, shouldn't be very difficult.

Author Eileen Boggess (third from top right), director Jessica Sheridan (bottom left), and Davenport Junior Theatre's Mia the Melodramatic teamThose familiar with Davenport Junior Theatre might find its forthcoming production of Mia the Melodramatic a bit ... well ... familiar. After all, the show concerns a children's theatre company that finds kids starring in and producing plays for other kids, and even comes complete with its own mascot in the form of an energetic, floppy-shoed clown.

Rest assured: Any similarities between the fictional children's theatre of Mia the Melodramatic and Davenport Junior Theatre itself are completely intentional.

Tom Walljasper, Kristin Gilbert, and John Payonk in HairsprayThe Reader's chief theatre reviewer, Thom White, saw and wrote about 52 area stage productions in 2011. I saw 39 and reviewed 12. Obviously, during our second-annual breakfast chat on the Year in Theatre, there was a bit to talk about.

Cody E. Johnson, Stacy Phipps, and Tim Stompanato in Dakota Jones & the Search for AtlantisEvery year, St. Ambrose University's theatre department produces four mainstage shows over the nine months that school is in session. It's somewhat surprising, then, that given the myriad authors to choose from, the university opted to reserve half of the slots in its 2011-12 season for works by a single playwright.

Yet what's more surprising is that the author in question isn't one of the usual theatrical suspects - Shakespeare or Williams or O'Neill. Rather, it's St. Ambrose student Aaron Randolph III, a 32-year-old pursuing additional degrees after graduating in 2002 from the school's music department. His family musical Dakota Jones & the Search for Atlantis will be staged in the university's Galvin Fine Arts Center December 3 and 4, and his comedy The Plagiarists runs February 24 through 26.

Sunshine Ramsey as Junie B. JonesOn November 25, the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse will debut Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, a holiday comedy based on one of the many children's books featuring author Barbara Park's feisty, funny, and unpredictable first-grader Junie B. Jones. It's the second Junie B. title that Circa '21 has staged in the past three years, and if you attend this new show and think you recognize its star from 2009's Junie B. Jones & a Little Monkey Business, you do: Sunshine Ramsey will again be donning Junie's dress to play a character some 25 years younger than the actress is.

Pam Kobre, Hannah  McNaught, Don Faust, Dana Moss-Peterson, and Taylor Apple in Leaving IowaDescribed by the Chicago Sun-Times as "simultaneously hilarious and touching," the road-trip comedy Leaving Iowa is the final presentation in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's 2011 season. Leaving Iowa is also the first presentation in Black Hawk College's 2011-12 theatre season, but don't chalk that up to either coincidence or some sort of Moline-based rivalry; the productions are actually one and the same.

Orson Welles performs for the Mercury Theatre"Most of our students work jobs when they're not at school," says Scott Community College (SCC) theatre instructor Steve Flanigin. "So when you say, 'We're going to do a play - who'd be interested?', you have to see who's available before you decide what play you can do. Because if they have to go to a job when we normally rehearse - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, from three to five - then they can't do the show.

"I think that's one of the challenges of doing theatre at a community college that a lot of people don't realize," he continues. "What we do depends on who is here in the fall or the spring, and what their schedules are like. I mean, I'd love to do Hello, Dolly!, but not with four people."

Happily for Flanigin, he was able to secure roughly a dozen student participants for the school's latest production. And while that number wasn't large enough for a Hello, Dolly!, it was perfectly appropriate for the show that he and fellow SCC instructor John Turner did choose: a new adaptation of author H.G. Wells' alien-invasion classic War of the Worlds, running October 20 through 30.

cast members of Baby Wants CandyLike most professional performers, Chicagoan Nick Semar has a healthy number of musicals on his résumé.

Unlike most professional performers, Semar can boast acting credits in 26 original, hour-long musicals.

Staged over 27 nights.

All of which were made up on the spot.

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