July 18, 2008

‘War of the Worlds,’ Naturalist Jack Hanna Highlight McKendree Series

By Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, Ill.

Jul. 18--LEBANON -- Bluegrass stars, big-band extravaganzas -- even the most famous radio drama of all time -- are but a few of the highlights on McKendree University's third Spotlight Series starting this fall.

Tickets are on sale for the eight programs that also will feature the Ailey II dance company and the return of The New Shanghai Circus. In addition, the college already has set another George E. McCammon Distinguished Speakers Series, which will include beloved naturalist Jack Hanna -- and some of his four-legged friends.

"We're building on the tremendous success of the past two years," said Peter J. Palermo, director of the 500-seat Russel E. and Fern M. Hettenhausen Center for the Arts, where all programs will be held.

"I believe our third season will be our biggest yet. The Hett is gaining a reputation as the finest venue for the arts in Southern Illinois."

This year's season will kick off with a twinbill of thrills, chills and science fiction when the L.A. Theatre Works, a live radio theater troupe, presents "War of the Worlds" and "The Lost World" Oct. 5. In 1938, Orson Welles sent the nation into a panic when many radio listeners believed they were hearing bulletins about an actual Martian invasion.

A big week of shows will continue Oct. 10 with the return of the New Shanghai Circus. The troupe now commands an international following by combining artistry and dance with amazing feats of endurance, strength and flexibility.

On Oct. 12, McKendree will get you "In the Mood" with this retro 1940s musical that has been filling theaters across the country. The high-energy production features the String of Pearls Big Band Orchestra along with a host of singers and dancers.

Bluegrass fans will want to gobble up tickets now for Rhonda Vincent, who, along with her band, The Rage, will have you dancing in your seats Nov. 7. Vincent is an award-winning singer-songwriter and string instrumentalist who was named Best Female Vocalist by the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards for six straight years.

Ailey II will launch the new year with a performance of spirited dance Feb. 11. Combining the spirit and energy of outstanding young dances and the creativity of emerging choreographers, Ailey II is the little brother of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

Wrapping up the season will be noted St. Louis jazz vocalist Denise Thimes on March 5 and the Grammy-nominated Quartet San Francisco March 24. Thimes sang last Valentine's Day at the White House; the California chamber group will be celebrating the 100th birthday of American composer Raymond Scott.

Advance tickets are strongly urged for all events. They are $12 each, $10 for seniors and $5 for children and students. They are available at the box office or by calling 537-6863.

The speaker series, which will continue free of charge, will open with Chicago Tribune reporter Deborah Horan Oct. 20. A Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, she will discuss U.S. Foreign and economic policy in the Middle East and Middle Eastern politics.

She'll be followed on Nov. 11 by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that promotes cooperation among the young of all religions.

Next up on Jan. 23 is Hanna, one of the country's most influential naturalists, who will discuss wildlife conservation and share stories of his worldwide adventures. The series will close Feb. 4 with Sarah Vowell, a sharp-tongued cultural commentator -- and the voice of teenage superhero Violet Parr in the animated movie "The Incredibles."

For more information on the two series, go to www.theHett.com.

Spotlight Series

Oct. 5 -- L.A. Theatre Works, "War of the Worlds" and "The Lost World," 3 p.m.

Oct. 10 -- The New Shanghai Circus, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 -- "In the Mood," 3 p.m.

Nov. 7 -- Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 11 -- Ailey II, 7:30 p.m.

March 5 -- Denise Thimes, 7:30 p.m.

March 24 -- Quartet San Francisco, 7:30 p.m.

McCammon Speakers Series

Oct. 20 -- Deborah Horan, 7 p.m.

Nov. 11 -- Eboo Patel, 7 p.m.

Jan. 23 -- Jack Hanna, 7 p.m.

Feb. 4 -- Sarah Vowell, 7 p.m.


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