Everyone loves a tasting, a chance to sample widely and, perhaps, discover something agreeable and rare. Last fall, a taste of local culture called BackStage Evanston – a sumptuous buffet of music, drama and dance presented in two small theaters on the Northwestern University campus – drew standing-room-only crowds and prompted those who cooked it up to choose a larger venue for this year’s second annual feast.
So on Sept. 18 from 3:30 to 7 p.m., the Arts and Business Committee of the Evanston Arts Council and the City of Evanston invite culture mavens and prospective patrons to settle in at Northwestern’s 425-seat Ethel M. Barber Theater and savor the distinctive fare prepared by 17 local performing arts groups. Each group will be serving up a palate-teaser – a delicacy just five minutes in length – to whet attendees’ appetites for the group’s upcoming season.
Since each $20 entrance ticket is a voucher that can be exchanged for a special offer of equal value from any participating organization, the “tasting” amounts to a free meal. Each performing group will be sweetening the pot with a further discount of some sort – a dessert for those who purchase tickets for later in the year.
Picking an appropriate teaser was not difficult for the Savoyaires. Though new to BackStage this year, they have been an Evanston fixture since 1965. For their appetizer, the six lead singers from their upcoming Gilbert and Sullivan production, “Trial by Jury,” will perform a sextet that sums up the action of the comic opera.
The play’s outrageous plot involves a suit for breach of promise of marriage. When the defendant’s proffered solution – that he marry the plaintiff today and his chosen tomorrow – is dismissed, the principal characters respond with a musical parody of Italian opera, “A Nice Dilemma.”
“Trial,” says Savoyaires’ spokesman Kingsley Day, typifies the plays of Gilbert and Sullivan, to whose work the troupe has been devoted since 1965. Gilbert and Sullivan, says Mr. Day, were “topical” in the 19th century when they wrote. Their popularity endures, he says, because with “their basic humor intact” and with “tuneful, engaging music and lively lines and situations,” they continue to offer audiences what they always have offered: “a good time.”
The return of many Savoyaires players year after year, though open auditions always bring new members to a cast that can number 40, attests to the fun of staging G and S, says Mr. Day, a 13-year veteran. Like him, many in the cast and orchestra are professionals who take part in these rollicking community productions while also performing with Lyric Opera, Chicago Symphony Orchestra or various Chicago theater troupes.
Named for London’s Savoy Theater, the group was founded by CSO cellist Frank Miller and writer Lilias Circle, who died a few weeks ago. The Savoyaires are the first U.S. company known to have performed Gilbert and Sullivan’s entire 14-operetta cycle.
The group’s 47th annual production, appearing in the Chute Middle School auditorium Sept. 30, Oct. 1-2 and Oct. 14-16, will feature three one-act plays, including “Trial by Jury” by the Gilbert and Sullivan team, as well as Sullivan’s “The Zoo” and Gilbert’s “Eyes No Eyes.” Mr. Day discovered the “Eyes” libretto and score online, and Francis Lynch of Evanston orchestrated the latter for the Savoyaires. Mr. Day says theirs is apparently just the third U.S.– and the only Midwest – production of the work.
Advance tickets from www.BackStageEvanston.com or 847-448-8260 will admit holders to a banquet of Evanston-based talent. Besides the Savoyaires they will experience five minutes with Actors Gymnasium, the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, Evanston Dance Ensemble, Evanston Symphony Orchestra, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, The Lakeside Singers, Light Opera Works, Music Institute of Chicago, The Musical Offering, Next Theatre, North Shore Choral Society, Northwestern University Theatre Department, Piccolo Theatre, Piven Theatre Workshop, the Renovo String Orchestra and Theatre Zarko.
Penny Rotheiser, outgoing head of the Arts and Business Committee of the Evanston Arts Council, says the committee, which had been dormant for some time, is strategizing ways to use the arts to bring business to town and devising ways to make business people aware of the needs of arts organizations in town. Last year’s inaugural BackStage , she says, was an experiment “to bring more visibility to the performing arts organizations in Evanston.
“We have so much entertainment here, [especially given that] we are so close to Chicago,” Ms. Rotheiser says. “To see it all in one room is impressive.”
Though Ms. Rotheiser says BackStage will appeal most to an adult audience, children will have their own arts extravaganza at Downtown Evanston’s free family gala, CenterStage, on Sept. 17. See sidebar for details.
CenterStage, a Musical Block Party
Downtown Evanston hosts this interactive celebration of music, art and dance – a family event and prelude to Sunday’s BackStage arts festival. See www.downtownevanston.org.
When? Saturday, Sept. 17, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Where? Maple Avenue between Church and Clark streets
Who? Kids of all ages
What? Moving and shaking to tunes attuned to kids; salsa, meringue and bachata Latin music; blues performance; group dance lessons; stories, arts and crafts and face painting for kids.