Posts tagged with Lied Center

‘The Addams Family’ creeps its way onto Lied Center stage

Say “The Addams Family” and the first thing to pop into your mind is likely the macabre TV show from the 60s. Failing that, it’s probably the two movies from the 90s starring Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci based on the show.

Regardless, the music you likely associate with it is the iconic theme song. Whether you know the words or not, you know when to snap your fingers.

But there is more music than that. A lot more. In 2010, a Broadway musical based on “The Addams Family” premiered and starred Nathan Lane as family patriarch, Gomez, and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. It won a Drama Desk Award for outstanding set design and several fan awards, including favorite new musical.

The show ran for two years before closing, and a new tour hits the Lied Center stage Wednesday night.

The TV show was based on a series of single-panel gag comics by Charles Addams. The musical features an original story by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (the team behind “Jersey Boys”) based on the comic, rather than on the series or the movies.

Sinister Wednesday Addams is grown up and has fallen in love with a normal boy named Lucas. She confesses that love is changing her from her ghoulish ways, and she has invited Lucas and his family for dinner, charging her macabre relations with being normal for just one night. Naturally, that’s an impossible task for Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester and Pugsley to pull off, and, Lucas’ parents have family secrets of their own that further complicate the shenanigans when everyone gets together.

Curtain for the show is 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the show are available by calling the Lied Center box office 785-864-2787 or online at


Mummenschanz brings 40 years of delight to Lied

It’s always nice to have a legend stop by.

That’s what will happen at the Lied Center on Friday night when the Swiss mime troupe Mummenschanz brings its 40th anniversary world tour to Lawrence.

“We were looking for an event that, as the saying goes, would be fun for all ages,” says Karen Christilles, associate director of the Lied.

It’s an apt description. The group combines music, comedy and everyday items like notepads, string and even toilet paper to create delightful little scenes and sketches. Funny and often touching, Mummenschanz has a little bit of something for everyone.

“Some of us remember them from our childhood,” Christilles says, noting the group was beloved for an appearance on “The Muppet Show” in the 70s. “Now it’s something we can introduce our children, or in some cases, our grandchildren to.”

The group’s founders, Andres Bossard, Bernie Schürch and Floriana Frassetto, believed that music and lighting were often too overwhelming. They sought to tell stories differently — with body movement and clever props rather than with speech.

This tour is a combination of greatest hits and brand new ideas.

“They’ll definitely be doing some of their signature pieces,” Christilles says. “They’re celebrating their anniversary. But there will also be new material. It should be a very fun show.”

Mummenschanz performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Lied Center on KU's West Campus. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-864-2787 or online at

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‘Guru of Chai’ a small play with epic scope

Any good artist will tell you that inspiration can strike anywhere. Still, one doesn’t expect it to happen while being stung by fire ants.

“We were at a workshop taking place in the Outback,” says Jacob Rajan, who co-wrote and stars in Indian Ink Theatre Company’s production of “The Guru of Chai,” which runs Thursday through Saturday at the Lied Center. “Several of the exercises were done outside, and the Outback is quite inhospitable. During one of them (co-writer) Justin (Lewis) was attacked by fire ants.”

That’s perhaps an unusual beginning for a fairytale play about a young girl abandoned at a train station in Bangalore, especially one written by a pair of New Zealanders. But, as it happened, stinging insects only got things started.

“We wanted to write a play that could be performed anywhere,” Rajan says. “That was the whole point of the workshop.”

Inspired by the idea of a play that would fit anywhere, Rajan and Lewis began researching source material and came across a lesser-known Indian fairytale called “Punchkin.” It tells the story of a princess abandoned by her father.

“The story was written in the original Grimm tradition,” Rajan says about the source. “It actually has quite a horrific ending.”

As they worked through the material, though, something just wasn’t working. That’s when their dramaturge, Murray Edmond, made a key suggestion.

“The problem was the original story was very entrenched in the old ideas of kings and queens,” Rajan says. “It didn’t have a lot of meaning for modern audiences. Murray suggested we bring the story into the present, and that’s when it really took off.”

“The Guru of Chai” concerns a tea seller (a chai wallah) working in a busy Bangalore train station. A young girl is abandoned at the station, and the tea seller’s life becomes transformed by her singing. Indeed, she mesmerizes everyone present.

The play captures the dichotomy of Indian life — ancient gods are worshipped side by side with iPhones; wealth and luxury coexist with unimaginable poverty. The story is epic in scale.

But wait. Wasn’t this supposed to be something that could be performed anywhere?

Indeed it is, and to accomplish that, Rajan plays the entire cast — some 16 characters — himself.

“When you are telling a story of this scope,” he says, “you can do it justice one of two ways. You can either have a cast of thousands, or you can do it with just one person.”

The tea seller is the narrator, and he tells the fairytale, acting out each of the parts himself.

“He becomes an untrustworthy narrator,” Rajan says, “because he becomes involved in the story.”

Rajan’s background is in mask theater, and he uses a number of body contortions, accents and other devices to convey changes in character. He’s accompanied by musician Dave Ward, who performs original music. Together, they can put this show on anywhere.

“We’ve had over 30 performances in people’s living rooms,” Rajan says. “We squeeze people in on dining room tables, anywhere they could fit.”

This weekend they’ll have a little more space than that. “The Guru of Chai” comes to the Lied Center, but the expansive stage and house isn’t daunting to the performers used to a more intimate setting.

“We designed the show so it could be performed in tiny spaces,” he says, “but in traditional theaters, we push that bubble out.” Big stage or small, though, Rajan and Lewis are interested in leaving a lasting impression.

“I think all fairytales — the good ones, anyway — resonate with audiences of all ages,” he says. “That’s why they’ve been with us for so long. This one still has that dark theme from the original running through it; it’s targeted more for adults. But it’s funny, it’s touching, and I hope there’s something in it for everyone.”

“The Guru of Chai” plays Feb. 7, 8, and 9 at the Lied Center. Curtain is 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets cost $17 for students and youths and $32 for adults, and are available at the door.


Disney favorite, “Beauty & the Beast,” stops in Lawrence; tickets to become available tonight

The tale as old as time graces the Lied Center stage tonight, when the national tour of “Disney’s Beauty & the Beast” stops in Lawrence. Based on the 1991 animated film, the 1994 stage adaptation adds a few scenes and some new songs to create a full, two-act extravaganza.

The story centers around Belle, daughter of not-so-talented inventor Maurice. They live in a small village in rural France of the 1800s, where Maurice is mocked as a kook and Belle’s interest in reading is thought strange. But she’s extremely beautiful, and the town dandy, Gaston, has decided he wants to marry her, because, as he puts it, “Here in town there’s only she / Who is beautiful as me.”

Not far away, in a dilapidated castle lives a cursed prince. He once was handsome but was turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress when he was rude and refused her shelter. She’s left him a magical rose that blooms until he turns 21 (this year, of course). If he can learn to love and be loved by another person by the time the last petal falls from the stem, the curse will be broken. If not, he’ll be a beast forever.

With all that set up in the show’s first 20 minutes, Maurice goes off to enter a contest and gets captured by the Beast, while Gaston proposes to and is refused by Belle, who goes off in search of her missing father, trading her life for his by agreeing to be the Beast’s prisoner. Naturally, this being a Disney story, everything works out properly in the end, and a few lessons are learned along the way.

The music by composer Alan Menken and late lyricist Howard Ashman won Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Score. After Ashman’s death, Disney tapped Tim Rice to pen lyrics for the additional songs.

This production has a few local connections. Joe Hager, originally from Kansas City plays the conceited Gaston. He holds a Master of Music from KU. Hassan Nazari-Robati — who plays the over-the-top candlestick, Lumiere — grew up in Wichita.

Tonight’s show is sold out, but a limited number of tickets will be released at 6 p.m. for the 7:30 curtain. Those interested must come to the Lied box office to purchase them.


A life in theater: Sammie Messick loves the adventure

A life in theater can mean a lot of things. One could be a star, an educator, a technician, or a director.

For Sammie Messick, the Lied Center’s longtime receptionist, it means one thing: adventure.

“I like that nothing is routine about my job,” she says. “I don’t have to sit at my desk all day.” Messick has been at the Lied for the past 14 years, and there’s little she hasn’t seen or done working with the artists that come through. Most of the time, things move pretty smoothly. She collects an artist from the airport, secures lodging for them, and makes sure they have anything they need.

But there are times when the job becomes that adventure she truly enjoys.

“One time, we had a group coming in during the spring,” she says, “and the weather interfered. A bunch of their flights got cancelled and rescheduled, so, instead of just going out to the airport once, I had to make multiple trips. The last one was for the bass player. I had a state car, and his standup bass wouldn’t fit in it. So I called a friend in Kansas City, who has a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and we put the bass in that and drove him to Lawrence. Of course, then I had to go back to the airport to get the state car.”

“The best way to describe Sammie is resourceful,” says the Lied’s executive director Tim Van Leer.

But Messick is humble, too.

“What I should have done is just rented a car,” she adds.

Working behind the scenes in the arts often means solving problems. Messick excels at doing whatever is necessary to make things work.

“Once, we had an artist that had a very demanding hospitality manager,” she says. “I called around town, and I couldn’t find anyone willing to do what she wanted. So I catered it myself at my house. I had 13 for breakfast, 17 for lunch and 20 for dinner, and they all thought it was terrific.”

Her pride in the accomplishment is evident, but it isn’t for the sake of being a star herself. She’s just happy she was able to make things happen for the artist.

And most of the stars she works are, as she puts it, just regular people. Recent favorites include David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor.

“He was nothing like the character he plays on the radio or the column he writes in the paper,” she says of Keillor. “He was just like an ordinary person, and I got to talk to him for an hour.” Messick is retiring December 7, and she has no plans to stop adventuring.

“My husband and I just bought a teardrop trailer we hope to drag around the country,” she says, “and we have a 36-foot sailboat on Lake Perry, so we hope to get in more sailing days.”

One wonders how the Lied Center will be able to get along without her.

“Sammie will not be replaced,” Van Leer says with both affection and admiration. “There will just be someone one else answering the phone.”


Jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon sings to the times she’s in

Nnenna Freelon’s approach to music is unique and varied.

“I like a lot of different kinds of music,” she says. “I don’t see barriers between any type of song.”

You need only listen to a few songs to hear what she means. “Lift Every Voice” off her most recent album, “Homefree,” opens with a groovy electric-piano riff and then launches into smooth-jazz vocals that hint of Gospel tradition. Halfway through the track, she incorporates rap and layers it with scat.

“I Feel Pretty” – the Bernstein classic from “West Side Story” – has none of the girlish innocence associated with the original. Freelon’s rendition is the song of a mature woman. The lyrics are the same, but the style and the voice tell you this is an adult’s view of feeling pretty, not a teenager’s. It has a 21st-century sensibility, not that of the 1950’s.

“A lot of jazz artists have been going back to the classics like Count Basie and Duke Ellington and re-discovering what made them great,” she says, “but that doesn’t hold any interest for me. I sing to the times I’m in.”

She has a similar approach to “Lena, A Lovesome Thing,” the show she brings to the Lied Center Friday night. It’s a tribute to jazz legend Lena Horne, who was a huge inspiration to Freelon.

“The show is a nod to her, because, without her, there wouldn’t be me,” she says. “Unlike some artists today, she had a very long career. I’d love to have a career that spans into my 60’s or 70’s like she did.”

But, like with the rest of her music, Freelon isn’t interested in just paying tribute. She wants to explore Horne’s relevance, both to the present and personally to Freelon.

“She was dedicated to living the life of an artist,” Freelon notes. “She stood up for what she believed in. So I want to explore, ‘What does she have to say to us in modern times?’”

To do that, Freelon will perform well known Horne pieces such as “Stormy Weather,” but she also plans to do some songs that were recorded by Horne but aren’t as often associated with her.

“Everybody knows ‘Stormy Weather’,” Freelon says, “but she also did ‘Ain’t Easy Being Gone’ and ‘Moon River’. I’m performing songs by Lena that weave a story through my life and comment on it.”

Just like her updating of classic songs and threading multiple forms of music in her work, Freelon is hoping to bring some fresh perspective to Horne, whom she feels was ahead of her time.

It’s part of her overall view of the importance of arts in our lives. She’ll be talking about that Wednesday night at 5:30pm at the Lied in a special talk – “Educating the Whole Child: It Takes a Community.”

“If we leave the arts out (of education),” she says, “we are missing a big, big portion of what it means to be human. We need to realize how important it is not to lose sight of what it means to be fully and culturally educated.”

Just like with her music, she sings to the times she’s in.

Nnenna Freelon appears live at the Lied Center Friday, October 12 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-864-2787 or online at


‘Nemesis’ sequel brings back over-the-top adventure to Lied Center

By the archive! They’re back!

Last year, the Lied Center was an early stop for what would become an international sensation. “The Intergalactic Nemesis” – officially described as a live-action graphic novel – offered audiences a highly entertaining blend of radio, comic books, and performance art as it married old-world storytelling with modern technology. Projecting comic book images onto a giant screen while three actors performed the script and a foley artist and pianist provided sound effects and a soundtrack, “The Intergalactic Nemesis” delighted the audience at the Lied before going on to a world tour that included an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

Saturday night, the sequel hit the Lied, as a small but enthusiastic audience gathered to take in the next adventure of tough-as-nails reporter Molly Sloan and her telekinetic sidekick Timmy Mendez.

It’s been two weeks since Sloan and Mendez helped defeat a plot by the megalomaniacal Mysterion and his sludge-monster allies, the Zygonians. Stranded on the robot planet, Robonovia, they are drawn into another sinister plot when Sloan’s android friend Elbee-Dee-Oh goes missing. Strange things are afoot when many of the planet’s residents turn to violence, despite that not being a part of their program parameters.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, an old flame of Sloan’s, Dr. Lawrence Webster, has invented a device called the Galactitron, which accidentally transports him and his assistant, Soviet spy Dr. Natasha Zorokov, to Robonovia. Webster becomes the pawn of Alpahatron – the villainous robot seeking to use the Galactitron and a robot army to conquer the universe.

Writer/creator Jason Neulander and his co-writer Chad Nichols understand adventure-story pacing perfectly. “Book 2: Robot Planet Rising” opens with a pre-title teaser sequence to set up the story much like a James Bond film. The first act flips back and forth between four different story lines that build the mystery of what’s really going on and develops each of the main characters, especially Sloan and Mendez, an important part of any sequel – further growth of characters we already know. As the second act barrels towards the dramatic conclusion, Neulander and Nichols cliffhang one action sequence after another to keep the audience on the edge of its seat.

Like the original, Book 2 of “The Intergalactic Nemesis” is derivative of a number of pop cultural sources. Neulander’s all-time favorite film is “Star Wars,” and it’s obvious in this installment. “Robot Planet Rising” includes a bar scene that recalls the famous cantina bit from “Star Wars,” and the catchphrase, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” makes several appearances. Moreover, the sequel has all the feel of pulp-era science fiction, just like the original. The Galactitron is straight out of a 1930’s comic book, and the villain is over-the-top and obsessed with world (or in this case, universal) domination.

But what really makes “The Intergalactic Nemesis” work is the actors. The voice actors play all the characters, often having to play several different people (and switching voices to communicate the change) in the same scene. Danu Uribe is fantastic as both the tough-talking New York reporter Sloan and the exotic Russian spy Zorokov. There is one scene in which Sloan and Zorokov are the only two characters, and Uribe has to voice the entire bit, essentially having a conversation with herself in two different accents.

Jason Phelps voices Mendez (think Jimmy Olsen) and Dr. Webster (erudite but flighty) and a host of other minor characters, most of whom are robots. He too switches back and forth effortlessly.

Christopher Lee Gibson steals the show, though, playing both the handsome, pulp hero Ben Wilcott and the villainous Alphatron. Over the course of the story, Alphatron goes from poised and refined to completely insane, and Gibson plays him with enthusiastic glee. He also seems to play practically every other character in between.

At a special dinner with the cast and crew before the performance, the creatives told attendees Book 3 is already in the works. One hopes the Lied brings it in when it’s ready. This kind of adventure and excitement is not to be missed.