Theatre dept.‘s ‘Carnival’ musical set for Egyptian

By Lynn Hammarstrom

Anyone who’s ever wanted to “run away and join the circus,” can live vicariously this month as the NIU Theatre Arts Department presents the musical “Carnival” the Egyptian Theatre.

“‘Carnival’ tells of the sometimes joyful, sometimes sad events surrounding a carnival and the effect they have on a lonely, orphaned girl named Lili,” said theatre department spokesman Alan Bernstein. “Though the carnival is well past its better days, Lili can only see the glamour and attraction of the Grande Imperial Cirque de Paris.”

During the course of the show, Lili falls in love with the magician at the carnival. When this association proves heartbreaking, she is befriended by the fair’s puppeteer, with whom she brings the run-down carnival back to a position of glory.

“Carnival” is being directed by Susan Murray Miller, a guest director of the theatre department who has acted in over 80 productions, including several roles off-Broadway. Miller received her M.A. from Purdue University and served on the acting faculty at the University of Illinois for 14 years.

“I was somewhat wary of directing this musical at first,” Miller said. “But I have become the best convert in the world to it. It’s a show that manages to tie in elements of harshness and worldliness with those of innocence and freshness.

“It’s very much a family musical, but not one that panders only to children.”

The cast of “Carnival” features 25 NIU student performers, half the number used in the original Broadway version. “We have some of the actors performing in double roles to accomplish this,” Miller said. “We have a good-sized group, but not an unmanageable one.”

Casting the show was difficult, as the performers, particularly the leads, had to be proficient in acting, singing and dancing, Miller said. “It’s the old triple threat. Some shows can get away with the main characters just having good singing voices, but in this show, acting ability is just as essential.”

Miller believes the popularity of musicals lies in the fact that they provide a means of temporary escape for audiences. “It’s a total catharsis for people. In these very stress-ridden times, musicals are an outlet,” she said.

“I think that’s why they’ve never died out. Though of course, tastes are always changing, the musical has always been a vital force in theater. It is the musical, with all its spectacle, that makes Broadway the mecca in America that it is.”

“Carnival’s” many dance sequences were choreographed by NIU dance faculty member Lila Dole. The musical director of the production is Elwood Smith.

“Carnival” runs Nov. 18-21. Performances will begin at 8 p.m. with a special matinee showing at 2 p.m. on Nov. 21. Tickets, available at the Stevens Building Box Office, are $3.50 for all NIU students.