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Music, satire and hillbilly humor highlight "Li’l Abner"

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – High school students under the direction of several Bethel College faculty and alumni will bring a perennial favorite musical comedy, Li’l Abner, to the Krehbiel Auditorium stage for the annual Broadway at Bethel production.

Broadway at Bethel is a summer camp during which the group puts together a musical theater production in the space of a week. Li’l Abner will play Sunday afternoon, June 24, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 general admission and available at the door.

The musical version of Li’l Abner, based on the comic strip by Al Capp that ran from 1934-77, opened Nov. 15, 1956, at the St. James Theater in New York City. Its 693 performances there made it the most successful Broadway musical, at the time, ever derived from a comic or cartoon character (Annie later beat its record) and one of the few to have the blessing of the strip’s creator.

Li’l Abner the musical puts Capp’s famous characters into an upbeat musical extravaganza that combines hillbilly nonsense and sharp, critical humor.

The curtain opens on “a typical day” in Dogpatch, U.S.A., where leisure time is at the heart of the local economy and drinking Kickapoo Joy Juice, fishing and the annual Sadie Hawkins Day Dance are the favorite pastimes. However, change is in the wind – the U.S. government has completed a study that has found Dogpatch to be “the most unnecessary, no-account” place in the country, fit only to be evacuated in order for atomic testing to take place.

Consternation ensues. Evacuation means the Sadie Hawkins Day Dance will be cancelled and Daisy Mae won’t have a chance to catch her sweetheart, Li’l Abner, in the only way that boy can join girl in Dogpatch. A solution must be found to prove Dogpatch is “necessary” after all. Mammy Yokum finally comes up with the thing that can save the town from extinction – Yokumberry Tonic, which she has fed her muscle-bound son every day of his life. When the potion is sped off to Washington for further testing, it looks like Dogpatch will be saved – but the (mis)adventures are only beginning.

Among the wonderful tunes included in Li’l Abner are Abner and Daisy’s gentle duet “Namely You”; the dream ballad “If I Had My Druthers”; the hilarious showstopper “Jubilation T. Cornpone”; General Bullmoose’s “Progress is the Root of All Evil”; and the political satire “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands.” The Sadie Hawkins Day Ballet and fine choral work also contribute to making this a classic American musical.

In the Broadway at Bethel production of L’il Abner, Riley Bruce of Wichita holds the title role with Stephanie Drahozal of Lawrence playing the ever-faithful Daisy Mae Scragg and Amy Larson McGuirk, Providence, R.I., as Mammy Yokum.

The rest of the cast includes: Chance Penner, Wichita, as Romeo Scragg; Steven Garcia, Newton, as Clem Scragg; Ben Preheim, Lawrence, as Alf Scragg; Seth Williams, Newton, as Earthquake McGoon; Oliver Whitney, Peabody, as Pappy Yokum; Brent Weaver, Hutchinson, as Lonesome Polecat; Trent Jones, Hutchinson, as Hairless Joe; Lisa Geist, Scott City, as Moonbeam McSwine; Matt Drahozal, Lawrence, as Marryin’ Sam; Andy Connolly, Lawrence, as Mayor Dan’l Dawgmeat; Camden Pankratz, Hesston, as Sen. Jack S. Phogbound; Tara Harms-Becker, Hesston, as Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale; Holly Ward, Anthony, as Dr. Smithborn; Joe Brichacek, Hesston, as Dr. Krogmeyer; Megan Leatherman, Hesston, as the State Department Woman, Sandra Softwicke; Brendan Kerr, Kansas City, Kan., as General Bullmoose; Ashley Newingham, North Newton, as Government Official; Jennifer McFarlin, Wamego, as Available Jones; Jordan Claassen, Hesston, as Scarlett; Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, North Newton, as Appassionata von Climax; Matt Hutton, Newton, as Evil Eye Fleagle; Marika Stucky, Moundridge, as Wife Carmen; Nicole Eaton, Dodge City, as Wife Pat; Maddie Boorigie, Wichita, as Wife Lillian; Gypsy Williams-Ratzlaff, Lawrence, as Wife Bonnie; Rebecca Epp, North Newton, as Wife Hope; Holly Ward, Anthony, as Wife Dee Dee; Greta Larson, Clay Center, as Wife Mary Ann; Hope Goertzen, Hesston, as Secretary I; Beth Worthington, Hesston, as Secretary II; Mattie Casad, Lawrence, as Secretary III; Mycah Westhoff, Newton, as Policeman; and Jackie Reed, Edinburg, Texas, as Stupefyin’ Jones

Broadway at Bethel instructors include Richard Tirk, Bethel College assistant professor of music, director; John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts, stage director; Annette Thornton, Appleton, Wis., choreographer; Rich Toevs, Newton, accompanist; Megan Tyner and Toby Tyner, Newton, technical directors; and Cathy Crispino, Lawrence, music director.

“Campers are enthusiastic and energy is high, which is good considering the pace we maintain,” said McCabe-Juhnke. “We often talk about each day being like a week of regular rehearsals – so I can say we’ve had a great few weeks so far with the cast of Li’l Abner. I think the audience will be amazed at what we’ve accomplished when the curtain opens on Sunday.”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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