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Broadway at Bethel faculty to end their run with ‘L’il Abner’

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – After nearly 20 years on Bethel College’s Krehbiel Auditorium stage, Broadway at Bethel has become an institution.

But institutions, like people, need to change in order to stay healthy and 2012 will mark a major transition for B@B – it will be the last production for the long-time team of choreographer Annette Thornton and stage director John McCabe-Juhnke and was supposed to have been the last for chorus director Cathy Crispino.

The B@B musical for this year is L’il Abner. The performance is Sunday, June 24, at 2 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium. Tickets are $5 and are available in the Bethel College Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, or at the door.

Thornton, a professor and director of musical theater at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, began working with B@B 19 years ago, when it was run jointly with Music Theater for Young People out of Wichita.

Several years later, when the summer camp for high school students (in which they stage a full-length musical theater production in the space of seven days) became a Bethel-only event, Thornton was joined by McCabe-Juhnke, Bethel professor of communication arts and Crispino, vocal music teacher at Lawrence High School, along with accompanist Rich Toevs of Newton.

This would have been the 15th straight year for that four-person team – until Crispino broke her ankle a week before camp began June 17. Andrew Voth, Bethel senior from Topeka, has stepped in as chorus director.

“At a certain point, it’s time for a transition,” says Thornton. “John, Cathy and I pretty much agreed we would go out together, and we wanted to end on a high note. We’re still at the top of our game, but every year it gets a little harder.

“We have a certain thing we do,” she continues, referring to the rotation of five musicals that comprise, in addition to L’il Abner, Brigadoon, Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma! and State Fair. “After a while, it’s time to step aside and allow for something new. We have our tastes but it may be time for some different kinds of musicals that others can do better.”

“There’s really no one reason” for deciding to stop with B@B 2012, adds McCabe-Juhnke. “The variety of professional and family commitments that each of us have has coalesced in a way that made it clear this should be our last year.”

He points out that Megan Upton Tyner, who directs Bethel’s theater program and is in her second year as camp director for B@B after serving the previous six as technical director, will have finished her third year at the college by summer 2013. “She inherits the camp as it is, so now could be a good time for her to start thinking about what she wants to make of it,” McCabe-Juhnke says.

Despite being disappointed at Crispino’s absence – she does plan to be there for the performance on Sunday afternoon – Thornton says B@B 2012 has been “a celebration – we’re just having a good time.”

What she’ll remember most fondly about B@B, she says, is that “it’s a reunion. This is my ‘camp fix,’ where I’m reminded of the joy, fun and hard work involved. There is unconditional support of colleagues for each other. That’s an especially important model for the students, to see us having fun and working hard.”

An overall theme for McCabe-Juhnke over 15 years has been “intense joy in these fine colleagues I’ve been privileged to work with. There’s a lot of laughter, which you need for this.

“I’ll also remember the miracles that happen. On Wednesday, hump day, you wonder if you’re ever going to get there and then on Sunday, there are always wonderful surprises.”

L’il Abner is based on the comic strip by Al Capp that ran in newspapers for 43 years, from 1934-77, featuring a fictional clan of hillbillies in the poverty-stricken town of Dogpatch, Ky. The musical opened on Broadway Nov. 15, 1956, with book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, music by Gene De Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

On the surface, the show is a broad spoof of hillbillies. However, it also pointedly satirizes broader topics, from U.S. government incompetence to standards of masculinity.

The B@B production of L’il Abner features Abe Nouri, Harrisonburg, Va., as L’il Abner; Olivia Randolph, Lawrence, as Daisy Mae; Sarah Hofkamp, Peabody, as Mammy Yokum; Garrett Smith, Burrton, as Romeo Scragg; Daniel Wrigley, Lawrence, as Clem Scragg; Javen Zellner, North Newton, as Gert Scragg; Adam Kjellin, Marion, as Earthquake McGoon; Jerod Fox, Newton, as Pappy Yokum; Peyton Phemister, Marienthal, as Moonbeam McSwine; Alex Meier, Newton, as Marryin’ Sam; Hope Ruebke, Newton, as Mayor Dan’L Dawgmeat; Levi Yoder, Piedmont, Calif., as Senator Jack S. Phogbound; Caitlin Laird, Lawrence, as Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale; Kate Brundrett, Shawnee, as Dr. Smithborn; Katy Messenger, Kingman, as Dr. Krogmeyer; Louisa Nickel, Newton, as Dr. Schliefitz; Kyle Houseman, Newton, as General Bullmoose; Samantha Rohleder, Hays, as Available Jones; Katrina Jacobsen, Lawrence, as Appassionata Von Climax; and Jonathon Ruebke, Newton, as Evil Eye Fleagle.

Dancers, chorus and crew include Abigail Bechtel, Henderson, Neb.; Celine David, Salt Lake City; Violet Englebert, Joplin, Mo.; Madison Goerend, Newton; Kate Joliff, Newton; Sadie Keller, Lawrence; Elyssa Kohler, Cheney; Ellie Marshall, Newton; Kyra Peterson, Wichita; Lauren Pettit, Arvada, Colo.; Camy Plummer, Newton; Kara Smith, Lawrence; Rose Uhrich, Lawrence; Hannah Upton, Baldwin City; Amy Wisby, Haven; and Maggie Wiseman, Lawrence.

Thornton’s English setter, Nani, who is attending her 12th B@B, will play Dawg in L’il Abner.

Eric Goering, a 2012 Bethel graduate from McPherson, is technical director.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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