May 09--DECATUR -- Central Illinois is a long way from the Broadway Theater District of New York City.
Certainly, there are talent-rich community and professional theaters within a few hours' drive of Decatur, but it is still difficult to replicate the experience of hearing a musical from Broadway-caliber performers. That is, unless they come to you, as the four actors and actresses of "Broadway Today!" will Saturday at Kirkland Fine Arts Center.
"We're bringing a showcase of music that has been on Broadway this season and the last few years," said David Burnham, a seasoned performer of both Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals. "That means current hit shows like 'Wicked' and 'Jersey Boys' and also the big revivals. It's very contemporary and current, but you also get some of the classics as well."
That's "Broadway Today!" in a nutshell. Burnham and his cast mates do give some minimal background information on the shows they're drawing numbers from, but the great majority is simply music from some of Broadway's biggest hits. That includes songs from musicals such as "The Phantom of the Opera," "The Little Mermaid," "Chicago" and many others.
"We talk about them a bit, but it's not like going to class or something," Burnham joked. "For the most part, this music speaks for itself. It's what I love doing, the interaction between the audience and being a performer on stage is like nothing else I've ever experienced."
Burnham brings with him some serious credentials, from a stint as Fiyero in "Wicked" to touring with "The Light in the Piazza," which won six Tony Awards in 2005. Unlike those shows, however, "Broadway Today!" allows him to step out of the responsibility of full-on characterization. Here, he's performing as David Burnham, not a character in a play.
"It's a lot of fun to do one of these 'best of' shows because of that," he said. "It's a very different thing because you don't have to get lost in a character. There's a lot more interaction with the audience and breaking of the fourth wall. You're singing as yourself and giving your own interpretation of the song instead of the character's."
Due to the "current events" theme of the show, the musical lineup changes on a regular basis as new selections are learned and added to the rotation. Shows are personally tailored to each city and venue, always with the same goal in mind -- to give the closest possible approximation of what it is like to actually make that trip to New York City and the theater district.
"I think what it does best is show you the power of the music," Burnham said. "When we do something from 'South Pacific,' we don't need to be dressed as sailors and surrounded by palm trees, you can tell how gorgeous a show it is. And with all the shows people already know by heart, it brings back some great memories."
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