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Musical "Opens" at Circa 21

In a dark, uncertain time, Circa ’21 offers light and un-adulterated joy in its latest online entertainment, the fun bluegrass musical “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

Fans of the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” and the Circa ’21 favorite “Southern Crossroads” should love this original musical – written and directed by Tristan Tapscott -- that features such classic hits as “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Keep on the Sunnyside of Life” and many more.

Credit Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse
the cast of Big Rock Candy Mountain

In the story set in 1932, a merry band of misfits sneaks into a theater hoping to stay out of trouble, but instead finds themselves front and center in a tale about the power of music and second chances. The small cast includes a down-on-her-luck theater owner, her wacky assistant, a clueless town mayor, his scheming wife, and a bumbling sheriff.

Tapscott – a Circa ’21 veteran – premiered the musical in 2014 at his former District Theatre in Rock Island, and it played many times after that. He said it’s an ideal time to bring back now, filmed in the Speakeasy without an audience, and online through the end of the month.

“I think it’s the perfect show for right now, because it warms your soul in a lot of ways. Between the cold and the pandemic and everything else, I think a feel-good bluegrass show is what we need. And there’s some heart to it. It’s not necessarily all fun and games the entire time. But, it’s also one of those shows that’s in and out – we do our beginning, middle and our end, and we let the audience leave, or in this case shut off their televisions.”

“We don’t dwell on anything too much. The music’s great, and in a way, to sit and enjoy something and not to have to think about all the craziness that we’re going through is a welcome thing right now.”

The “Big Rock” cast includes two who were in its debut – Doug Kutzli and Anthony Natarelli – as well as Ashley and Bobby Becher, Janos Horvath, Shelley Cooper, Savannah Bay Strandin, and Mike Turczynski.

Khalil Hacker was the cinematographer and editor for the 85-minute production – which had just three rehearsals and two long days of filming in the Circa Speakeasy. He’s worked a lot in putting together other Circa streamed shows, as well as Natarelli’s “Lonely Planet” last September – which he acted in his apartment with Turczynski. Hacker said he and the rest of the group are thrilled with how “Big Rock” turned out.

“I’ve been really happy to do something that’s moving this format forward, whether it be with Tristan or Anthony Natarelli. I feel like both of them have done a lot in the area to help move local theater a little more towards streaming. It’s really nice to have this during a time when we can’t be together safely, but I think also this will help a lot of people who don’t normally go out to the theater, to get to experience this for the first time."

“It’s been an honor to be part of this borderline revolutionary thing that’s been happening, whether we were forced into it or not. I’ve been diggin’ it. It’s been a lot of fun, plus it’s been keeping me sane.”

Tapscott said streaming shows over the past year has been a learning experience.

“When we started to do these virtual cabarets, we didn’t know what it was. We didn’t know what the virtual format was going to be, and because of all the experience we had – from the spring until now – has brought us to this, where we understand that it’s a hybrid of a theater and film piece. It’s not one or the other; it’s somewhere in the middle.”

“It’s going to be one of those things that can reach people who normally wouldn’t come see something like this, but it might just spark their curiosity enough to get involved.”

Kutzli – who plays guitar in the show – reworked the original Danny White musical arrangements for the show, and they pre-recorded the music for the new film version.

“Big Rock Candy Mountain” began streaming on Saturday (2/6), and will be available on demand for the entire month. Proceeds go to benefit Circa 21, The Circa 21 Speakeasy and all of the artists on screen and off.

Tickets (which start at $10) are available by visiting ShowTix4U.com and searching Circa ‘21 or clicking this link https://www.showtix4u.com/events/17497.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.