We’re fortunate to have a wide variety of arts events to choose from in the Peoria area, so it’s probably not second nature to look elsewhere in central Illinois for arts programming. Sangamon Auditorium, on the campus of the University of Illinois, Springfield, deserves a look, however.

Two Decades of Quality Entertainment

Sangamon Auditorium opened its doors in February 1981 and has presented more than 1,000 events since then. They picked an enduring inaugural event-Hal Holbrook performing his one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight. As recently as last season, Holbrook’s performance of this historical piece continued to pack the Auditorium to capacity.

Throughout Sangamon Auditorium’s history, the venue has hosted everything from private meetings to children’s shows, debates to inaugurations. In all, nearly 2 million people have come to the Auditorium.

The only auditorium of its kind and size in the Springfield area, Sangamon Auditorium has grown to offer more than 120 events every year, presenting the best in dance, theater, music, comedy, opera, and musicals. Titles range from Broadway hits such as Rent, Cats, and Les Miserables, to world-renowned entertainers such as Harry Belafonte, Victor Borge, Bill Cosby, and Mel Torme, to the amazing movements of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater, Mummenschanz, and Les Ballets Africains.

In addition, Sangamon Auditorium is used by the University of Illinois, Springfield for activities such as meetings, lectures, and graduation. It’s also the home of resident companies such as the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and the Springfield Ballet. Through the Class Acts youth performing arts series, the Auditorium has introduced more than 350,000 young people to the excitement and stimulation of quality cultural and educational programming designed for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

Operation of the 2,019-seat auditorium rests with a staff of 14 full-time employees, and because of its favorable location, draws help from local graduate assistants, students, a 400-plus trained volunteer usher corps, and many area stagehands.

Something to Talk About

The Fall 2003 Performing Arts Season at Sangamon reads like a New York City guidebook. It opens with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary musical, Cats, which runs September 19 and 20. Cats completely changed the face of musical theater history, winning a record-breaking number of awards worldwide. It also holds the unique position of being the longest running musical in Broadway history.

The beautiful land of Siberia has become a source of inspiration for Krasnoyarsk National Dance Company, which makes its debut at Sangamon September 26. The ensemble’s vivid character portrayals, musical movements, and fanciful patterns of choreographic design have mesmerized audiences around the world.

The Tony Award-winning National Theater of the Deaf presents the romantic comedy Oh, Figaro! October 3. Based on the Pierre Beaumarchais classic French farces The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, these tales were immortalized in the operas by Rossini and Mozart. Celebrated through the ages, Figaro now enters the 21st century in a new work adapted by veteran stage writers John Augustine and Willy Conley. National Theatre of the Deaf is made up of both deaf and hearing artists. The audience will see and hear every word through their signature performance style. Oh, Figaro!, with its timeless themes of love and revenge, romantic rivalries, and eternal battles of sexes is sophisticated family entertainment.

Returning for its fifth performance in Springfield October 10, Teatro Lirico D’Europa brings a stunning production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to opera lovers in central Illinois. Don Giovanni tells the story of the infamous Don Juan, a legendary 18th century Spanish aristocrat, who commits murders, attempts heartless seductions, and is finally condemned to hell. The opera blends comedy, tragedy, and some of the most magnificent music ever composed. It’s performed in Italian with full orchestra and English supertitles.

The world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra, the most popular and sought-after big band in the world today for both concert and swing dance engagements, performs at Sangamon Auditorium October 18. With its unique jazz sound, the Glenn Miller Orchestra is considered to be one of the greatest bands of all time. The present Glenn Miller Orchestra was formed in 1956 and has been touring consistently since, playing an average of 300 live dates a year all around the world.

Les Miserables, the monumental work by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg based on Victor Hugo’s famous novel of 19th century France, returns to Sangamon Auditorium for eight performances October 21 to 26. In addition to winning eight Tony Awards and other major awards throughout the world, Les Misérables has touched the hearts of its international audience as few shows in history have done.

Experience the powerful rhythms of taiko drums as Yamato, Japanese Taiko Drum Ensemble, presents its exhilarating performance November 7. Twelve acclaimed drummers perform a dynamic range of ritual forms, blending thrilling drumming with delicate and beautiful music.

For more than 20 years, The Windham Hill Winter Solstice Concerts have been a holiday tradition at venues across America. This elegant evening of music comes to Sangamon Auditorium November 22, featuring artists from the Windham Hill label. Will Ackerman, Liz Story, and Samite make the season bright with their musical magic.

Manhattan Transfer, one of the most renowned jazz vocal groups ever, has been delighting audiences worldwide for more than 25 years. Celebrate Christmas with Manhattan Transfer, as this dynamic quartet performs their hits and an array of holiday favorites on the Sangamon Auditorium stage December 14.

On December 19, an outstanding troupe of Celtic musicians presents a lively program, weaving the many moods of "A Scottish Christmas." This collection of traditional Scottish carols, wassail tunes, and dance music associated with the celebration of Christmas and the New Year includes such favorites as "Greensleeves," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "Adeste Fideles." The show features Bonnie Rideout, a three-time U.S. Scottish Fiddle Champion and one the finest and most fiery Scottish fiddlers of our time.

Six-time Grammy Award winners The Chieftains bring the sounds of traditional Irish music to Sangamon Auditorium January 16. The Chieftains’ music is a combination of bagpipes, tin whistles, flutes, and drums, among other organic instruments. The Wall Street Journal called The Chieftains "the world’s most popular Irish traditional band." The band has made 41 albums and has played with some of the most popular musicians in the world, including Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Sting, Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, and many more.

A new production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar opens at Sangamon Auditorium for five performances January 30 to February 1. The haunting and unforgettable musical has attained the status of theatrical legend. It’s packed with hit songs including "I Don’t Know How to Love Him," "Could We Start Again, Please," and "Superstar."

Creating Unforgettable Seasons

The outstanding line-up of the first half of the season isn’t a one-time gift to audience members. Sangamon Auditorium Director Sue Linn said the venue has a national reputation for presenting the performing arts, so it isn’t difficult to attract quality entertainment. "There are many steps involved in selecting and securing artists. I begin by researching the artists. I talk with artist representatives about their roster and their recommendations. These conversations take place via e-mail, telephone, and booking conferences. Next, I review artists’ materials-video tapes, CDs, Web sites, and printed reviews-and I talk with other venues to get their feedback on artists I’m interesting in presenting."

"After I have a list of potential programs, I solicit feedback about the programs from the auditorium advisory board, the Friends of Sangamon Auditorium, the auditorium staff, the faculty, the students, and random groups of audience members. At this point, I’m very interested to learn whether there’s community interest regarding the potential programs," she said.

There aren’t any hard and fast rules for putting together great seasons, but Linn does keep several factors in mind. "The many variables that can affect the final season selection include the artist’s availability, the auditorium’s availability, and the balance of programs in the season. For example, I want to avoid building a season with too much dance, too much theatre, etc. When everything finally fits together, I make an offer to the artist’s representative, who in turn issues a contract."

Although Linn, who began her job at Sangamon in July, is new to this venue, she has 25 years of experience from which to draw inspiration for upcoming seasons. Her past positions include director of Fine and Performing Arts for Moraine Valley Community College; managing director of Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, the largest commercial dinner theatre in the Chicago metropolitan area; managing director of Loyola University of Chicago’s theatre program; and manager of the performing arts center at South Suburban College in South Holland.

She said this season was set by her predecessor, John Dale Kennedy, but she’s looking forward to meeting and getting to know the audience at Sangamon, which will allow her to put together similarly dazzling seasons in the future. She also has some unique ideas she’s formulated during her extensive career. "In the past, I’ve kept seasons fresh by looking for artists who seem to be coming into their own. These are the ones just beginning to cross the radar screen of our awareness. I think it’s fun to present an artist you just know will be popular in a year or two. I also like to create small series devoted to presenting emerging local artists. These are the artists we tend to overlook because they’re in our backyards. They can be really exciting to present."

Linn said bringing off all of these wonderful events does present difficulties, however. "The most challenging is finding an audience for an artist. There are just so many opportunities competing for our limited time and dollars. Funding the programming also presents a number of challenges, especially in the current economic climate."

She said dividends of her job far outweigh logistical and financial problems. "The most rewarding aspect about presenting the performing arts is the opportunity to build relationships with audiences and artists. Nothing beats standing in the back of the hall absorbing the energy when an artist and an audience really connect. It makes everything worthwhile."

For more information, price lists, and tickets, visit www.sangamonauditorium.org. AA!