‘Archy and Mehitabel’ Is Holiday Musical at ITC

The Illinois Theater Center

The Illinois Theater Center. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– The characters of Archy the cockroach and Mehitabel the cat were created by columnist Don Marquis more than 90 years ago. They come to the stage of the Illinois Theatre Center in the lively, jazzy musical Archy and Mehitabel. The show is a blend of sophisticated social commentary and rollicking fun that’s suitable for all ages. It opens at the theatre in Park Forest for a three-week run starting Friday, December 4.

Don Marquis was born in 1878, in rural Walnut, Illinois, and began his newspaper career writing for small-town weeklies. He worked at several New York papers before moving to The Evening Sun in 1912, where he parlayed a job writing editorials into a daily column, The Sun Dial. Marquis’ column distinguished itself for its breezy mix of quips, commentary and humorous verse.

In 1916 he created the character of Archy, a melancholy cockroach with the soul of a poet, who typed out his stories and poems by jumping on the keys of the typewriter (in lower case only, since he couldn’t hold down the shift key). Archy wrote about all the denizens of Shinbone Ally, but mostly about Mehitabel, a lusty, free-spirited alley cat. Collections of the Archy and Mehitabel newspaper columns were published in book form in the 1920’s, and have never been out of print since.

"Archy and Mehitabel – a Back Alley Opera" was originally conceived by composer George Kleinsinger ("Tubby the Tuba") and lyricist Joe Darion ("Man of La Mancha") as a 25-minute concert piece. It debuted in New York City in 1954. A year later a recording was released, featuring Eddie Bracken as Archy and Carol Channing as Mehitabel. The album was so popular that the creators decided to expand the piece into a Broadway musical. Several songs were added and TV writer Mel Brooks was recruited to write the dialogue. It opened in 1957 under the title "Shinbone Alley". A television version followed in 1960, and an animated film was released in 1971.

The ITC production features ITC veterans Frank Roberts and Kelly Anne Clark in the title roles. They are joined by David Boettcher as The Newspaperman, who narrates the show, Ernest Ray in the dual roles of Big Bill, a tough tomcat, and Tyrone T. Tattersall, a vain theatre cat. Completing the cast are Jeny Wasilewski, Jessica Lauren Fisher, and Christine Ronna, playing an assortment of alley cats and insects. The production is directed by Etel Billig.

Archy and Mehitabel runs Friday, December 4 through Sunday, December 20. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM, and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM. Tickets are priced at $21 on Fri. & Sat., $19 all other times. The Illinois Theatre Center is located in Downtown Park Forest at 371 Artists’ Walk (off Indianwood Blvd. next to Village Hall). For tickets, call (708) 381-3510.