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Release: Sept. 28, 2001

(NOTE TO PRINT EDITORS: The actors in the photographs are Mollie Mook as Alexandra, Brian Bennett as Carl and Cole Hotek as Young Emil.)

University Theatres Mainstage season opens with prairie musical 'O Pioneers!' Oct. 11-21

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University Theatres Mainstage season at the University of Iowa will open with a musical based on Willa Cather's frontier classic, "O Pioneers!", with script by UI alumna Darrah Cloud and music by Kim. D. Sherman, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11 in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the UI Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. Oct. 12, 13 and 17-20, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 14 and 21.

Published in 1913 and based on Cather's childhood experiences in western Nebraska, "O Pioneers" is a classic of American literature renowned for its vivid portrayal of the challenges of life on the plains. The book chronicles the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs of Alexandra Bergson, a fiercely independent and determined Swedish immigrant who overcomes tremendous hardships to build a life for her family on the desolate Nebraska prairie.

The Cloud/Sherman musical version of "O Pioneers!" has been an enduring hit -- produced frequently throughout the country, by regional, college and community theaters.

"There are two special things about this version of 'O Pioneers!" says director Alan MacVey, chair of the UI department of theatre arts. "The first is that, clearly and simply, it tells a wonderful story of the frontier, seen through the eyes of a strong woman. The second is that its music is extraordinarily beautiful. It captures the power of the land and of the pioneers who worked it. Though it's sophisticated, it feels simple, and it combines with the story to create a haunting experience."

MacVey, who also directed the world premiere of the Cloud/Sherman musical "Heartland," says he also brings his own family connections to his interpretation of "O Pioneers!": "I have a photograph of my father when he was about eight years old. He grew up in Eastern Wyoming, in a place not far from the locale of 'O Pioneers!' In the photo he's standing on an empty plain, his rickety bicycle leaning against him, and his hair swept back by the wind. One of the lyrics in first song of 'O Pioneers!' says everything about the photo: 'There's nothing here.' Though he moved to California, my father never really left that empty plain, and it remains with me, too, Three-quarters of a century later, I'm trying to put that photograph on our stage."

Cloud earned Master of Fine Arts degrees from both the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. At the UI, her play "The House Across the Street" was invited to the American College Theatre Festival showcase at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

She has written books and lyrics for plays around the country, including "American Siddhartha," "Dream House," "Honor Song for Crazy Horse," "Braille Garden," "The Sirens," "The Stick Wife," "The Mud Angel" and "The Obscene Bird of Night." Her TV work includes "A Holiday Romance" (CBS, starring Andy Griffith and Naomi Judd), "Night Ride Home" (CBS, starring Rebecca DeMornay), "Shattered Mind" (NBC, starring Heather Locklear) and "A Holiday to Remember" (CBS, starring Randy Travis).

Her teleplay adaptation of "O Pioneers!" starring Mary O'Donnell was nationally broadcast on PBS.

She is a recipient of the Gilman-Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theatre Award, the Roger L. Stevens Award, the Frederick Loewe Musical Theatre Award, the Rockefeller Playwriting Award and the Drama League Award, among others.

Sherman, a visiting lecturer at the Yale University School of Drama, has written incidental music for plays in many regional theatres and on Broadway. Her choral work has been performed throughout the United States and Argentina. For this fall Sherman has been commissioned to write a chamber work for soprano, string orchestra and harp, with text based on "The Song of Solomon." Sherman and Cloud have collaborated on musical theater for more than a dozen years.

Other artistic contributors to the "O Pioneers!" production are musical director Carlos Rodriguez, vocal director Marc Falk, scene designer David Thayer, costume designer Dan Nemteanu, lighting designer Bryon Winn and choreographer Cathleen Burnett.

Tickets for "O Pioneers!" are $16 ($8 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available at the Theatre Building box office one hour before curtain time.

Tickets are also available at a substantial discount as part of University Theatres three-play and five-play subscription packages. A Mainstage season brochure is available from the box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's site on the World Wide Web: <http://www.uiowa.edu/hancher>.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <hancherboxoffice@uiowa.edu>.

To learn more about the Department of Theatre Arts, part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, visit <http://www.uiowa.edu/~theatre> on the World Wide Web. For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit <www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa>. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.