The production, opening Feb. 17, marks the resident Equity company's first work in its new home at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, WI. Our Town (which has community as its backbone) was chosen to help celebrate the city's sesquicentennial. Playwright Thornton Wilder was born in Madison.
His father Amos Wilder was editor and part owner of the Wisconsin State Journal. The Wilder family lived several years on Gilman Street before settling in what would become Maple Bluff, according to Madison Rep.
De Shields is the Broadway star known for The Full Monty, The Wiz and Ain't Misbehavin'. He attended UW-Madison in the '60s, and received an honorary degree in Afro-American Studies, Theatre and Drama, in 2004.
His role of El Gallo in The Fantasticks was important, he said in production notes.
"It was a precedent-setting experience," De Shields said. "I was 21 when I was cast as El Gallo. It's a role that is ordinarily the sole domain of white actors, and it was a first in non-traditional casting." De Shields returned to Madison several times to perform. He helped Madison Repertory Theatre celebrate its 30th anniversary in 1998 with The Man Who Came to Dinner.
Madison Rep artistic director Richard Corley directs Our Town. Performances continue to March 12. The 1937 play about small-town life in Grovers Corners, NH, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Among fresh touches applied to the work will be the use of a diverse cast "to better represent the multi-cultural aspects of Madison's present-day community."
"The play portrays a specific place and time," Corley said in notes. "Without changing the text of the play, we're expanding on the concept of what forms any community. What do today's communities look like? How do they work? Our Town is a great play because it stands as a touchstone for each place, wherever and whenever it is produced."
Corley is casting actors from the University and the community. It will be the largest cast in Madison Repertory Theatre history.
For more information, call (608) 258-4141 or visit www.madisonrep.org.