On Stage

KMUW commentator Sanda Moore Coleman looks behind the curtain to give listeners (and play goers) a bit of history and perspective.

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Satire has long been a tool of social and political commentary. Many contemporary critics point to the Greek playwright Aristophanes as the most famous of the early satirists. He used his considerable skills to attack powerful figures in fifth-century BC Greek society, including Cleon, a statesman and general during the Peloponnesian War, who was depicted by Aristophanes as a war-mongering demagogue.

Tracy Letts was born in Oklahoma in 1965, and his experiences growing up there inspired his Tony-and-Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, August: Osage County.

It is the story of a damaged family, led by an abusive, drug-addicted matriarch, who was based on Letts’ own maternal grandmother. Letts told the New York Times that after he gave the script to his mother to read, she remarked, “You have been very kind to my mother.”

If your familiarity with cabaret is restricted to a sad Liza Minnelli in a bowler hat, you should be pleased to discover that this type of entertainment is almost certain to be a happier experience.

The cabaret is European in origin, although every country produces its own particular version. It may include song, dance, instrumental, comedy, political satire, juggling and even drama, but the venue is usually a restaurant or nightclub, the content is almost always for mature audiences, and the entertainment is led by an emcee.

huntingtontheatreco (image cropped) / Flickr / Creative Commons

William Inge was born in the small town of Independence, Kan. in 1913, and is almost certainly our best-known playwright from the Sunflower State.

He first attracted notice with “Come Back, Little Sheba,” which won him the title of Most Promising Playwright of Broadway’s 1950 season. It was later adapted for film, starring Shirley Booth and Burt Lancaster.

Inge won a Pulitzer Prize for “Picnic,” which opened in New York City in 1953. It was later adapted for film starring William Holden, Kim Novak and Rosalind Russell.

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We are lucky to live in a city that supports a number and a variety of theatres—whether you’re looking for burlesque or stand-up comedy, children’s shows or improv, musical or opera, tragedy or comedy, melodrama or revue, professional or student or community, the chances are good you can find it on stage in Wichita.

And of the literally hundreds of crew members, cast members, administration and staff who are hard at work at producing entertainment for us, a very few are paid to do this work. And it is hard work, done mostly out of love for the art.


Disney is well known for taking the fairytales of our childhood, sweetening them, and turning them into animated musical extravaganzas for children. Beauty and the Beast was originally a French tale, written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, but it has been translated and retold almost from the moment it first appeared in print in 1756.

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  Looking for an antidote to the typical holiday entertainment fare? Consider a musical comedy that celebrates the simple pleasures of beer and sports while contemplating life’s deeper meanings. Guys on Ice takes place in an ice-fishing shack in Wisconsin. The book and lyrics are by Fred Alley, with music by James Kaplan.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The story of Cyrano de Bergerac, a man who is perfect in all ways but one, is based only loosely on the life of an actual man. The real Cyrano was a playwright and an expert swordsman, he did have a cousin, and she did marry a baron. His nose was largish.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The word “opera” comes from the Latin word for “work,” but it wasn’t until 1639 that the word was used to describe a theatrical piece that includes poetry, vocal music, orchestral music and dance.

Opera first appeared on the world stage in 1598, with the production of La Dafne in Florence, Italy. Ottavio Rinuccini wrote the book, known as the libretto, and Jacopo Peri composed the musical score. The music has long been lost to us, but the libretto survives mostly intact.

TheeErin / Flickr / Creative Commons

Like jazz, stand-up comedy is an American invention.