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Columnist
Enjoy unique theater experience in Lincolnshire
By Lee Litas | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/28/2008 12:04 AM

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Driving down congested Milwaukee Avenue, it's easy enough to look past the sign for the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, nestled deep inside some 170 acres on Route 21. But did you know that since 1975, this legendary theatre-in-the-round has presented more than 135 productions to an estimated 7 million people, and has received 370 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations, Chicago's highest theatrical honor for artistic achievement?

While current economic times favor lower-budget diversions like movies, for nearly the same amount of money the MTL hopes to provide an interactive, multidimensional event that offers entertainment and education for children and adults.

"Theater is a shared experience that changes every day based on people's reactions to the show. That is so different than going to see a movie, because a movie will be the same every day and your reaction to it does not affect it in any way, but it does affect us in live theater," said director Rachel Rockwell.

In addition to holding year-round productions for general audiences, the theater has a special program for children called Theater for Young Audiences (TYA).

"Kids Theater to me is not juvenile, it's meaningful. What we do is not just people dressing in costumes and making funny faces. Hopefully we're teaching kids basic life lessons so that they walk away not only having a good time but also learning something," said artistic director Aaron Thielen.

Thielen actively seeks out hard-to-get feature film and Broadway-based adaptations for TYA, such as "You're a Big Man, Charlie Brown" based on the Broadway show, and "The Wizard of Oz," based on the movie version.

This year, TYA won the distinction of being the only professional theater in the country granted the right from Disney to show the original, movie-version production of 'Aladdin.' This means for the first time being able to present 'a big blue genie,' and use the film's original score, including favorites like "A Whole New World" and "Friend Like Me."

"What I think is really neat about this version is that it allows us to bring all of the familiar and beloved elements of the cartoon but, because it is done by actors, there is this real depth of humanity to the story that you can't get by just watching a two-dimensional character on the screen," Rockwell said.

After each performance, the theater brings up the houselights and invites the audience to stay for an interactive Q&A with the entire cast and crew, an aspect the directors consider critical. Discussion topics range from costumes to in-depth themes of history and politics.

"It's really important to us that there is a dialogue that can happen before and after the show. With 'Aladdin,' you can even go so deep as to talk about the government because (in the story) the law is such that a princess is not allowed to choose her own husband; the king chooses for her and she doesn't get a vote. So you can go as far as you want to find a deeper meaning," Thielen said.

The theater's arena-style set up, in which the audience surrounds the stage area, adds another distinctive element to every production.

"There are certain logistical challenges, as well as advantages, to having a theater-in-the-round. This makes us think outside the box to create interesting versions of shows that we hope will enable parents and teachers to continue to see the value in performance and live art," Thielen said.

Disney's Aladdin opens Oct. 30 and runs through Jan. 4. For more information visit www.marriotttheatre.com or call (847) 634-0200.