It’s time to start thinking “cardinal” when it comes to great theater in Bloomington.
Since its debut in January 2006 with the successful production of “Our Town,” Cardinal Stage Company has consistently provided the Bloomington community with accessible, fun shows that range from American classics to children’s musicals.
Its sophomore season included the shows “Unveiling,” “A Year with Frog and Toad” and, most recently, “Amadeus.”
Randy White, Cardinal’s artistic director and founder, credits “A Year with Frog and Toad,” the company’s first musical and children’s show, for marking the company’s presence in Bloomington with its smart, fun script.
“The kids were rapt, and the adults loved it,” he said. “Some people came to the show three or four times. It tapped into something inspiring.”
And “Unveiling,” a production White described as one of the company’s “cardinal sins” (a clever catchphrase for a side project with a more targeted audience), took the company to New York, where it had a successful run at the Ohio Theater and received strong reviews.
Ivanna Cullinan’s nytheatre.com review of “Unveiling” described it as “rich with detailed delights and well-directed throughout,” noting the talented acting of Mike Price and Diane Kondrat, who have both appeared in multiple shows for Cardinal.
Danielle McClelland, executive director of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater – the venue for most of Cardinal’s productions – believes that Cardinal’s blend of local talent and actors from bigger cities keeps the company on the radar of the larger theater scene.
“That type of portal is exactly what we want,” she said. “It’s incredibly exciting to be able to work with them.”
The combination of the Buskirk’s marketing expertise with Cardinal’s talent, energy and philosophy gives it the capacity to achieve a level of work typically expected in a much larger town, she said.
“I believe the Cardinal Stage Company and its involvement with the Buskirk-Chumley is the epitome of what this space offers the Bloomington community,” she said.
Although White is grateful and excited about the company’s initial successes, he knows it is just the beginning for Cardinal.
“Now, the real challenge begins,” he said. “We want to build our audience base to include the surrounding communities, put staff members in place and continue to build our board of directors.”
He plans to attract Bloomington’s smaller, surrounding communities by casting locally for the next children’s production, “Oliver,” which he hopes to debut late next spring.
Aside from “Oliver,” Cardinal plans to have two other main stage shows for its third season – another American classic and “On Words and Onwards,” a project White has worked on with the Emmy-nominated writer Glenn Berger and Grammy-winning composer Frank London for over three years.
White’s excitement about “On Words and Onwards” is contagious, thanks to his intriguing description of the production. He calls it a “spy-mod thriller, loosely based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Twelfth Night,’” with musical influences ranging from Burt Bacharach to the Beatles.
But it doesn’t end there. White says the show poses the question of whether humans developed language to think in abstract forms to understand and emphasize with one another, or because it enabled them to lie and deceive each other.
This show is a prime example of White’s idea of great theater – a story that engages the human condition.
“Telling stories the way great theater can is essential to the community,” he said. “But there’s also an economic push that comes with a professional operating theater.”
He describes this “push” as the extra business generated in a community with a professional theater company such as Cardinal.
But the company’s cultural and artistic influence is equally important. Deb Galyan, Cardinal’s marketing coordinator, said one of White’s qualities is his ability to balance the logistics of running a company with his artistic vision.
“It’s rare to find someone who can do that,” she said. “That’s a real founder.”
Galyan knew she wanted to be involved with Cardinal as soon as her husband first told her about White’s ambition to start the company back in 2006.
“There’s something about live theater that’s special to me,” she said. “Working for this company feeds my passion.”
And Bloomington was an ideal audience for a professional theater company.
“You could tell the community really had a desire for it,” she said. “The message we keep getting is, ‘Keep going, we’ll support you.’”
Alison Hamm can be reached at .