Students get a dose of Lincoln the song and dance man

Michelle Anstett

As a change from the normally poised, stoic portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, Galesburg-area fourth- and fifth-graders were able to see the 16th president sing and dance across the Orpheum Theatre’s stage on Wednesday.

“Honest Abe,” a musical retelling of Lincoln’s life, was performed by four members of The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan as the first in the Orpheum’s Lights! Camera! Learn! educational series. Derek Bertlesen, the show’s composer, was in the audience for the performance.

Kate Francis, Orpheum president, said the theater normally offers three productions suitable for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. This year, thanks to increases in funding, four productions geared toward students in kindergarten through high school will be shown.

“The goal ... is to introduce our young people to the performing arts,” Francis explained. “It’s one thing to go and see a play in your cafeteria that you see every day. It’s a completely extraordinarily different thing to go see a play in a special theater. They’re (the students) just so thrilled to be in such a magnificent place.”

Productions are free to all area schools that can transport their students to the performances.

The other three plays in this year’s series are “The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks” for second- and third-graders, “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” for kindergarten and first-graders and an abridged version of “Our American Cousin” geared toward sixth- through 12th-graders.

“Our American Cousin” will be produced by a collaboration between the Orpheum and the Monmouth College theater department. The other two plays will be performed by national touring companies.

Not only do students get exposure to the arts, but Francis says the plays shown normally have other educational connections, whether they are based on books students would read or have a historical basis, much like “Honest Abe.”

“We feel very strongly about being able to offer this program at no cost,” Francis said, noting that there is a large percentage of Galesburg residents living below the poverty line. “It’s highly likely that you can bet that they probably can’t afford to come to paid events at the Orpheum. This is the opportunity for them (the students) to experience something that they wouldn’t be able to.”

Michelle Anstett can be reached