Chuck Bruno can't stop the music.

When last we checked in with Bloomington's Chuck Bruno, he was just turning a spry 88.

Naturally, the ace banjo man was less concerned with his birthday than preparing for his next gig with The Nostalgics at the Miller Park Pavilion.

The Nostalgics is the four-piece dance band Bruno has fronted for more than 40 years. (Add another 10 if you count its earlier incarnation as Nicky's Banjo Band, born in 1965.)

Alas, Chuck and his Nostalgics have endured long enough to see themselves become the last of the ballroom bands hereabouts.

From our perch here, we've watched a dozen or so of the vintage dance bands fall silent as members aged and/or passed on to that big Stardust Ballroom in the sky. 

Chuck, a Class of ’46 U High grad, has lived a full musical life that spans the history of big band and ballroom dance on the Twin Cities front.

"It's getting down to a very few, and we'll be fading out into the sunset," he once noted. "When I play, I like to have an audience, and I'm afraid the audience is getting smaller and smaller."

Until then, the rumba beat goes on.

"All I know is it keeps me young," he says, even more so when he's in the company of his dedicated press agent and loving wife, Donna Bruno.

Happy birthday, then, to Chuck on his 90th, a milestone being celebrated from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. March 25 with an open house at Bloomington's Moose Lodge.

And, of course, a dance.

Always a dance. 

(In fact, there's one before that, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Miller Park Pavilion, with an $8 cover.)  

To bark or not to bark?: In the most recent Sunday version of this column, we noted that the Illinois Shakespeare Festival is looking for a few good dogs this summer.

The occasion: The fest's production of "Shakespeare in Love," the Tom Stoppard-Marc Norman comedy-drama about a fictional love affair for the Bard that inspires him to author "Romeo and Juliet."

In the play, "you may recall that Will needs a new comedy, and that it wouldn’t hurt if there was 'a bit with a dog' in it," notes festival manager William Prenevost.

Auditions are being planned next month for a casting collar, er call.

In the column, we suggested that it could be the first of its kind in Shakespeare Fest history.

The precise wording was "the first ... in memory."

Whose memory, you ask?

Clearly not that of former Normal mayor Paul Harmon, who has attended all 40 years' worth of festival plays (well, almost, all: he admits to missing one the first season).

Harmon said he definitely recalled a past ISF production with a dog on stage alongside the actors, but he couldn't cite the actual play.

At least we were off and play-fully running.

Then a helpful reader emailed us a related memory, but slightly more specific: 

"Just read your article in the Life section, 3/11/18. I remember a Shakespeare Festival in the ’90s featuring a great bloodhound, Duke. The actors went to the Carlock farm where Duke lived with the Suhr family to audition him.

"I wish my memory included the name of the play, but it doesn’t. I did see the play and remember Duke sitting patiently on stage, occasionally howling."

Now we were on to something.

A quick Googling of "bloodhound in Shakespeare play" produced "Two Gentlemen of Verona," which sports a basset hound playing the role of Crab, beloved pet of two-legged cast member Launce.

Then a dip into The Pantagraph's own archives for final proof, albeit somewhat vaguely for the 1994 production of "Two Gents," per the paper's review.

“Delivering lines in a near manic state, Robert Kropf, as Launce, a rustic servant, is very funny even though he must share the stage with his marvelous dog, Crab, in most of his scenes.”

For the next edition, staged in 2004, there was no doubt who was stealing scenes, though he had some stiff competition: 

"The canine Crab is played by an unflappable basset hound named Ethel. Philip Earl Johnson portrays Proteus' servant, Launce, Crab's master. Not every actor can share the stage with a dog without being upstaged, but Johnson with his usual intensity, flair and wit can parlay with even the most notorious of scene-stealers, a droopy-eared pooch.”

So much for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival going to the dogs: been there, done that.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.



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