A tribute to Rockford talent

A tribute to Rockford talent

By By Bill L. Beard

By Bill L. Beard

Freelance Critic

“Where did they find all those talented folks?” I heard the chubby little lady standing next to me in the lobby ask. “Did they bring anybody in from Chicago?”

I couldn’t resist turning to her to answer: “No, ma’am. They are each and every one living right here in Winnebago County!”

After many years of volunteer work with River District Association and with community arts organizations and as a theatre critic for various stateline newspapers, I am still constantly amazed at the lack of recognition of the artistic excellence found everywhere in this near quarter-million regional population of ours. With a top-notch symphony, excellent dance groups, the wonderful Charlotte’s Web events and lots of great theater around, it seems that we still have not developed a true sense of pride in what is almost a plethora of talent.

And never has this been more evident than in last Thursday night’s Coronado production of Musicals II—Movie Memories: two and a half hours of professional-caliber performance of major memorable song and dance numbers from the films of the 1930s through the 1970s. This was a follow-up of the original Musicals I, produced two years ago and featured the history of live Broadway musicals.

The packed house Thursday night rose to a level of appreciative response rarely seen in town, with cheers and applause and standing ovations, and all well deserved. But special kudos must go to several folks. First to the Mendelssohn Club and to Margaret Kleber, for sponsoring both I and II. This marvelous organization has a century of accomplishment to its credit, sponsoring musical events from classical and operatic to Broadway, jazz and folk, and earning an indisputable reputation for bringing us the highest quality performers in all fields.

But Musicals I and II are very special events, the products of a very special and very talented person, Ms. Andrea Bear. It was Andrea’s vision that brought this show to life (she conceived, wrote, organized and directed the entire evening); and it was her faith in and insistence on following that vision that lifted the quality of the production to the top. A successful performer for many years herself (she was seen as Wendy in NAT’s Peter Pan), she sought out and brought in an amazing array of local performers, and melded and molded those talents into a spectacular entertainment package.

Perhaps the wisest decision she made was to bring in another of Rockford’s most talented individuals, Ms. Gail Dartez, NAT’s associate artistic director, to become the stage director for this challenging project. Ms. Dartez has proven herself many times over as a fine actress, teacher and director. In Musicals II, she contributed in all these areas, in addition to co-writing some of the material, and then performing as the “Narrator-Interlocutor-Host” for the evening. In an

amazing sequence of costumes and characters, she single-handedly guided her audience on a merry musical romp through this history of films representing the Coronado Theatre’s heyday as the favorite movie house in the whole region. Her clever repartee and inventive “characters” served as the glue to hold the evening together. Gail and Andrea deserve the gratitude of this entire community. Add to that list the magnificent work of Mr. Tim Anderson, one of the most accomplished and solid musical directors anywhere. Tim is unequaled in his ability to shape and bring to professional level such an enormous undertaking as this production.

Though impossible to include all of the memorable numbers and performers, let me list a few of the highlights.

Certainly Rockford’s outstanding performing couple has to be Jerry and Kathy Stevens. Featured throughout the show, they were absolutely Mr. & Mrs. Show Biz personified. Kathy’s Cabaret even out-Liza-ed Minelli!! Karen Kahler’s full, rich voice so often appreciated at Starlight and Clock Tower, brought magic to her “Trolley Song” and “Some of These Days”, and with Janet Bracken, gave new meaning to film dubbing in “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Bracken is another of those wonderful “can do any kind of role” talents, handling everything from the beautiful King and I medley (also featuring the charming voice of the endearing Mimi Murphy) to the zany antics of “We’re A Couple Of Swells,” a duet with the unmatchable talent of Carolyn Cadigan. Carolyn is probably one of the most versatile performers in Rockford. Her duet of “I Remember it Well” with Ron Foran echoed beautifully the unforgettable Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier in Gigi.

For “showstoppers,” I must give top billing to the inimitable Diana Fry, whose “Blues In The Night” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” brought the house down and blew the roof off. (I first remember Diana when we were the soloists for a Cantata at Second Congregational!) Add these names to the list of outstanding talents: Jodi Beach, Jenine Cannell-Puri, Cynthia O’Lane, Dennis Johnson, Tim Fenelon, and all the men in Luck Be a Lady, plus all the children and all the dancers.

Which brings me to the absolute apex of talent in this show: the dance! Rockford is very lucky to have Doug and Jill Beardsley! They have added much to every show I have ever seen them in. But Musicals II is their show. They created some of the most exciting dance sequences seen in our area. The audience was astounded at their agility and their originality and the sheer beauty of their work together. And, to make the performance even more consistent and professional, the choreography of all the other numbers, and there was dance throughout the entire evening, was the consummate work of Choreographer Colleen Cox. Ms. Cox has toured all over the world, both on land and sea (as lead dancer on several cruise ships). Her work in this show created an artistic level not to be challenged.

In summation, let me quote and agree with my friend and fellow writer, Edith McCauley, in my phone conversation with her today: “Rockford hasn’t seen this kind of Broadway show since we lost the fabulous Chuck Hoenes. This is the kind of standard Chuck always set, and it’s a thrill to see this quality of ‘show biz’ back in town.” So come on, Rockford. Let’s start recognizing and appreciating the kind of talent so abundant in our fair city. Rockford has talent galore. Thanks to Andrea and Gail and Tim and our fantastic dancers; and thanks in particular to the group who dares to sponsor and support such efforts, The Mendelssohn Club.

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