Don Zellmer’s Jubilee Theatre … Another beginning in a lifelong career in theater…

Don Zellmer’s Jubilee Theatre … Another beginning in a lifelong career in theater…

By Edith McCauley, Theater Critic

Don Zellmer began performing at 13 playing piano in a local club. He’s never left the stage. A singer, dancer, director, choreographer, costumer, designer of stage sets, and all-round technician, he brings to his latest project the expertise acquired over a lifetime. A determination to recreate a dinner theater In the space so long occupied by Chuck Hoenes’ Clock Tower Dinner Theatre required vision, daring, and energy. Zellmer has it all. His years on the road performing in dinner theaters, regional theaters and stock companies prepared him for the role of producer, and from 1985 until his most recent venture, he has produced and owned dinner theaters throughout the Midwest. As a membership director for the National Dinner Theatre Association, his contacts have enabled him to efficiently and creatively bring entertainment to a wide audience.

An aging mother and father brought him home to LaSalle-Peru. Zellmer’s Dinner Theatre in Peoria, Ill., gave him the opportunity to continue his work and remain close to his family. A wide knowledge of contemporary musicals and the audiences they attract helped him develop seasons that brought in every age group. “Young people are rediscovering the past, and a good product has wide appeal,” he noted.

Audience development is high on the priority list. Focus group testing and a group sales director are just part of the plan. Contacts with groups who regularly attended his theaters have produced more than 7,500 leads, and word of mouth remains a basis for bringing in a full house.

On the agenda are Children’s Theatre, Late Night Revues, and Sunday Evening Special Events. Working with Scott Chachula, Zellmer plans the development of a teen performing group and a group of pre-teen performers. “The Young Folk,” a part of his Peoria operation, performed at festivals and fairs. Their song and dance revue gave them invaluable experience and became an integral part of the theater. The Children’s Theatre performances on Saturdays begin with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. More adult entertainment comes to the stage at midnight on Saturdays. A Las Vegas-style show includes showgirls and adult humor. Details are forthcoming.

Bandstand USA! continues through June 1, and The Follies!, a glamorous, Vegas-style variety show is scheduled to open June 20. Jerry Herman’s musical Mame and Zellmer’s long-running Vegas show Holidazzle! complete the season. Past successes convince him that Broadway musicals provide us with a diversion from the problems we face at home and abroad. “A theater full of people have a need to escape. We need to keep on entertaining,” he observed.

As we sat having coffee at the Clock Tower, it seemed so right to have Don Zellmer across the table sharing his dream and enthusiasm for the future. It was the same table where for so many years we sat with Chuck. Hopefully, this new beginning results in another established entertainment center for Rockford.

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