Hometown Holiday plays 12th annual production Dec. 9-11

J. R. Sullivan’s Hometown Holiday, presented by the founder of Rockford’s New American Theater in a newly minted production each December since 1994, returns in 2005 to Memorial Hall in downtown Rockford. Presented by Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts, this 12th edition of Sullivan’s blend of jazz music, standards and folk, along with original stories and comedy sketches, plays Dec. 9 to 11 at the Hall, 211 N. Main St.

Sullivan, the founder of the New American Theater in 1972 with his partners, Charlotte’s Web, led the Rockford theater as its producer, manager, and artistic director until 1994. Now a resident of New York City, his work in the theater is seen nationally every year, from summers and falls in Utah, where he is the associate artistic director of the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespearean Festival, to New York, where his production of Widower’s Houses last spring garnered accolades from The New York Times, which wrote, “Anyone can dust off an old script like this but investing it with a sparkle and a wink is an altogether different skill, one that J. R. Sullivan… clearly has. He and his fine actors fill the play’s three acts with sly stage business and turn the stiltedness that clings to any century-old play to their advantage.”

J. R. Sullivan’s work this year was also seen in an acclaimed production of Room Service at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (the very play he opened New American Theater with in 1972), as well as Stones in His Pockets and All’s Well That Ends Well at the Utah Shakespearean and a production running from Dec. 2 until Jan. 9 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the new comedy Laughing Stock. In January, he will be at the University of South Carolina directing the 17th-century comedy The Country Wife, will return to Rockford to stage Stones in His Pockets for NAT, and in March he will visit Penn State University’s professional program directing the 18th-century comedy The Rivals. For Utah this summer, he is directing Hamlet and later in early fall, The Merchant of Venice.

Another Sullivan and a longtime member of the New American Theater acting company will join the Hometown Holiday troupe this year when Daniel Patrick Sullivan makes his first appearance in the show. He will join Linda Abronski as well as jazz violinist Randy Sabien, singer/songwriter Megon McDonough, and pianist Shawn Wallace in the three scheduled performances of this year’s production. “The show’s formula remains the same while the material is entirely new,” according to J. R. Sullivan. “Music from jazz and folk worlds blends with popular and contemporary standards, while our comedy sketches build on the skills of our fine actors. It’s a talented and eclectic company, and it is in that spirit we create a new show each year. That—and the joy for me of returning home at the holiday time—is the reason for Hometown Holiday.”

Anticipation for the 12th Annual Hometown Holiday runs high. The opening night performance of Friday, Dec. 9, is already sold out. Northern Public Radio, a media sponsor for the production, is taping the show and will broadcast the live performance later in December. Sponsors for the 2005 Hometown Holiday include Main Street Financial, John and Sue Brubaker, David and Christine McCarty and Family, Joyce Ramer, Janet Kjellstrom, the Gordy and Mary Ann Smith Charitable Foundation, and Rolf and Margaret Thieneman.

Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 11. All seats are $18 and are available by calling Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts at (815) 964-2238. Memorial Hall, in downtown Rockford between Jefferson and Mulberry streets, is handicapped accessible.

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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