New Court Theatre, Pec Playhouse and Summerset 30

n Summertime and local theater thrives

If you’ve been craving a night out, the last few weeks offered an opportunity to enjoy music, drama and comedy. Within a few miles from Rockford, talented singers and actors have joined with musicians and technicians in offering Guys & Dolls, The Hot-l Baltimore and Into the Woods.

Josh Burton, director and producing artistic director, revived New Court Theatre on the campus of Beloit College, offering a summer season running through Aug. 9. His most recent production, The Hot-l Baltimore, takes us back to the ’70s to a sleazy hotel near the railroad tracks. The residents include several “ladies of the night;” Mr. Morse (Rod MacDonald), a retired gentleman who wanders around in his robe; Nathan Burkart as Jamie, whose sister played by Emilie Meyer, disappears; and Aaron Orear as the hotel clerk trying to hold it all together.

Pat Staaf and Christine Swain entertain gentlemen in their rooms, and Staaf has the best lines in the show. Her reflections on her customers and the rest of the residents bring to the show much-needed humor. Swain searches for the perfect man in vain. In the moments where the entire cast spoke at once, it reminded me of an argumentative panel on CNN. The third production of the season, scheduled to open July 23, yet-to-be-announced, stars Josh Burton in a musical review. For further information, call Beloit College.

Pec Playhouse continues to stage productions drawing full houses and giving professionals and those with aspirations the opportunity to perform. Guys & Dolls, based on a Damon Runyon story with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, remains a favorite with players and audiences alike. With a cast of 38 that includes children, young adults, seniors and 50-somethings, the stage becomes a passage for a revolving troupe.

Kathy Stevens as Adelaide and Keith Emroll as Nicely-Nicely are stand-outs. Steven’s performances at the Clock Tower, New American Theater, and Starlight Theatre, often with her husband Jerry, make her a favorite. A complete professional, she gives the show real class. Emroll’s “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” with the entire cast was gospel at its best. Having seen him in several other productions, his musical talent was a pleasant surprise. Pauline Urso choreographed, and the all-male numbers were excellent. The brass in the band disconcerted, but Mark Kann and Matthew Erpelding on keyboards supported the singers well. Look for publicity concerning the upcoming season.

Summerset 30 at Highland Community College in Freeport offers excellent productions. This year, because of budget cuts, their season consists of only one show. It’s a winner. Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods becomes a fairy tale for adults. Cinderella finds Prince Charming a bore, and he runs off with Sleeping Beauty. Rapunzel’s problem is anger management. The Baker and his Wife bargain with the Witch in order to have a child, and Little Red Riding Hood becomes a murderer of Wolves.

The production staff includes John R. Webb, director; Music Director/Conductor Allen Redford; and Orchestral Director David Dunn. The orchestra is exceptional, giving the show the feel of Broadway, and technically, there wasn’t a glitch.

A community effort, Into the Woods reflects a pool of talent superior in every way. Ashli Keith as Cinderella, Charles White as Jack, Derek Simons as the Baker, Selena Hacker as his Wife, Judy Knudtson as the Witch, and Danielle Macomber as Little Red Riding Hood could assume their roles tomorrow in a touring production. All are excellent!!! Randy Holmes and Aaron Simons are the princes. One of the cleverest lines in the show is by Simons: “I was only told to be charming, not sincere.”

An unexpected invitation from friends enabled us to see the show. Having seen it in Chicago several years ago, the difficulty of Sondheim’s music is apparent. The cast performed impeccably. The choreography of the final scene ended an evening of joyful theater. Sorry to say, it closed July 26. Maybe the powers that be can be convinced to restage it.

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