Night Riders to play at the Mendelssohn Club

Following a two-week run at the Community Building Complex in Belvidere, Night Riders opens this weekend at the Mendelssohn Club. Directed by Bill Beard, the musical with a country flavor examines the lives of four over-the-road drivers and the women in their lives. The musicians, Steve Nece (keyboard), Valerie Blair, Dick Burgess (pedal steel guitar), Dave Cox (lead guitar), Jim Farley (bass guitar), and Greg Clough (drums) play the foot- tapping rhythms with subtleness not often heard in this genre. Overwhelming sound systems sometimes make lyrics a mystery. The accompaniment for this show enhances the storyline with every vocal a joy to hear.

Beard’s creative staging, literally on the stage of the Community Building, puts the audience facing rear with the band on the left and the performers arranged on a simple tier. The black curtains encompass all for an intimacy that gives the feel of a quiet evening with friends. Entering the space, armchairs and tables add to the home-like atmosphere. A collection of slides screened on either side of the performers gave their stories a realistic feel. Beard had produced Night Riders for the New England Regional Finals of the American College Theatre Festival, and since

his retirement has concentrated on travel and theater reviews. He agreed to direct after all these years because of his love of the show and that it would be a Midwest Regional Premiere. Pump Boys and Dinettes, more familiar to many theater goers, lacks the depth and intensity of the stories we hear.

The cast includes newcomers and actors with years of experience. Beard skillfully uses their strengths, and what we feel as an audience is their support of one another. Amber Lynn Sterud, as Shelley, the waitress, ventures on stage for the first time. At first glance, a ditzy blonde, but within minutes, her story shows us a woman whose life experiences enable her to sympathize with the drivers she encounters daily. William Avilla is Ray, whose first try at driving a rig developed into his life’s work. Sterud, as a hitchhiker, joins him in a duet with lyrics that rollick and roll.

Phil Blair as Rudy, the senior member of the cast, adds richness with his choir-trained bass. The past is significant with a sense of history to be shared. With years of experience, Doug Lamoreux plays Don with panache. In Barefoot in the Park at Pec Playhouse, as Victor Belasco, the mad Hungarian, Lamoreux’s ability for a comedic performance was obvious. In his current role, comedy of a different kind shows us his softer side. As Tom, Danny Masterson, a veteran of television and movies, uses years in show business to an advantage. Finally, Jennifer Thompson, as Jane, the wife, touches us with “Hi, I Miss You.” Loneliness results in a brief affair with regrets, but little hope for change. Loving her man means communication only by phone.

The slides, some from Beard’s former production and some taken more recently by him and Neil Krumrei, effectively portrayed the rigs, restaurants, highways and byways that are the trucker’s world. Co-produced by The Main Street Players of Boone County and Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts, this weekend’s performance should not be missed. Mendelssohn Club, Nov. 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 815-395-9586 or 1-800-208-9198.

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