Ninth Annual Charlotte’s Web production—J. R. Sullivan’s Hometown Holiday returns

Hometown Holiday, J. R. Sullivan’s show blend of music, comedy and holiday stories, returns to Memorial Hall, downtown Rockford, Dec. 6 – 8 for three performances presented by Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts. This is Sullivan’s ninth annual presentation of the show produced in association with Charlotte’s Web since leaving New American Theater in 1994 and moving on to a national career from his New York City base. Hometown Holiday has gained steadily in popularity over the years, resulting in an expanding show each year and a Northern Public Radio broadcast later in December.

Joining Sullivan for this year’s Hometown Holiday will be both veterans of the show and new talents, lending what Sullivan calls “a unique new mix of extraordinary talents, giving Hometown 2002 its most entertaining lineup ever. Given all the remarkable people that have been a part of this show over the years, I don’t think we’ve ever presented so eclectic and so talented a mix.”

Jazz violinist Randy Sabien returns for his sixth Hometown appearance and shares the music headliner role with a first appearance from singer-songwriter Megon McDonough, called “a thrilling cabaret-style singer and compelling writer” by the Boston Globe. Pianist Shawn Wallace returns, and actor Michael Novak, whose specialty is a 10-minute tour de force called “It’s a Wonderful Slice of a Wonderful Life,” making a Hometown Holiday debut. Rounding out the company will be a holiday reunion of Linda Abronski and Stephen F. Vrtol joining their longtime NAT collaborator Sullivan.

“We of the Web are thrilled with the talent Jim has assembled for this year’s show,” said Charlotte’s Web Executive Director Karen Howard. “We are especially excited to see Megon McDonough on a Charlotte’s Web stage again, for the first time since the Web days on First Avenue, when we shared the building with Jim’s New American Theater, and where he met Megon for the first time.”

Megon McDonough is best known for her work as an inaugural member of “The Four Bitchin’ Babes.” With eight solo albums to her credit (the most recent a jazz album called My One and Only Love), Megon has performed on stages as varied as The Cellar Door, The Bottom Line and Carnegie Hall. She opened for John Denver and Harry Chapin in the 1970s as well as Steve Martin. She has also performed on five compilation albums and released five albums with The Bitchin’ Babes. She is an accomplished comedic actress, having appeared in numerous theater productions including Pump Boys and Dinettes and a box office record-breaking starring role in Always … Patsy Cline. Megon McDonough won an ACE Cable TV award for singing the theme song of an HBO Olympic ice skating special and has recorded for a Danielle Steele made-for-TV movie. “Megon can still charm the birds out of the trees,” said the Chicago Tribune, “with a voice that, like her songwriting, has only improved over time.”

Randy Sabien’s jazz violin has been featured on radio, on TV and in coast-to-coast appearances with symphony orchestras, jazz festivals and folk festivals. He has appeared with Greg Brown, Pat Donohue, Mimi Farina, Jim Post and Kate Wolf, and has been heard on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion and featured on Austin City Limits at Lake Superior’s Big Top Chautauqua, among many others. Among his album/disc releases are “In A Fog,” “Paintin’ The Canvas,” “Fiddlehead Blues” and “The Sound of Fish Dreaming.” NPR’s Jazz Profiles dubbed him “The past, present and future of jazz violin,” and this rave is typical of the reviews he receives. One song that Randy Sabien composed for Hometown Holiday in 1996, “Have A Boogie Woogie Christmas,” began making an annual national appearance two years ago as part of PBS’s Arthur’s Christmas Special.

Chicago pianist and singer Shawn Wallace is making his second appearance with the show, accompanying Randy Sabien and Carolynne Warren in last year’s presentation, and creating a stir with a rousing “Suddenly Seymour” rendition with Warren at the close of Act II. Michael Novak, who is also host of the popular Let’s Talk Gardening on WGN radio in Chicago, is a Jeff Award winner who has appeared at Steppenwolf, Next and the Court theaters, among many others. His roles have included contemporary and classic parts, including John in the James Burrows-directed Man Who Came to Dinner at Steppenwolf, Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Sherwood Anderson in 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, a production directed by J. R. Sullivan in Chicago last year. His “It’s a Wonderful Slice of It’s a Wonderful Life” was featured on a Nov. 24 Wild Chicago telecast from public television.

Linda Abronski and Stephen F. Vrtol’s work with J. R. Sullivan dates to 1976, when Abronski appeared in Candide at New American Theater, and 1979, when Vrtol appeared as The Gentleman Caller, Jim, in The Glass Menagerie. Over the next two decades, the trio worked on many acclaimed NAT shows, including Lovers, Hay Fever, Equus, Born Yesterday, Of Mice and Men, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Norman Conquest, Da, Getting Out, Translations, Guys & Dolls, A Christmas Carol, The Nerd, and many more.

J. R. Sullivan has been directing in theaters in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, and across the country since stepping down from his post as founder and artistic director of NAT in 1994. Since returning to his first theater last January to direct Art in NAT’s 30th Anniversary Season, Sullivan has staged Much Ado About Nothing for the Pearl Theatre in New York City, Lobby Hero at the Studio in Washington, D.C., I Hate Hamlet for the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance for the Delaware Theatre Company. This year, Sullivan was appointed associated artistic director of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, where next season he stages two productions, Richard III and The Importance of Being Earnest. After Hometown Holiday, Sullivan will begin work on Proof for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, scheduled for a January opening.

The 2002 production of Hometown Holiday is made possible by the sponsorship of David and Christine McCarty, Dr. and Mrs. Jerome Weiskopf, and Northern Public Radio, which will also record the show in performance for later broadcast on WNIJ 90.5. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8. Tickets are $18 in advance or at the door ($14 for groups of 10 or more). Tickets are available at the Rockford Area Arts Council, The Tin Whistle, the Postal Shoppe in Edgebrook and at the door. Memorial Hall is located at 211 N. Main St., between Jefferson and Mulberry, in downtown Rockford.

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