’Tis the season for holiday shows

The weeks fill with holiday performances. Old friends are reunited, and familiar stories are retold.

Hometown Holiday

J.R. Sullivan’s 10th anniversary performance at Memorial Hall drew full houses. A cast of outstanding performers contributed to a full evening of music and comedy.

Rockford’s Randy Sabien has gained national recognition with appearances on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. Guitar and violin are instruments of choice, and whether joining with Megon McDonough or interpreting an eerie rendition of The Nutcracker, his music draws us into the true holiday spirit. He and Sullivan have developed comedy routines both witty and droll.

Megon McDonough returns, displaying her voice and instrumental expertise. In one number, her son Denver, accompanied on a modern bongo drum, completely charmed the audience.

Chicago pianist and singer, Shawn Wallace’s jazz background and knowledge of the old favorites is superb, and with Sabien’s “Boogie Woogie Christmas,” he played the treble beautifully. Also from Chicago, Michael Nowak of WGN radio reprised a 10-minute version of It’s A Wonderful Life. A member of the audience read Donna Reed’s lines and became the perfect foil for Nowak’s routine. Linda Abronski and Stephen F. Vrtol drew an ovation when introduced. Their history with New American Theater is well remembered, and we all miss the memorable work done over the years there.

Sullivan’s charm magically weaves it all together. A sincere love of our community and the many old friends here gives a special warmth to the evening. Closing the show, his story of a childhood Christmas in a snowy Indiana town brought smiles of remembrance from his mother. He writes so well, and his sensitivity to the plight of others truly represents the spirit of Christmas. Hometown Holiday will be broadcast by WNIJ. Check the station 89.5 FM for times. If you missed the show, be sure to make the broadcast a part of your celebration.

A Christmas Carol

NAT returns to the traditional Dickens’ tale of the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. Josh Burton’s cranky “Bah, Humbugs” set the stage for the arrival of ghosts whose journeys change the old miser into a true believer. Burton’s outstanding performance gives the show some much-needed relevance.

The adaptation by Steven Young, who also directs, brings the character of Dickens to the stage. Often narrating the story, he is a frustrated author neglecting a loyal wife and loving children. As does Scrooge, he requires an epiphany to recognize the values he possesses. Bob Cratchit, his family, and the myriad of characters necessary to tell the tale, are familiar to us all. Young gives the adaptation a modern twist. The Cratchit children seem a bit too impudent, and Bob’s good wife, in her anger toward Scrooge, goes over the edge.

For many families, A Christmas Carol is an annual multi-generational tradition. NAT’s production will provide a satisfactory answer to the family ritual. Running through Dec. 24, ticket information can be obtained by calling 964-6282.

Black Nativity

Eboné Community Theatre performed Langston Hughes’ gospel song-play Black Nativity at the Midway Theater on the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December. Carl Cole’s musical arrangements and accompaniments provided a coherent theme that kept the show moving. Cole’s background in the church, as well as his company, Sounds of Good News, makes him an expert in gospel music.

With so many events occurring around the holidays, it is difficult to attract an audience. The quality of Black Nativity with an enthusiastic choir should interest a wider audience. A performance featuring jazz and blues is scheduled for March. Hopefully, a plan can be made for audience development.

The Messiah

Handel’s Messiah at Trinity Lutheran Church represented the 58th year of this classic choral work. Nat Bauer conducted for the second year. The choir consisted of the finest voices from churches throughout the community. Soloists Beth Fredrickson, soprano; Lisa Jackson-Nemeth, mezzo-soprano; William Watson, tenor; and Timothy J. Quistorff, bass, gave the concert an unequaled professional quality. The Chamber Orchestra played Handel’s composition with proficiency. As the audience rose for the “Hallelujah Chorus,” we experienced one of the great moments in music.


Black Nativity, Messiah and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever tell the same story from differing viewpoints, proving the universal appeal and significance of Christmas.

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