Theater Review: J.R. Sullivan returns for another ‘Hometown Holiday’

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

For the 17th year, J.R. Sullivan has come home to share his memories, humor and the music of his friends with us and to officially begin the holiday season. For the third year, Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts has mounted the show at the Sullivan Center in downtown Rockford, the absolutely most appropriate venue and one that engenders memories for all of us.

This review will begin with the finale … J.R. came to the front of the stage, sat on his familiar stool, and told one of the most touching stories he has ever shared with us. There wre moments when tears came to my eyes. He was 14, a student at Boylan High and living in the North End with his extensive family. For many at that time, money was tight, and J.R. had a paper route that he described in detail. With the holidays in the offing, his friends offered some advice on acquiring tips, and so he began his strategy early. A familiar name emerges in his story … Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times. Friends and neighbors, they both attended Boylan and literally ran the neighborhood. Frank had a wealth of advice, and his often worldly views gave J.R. the information needed to collect those valuable tips.

Having lived on North Church when first coming to Rockford, the area where J.R. and Frank resided is one I know well. That, too, made the story more real. So many friends … Lee Ann Johnson and Gordy, Steve Powers, Chuck Hoenes, the Howards were a part of those early days of theater beginning at Boylan, and finally developing into New American Theater in the old Kress building, where we sat on Sunday afternoon to hear the story.

The format of Hometown Holiday remains much the same … musicians Megon McDonough, singer and songwriter; Randy Sabien, jazz violinist; Shawn Wallace, keyboard artist; Marcella Rose Sciotto, singer and actress; and hometown girl, Holland Zander, singer. Linda Abronski, Daniel Patrick Sullivan, and Jeff Christian provided much of the comedy.

Sunday afternoon is a favorite time for seniors to attend performances, so I was right at home. J.R. thanked all his financial supporters, many whom have made his work possible from the very beginning. Those, too, are names we know well. The show will be broadcast Christmas night on NPR — WNIU. If you missed it, please tune in.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2011, issue

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