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Theater Review: Auburn, Keith honored at Illinois High School Theatre Festival

January 11, 2012

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Jim Crow, director of theater for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) program at Rockford Auburn High School, and Jim Ratloff, theater director at Keith Country Day School, have worked with students for years, and their ability to create amazing productions has resulted in some of the best musicals and dramas seen in our community. Before their trip downstate this week, they staged the winning musicals.

Cats first opened on Broadway in 1981 and holds a special place in my heart. When granddaughter Elizabeth was only 4, we took her to see Cats in Chicago. It became her favorite music, and she played it constantly. Wind in the Willows was part of my literature program, and every year we read the book and held long discussions. Ratloff’s musical adaptation by Douglas Post is absolutely charming.

Both efforts have resulted in one of the best learning experiences the students will ever have. They are learning every aspect of theater. Both schools gave encore performances Wednesday, Jan. 4, before leaving for Bloomington Thursday, Jan. 5. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze them into my busy day.

Wind in the Willows showcases a cast consisting of Luke Miller as Toad, Angela Martinez as Mole (her dark glasses were clever), Paul Steffan as Rat and Ben Ross as Badger. The complete cast served as storytellers and Wildwooders. Gloria Lynn accompanied on keyboard with Ben Barteau on percussion, Adam Crandall on flute, and Maxwell Moore on bass. Students also served as much of the technical staff.

The Cats filled the stage. With a cast of 28, practically all on stage for the entire production, the staging and choreographic challenges were immense. Crow’s co-director, Joselyn Ludtke, received accolades from him, as well as Musical Director Beth Heuer and choreographers Brooke Johnson, Pauline Urso and Tamara Woodrow. Choosing outstanding performers is difficult. Needless to say, the entire cast equaled many professional companies.

Derick Edgren, who played Macavity, wrote a beautifully-composed introduction in the program. He says: “It’s about knowing that sometimes being adventurous and pushing boundaries is OK; a theme that we strongly enforce in CAPA. And that’s really the central message of Cats; we must not quarrel when in disagreement but understand that by the virtue of our differences we can unite. Not a group of junkyard cats, but a school, a city, humanity …”

We in our community support the sports teams, and they get headlines when they go downstate. It is hoped we can do the same for our cultural programs. Critics of the educational system need to take a closer look at the positives.

From the Jan. 11-17, 2012, issue

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