Theater Review: Pec Playhouse Theatre presents tribute to music of John Denver

September 26, 2012

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Almost Heaven, written by Harold Thau with orchestrations and vocal arrangements by Jeff Waxman, is the curent production at Pec Playhouse Theatre in Pecatonica, Ill. The music of John Denver, so familiar, recalls many memories. We remember the days that we first heard these songs and how they became a part of our lives.

A musical production poses many challenges — casting, directing, staging, sets and musical direction. James Castree, a part of the company for 10 years, makes his directing debut, and Ben Riddle plays keyboard and is a first-time musical director. The cast also encounters a musical demand they may have not faced before.

My many years with my dear friend Julian give insight into the special talents needed to create a musical production. Musical direction is essential, and working with vocalists requires special abilities. Often, the score is not quite appropriate for the singer, and key changes may be needed. There are many accompanists who hear subtle changes and can cover for the vocalist. This is not an easy task.

It is essential that singers develop “an ear,” not just for their own range, but for those with whom they sing. The cast of this show has work to do, but they are a hard-working crew and should improve. Jim Cichock plays John Denver; his daughter, Mary Cate Cichock, does her best work in the group performances. Connie Roccia is returning to music and voices her appreciation for Denver’s memorable music. Becky Tidberg helps her immensely. Brandon Williams, a newcomer to musical theater, needs to continue voice studies. He has much to learn. His range is limited, and he must develop his “ear.” Jared Doyle knows his range and is one of the strongest members of the entire cast.

Pec Playhouse has always been willing to attempt new work, and Almost Heaven represents well their flair to do this again. The show runs through Sept. 30. They are selling out shows, and the audience that saw the Sunday matinee was enthusiastic.

Upcoming … The Seventh Annual Murder Mystery Dinner Oct. 13 at Sam’s Ristorante in Machesney Park, Ill. For more details, call (815) 915-3100.

From the Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2012, issue

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