‘Hometown Holiday,’ the perennially popular variety show, returns in its 18th incarnation

“It’s my way of giving back to people who gave so much to me,” said Rockford native J.R. Sullivan of Hometown Holiday. “And now, those New American Theater years carry on with Hometown Holiday.” (Photo provided)
“It’s my way of giving back to people who gave so much to me,” said Rockford native J.R. Sullivan of Hometown Holiday. “And now, those New American Theater years carry on with Hometown Holiday.” (Photo provided)

By Dr. Rob Tomaro
Arts Correspondent

When J.R. Sullivan, founding director of the New American Theater, premiered Hometown Holiday in Christmas of 1994, he never imagined it was destined to become the heart-warming, perennial event that Rockford folks have made a part of their holiday season.

Drawing upon the audiences of both the New American Theater and Charlotte’s Web, the variety show, whose format is inspired by Garrison’ Keillor’s hit radio series A Prairie Home Companion, serves up an eclectic smorgasbord of talent from our area. This year’s performers include jazz violinist Randy Sabien, singer and actress Marcella Rose Sciotto, Daniel Patrick Sullivan and newcomer Keewa Murullah of Chicago, as well as the annual show-stopping favorite, an all-new story about Christmas in Rockford by J.R. Sullivan.

Now based in Chicago after a successful career in New York City as director of the Pearl Theater, producing the show is a labor of love for Sullivan.

My entire career happened because of my time in Rockford,” Sullivan said. “It’s my way of giving back to people who gave so much to me. And now, those New American Theater years carry on with Hometown Holiday.”

As we move into this holiday season, our feeling of nostalgia is tempered by an awareness of the changing nature of our culture and the challenging times in which we live. Certainly, this is not the America of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the whole town floods into Jimmy Stewart’s living room with gifts to help him re-build his shattered life at the end. Is that spirit gone? Jim doesn’t think so.

There is a longing for that kind of spirit, and that’s what gives the sentiment of the season a certain depth and a certain sadness, let’s face it,” Sullivan said. “Capra’s film caught so much of that. There’s a dark side to longing and failed ambition when he (Jimmy Stewart’s character George) compares his life to how he wanted it to be before he rediscovered that his life turned out to be, really, a dream fulfilled. The end of the year is a dark, cold time, a time to gather ’round the hearth and look into each other’s eyes, a time to search for meaning and to tell stories. It is a time of year filled with memory and longing.”

In Hometown Holiday, J.R. Sullivan understands and embraces that longing and offers us a renewed vision of the American spirit of giving and of celebrating the joy of community, which is alive and well and in its 18th year at the theater that bears his name, here in Rockford. The tradition lives on. Don’t miss it.

Hometown Holiday can be seen in the Sullivan Theater of the Nordlof Center in downtown Rockford at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 13, and at 3 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased by calling the BMO Harris Bank Center at (815) 968-5222, or visiting ticketmaster.com or coronadopac.org. Tickets can be purchased in person at either the BMO Harris Bank Center or the Coronado Theatre Box Office.

The Rock River Times welcomes Robert Tomaro as an arts correspondent

The Rock River Times welcomes Robert Tomaro to its pages as a special arts correspondent. Tomaro will write about the area’s classical music scene and other matters that interest him. Following is his impressive biography.

Symphonic conductor Robert Tomaro has performed with premier orchestras the world over, including The London Symphony, The Slovak Radio Orchestra, The Silesian Philharmonic, The Black Sea Philharmonic, The Moravian Philharmonic, The Crakow Sinfonietta, and extensively throughout Europe and Scandinavia. His recent engagements include appearances with the Santa Cruz County Symphony in California, the Lima Symphony in Ohio and the Powder River Symphony in Wyoming.

In 2010, in the 11th year of his tenure with the Beloit Janesville Symphony in Wisconsin, he was appointed music director for life. He is also in his second year as principal guest conductor of the Grand Pops Orchestra of Dubuque, Iowa.

In 2002, he was one of eight conductors chosen by Christoph Eschenbach for his International Master class in Crakow, Poland.

He holds a master of arts and a Ph.D. in composition from New York University, where he served as music director of the New York University Symphony Orchestra. Upon graduation, he was appointed to the faculties of St. John’s University and Rutgers University. He holds the Shogren Conducting Chair at Beloit College.

He is a member of Kappa Delta Pi and Pi Kappa Lambda, the national honor societies in education and music education. He has received the New Jersey Council on the Arts Award for composition and the NYU Graduate Award for composition. He sits on the board of directors of the Association Nationale de Musique de Chambre of Paris, France.

He has been honored by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for conducting the Emmy Award-winning score for the Los Angeles Marathon.

In addition, he is a nationally-recognized jazz guitarist and composer. He has appeared in concert supporting such luminaries as Charles Mingus, Bill Evans and Stephane Grapelli. He has also performed in the orchestras of the original Broadway productions of The Lion King, Les Miserables, Tommy, Dancin’, Barnum and Evita.

From the Dec. 4-10, 2013, issue

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