By Richard S. Gubbe
Eric Wilson got the role he wanted in Spamalot, and he’s making the most of it during the Starlight Theatre summer series at Rock Valley College (RVC) that features an array of talent in four diverse and timely shows.
The first half of the series of two runs for each show concluded last weekend, with Wilson showing off his wit and his voice in the quintessential British satire. The former Channel 13 news anchor was appearing in his first Starlight show, second RVC play, and his first big role in 20 years.
“Eric is a true professional and a very funny guy,” Director Mike Webb said after the first run.
Wilson said his television schedule was too conflicting and didn’t leave him the rehearsal time necessary for a Starlight show.
“When these auditions opened up, I said I should just try it, pick Spamalot,” Wilson said. “Monty Python And The Holy Grail was one of my all-time favorites. I got the part that I wanted, and it’s been fantastic.”
Wilson said his acting life was dormant for 20 years after leaving Lewis University with a double major in radio and television along with theater.
“I was recruited out of a voice and diction class,” Wilson said of his acting start. He got a couple parts before adding theater as a second major and performed a half-dozen shows in college.
“I really didn’t do anything after that. That was more than 20 years ago,” he said. “I always wanted to do a show at Starlight, but my schedule didn’t allow it. My schedule opened up, and it was good timing.”
Wilson appeared in Ahknaton in the winter at RVC, but when Spamalot was announced, he focused on one role only. He didn’t know he would become part of the script when it called for two local mentions of famous people — Wilson and Cheap Trick. King Arthur, played by Jerry Stevens, delivered the line for the first time at the preview show.
“I was worried about laughing during ‘Lancelot likes to Dancelot,’” Wilson said. “I was worried about laughing during that, and I handled that well, but I couldn’t help but smile a little bit when King Arthur mentioned my name.”
Wilson also plays the French Taunter, the part he rehearsed for as a kid and now enjoys the most. “The scene is out of my zone with the French accent, and I have to be rude,” Wilson said.
Will his second major become a career now?
“I don’t think a career, but I hope my schedule will allow at least one in a summer,” said Wilson, who also plans a winter tryout at RVC. “I enjoy being a dad right now. I’m getting to spend a lot more time with my daughter than I used to with the old schedule. It’s been a blessing the last six months.”
His daughter, Allison, is a 12-year-old with acting ambition, and both would like to do a show together some day.
Stevens and his wife, Kathy (Lady of the Lake and Guinevere), met at Starlight doing Camelot in 1988. Spamalot runs July 30-Aug. 3.
The Sound of Music (July 9-13) returns with a powerful cast of singers that includes Rose Tures as Maria in a stellar performance. She debuted last year in Starlight Express and appeared in two winter shows. Tures works in the real world as a nurse in the Rockford Public School system.
The blending of the von Trapp children’s voices is remarkable. Steve Wolfgram is the musical director for this timely show, which has had a resurgence of late.
Honk! (July 23-27) is a delightful tale of the Ugly Duckling and a charming blend of adult and youthful voices, colorful sets and creative costuming. The performances of Ugly, Cat, Bullfrog and Ida bring life, humor and a special message to young and old.
There is plenty of adult humor mixed in that won’t offend, and the show is a must for kids. Jaylen Marks takes his otherwise smooth voice in a rasp to play the Bullfrog. Marks delivers the message that no one, not even frogs, are ugly and that “Out There Somewhere, Someones (sic) Gonna Love Ya, Warts and All.” He also excels in Spamalot, where he sings and also cartwheels across stage in a scene that calls for a frog. His stage presence at age 20 is profound.
Ian Garthwaite, the Cat who is out to bring a culinary demise to Ugly, has a deep, engaging voice that resonates throughout the theater. Garthwaite is an RVC student who also turns in a solid performance in Spamalot. Maggie Priola, who assumes the role of Ida, is superb. Despite her youth, Priola is a believable mother duck with a strong, far-reaching voice. Ugly is Nelson O. Gutierrez, also an RVC student, who is endearing and combines with Priola to form a solid duo. All four of these young talents will be part of even larger theater endeavors in the future.
The staff of Musical Director Jodi Beach, Choreographer Hannah Zammuto, Costume Designer Renee Baker, Scenic Designer Andrea Bechert join Executive Producer Greg Wear and Producer/Director Webb to deliver their message with feeling.
Tintypes (July 16-20) is a period piece born out of the cultural, political and industrial landscape of the early 20th century leading up to World War I. The songs of the day, from the classics to ragtime, are featured from an ensemble of five equally matched talents who assume a swarm of characters that include Charlie Chaplin and Teddy Roosevelt. Music from a bygone era includes Cohan, Sousa, Herbert and Joplin. A cursory knowledge of the days of the dawn of the automobile would be helpful. The music arranger for this flashback is Jim McDowell.
The theater also debuted a new, digitized sound system that is a “big improvement,” Webb says, over the previous system. For tickets, call (815) 921-2160.
From the July 2-8, 2014, issue