By Richard Gubbe
Rose McGregor has lofty ambitions in musical theater. And when she floats into the Stage Coach Players Theatre for her first production ever in DeKalb, she will be taking her inaugural flight out of Rockford on a trip with a revised flight plan.
As her resume has expanded, McGregor has had to alter her dream flight to a higher altitude. If her flight plan stays true, stopovers along the way will include Chicago with plenty of return flights back to Starlight Theatre in between trips to New York City.
Mary Poppins will be the first offering in the 70th season for Stage Coach Players in 2016 and McGregor wants so badly to be Mary, she’ll drive four days a week for rehearsal in the winter from Rockford. When she settles in for the March production, she will be marking another musical theater goal off her list, with her ultimate destination eastward.
“I would choose New York over anything,” McGregor says.
Her goals have changed direction in three short years. Before she started getting bigger roles, her dream was to perform in the Ozarks.
McGregor is a Rockford School District 205 certified nurse at King and Barbour elementary schools. She also takes part in special education consults and vision screenings.
“I love what I do and I love the kids, but if I had a chance to be a professional actress and be paid for it, I would do it,” McGregor said.
In the interim, she will take the role she has cherished since childhood.
“I lived it growing up,” she said of her fondness for the film. “It’s a challenging part and I love to challenge myself musically, and, she gets to fly. How cool is that?”
Stage Coach players are made up of local actors and McGregor went in and stole the role from far away.
“I had never heard of it,” she admitted about the company, hearing about auditions from a fellow actor.
The theater company had 123 tryouts for the show, McGregor said, and three were called back for the role of Mary.
“We all sang and acted in front of each other,” she said. “I just feel like I identify so much with her that I had to have it. When Mary hits the high C in the end, I was the only who could do it.”
All is fair in tryouts where heartbreak is part of life. McGregor lost out to Samantha Owen for the same role in the Starlight version last summer when Owen returned to Starlight from her career in New York to take the role.
“I’ve had it happen to me,” she said. “You have to look out for numero uno.”
Last summer, she took the challenge to play Inge in Young Frankensten. She dyed her hair blond, showed off her lofty range and intensity and danced expertly in the demanding tap tune “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” Still south of 30 years old, she had never heard of the movie or provocative musical.
“I really didn’t know it,” she said. “I listened to ‘Roll in the Hay’ and said this is not the part for me. After I got the part I said ‘what was I getting into.’”
She grew up in Rockford and took voice lessons from Denise Lundeen in middle and high school. She graduated in 2005 from Boylan and majored in nursing at Marquette University where there was no time for theater. She kept her vocal chords warm singing the “Star Spangled Banner” for sports events.
“I did it a lot,” she said. “It’s challenging.”
After a brief layover in the Milwaukee area, she was homesick and came back in 2012. Although she had taken dance lessons as a child and appeared in a few plays at Boylan, jumping into community theater with a lack of acting skills took courage. Then came barrage of roles in indoor and outdoor shows at Rock Valley College under Director Mike Webb.
“I haven’t been in any he hasn’t directed,” McGregor said. “Everything has been with Mike.”
At the quaint Studio Theatre setting, she took parts in Fiddler on the Roof, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Flea in Her Ear, A Christmas Carol and A Little Night Music.
Her first Starlight show was Starlight Express as a Hip-Hopper.
“I had to be on roller skates and that was interesting,” she said. “I never roller skated before. I’m glad I didn’t have to roller skate at my audition.”
Along came the lead in Sound of Music.
“I was shocked,” she said. “It was such a big part and I really didn’t have that kind of experience. That Mike had that much trust in me was awesome. I was shocked.
“When the first curtain went up for Sound of Music I said what have I gotten myself into.”
This indoor season, she has had major roles in Witness for the Prosecution and Sunday in the Park with George.
“Stephen Sondheim is amazing and challenging,” she says of George, which many say is Sondheim’s hardest production to undertake.
Witness is a straight play from Agatha Christie that provides a twist at the end.
“It was a part I wasn’t used to playing – a serious actor type,” she said.
Webb changed the gender from male to female for the prosecutor.
“Originally it was a male character and he made it a female character for me as opposed to how Christie wrote it as a man,” she said. The script even surprised the cast.
“The read through was fun and our jaws hit the floor when we got to the end,” she said.
She’s taking on serious roles to help her acting and make her a serious triple threat, something mandatory in New York.
“My acting could be so much better and roles like that help me work on that,” she said.
She would like to return to Starlight this summer and then she said she will be checking auditions in Chicago.
“I ideally would like to get to Chicago and see if I could survive,” she says.
If New York calls, she won’t hesitate to take “a once-in-a-lifetime shot.”
“I have spent a lot of my life doing what someone else wanted but now I want to make decisions for myself,” she said.
The move away from a country career came after three years of escalating roles.
“That seemed more realistic at the time, she said “I just never thought it was a possibility until now. How do I know if don’t try? I always had Broadway on my mind.”
Her preferred first-class flight?
“Totally Broadway,” she says.
Mary Poppins will run March 10-20. Other productions for the 2016 season at Stage Coach Theatre include Laramie Project April 28-May 8, My Fair Lady June 2-12, Devil’s Disciple July 7-17, Into The Woods August 11-21, Dixie Swim Club September 15-25, The Game’s Afoot October 20-30, and A Christmas Carol November 26-December 4. Call 815-758-1940 for tickets.