By Liz Newman
There is an invigorated energy surrounding the Starlight stage as they embark on their 51st season. New at the helm, Christopher D. Brady spoke of “community” and “collaboration” during his first curtain speech introducing Starlight Theatre at Rock Valley College’s preview performance of Beauty and The Beast, the opening show of the season.
There is an undeniable sense of pride behind every performer, employee, and volunteer. In anticipation of the curtain rising, countless familiar and smiling faces filled the theater embracing and laughing, a scene out of a beloved family reunion. Bea Lincoln, a former music teacher, and long time Starlight volunteer, reflects on Starlight as a family: “Theater people are a rare breed. You go to a show as a volunteer one time, and the people that you meet, are the people that become your best friends, your soul mates, your own family members, people in your community that, unless you did this, you may never have crossed paths with.“
What is most exciting is the influx of returning Starlight veterans, some, finding their way back after being absent many years. Phil Cooper, a founding member of Children’s Theater Workshop, is re-debuting his starlight career as Maurice in Beauty and the Beast after a 17-year absence from the stage. Angelo O’Dierno is also reprising his role as Lighting Designer after being gone over a decade.
When asked what makes Starlight special, Don Stein, former Starlight employee turned volunteer, answered, “Collaboration. I love this theatre, the people who make it happen, and the cast I have the distinct honor of working with because we’re doing just that – working WITH each other. And we’re making something beautiful.”
Stein attended his first show in 2011 and met his wife, Emily, on stage that summer. “It was clear to me even then that the place was a big family. Everyone knew everyone else. It was like walking into someone else’s family reunion.” Stein can be seen in this season’s fourth production, Godspell.
“This theater really is run by the community” Brady’s’ wife, Erin, says of the theater. “We met and spent our youth out here, so many amazing memories.”
Erin made her starlight debut in 1993, at ten years old in the cast of Rags. Their youngest daughter, Imogen, is making her Starlight debut this summer in Beauty and the Beast.
Brady himself says he is “humbled beyond measure to have the honor of shaping our community through the beauty of theatre in this marvelous venue.” He adds that these casts are “extraordinarily talented, the crew exhaustively committed, the volunteers ridiculously giving, and the creative production staff wonderfully explorative.”
Starlight at its core has become brighter, and the web of talent, community, and family, has never been stronger.
The first of 4 productions, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, runs June 7-10, and July 5-9. The story of a young girl who finds herself a prisoner in an enchanted castle. Her captor, a young prince under a horrible spell that has transformed him into a hideous beast. He must learn to love and be loved, or be doomed to remain a beast forever.
Second up is the Tony winning, Peter and the Starcatcher. Running June 14-17 and July 12-16, this magical adventure is frequently described as a prequel of Peter Pan. A young orphan and his mates are shipped off to a distant island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They know nothing of the mysterious trunk in the captain’s cabin, which contains a precious, otherworldly cargo. At sea, the boys are discovered by a precocious young girl named Molly, a Starcatcher-in-training who realizes that the trunk’s precious cargo is starstuff, a celestial substance so powerful that it must never fall into the wrong hands. When the ship is taken over by pirates – led by the fearsome Black Stache, a villain determined to claim the trunk and its treasure for his own – the journey quickly becomes a thrilling adventure.”
The third force of nature to take the Starlight stage, is the musical comedy based on the 1992 film, Sister Act, which runs June 21-24 and July 19-23. When disco diva, Deloris Van Cartier, witnesses a murder, she is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be a found: a convent! Disguised as a nun, she finds herself at odds with both the rigid lifestyle and uptight Mother Superior. Using her unique disco moves and singing talent to inspire the choir, Deloris breathes new life into the church and community but, in doing so, blows her cover. Soon, the gang is giving chase, only to find them up against Deloris and the power of her newly found sisterhood.
The fourth and final show of the 51st season, Godspell, runs June 28-July 1 and July 26-30. A small group of people help Jesus Christ tell different parables by using a wide variety of games, storytelling techniques and hefty doses of comic timing. An eclectic blend of songs, ranging in style from pop to vaudeville, is employed as the story of Jesus’ life dances across the stage. Dissolving hauntingly into the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, Jesus’ messages of kindness, tolerance and love come vibrantly to life.
Theater is truly a collaborative art, and this is no exception, and audiences and volunteers are still needed to make this season a success. Starlight needs seamstresses, painters, ushers, popcorn pushers, running crew, and more.
To volunteer or for tickets, contact the RVC box office at 815-921-2160 or visit rockvalleycollege.edu/community/theatre/. R.