Arts & Entertainment

Live Theater Thrills Audiences at Raue Center

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You don’t have to travel far to see an amazing live theater performance. Learn about a group of actors who put on memorable stage productions right in the heart of Crystal Lake.

As McHenry County’s only professional theater company, Williams Street Repertory attracts national talent when staging productions from classic musicals to regional premiers and lesser-known plays like “Sylvia,” an off-Broadway show it performed earlier this year (pictured above).

Those who enjoy live theater don’t have to travel to Chicago to see an amazing show.

That’s because Williams Street Repertory (WSRep) delivers unique performances right in the heart of Crystal Lake. From Chicago-area world premieres to holiday classics, this group offers musicals, plays and additional programs that expose audiences of all ages to some riveting theater. It all happens at Raue Center for The Arts, 26 N. Williams St., in downtown Crystal Lake.

“We have a wonderful theater right in the heart of the community that people can be proud of,” says Miriam Naponelli, marketing director. “It’s a neat company and they’re doing so many amazing things.”

WSRep began in 2011 when Richard Kuranda, Raue Center’s executive director and WSRep’s Founding Artistic Director, heard the community’s requests for more thought-provoking, emotional programming at Raue Center.

Kuranda, who’s been in theater since he was 12, met those requests by bringing live theater to McHenry County.

“As WSRep enters its eighth season, the company continues to grow,” Naponelli says. “More people are taking a chance on theater and WSRep is gaining momentum with every production, which is really exciting.”

It’s gaining plenty of regional notice, too. Its production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” netted WSRep four BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards in 2014: Best Direction, Best Musical Direction, Best Lighting Design and Best Scenic Design.

Then, Shannon McHugh Mayhall received the 2017 BroadwayWorld Chicago Best Actress Award for her role as Linda Loman in WSRep’s production of “Death of a Salesman,” the classic play by Arthur Miller.

Adding to its credits, WSRep is a member of the Actor’s Equity Association, the labor union that represents more than 51,000 actors and stage managers in the country, making WSRep the only professional theater company in McHenry County.

Because of its professional status, WSRep attracts high-caliber actors from both near and far. In its most recent production, “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” a musical tribute dramatizing the musician’s life and career, the lead role was played by an actor from New York.

General auditions are held every season, and those who try out come from all backgrounds and skill sets.

Late this September, when WSRep opens the suspenseful, romantic drama “Bomber’s Moon,” by Deborah Yarchun, it’ll introduce an entirely new and unfamiliar cast.

“‘Bomber’s Moon’ features Maeghan Looney and David Moreland, who are both brand new to WSRep, and we’re excited that they’re here,” Naponelli says. “It’s neat to see all of the hard work we’ve put into building our brand and broadening our base finally pay off, as we have new talent auditioning with each show.”

The size of each cast varies with each production. While “Bomber’s Moon” has just two characters onstage, last year’s production of “Guys and Dolls” brought a cast of 21.

Naponelli has joined several WSRep casts over the past eight years, including “Company,” a 1970s musical comedy based on the book by George Furth, and “Sylvia,” an off-Broadway production by A.R. Gurney.

“One of the many benefits of working for Raue Center is being able to pursue my passion,” she says. “As an artist, I feel lucky to have a company like WSRep in my backyard.”

When it’s not working on mainstage productions, WSRep is finding other ways to engage audiences with theater. On select Mondays throughout the year, WSRep’s LAB Series allows playwrights to showcase new scripts, so audiences can experience a play in its early stages. Playwrights both local and national have had their works showcased during LAB Series.

Such readings can even blossom into a full-fledged show, as happened with “Bomber’s Moon.”

“‘Bomber’s Moon’ was selected to be a part of the 2016-17 LAB Series season,” Naponelli says. “It’s wonderful to see it being brought to life in a new way as a world premiere.”

On select Thursdays during the year, WSRep’s Comedy Troupe performs a combination of improv shows that are spontaneous and sketch shows that are written, scripted and rehearsed.

When WSRep isn’t busy on Raue Center’s stage, the venue welcomes a broad lineup of musical and comedic talents.

Jane Lynch, known for her role on television’s “Glee,” stops by Raue Center on Nov. 29 in her “A Swingin’ Little Christmas.” Former Bad English frontman John Waite graces the stage on Nov. 17. Puddles Pity Party, which appeared on the television show “America’s Got Talent,” mixes humor with awkward, tender moments on Nov. 30. Plenty of other events are scheduled through the holiday season and the early winter.

“We have lots of amazing shows coming to Raue Center this season,” Naponelli says. “We hope that you’ll come and enjoy a great night out.”

A Selection of Upcoming Williams Street Repertory Shows

Bomber’s Moon
Sept. 28-Oct. 21, Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. During four nights in an air raid shelter during the London Blitz in 1940, an American socialite and a working-class East Ender find themselves connected in ways they never imagined.

Emma!
March 29-April 20, Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Inspired by Jane Austen’s classic novel, this musical features songs from legendary girl groups and iconic singers from The Supremes to Katy Perry.

The Elephant Man
May 3-May 19, Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Horribly deformed by rare skin and bone diseases, a young man becomes the star attraction in traveling sideshows during the 19th century.

All Shook Up
June 28-Aug. 4, Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. It’s a square little town until a motorcycle-riding, guitar-playing, hip-swiveling hunk rides in and has everyone jumping out of their blue suede shoes. This musical gets audiences rocking along to songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

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