The Show Goes on at Woodstock Opera House

The 132-year old Woodstock Opera House returns this fall with a star-studded lineup that includes live theater, intriguing lectures and traveling musicians.

The Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock once housed City Hall, the fire department, the police department and the library. Today, it serves as an entertainment epicenter and an outlet for local and regional performers. (Woodstock Opera House photos)

Looking for enticing entertainment this fall? Look no further than the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., in the historic Woodstock Square.

One of the oldest continuing operating theaters in the Midwest, the Opera House has been entertaining audiences since its grand opening back in 1890. Its latest season brings back a variety of activities to its main stage including plays, musicals, dance, concerts, guest speakers, films and more.

The magic begins this fall with the opening of “Cinderella,” the Rodgers & Hammerstein masterpiece performed by the Opera House’s resident theater company, Theatre 121. This family-friendly classic runs through Oct. 16.

“Cinderella is going to be a fantastic opener for our season,” says Daniel Campbell, managing director of the Woodstock Opera House. “It’s a timeless, family-friendly adaptation for the stage that showcases the broad talent of our community members.”

For more than 40 years, this group and its predecessors – Woodstock Musical Theater Company and TownSquare Players – have been delighting audiences with a range of performances. Their latest season brings beloved Broadway musicals like “Seussical the Musical” and “Rent” as well as thought-provoking works like an original adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” and a classic whodunit mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express.” Audiences can purchase individual tickets or a season ticket package that provides access to all five shows.

Just in time for the Halloween season, the Opera House reprises its annual showing of the cult film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Oct. 29.

Live musicians appear throughout the season, starting with 2008 “American Idol” winner David Cook on Oct. 28. The first “American Idol” winner to visit the Opera House, Cook brings his distinctive rock sound and tales of appearing on television, international tours and Broadway.

Frank Sinatra is the subject of a pair of tribute shows on Nov. 5, as Dave Halston presents “The Sinatra Experience.” His authentic reproduction of Sinatra’s original musical arrangements brings to life Ol’ Blue Eyes’ classic swagger and sound.

October and November also bring the return of the Creative Living Series, produced by the Woodstock Fine Arts Association. This is one of the longest-running, non-university lecture series in the country, and it invites interesting speakers to engage with the audience on a variety of topics.
On Oct. 20, Pulitzer Prize finalist Rebecca Makkai discusses how she used in-depth research to create an authentic work of fiction. On Nov. 17, portraitist and writer Riva Lehrer discusses how she learned to embrace a disability and use it to fuel her work. These lectures, which begin at 10 a.m., also invite a New York Times best-selling author, a poet and essayist, an expert on Broadway musicals and a purveyor of handwoven rugs throughout the series.

The holiday season brings a flurry of activity to the Woodstock Opera House, starting with New Age composer and pianist Lorie Line, who brings her popular show “An Intimate Christmas with Lorie Line” on Nov. 30. “The Nutcracker Ballet,” presented by the Judith Svalander School of Ballet in Crystal Lake, hits the stage in December, right around the same time the Opera House shows the classic film “White Christmas” as a holiday sing-along. The venue’s long-running tradition of “Ed Hall’s Woodstock Christmas Guitar Night” completes the holiday season on Dec. 23.

“Our theater programs and our annual holiday programs are always a treat,” says Campbell. “Everybody loves our ‘Christmas Carol’ and our ‘Nutcracker.’ Those are just staples of our programming, and they sell out year after year.”

While live-action performance takes centerstage at the Opera House, the venue provides many ways to explore arts and culture.

The “Great Art on Screen” series continues this fall with several broadcast performances presented on a big screen. On Oct. 27, “Botticelli – Florence and The Medici” explores the Italian Renaissance master and his connections to a powerful art patron in a city bursting with new ideas.

Come November, audiences in Woodstock can follow National Theatre Live, a program that involves live performances filmed on stages in the United Kingdom and broadcast around the world. On Nov. 10 at 7 p.m., the Opera House presents “Straight Line Crazy,” a new play that tells the story of Robert Moses, a powerful New York leader and urban planner who led for four decades with both charm and intimidation.

The Opera House’s Community Room Art Gallery, down on the ground floor, serves as a platform for local and regional artists to display their talents. About 10 exhibits run each year, and works on display are available for purchase.

“Our mission is rooted deeply in serving the community and the public,” Campbell says. “We are always trying to find ways where we can create public access here, not only for the patrons who come and see programs but for the artists, actors and other people of talent who want to present their abilities to the public.”

October’s featured artist is Chuck Jones, an art teacher at Creekside Middle School in Woodstock whose work consists of autobiographical collages of animals made from torn tissue paper. In November, the gallery is filled with around 25 to 30 Christmas trees decorated by local groups including businesses, religious organizations and Opera House resident companies. The trees are free to view from Nov. 25 through Jan. 1.

On a smaller scale, the Opera House’s Stage Left Cafe seats 75 people in an intimate venue located next door to the historic theater. This is an opportune location for local artists, particularly musicians. Twice-monthly open mic nights continue this fall at the cafe, as do regular presentations of live jazz. On the first Saturday of each month, local up-and-coming comics come out from Chicago for a night of stand-up comedy. Trivia night is held every Thursday in partnership with PUB Trivia USA.

“It’s a pretty happening place,” says Campbell. “We probably do in excess of 200 events there every year, so there’s something going on at least three or four days a week.”

Indeed, the Opera House has been a happening place for more than 130 years. It was built to house City Hall and other city functions, including the fire department, the police department and the library. On the second floor, the auditorium is a place for community gatherings and entertainment. The stage has honed the talents of theater greats like Orson Welles and Paul Newman, as well as many other talented performers who’ve come to town.

Campbell’s pride and joy lie with the Opera House’s continuing mission to serve the community, to welcome visitors and to provide an outlet for local artists to express their talents.

“In a town of our size, they’re truly blessed to have a facility with this much capability,” Campbell says. “It’s been proven throughout the country that when you invest in the arts in your community, then tourism and quality of life are elevated significantly. Having that artistic outlet creates a space for your citizens to express themselves and showcase their talents and art. That’s one of those things that can’t be quantified by dollars.”