Student musicals light up local stages

In her role as Adelaide, 16-year-old Anna Choquette (center) of Crystal Lake leads the musical number "Take Back Your Mink" during dress rehearsal on Monday in Woodstock for Marion Central Catholic High School's production of the musical "Guys and Dolls."
In her role as Adelaide, 16-year-old Anna Choquette (center) of Crystal Lake leads the musical number "Take Back Your Mink" during dress rehearsal on Monday in Woodstock for Marion Central Catholic High School's production of the musical "Guys and Dolls."
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It’s been months of after-school rehearsals, Saturdays spent sewing costumes, building props, dancing, singing.

Running it all again. And again.

As the lyrics of “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” from “Guys and Dolls” echo through the auditorium doors at Marian Central Catholic High School, Christi DeWispelaere gets a bit emotional.

She’s helped direct or directed theater productions at the school since 1996. It never gets routine.

“It just makes me so happy,” she said, her ear propped against the doors, her hand waving in front of her face as she fought back tears.

“They sound so awesome,” she said. “They just get to me.”

Marian’s production of “Guys and Dolls” opens Feb. 21. It’s one of numerous winter and spring musical productions opening this weekend and in the weeks ahead throughout McHenry County.

Shows range from classics, such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” opening Feb. 20 at Huntley High School, to satires, such as “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” opening Feb. 21 at Crystal Lake South High School.

Also opening Feb. 21, Johnsburg High School will take on some of the best-known fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm with unexpected twists as part of “Into the Woods.”

To all involved, the productions become everything.

“They’re busy, that’s for sure,” said Diane Kane, the director for “Wizard of Oz,” opening March 8 at Richmond-Burton Community High School.

Students have been rehearsing daily since they returned from Christmas break in January.

As is the scene at many high schools, parents play their own roles in the productions. At Marian, an entire hallway was filled with parents sewing costumes. Some, such as Judy Nothnagel, who rushed by with needle and thread in hand, stay involved even when their children have grown.

Nothnagel’s youngest of four graduated from Marian in 2008, and as DeWispelaere put it, “She keeps coming back.”

It can be grueling, those involved say, but it’s worth it.

When it stops being fun, then I’ll probably stop doing it,”said Kane, who’s a chemistry teacher as well as the drama director at Richmond-Burton.

In the time it takes to put the productions together, they’re all-encompassing. All involved share a bond born over backstage laughs and an attitude of, “We’re in this together.”

“I’ve never seen such beautiful people in my life,” said 18-year-old Lincoln Rzonca, a senior starring as Nathan Detroit in his fourth production at Marian. “They’re all welcoming.”

With applications in at four universities, he plans to major in acting after graduating high school.

Interest in theater varies from school to school, with some struggling to draw in boys, especially.

“We have to compete with sports, but if they really love theater, they’re going to come out,” DeWispelaere said.

At Marian, all who audition end up with a role in the production, whether it’s on stage or backstage. They might not be the most popular at school, Rzonca said, but they become their own sort of family.

“I like to think it’s cool,” Rzonca said.

He paused and smiled. “But it’s not the cool thing,” he said in a bit of a whisper.

Still, those bitten by the theater bug are infected for life, whether a star is born or not.

“I just love theater,” said 18-year-old Michelle Orr, a senior at Marian and the head of props for “Guys and Dolls.”

“It’s so much fun back here, even though it’s chaotic,” she said, before an announcement of, “OK, you guys, we’ve got a lot of stuff to move,” interrupted her.

Orr doesn’t plan to study theater in college, but said she always wants to be a part of it.

“We really feel like family, seeing it all come together after rehearsing for weeks on end,” she said.

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