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Theatre in the Woods Celebrates Valentine's Day with "It's a Grand Night for Singing"

January/February 2013

By Donna Lubow, Producer - Theatre in the Woods

Since 1999, when Sandy Sagan and Donna Lubow joined forces to bring theatre to Riverwoods, Theatre in the Woods has presented 16 main-stage productions: Our Town, Picnic, Morning's at Seven, and Neil Simon's Rumors to mention just a few. In addition, several children's shows have been produced and some have been repeated: King Midas and the Golden Touch, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Jungle Book are a few. The Theatre Company's initial performances were outdoors next to the Riverwoods Village Hall, often with raccoons watching from the trees. When the mosquitoes and the police station moved in, the theatre moved on - to a sweltering indoor horse arena at Ryerson Conservation Area. The next location was indoors at Zion Lutheran Church, and most recently at an air-conditioned Estonian House.

Dealing with the elements and finding a space to perform were not the only problems that Theatre in the Woods faced over the years. Finding a volunteer staff to handle behind-the-scenes work was also a challenge. Since the leaders of the group were all women - Kathie Keefe Howski, Donna Lubow and Sandy Sagan of Riverwoods, and Jeri Solomon, originally a Riverwoods resident, now in Northbrook, the group needed some manpower for the heavy-duty jobs. So they began hiring professionals to construct sets, hang, design and run the lights and sound. On the group's wish list is to add even more volunteers to assist with backstage jobs.

Oftentimes, the core group lent furniture and props from their own homes to decorate the set. The group scrounges for set decorations at local thrift shops and often asks to borrow items from friends and family. Actors also pitch in to contribute their share of set props.

Originally, the group had hoped to cast actors primarily from Riverwoods, but found that, in order to compete with other area theatres and to present higher caliber shows, they would need to expand their search for talent. Actors as far away as Chicago and Kenosha, Wisconsin, have been in shows alongside local actors. Many of the actors that performed in Theatre in the Woods' productions have jumped into the professional theatre world.

Theatre in the Woods has goals for the future: A performing space they can call their own, more volunteers to assist the professional staff, and an expansion of their season. The group originally performed one show in the summer only. For the past two years, the group has presented two shows a season, and they hope to increase that number. Audiences have been getting larger, and the theatre company may eventually decide to run each production for three weekends, rather than the usual two, to accommodate all those theatergoers.

This year, Theatre in the Woods is offering one additional performance for their upcoming musical: A Grand Night for Singing. This will be a special performance held on Valentine's Day evening, and will include champagne and other refreshments. Theatre in the Woods presents "It's a Grand Night for Singing," directed by Stephen Burke of Glenview. Featuring songs from all 11 of their musicals, this Tony-nominated (for Best Musical) exhilarating revue takes the best known and lesser featured songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, 38 of them to be exact, and shows how truly timeless and universal their music can be. Standards from Carousel to Cinderella are presented with exciting new arrangements. Imagine "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" (from South Pacific) sung a la the Andrew Sisters, or "Kansas City" (from Oklahoma!) in the style of Manhattan Transfer and you have just a taste of the musical surprises that await you!

Backed by five musicians, the show features seven performers: Deerfield residents Diane Adamski, Geoff Adamski and Julie Schneider; Kelly Anne Arce of Chicago; Janet Reed of Highland Park; Kirk Swenk of Wilmette and Randy Toelke of Glenview. Producers are Donna Lubow and Kathie Howski of Riverwoods and Jeri Solomon of Northbrook. Cabaret tables or general seating is available at Estonian House, 14700 Estonian Lane, in Riverwoods. Performance dates and times are Fridays and Saturdays, February 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 8:00pm and Sundays, February 10 and 17 at 3:00pm. Tickets are $18 (48 hours in advance) or $20 at the door. A special Valentine's Day performance is scheduled for 7:30pm on Thursday, February 14, with a ticket price of $25.00 (refreshments will be served).

Tickets are available by phone: 847-604-1990), email ( or on the

Stephen Burke (Director) - Steve played piano for his first church musical at an age when he had to sit on a phone book to be tall enough to read the music. His love for musical theater has involved him in over 100 productions from the North Shore to the Southwestern suburbs. He has worn the hat of stage and musical director, set and lighting designer, set builder, production manager and just about anything else that needed doing!

Cast members, in alphabetical order include:

Geoff Adamski - After graduating from Ohio State University in June with a Bachelor's Degree in mathematics, Geoff is currently a graduate student at National Louis University working towards earning his M.A.T. in secondary education and hopes to become a high school math teacher. Some of his favorite roles include Jack in Into the Woods, Bill Kelly in Steel Pier, Hank in Hello, Dolly, Reverend Hale in The Crucible, and Ed in You Can't Take it With You.

Diane Adamski has appeared in many North Shore community theater productions over the years. Favorite musicals and roles include Chess in Florence Vassy, Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music; Babe Williams in The Pajama Game; Sonia in They're Playing Our Song; Mary Kenny in Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up; The Baker's Wife in Into the Woods and Elsa Schrader in The Sound of Music. Diane is a registered nurse by profession and lives in Deerfield. Her proudest achievements are her children Kaitlin and Geoffrey.

Kelly Burke Arce is excited to return to the stage after a nine-month break preparing for the most heartwarming role of her! Other favorite roles include Cinderella in Cinderella, Kim in Bye Bye Birdie, and learning to fly as Wendy in Peter Pan. Besides playing mom, Kelly is a professional photographer.

Janet Reed - As a fan of great lyrics - and of any show with good roles for women over 40 (!) - Janet treasures this "Grand Night for Singing." In addition to singing in countless other musical reviews, she has played everything from an aging dancer to a neurotic neatnik, a child with a queen complex, and both a mother and her son (though not at the same time). She also sings with the Chicago Mastersingers, plays handbells, and performs her one-woman themed musical shows for Chicago area civic and senior groups. Back when she had time, she worked as a lawyer.

Julie Schneider has been involved in musical theater for 11 years and performed in productions of the Deerfield Family Theater, Highland Park Players, and the Glenview Theatre Guild. Her favorite roles include Ida in HONK, Aunt Eller in Oklahoma, Eulalie in Music Man, Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan, Mrs. Gloop & Ms. Teavee in Willy Wonka, and Mrs. Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady. Julie sings in the proud alto section with the Holy Cross Catholic Church choir in Deerfield.

Kirk Swenk has had the opportunity and privilege for many a year of being in a number of productions as performer, director, techie and more. He has been seen as Hoop-La Barker in State Fair, Harold Hill in The Music Man, Amos in Chicago, Joe Boyd in Damn Yankees and more. He was seen recently in Cole for Shoestring Productions and is an ensemble member at Circle Theatre. Kirk is also a full-time husband and father and is a senior writer at The Bradford Group.

Randy M. Toelke is a graduate of Taft High School, Illinois Wesleyan University & Northwestern University. Randy has been on the stage since he was eight years old and has worked for Carnival Cruise Lines, NCL Cruise Lines, North Shore Music Theater, Central Station Dinner Theater, Starlight Theater, Little Theater on the Square, Clock Tower Dinner Theater, The Entertainers and most recently Shoestring Productions. He is part of The Savoy Trio, singing for private parties, retirement communities and an occasional club.

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