West Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

Past, Present Talent Explodes at West Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Celebration
Posted on 12/21/2021
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Mary Poppins performing on stage surrounded by the rest of the castThe Lakota West Theatre managed to fit 25 years of mainstage productions into two hours last Friday and Saturday night. Together, 18 current students and 12 alumni took a trip down memory lane, playing back some part of all 60-plus musicals and dramas adapted for Lakota West’s stage over the program’s 25-year history.

“I was so grateful that all of these wonderfully talented individuals came back and that they said yes and that there must have been something here that made them want to come back and relive it,” said Kim Eldridge, who started the Lakota West Theatre program 25 years ago. In true fashion, she orchestrated every aspect of the school’s first alumni cabaret, which called for just one full dress rehearsal the evening before opening night to accommodate alumni traveling in from all over the country.

Beyond her amazement at the professional growth of the alumni who returned, she shared just one more reflection about the special night. “Our current students get to actually perform with them. What a joy!” said Eldridge, who is well-known for her habit of inviting alumni and other theater professionals in to work with her students. 

There was no shortage of talent filling the 25th anniversary show’s program. Not counting current students, the participating alumni have all made theater part of their professional lives. From Broadway to other major national tours to even drama education, every single performer is a living example of the theater program’s successful history. 

Female actress on her knees with group of male actors off to side looking at herMost notably, 2006 graduate Lauren Linger (Sprague) recently added Broadway to her professional repertoire, landing a part in the ensemble of My Fair Lady at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Nine years after graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music (CCM) and having performed in national and international tours ranging from Cinderella to Wizard of Oz, Linger still attributes her success to her start on Lakota West’s stage.

“The West theater program is so special. I knew that then, but once you’re out of it, you realize it even more,” said Linger, who was center stage for five different pieces during the Lakota West show, including a rendition of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady (pictured left). “I felt so taken care of and the education I got was something that has always stuck with me. It really is a joy and an honor to be part of the legacy that is Lakota West Theatre.” 

Nostalgically, many others returned to repeat some version of the performance they’d given many years ago. Medlies were presented according to their classification as a classic, a drama, a dance show or a comedy. Kali Marsh recounted The Sound of Music and West Side Story, for example, while Taryn Kinney (Pramuk) shared the stage with Hannah Owens (Schwieterman) to play back part of Godspell. Kinney took several turns with Linger to remember such classics as 42nd Street and Anything Goes.

Four actors standing on stage, three with their backs to the audience and the other performingEthan Kuchta, Ryan Slone, Alex Williams (Roberts), Erika Denney and Nijah Dent all had their own turns to send the audience reeling back to such favorites as Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty and the Beast, Little Women, Shrek and Freaky Friday. A group of alumni also entertained the audience with a comical montage of one-liners to represent every play from 1997 on (pictured right). 

Marsh returned to her former role as Mary Poppins (pictured above), joined on stage by an ensemble of current Lakota West students. Current students filled this role four times throughout the course of the night, performing alongside professionals who once walked in their shoes.  

“Being able to work with professionals and people who continued this beyond high school is really inspiring,” reflected Lakota West senior Maggie Drake, who was especially fond of the professional choreographer Eldridge enlisted to help with the show. “I’m not a dancer at all and he made me feel like I could actually do it.” 

“It was very different from a regular show,” added senior Lainey Higdon. “It’s exciting because we’re getting a feel for what theater is like in the real world.”

Woman with black dress on standing on stage singing and a man standing behind her in a suitA major highlight of the evening was welcoming to the stage for the first time ever Eldridge and her husband, Tom Sanders, also a theater enthusiast and longtime supporter of Lakota West Theatre. Together, they performed “The Bravest Individual” from Sweet Charity and “Sue Me” from Guys and Dolls (pictured left)

Other individuals enjoyed their debut appearance in a Lakota West production, including all four principals from Lakota West’s 25-year history. Craig Ullery, who reminded the audience of his true debut among the cast of Hello, Dolly!, shared the story of Eldridge’s start at Lakota West. 

“I didn’t want just a good program or an excellent one for that matter,” Ullery said. “Anyone who knew me knew that I was obsessed with and determined to have an elite theater program.” He succeeded in recruiting Eldridge and the rest is history, he said. “Tonight is just as much a tribute to the many, many students who have passed through this program and made it the elite program that it is,” he said in closing. 

One by one, his successors - Dick Hamilton, Elgin Card and current Principal Ben Brown - took their turns center stage to recount their own memories of the program. 

And before the final curtain closed, Linger treated the audience, filled with even more Lakota West Theatre alumni, to a performance of “All That Jazz” from Chicago. The performance teases the West Theatre’s spring musical coming to Lakota West’s stage April 1-3. Visit Lakota West Theatre’s website to purchase tickets to Chicago the Musical: High School Edition.

Final curtain call on stage with a group of actors looking out at the audience