Whether it’s national comics on the rise or local performers displaying their acting, singing or dancing talent, McHenry County has a wide array of live theater entertainment to suit any taste and budget.
Fall and winter are a great time to enjoy a night out at the theater. Whether your plans are a special date night or introducing your kids to the magic of live performance, check out one of McHenry County’s great local venues.
Raue Center for the Arts Now in its 12th year, downtown Crystal Lake’s Raue Center for the Arts offers an eclectic mix of national, regional and local performing arts, live music, comedy, children’s shows, lectures, films and more.
The 750-seat theater opened in 1929 as the El Tovar movie theater. Later known as the Lake and then the Showplace, it closed in the 1990s until a gift by lifelong Crystal Lake resident Lucille Raue allowed the Crystal Lake Civic Center Authority to purchase and renovate the theater.
The restored interior still features many original details such as the façade of a Spanish village in the auditorium.
Executive Director Richard Kuranda says that during the past four years, the Raue has focused on ways to broaden its audience, adding an array of lower-cost, cabaret-style shows to its season of nationally known performers.
“The $20 ticket price point has been welcomed by the community, especially by a younger audience that wants to come out but can’t afford some of the higher-priced tickets,” Kuranda says.
One of the most popular offers is Lucy’s Café comedy night.
“We’ve worked closely with Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago to book some of the acts coming into the area,” Kuranda says. “These are people you might see at Zanies on Saturday nights, but we have them on Friday night.”
Other cabaret shows include Lucy’s Music Café and Nashville Backstage.
The Williams Street Repertory Company is the Raue’s resident company made up of professional actors from the area and from Chicago.
“Most have some professional credits, but occasionally we have people who are new to professional theater,” says T. Paul Lowry, producing director for the Raue Center and the Williams Street Repertory Company.
For the holiday season, the company will present “It’s a Wonderful Life” radio drama. Set in the late 1940s, the drama includes a play-within-a-play, as a cast of radio actors attempt to broadcast the Christmas classic.
“It’s Christmas Eve, and everything that can happen does, as the cast tries to pull everything together,” Lowry says.
The Raue also will present “The Nutcracker Ballet” in conjunction with the Berkshire Ballet Theater of Crystal Lake. Now in its sixth year, the ballet is an annual favorite featuring local dancers and professionals.
“Every town needs a holiday tradition, and the community has embraced it,” Kuranda says. “It’s become a benchmark of the holiday season.”
Raue Center for the Arts 26 N. Williams St. • Crystal Lake, IL 60014 815-356-9212 • www.rauecenter.org • “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play,” Nov. 23 through Dec. 14 Purchase tickets at the Raue Center Box Office, by phone, online or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Raue Center website for show times, prices and other information.
Woodstock Opera House Built in the 1890s and city owned for all of its 122 years, the Woodstock Opera House has been a city hall, town library, fire department and performing arts center.
“In Victorian times, it was fashionable for cities to have a place for people to gather for events, theater and dance,” says John Scharres, managing director. “This has been maintained and owned by the city of Woodstock as a service to the public.”
The theater’s first floor public rooms are used for parties, community events and exhibits such as the annual holiday display featuring trees decorated by more than 30 community groups.
Next door, a newer building constructed 10 years ago houses the Stage Left Café, offering live music, open mic nights, storytelling, coffee house events and more.
“It was originally a glorified concession stand, but it’s now become a venue in its own right,” Scharres says.
The opera house auditorium seats 410 and preserves the look of the 1890s.
“It’s a state-of-the-art theater in an historical box,” Scharres says. “We preserved and restored what we could, but you can’t light with open flame anymore. We have digital sound and are in the process of upgrading our lighting. It’s good now, but we want it to be great.”
The opera house hosts local and national performers and is home to two local theater companies. Each December, the opera house presents the Judith Svalander Dance Theater’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
“A lot of people use it as a way to introduce young kids to classical music and the theater experience,” Scharres says. “Everyone gets dressed up and goes out for dinner afterwards. Because it’s a non-verbal show, we also have people with hearing disabilities, because the story is told with music, not words.”
Woodstock Opera House 121 E. Van Buren St. Woodstock, IL 60098 815-338-5300www.woodstockoperahouse.com
• Woodstock Musical Theater Company’s “Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Nov. 23 through Dec. 3 • Ed Hall’s “Christmas Guitar Night,” Dec. 23. Purchase tickets by phone or online. Visit the Woodstock Opera House website for show times, prices and more information.
Black Box Theatre Located on the McHenry County College campus, the Black Box Theatre is both a training ground for aspiring actors and other theater professionals and a resource for the community.
“Our goal is to educate students with [a]nice, eclectic mix of productions, everything from Greek tragedies to American classics,” says Jay Geller, chairman of theater, speech and journalism at MCC.
“We want to expose the students to different things and also to illuminate the community.”
Past productions have run the gamut, such as works by renowned playwrights Sam Shepard and Tennessee Williams, to modern Broadway hits such as “The Wedding Singer.” William Shakespeare’s comedy “The Twelfth Night” will open in November.
Cast members and crew are primarily MCC students, though many productions include people from the community, MCC faculty and alumni.
“We try to make the experience as professional as possible, whether the students will be transferring to a four-year school or going out and starting to audition professionally,” Geller says.
That approach applies to not only the cast members, but also those behind the scenes.
“We work hard on the sets, lighting and costumes,” Geller says. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to make it the best we possibly can.”
He describes the 100-seat theater as a big, empty room that can be arranged to fit the production.
“We have done theater in the round, thrust, alley — we can build it to whatever we want,” he says. “It’s a very versatile space.”
Geller says the goal for each show is to make it “the best show we’ve ever done.”
“When people come out and see our shows, we want them to say, ‘Wow! What an amazing thing we have right here in the community.’”
Black Box Theatre 8900 U.S. Highway 14 • Crystal Lake, IL 60012 815-455-3700 • www.mchenry.edu
• “The Twelfth Night,” Nov. 1 through 17 Purchase tickets by phone at 815-455-8746 or email email@example.com. Visit the MCC website for show times, prices and more information.
Cosman Cultural Center Theater One of the area’s newer theaters, the Cosman Cultural Center Theater, located inside the Huntley Recreation Center, seats up to 300 and has full lighting and sound to support a variety of productions, including live music, dance and musical theater.
“It’s a very versatile space that’s used by various park district programs, local dance companies, Christian Youth Theater and other groups,” says David Genty, recreation supervisor for the Huntley Park District. “We get a lot of calls for it.”
The Cosman’s resident company, GreenRoom Productions of Elgin, is a semi-professional ensemble company performing musicals, sketch comedy and improv.
Founded in 1999 by a group of Judson University students, GreenRoom productions are “100 percent clean, 99.27 percent hilarious,” according to its website, www.greenroomtheater.com.
“They do full-blown sets and are just a tremendous ensemble,” Genty says.
The GreenRoom’s improv show, presented the second Saturday of the month, includes sketches created from audience suggestions and stories.
“These are family-friendly shows, and the productions are fun and entertaining,” Genty says. “If you’re looking for something to do, come see one of our shows. You’re guaranteed to laugh, it’s affordable, right in town and you’re keeping it local.”
Improv tickets are available at the door only.
Cosman Cultural Center Theater 12015 Mill Street • Huntley, IL 60142 847-639-3180 • www.huntleyparks.org
• Green Room Productions’ “A Christmas Carol,” Dec. 8 through 16 Purchase tickets through the GreenRoom Box Office at 847-931-4233 or online. Visit the GreenRoom website for show times, prices and more information.
Other Local Theaters And Companies
TheaterUndreground Memorial Hall Civic Theatre 10308 Main St., Richmond, IL 815-575-9884www.theatreundreground.com
This nonprofit theater brings new and seldom-seen theater to McHenry County. TheaterUndreground is dedicated to nurturing local writers, directors, actors and musicians.
Spotlight Youth Theater 755 Industrial Drive, Cary, IL 60013 847-516-2298www.spotlight.org
Formerly known as Christian Youth Theater, Spotlight is an afterschool theater arts program for students ages 8 to 18 that produces musical theater shows throughout the Chicago area.