By Doug Schroder


PECATONICA – For the first time in 20 years an all district play took place at Pecatonica High School on Friday night, April 24, when the students put on a performance of The Wizard of Oz.

It had been 20 years since just a high school play has taken place, according to Band Director Neil Shippy.

“When I was in school here, we did a production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” said Shippy.

Neil and Play Director Charles Owen spent the better part of two months preparing for the special night. Students rehearsed and built the sets. Stillman Valley High School lent a hand by loaning the sound system so the main actors all wore wireless headsets, which made it much easier to hear the performance.

Kevin Stites flew in from New York to attend Friday’s performance. His cousin, retired Pec teacher Marsha Seaton, accompanied him.

Kevin, the son of Pecatonica residents Art and Anne Stites, is a 1974 graduate of Pecatonica High school who has gone on to become quite successful as a musician and conductor of many Broadway musicals and other productions. Here is his current bio for the upcoming production of OKLAHOMA! At the Muny in St. Louis: Broadway revival of ON THE 20th CENTURY starring Kristin Chenoweth, the 2014 CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR at Radio City Music Hall, and the Reunion Concert of TITANIC at Avery Fisher Hall.  He Conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl and the world premiere of Maury Yeston’s DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY.  Other Broadway credits:  SOUTH PACIFIC (LCT), TALE OF TWO CITIES, THE COLOR PURPLE, TITANIC, SUNSET BOULEVARD, CHILDREN AND ART, LES MISERABLES, THREE PENNY OPERA, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, NINE, OKLAHOMA!, ON THE TOWN, 9 to 5 (additional Music Arrangements).  Film/Television: 2 PBS Specials with IL VOLO, ROSIE, LIVE!, REEFER MADNESS, LETTERMAN, ROSIE, several TONY broadcasts.  He is Music Director/Pianist for Deborah Voigt’s VOIGT LESSONS.

That’s pretty impressive, but it’s the short bio. His career bio is much longer.

In a phone interview on Sunday, April 26, Kevin gave details of what it has been like for him in reaching the lofty places he has in his career. It all started when he was a youngster growing up in Pecatonica. His parents started him on the piano.

“My parents have always been very supportive of me. I’m thankful for their inspiration,” Kevin said.

His Grandma (Mildred Goodwill) started giving him informal lessons. Then he continued in school with music classes.

“If I didn’t go to Pec schools, I wouldn’t be where I am. The teachers were very good and I was taught a good work ethic and to work hard. I wasn’t good at sports, but I found a niche because of those teachers,” said Kevin.

In high school Kevin would head to the public library in Rockford and rent albums from musicals and listen to them to gain more knowledge.

After graduating from high school Kevin attended the University of Illinois. He was one course away from getting his Masters degree when he got his first big break. A college friend, Mary Eliza Mastrantonio (yes, the same person who was in Scarface, Robin Hood, Color of Money, among other films) let Kevin know of a musician position open at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre.  Kevin went and auditioned.  After Kevin was done, he and the producer sat down for a drink and talked over things. Two weeks later Kevin had a Music Director job. He wasn’t sure whether to take the position at first, since it would interfere with his one remaining course. His Piano Professor told Kevin he should go for it. Kevin ended up getting his Master’s degree at a later time through a correspondence course.

Kevin has worked with some big celebrities through his work.

“I have had some great experiences working with Antonio Banderas, helping him prepare for the Revival of NINE. I was flown out to Antonio’s home in Aspen, CO. to teach him the score for the show,” recalled Kevin.

Before leaving for Aspen, Antono asked if Kevin wanted to bring anyone. Kevin’s son, Ryan, was in college at the time and Kevin thought that would be a neat experience for Ryan. Antonio didn’t provide any rooms for the two to stay at while there, instead he provided a separate house for each of them to use.

Even though Kevin has made it to the big time, he hasn’t forgot where his roots are. Before the interview ended, Kevin left some parting knowledge for the Pec students.

“Even though Pec is a small town, you can have great things if you work hard,” said Kevin.

Kevin Stites is a perfect example of where hard work can get you.

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