By Bob Balgemann


ROCKFORD – Starlight Theater at Rock Valley College is known for its high-quality stage performances, dating to 1967 with its first show, Finian’s Rainbow.

Only one play was produced each year until 1971, when there were two. The number increased to three in 1976 and now, there are four.

The 2015 season, which opened in June, consisted of Mary Poppins, The Last Five Years, Memphis and Young Frankenstein.

Mary Poppins recently concluded its performances. The Last Five Years is on stage now through Sunday, with Memphis on deck from Wednesday through July 26. The season ends with Young Frankenstein from July 29 through Aug. 2.

And then Michael P. Webb, Ph.D, who’s in his 31st year of directing plays at RVC, plans to take it easy for a while.

He took time from his busy summer schedule to enlighten members of the Harlemites on the Starlight Theater during their monthly breakfast July 6 at VFW Post 9759 in Loves Park.

It operates with a zero-based budget, he explained, and spends what it takes in at the box office. Community theater is not inexpensive, with Mary Poppins being an example.

The license fee to be able to perform the show was $37,000 and, in all, with “all the flying,” the show cost more than $100,000 to produce.

Having directed 104 of the 144 plays performed in the Starlight Theater, he said pretty much as seen it all.

He remembered days when parts of the set would blow over, with radio announcements being made that help was needed putting the set up again.

What about 2016?

“Next year will be our 50th year,” he said. “People ask what I’m going to do for the 50th and I really don’t know. I’m going to New York and will figure it out.

This is one of the theater’s best seasons, with ticket sales hovering around the $400,000 mark. “We’ll just about break even,” he said. “The plan is to put some money in the bank and get some things fixed.”

The goal always is to do the very best they can to put on the very best productions.

It takes a lot of people to put on a play. There are the actors, of course, along with the stage crew. Beyond that are those in the costume department, two who are paid and 16 volunteers. “Sewing goes on all summer long,” Webb said.

Members of the orchestra and concessions crew also are volunteers.

Mary Poppins has a cast of 48, which he said “is big for us.” Contrast that with just two in The Last Five Years. “Competition for those roles was pretty tough,” he said of the latter production. “It’s almost all music.”

Young Frankenstein, the movie, is 30 years old this year. Webb remembered how Gene Wilder went to Mel Brooks and said he had an idea for a motion picture.

When Brooks asked what it was, Wilder replied that it was a story about Frankenstein’s grandson. Brooks’ response was, “And …,” to which Wilder said, “That’s all I’ve got.”

The Starlight Theater is in a relatively new building, constructed in 2003 after taking four years to go. The Sjostrom family provided a huge boost for the cost, with a $2 million donation. “That was a wonderful gift,” Webb said.

For ticket information call (815) 921-2160.Harlemites

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