Area residents have always enjoyed the local talent displayed at Morris Theatre Guild’s plays and musicals, but next month, they can look forward to a production by a mixture of area actors and thespians from Chicago, the city’s suburbs and even Memphis, Tenn., thanks to a University of Memphis graduate student who has strong ties to Morris.
Theatre Guild member and Morris Community High School teacher and drama coach Andrea Gustafson worked with former teacher Brian Fruits a few years ago at the high school, and the two formed tight bonds. They both worked with theatre students and coached the speech team, along with David Rice.
Fruits went on to do theatre work in Chicago, then decided to get his Masters of Fine Arts in theatre direction in Memphis. He kept his associations with the Chicago theatre world and with Gustafson, though, and the two collaborated this year to bring his theatre company, The Just Passing By Theatre Company, to Morris.
From June 1 to 3 and June 8 to 10, the company will present the musical “Cabaret” at Morris Theatre Guild, with Fruits directing and Gustafson producing. Fruits is bringing the best of the best from Chicago, Joliet, Oswego, Wheaton and other venues for acting parts, and has mixed them with the “superb talent” from Morris and other nearby communities to round out the cast.
The team has also assembled an eight-piece orchestra to accompany the cast’s vocals, all of whom are local musicians.
One of the leads is played by Jim Welch, a Morris resident and MTG member regular audience members will immediately recognize. Jenna Stinson, of Marseilles, also has a role, as do area actors C.J. Johnson, Joseph Leasure, Jessica Galang, Melanie Ruettiger, Pam Bunte, Kayla Haupt, Madison Rogers, Robbi Hicks, Kara Morrall and Alyssa Rogers.
“I love Morris, and I love the people here,” Fruits said. “And the actors are fantastic. They care about what they do, and they’re very talented and great at what they do.”
Fruits said he pre-cast the leads with friends he had known for a while and had the specific talents he sought for the play. The other parts, he auditioned.
“I think you’ll be very surprised at the quality,” he said. “We have all talent levels and all different experiences, and they blend together very well for this production.”
Fruits said he was thrilled to have some talented high school and college students audition for the parts, and he cast a few in the roles. He admits he didn’t catch the theatre bug himself until well into high school, growing up in Franklin Park.
“I was always in choir,” he said, “but I wasn’t really interested in theatre until my senior year. I was an athlete in high school. I played three sports, and that kept me pretty busy. ... I was always a closet Glee kid, though.”
When his choir director talked him into auditioning for the senior musical, “Godspell,” he got up the courage.