Raue’s WSRep Debuts Family-Friendly Lineup

Theater fans are taking notice as Williams Street Repertory embarks on its 10th season.

Since its start in 2010, the professional theater company based at Crystal Lake’s Raue Center for the Arts has staged a wide variety of shows, from the obscure (“Picasso at the Lapin Agile”) and the classic (“Death of a Salesman”) to the musical (“Sweeney Todd”) and the premiere (“Bomber’s Moon”).

As it racks up awards, nominations and national grants, WSRep is welcoming ever-larger audiences and a growing list of rising actors.

“I can honestly say I enjoy going to work,” says Michele Vazquez, Raue Center’s marketing manager and a regular WSRep cast member. “I like the people I work with. We are like many in the nonprofit theater game. We wear many hats.”

The hats continue to multiply in WSRep’s latest mainstage season, as it focuses on the family.

Running throughout August is the stage adaptation of Disney’s “Freaky Friday.” Inspired by the hit film, this family-friendly musical tells the story of an overworked mother and her teenage daughter who magically swap bodies and have one day to set things right.

The show is directed by Kent M. Lewis, who played Johnny Cash in last year’s record-breaking staging of “Ring of Fire.” The Equity actor will be collaborating with his daughter, C.C. Lewis.

“The insights and ideas she has brought to ‘Freaky Friday’ will engage the audience in familiar and fantastical ways,” Kent M. Lewis says. “Suffice it to say, I’m most excited about the synergy of working as director with my daughter and with the incredible team at the Raue.”

Just a few weeks later, WSRep returns with its staging of “The Addams Family, the Musical,” an original spinoff of the beloved television show and its humorously macabre cast of characters. Director Kevin Wiczer anticipates creating an authentic throwback to the original comics created by Charles Addams for “The New Yorker” in 1938.

Wiczer has directed more than 50 productions including “Shrek: The Musical.”

“The audience can expect some wonderful, hilarious moments; we’ve gathered a fantastic group of comedic geniuses,” says Wiczer. “But, you can also expect to be moved, as well. The Addams family is a group of individuals who are proud of who they are and where they come from. They are wonderfully loyal, and unapologetically honest and true to themselves, while at the same time they are welcoming to others who are different from themselves.”

WSRep cast members will be joined by several local youngsters who’ve been honing their talents with Raue Center’s Sage Studio workshops aimed at kids age 7 to 18. Wiczer has cast three youths, including one in the role of Pugsley.

When WSRep returns in the spring, it delivers a hilarious, “hot-button comedy” about modern suburban life. “Native Gardens” introduces a high-powered lawyer and his pregnant wife who move into the perfect neighborhood. A disagreement over a property line with their neighbors quickly grows out of hand in what’s been described as “‘Dick Van Dyke’ for the stage and ‘I Love Lucy’ with substance.”

“It’s a show that, I think, will feel familiar to our audiences but also challenge them,” says Vazquez. “That’s what great theater does: it makes good conversation.”

WSRep has tackled a wide variety of topics since its debut as a “page-to-stage” reading series in 2010. Founding artistic director Richard Kuranda interwove his own extensive theater experience as the group staged evermore challenging and dynamic shows, introducing new plays and regional premieres along the way. Vazquez and her husband, James, joined in 2014, bringing with them experience in New York and new play development.

“I wanted to create a new theater in the American heartland, one that was engaging, one that listened to its audience and one that had higher standards,” says Kuranda. “It was important to me to foster the type of work that my Actors Studio & Signature Theater background informed. I had just developed two great Broadway-bound shows at the O’Neill: ‘In the Heights’ and ‘{title of show},’ and every moment here has been focused on building a theater company with the same standards on stage and off, as you would find in NYC or London.”

WSRep continues to evolve, introducing a comedy troupe that produces regular improv shows and a free-to-attend Reading Series in which professional actors dramatically read a still-in-development play. The writer is usually on-hand.

“Theater is about more than just entertainment,” says Vazquez. “We want to entertain, sure, but part of our mission is also to engage. That means the experience isn’t over when you leave the theater.”

To purchase tickets, visit rauecenter.org or call the box office at (815) 356-9212. ❚