Fun at full pitch in new Crescendo Ensemble show
Rehearsing “Crescendo Park Flats” are, (from left), Karl Haack of Northlake, Mary Jo Christenson, Angie and daughter Mia Nardello, Dan Merrigan, all of Elmwood Park, Eric Whealdon of Forest Park and Steve Coppola of Chicago.
‘Crescendo Park Flats’
Crescendo Park Ensemble, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 2624 Oak St., River Grove
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 15; 7 p.m. Saturdays, March 9 and 16; and 3 p.m. Sundays, March 10 and 17
$35 for dinner/theater; $17 for ages 12 and under
Things are looking bleak for the tenants of “Crescendo Park Flats.” Mayor Weekly is determined to demolish their Chicago apartment building to make way for a shopping mall. But they won’t give up without a fight in Crescendo Park Ensemble’s 12th annual dinner show.
Don Bernacchi of Elmwood Park is the playwright and director. “I wrote the script and then we selected music that fits the story,” Bernacchi said. “Sometimes we change the words of the song so it fits.”
The numbers in the show include “Old Black Magic,” “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” and “Bring Him Home,” among others.
There are a dozen cast members and a five-piece band.
Forest Park resident Eric Whealdon, who works as a cabdriver, is the producer, assistant director and choreographer of the show, and also plays a couple of parts. At press time, Whealdon hadn’t learned what role he was playing in the first part of the show. “But in the second half, I’m reprising a role I’ve done twice, playing Guido Cannoli, one of the Cannoli Brothers,” he said. “He’s going to save the apartment building from the corrupt mayor.”
Whealdon solos on “I Had a Dream” and also sings “A Heart Full of Love” and “The Boys are Back in Town.”
This is the tenth Crescendo Park Ensemble show for Mary Jo Christenson of Elmwood Park. “I enjoy the family atmosphere,” she declared. “We’re all really close and we have a great time together.”
She also relishes the educational aspects of participation. “The longer I’m in it, the more I learn,” Christenson said, “because there are a lot of really talented people in this show.”
When she isn’t entertaining people, Christenson serves as the medical records manager at a long-term care pharmacy where she has worked for 20 years.
Christenson has two roles in the show — a building tenant named Keelee, and Mayor Weekly’s secretary, Gertrude Higgenbottom. Keelee only has a few scenes as one of the people protesting the proposed destruction of the building. Gertrude is going to be “some kind of frumpy, klutzy, kind of silly secretary. It will be funny,” the actor said.
When we spoke, Christenson hadn’t seen the script yet. “We’ll have to memorize real fast,” she laughingly noted.
Christenson did know which songs are in the show and she is pleased with the selection. “The songs are all really fun. A lot of them are older songs,” she said.
Whealdon enjoys being part of this annual production because, “I like the fact that a bunch of people from different walks of life come together and showcase their talent,” he said. “It’s an escape for the audience as well. They get a really good meal and they get to see an original hour-and-a-half show.”
Bernacchi, who has his hand in every aspect of the production, is responsible for making that pre-performance dinner memorable. “I used to have two Italian restaurants so the meal is what I am familiar with,” Bernacchi reported. “We bring a chef in — a friend of mine who lives in Arizona. I make the sauces and he does everything else.”
The meal includes pasta fagioli soup and salad which are served, followed by a family-style meal of pasta, chicken, roast pork or roast beef, vegetables, wine, soft drinks, coffee and dessert.
“We get them happy,” Bernacchi said. “Then they come to the show.”