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Friday, 09 September 2016 12:13

Craig grad back from New York to star in Janesville production

Written by  Dennis Hines
"My Fair Lady" cast members rehearse a msucial number recently in preparation for the show, which opens Friday, Sept. 16, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center. "My Fair Lady" cast members rehearse a msucial number recently in preparation for the show, which opens Friday, Sept. 16, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center. Dennis Hines

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- Theatre Unlimited’s upcoming production of “My Fair Lady” will be a homecoming, of sorts, for a Janesville native.

Aly Bitter, who now lives in Astoria, New York, will return to Janesville to perform a starring role as Eliza Doolittle.

“My Fair Lady” will be performed Sept. 16 through Sept. 18 and Sept. 22 through Sept. 25 at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

Bitter said she is looking forward to performing in “My Fair Lady” and returning to her hometown.

“It feels very surreal,” Bitter wrote in an email. “The last show I did when I was in Janesville was probably about seven years ago. It’s hard to believe I have lived in New York for that long.”

Bitter traveled to Janesville in August for three days to rehearse with the cast. Since then, she has been working with the cast through Skype.

“It’s really cool, actually. I’m not sure what we would’ve done without it,” Bitter said. “There’s been a bit of a delay, musically, but other than that it’s been amazing.”

Bitter said director Craig Bergum encouraged her to audition for the part. She said she originally was asked to be involved with a production of “My Fair Lady” several years ago.

“The director, Craig Bergum, had mentioned wanting me to do the show a few years ago,” Bitter said. “Unfortunately, due to my schedule with work in New York at the time, I couldn’t do it. When the person who was cast to play Eliza had to leave the production, the Theatre Unlimited board asked me to do the show, and this time I was able to say yes.”

Dave Bitter, Aly’s father, also is involved with the production. Bitter said she is looking forward to performing with her father.

“I’ve been performing with my dad for a long time, though it’s been about 14 years since we’ve shared the stage,” she said. “My dad and I used to sing at weddings together, as well. My mom also is a part of this production, as she’s helping with costumes.”

Dave Bitter said he’s enjoying the opportunity to work with his daughter. The last time they shared the stage was during a production of “West Side Story” in 2002.

“It’s been a lot of fun. We talk almost every day, which is a bonus for me. Seeing her face-to-face almost every day (through Skype) is fantastic,” Dave Bitter said. “She was home for three days in August. We had an intense two-day rehearsal, then she’s coming home Sept. 9 and will be home throughout the time of the show.”

Tim Scholten, who plays Col. Pickering, said working with Bitter through Skype has presented some challenges, but auditions have gone pretty smoothly.

“Anytime you try to coordinate singing from New York with piano playing in downtown Janesville, it’s a snag, but the dialogue is pretty much rapid fire back and forth,” Scholten said. “She’s brilliant and Kevin (Vechinsky) is brilliant as Professor Henry Higgins. They’ve got a lot of dialogue that they have to commit to memory, and they’re working hard at it and it’s working out OK. We’re right on pace.”

The cast has been working on the production since mid-July. Tom Hensen, who plays Alfred P. Doolittle, said the cast has had to become familiar with their lines, the music and the dances.

“Between the singing and dancing and acting, it covers the whole gamut,” Hensen said. “You got to do a little bit of all of them.”

Scholten said the cast has been a fun group with which to work.

“Everyone is good at doing what they need to do,” Scholten said. “There’s just a bunch of true professionals that I’m working with.”

Laurie Mitchell, musical director, said besides the acting, audience members will enjoy the music in “My Fair Lady,” which features about 28 numbers.

“The music in the show, you don’t forget the melody. It’s full of famous songs,” Mitchell said. “The tunes stay with you. You find yourself humming them. I find myself humming them when I get home at night. I would say every song in this musical is a great song. They hit a home run with this one.”

Vechinsky said “My Fair Lady” should appeal to people of all ages.

“I hope people understand that it’s a clean, family show,” Vechinsky said. “You certainly don’t have to be concerned about bringing the kids. There might be a certain age that might be too young to get it.”

Theater is in her blood

Bitter has been involved with theater since childhood and said her parents sparked her interest.

“My parents met doing theater when they were in high school,” Bitter said. “So it was always in my blood.”

Besides “My Fair Lady,” Bitter has performed in productions including “Sweeney Todd,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Seussical the Musical,” “Urinetown” and “The Sound of Music.” She also has been involved with several off-Broadway productions, comedic improv shows and an Oreo Thins commercial while living in New York.

“I love telling a story and making people feel something,” she said.

Bitter graduated from Craig High School in 2003 and from Viterbo University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in music theater. She has lived in New York for about seven years and currently operates the human resource department for the U.S. offices of Audio Network, a music publishing company based out of the United Kingdom.

Even though she enjoys living in New York, Bitter said she sometimes misses the hometown feel of Janesville.

“I miss the cleanliness, the quiet and the kindness of the residents,” she said.

An experienced cast

Most of the “My Fair Lady” cast members have several years of experience with performing in community theater.

Dave Bitter said he and his wife, Kathleen, performed in theater while attending Craig during the 1970s. Besides Aly, their other two children, Emma and Josh, who both live in Portland, Oregon, also have been involved with theater.

“It’s a family thing. (The children) were all in different years in school, so they never actually did anything together,” Dave Bitter said. “After school, they all went in different directions in their lives. We’re hoping some day (they will all perform together).”

Vechinsky said he first became interested in theater in eighth grade when a friend encouraged him to try out for a school play. He ended up being cast in the lead role.

Vechinsky has been involved with Theatre Unlimited since the early 1990s. His father, Dennis, was one of the group’s co-founders.

Vechinsky has performed in several Theatre Unlimited productions, including “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Fantasticks,” “Into the Woods” and “Annie.”

“In ‘Annie,’ I was Daddy Warbucks, and I shaved my head and everything,” Vechinsky said. “You’ve got to shave your head when you’re Daddy Warbucks.”

Performing in community theater is enjoyable but also time-consuming, Vechinsky said.

“I bought my wife and kids cast T-shirts because they help out so much at home. My 14-year-old almost knows my part better than I do,” Vechinsky said. “There’s a deep-seated creative expression that comes out when I get to do something like this. I get to put myself into another character and another role.”

Scholten has been involved with theater, on and off, for about 20 years. Besides Theatre Unlimited, he has performed in productions for Beloit Civic Theater.

“I may get back (to Beloit Civic Theater) again, but for now this is a good fit for me in my life,” Scholten said. “The 20-minute drive to Janesville is no problem. We have actors coming from as far away as Madison on a nightly basis.”

Hensen has been involved with theater for about 40 years. A high school teacher helped spark that interest.

“I had a fantastic speech instructor. I used to be shy and he helped me come out of my shell by being involved with theater in high school,” Hensen said. “I pursued it in college, took a break from it for about 20 years and I got back involved with it again.

“It’s all about entertaining and watching people have a good time,” Hensen said. “It’s also an appreciation for the arts and introducing people to local talents. I wish we could get even more people out to see local theater. There’s a lot of work that goes into these productions.”

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