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Lifelong dreams realized onstage at 'American Idle'

WRP newcomer Kathleen Madland and veteran WRP member Robert Bauer practice fight choreography for the newest production of "American Idle: Murdering the Music."

She was dressed in a blur of blue and turquoise, with a large metallic peace sign hanging around her neck. Her long, brown hair was wrapped in a fuzzy red and orange boa. On her face was a pair of fuchsia sparkled, star-shaped sunglasses -- quite a change from her traditional uniform of scrubs she has donned as a nurse in Amery for the past 28 years.

The stutter that had been with her since childhood was barely noticeable as she practiced her lines.

"I never really tried out before because I didn't think you could be in a show if you stuttered," Mary Doll said, by way of explanation.

All this is new to Doll, as well as several others in the Willow Rivers Players current show "American Idle; Murdering the Music" that opens Thursday, April 30, at Ready Randy's in New Richmond. For the next two weekends, Doll - along with several others from various communities - will be fulfilling a lifelong dream to be onstage.

"It is great to see so many people who are new to WRP be involved," said Cindy Brown, current WRP president. "There are times when community theater can get too much of the same old same old, and there are so many fresh faces this show, it's awesome."

The show is full of firsts. This is the first time it is an actual "dinner theater" production with food served buffet-style. It is also the first time in a long while that it is not in an actual theater, as it used to be in the high school auditorium. As such, the group was not able to practice on the set until the last week of rehearsal.

It is also the first time many of the 18-member cast will be in an actual production.

Take Sue Franchere, 50, for example. By day she works at Edward Jones Financial in North Hudson and takes care of her family. She admits the only time she had ever been in front of an audience was introducing bands during the Heritage Center's Hillside Concert Series in the summer.

"I've always wanted to be in one, so I took a deep breath and jumped in," Franchere recalled when asked what prompted her to audition. As the American Idle hard-rocker contestant "Nikki Stikki," she said the most challenging aspect so far has been memorizing her lines and "not to really scream into the microphone."

The show is a murder mystery spoof of the popular Fox TV show American Idol. There are 10 contestants - some of which really can sing - three judges, two hosts and various members of the production crew.

Kathleen Madland, 27, is a novice to WRP, but has been in other shows with the Spring Valley Theater. As judge "Paula Abominable," she said she found comedy to be harder than her previous dramatic roles.

"With comedies, they might be laughing with you or at you," Madland said. "But I figure, 'as long as they are laughing.'"

She credits her friend, Carla Kelley (director of American Idle), with getting her to audition. She said she was grateful to have the opportunity to do her first dinner theater, as she will be moving to Germany this fall to take a job in criminal investigation.

"I'll see if I can get into theater over there," she smiled. "I'm going to learn German this summer."

Zach Dodge, 36, is another newcomer to the WRP stage. He is a New Richmond stay-at-home dad of two boys: Dayton, 10, and Dalton, 9. Fellow cast mate, and veteran member of WRP, George Gfall recruited him after seeing him in a few skits at Faith Community Church.

He admits he always liked to be the center of attention, and with his part as American Idle host "Ryan Seasunk," he is onstage practically the whole time.

"Memorizing lines, that's the tough part," he said with a smirk.

Jill Schreck works as a financial advisor for Edward Jones in New Richmond. Although a novice to WRP, she has years of musical theater training in voice and dance. She plays the classy contestant, "Carlotta Christening."

"Everyone has been really supportive and encouraging of each other," the 28-year-old said. "It has been great to have theater veterans give me suggestions to develop my character; I love to hear 'Jill, it would be really funny if your character did...'"

For Jeremy Ritcher, a St. Croix Falls performing arts major at Century College, his character of contestant "Mickey Vermin" is another credit on his resume that includes Roseville Playhouse and currently radio station WLMX Mix 105 where he works on the air and in board operations.

"I've been acting for about 11 years," the 19-year-old Ritcher said. "My future plans include getting out to Hollywood."

The youngest member of the cast is a recent arrival. Gus Franchere, 12-year-old son of Sue, joined the show this past week to fill in for a cast member who withdrew for health reasons.

"This is my first time with Willow River Players but I've been in plays at the Old Gem and in school," Gus said enthusiastically. "When I was 2, I started singing and dancing at home. It's just been in me all the time."

He said he hopes to continue with Willow River Players and eventually go to a good drama school when he is older. His sights are set on Broadway where his dream role is to play the Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera."

Always a trouper, he said he is not nervous about being called in at the last minute.

"The first week I was nervous because I didn't know my lines, but now I do," Gus said. "These are great people and I will try out for their next show."

Rounding out the newcomers are Kristina Larson as fictional production assistant "Hannah Hapless," Cody Wilcoxson as nervous contestant "J.J. McNeil," and Julia Ybarra-Young as fictional TV producer "Joanne Loosemorals." They are accompanied by WRP veterans Ambrosia Webb, Melanie Holzbauer, George Gfall, Robert Bauer, Marjean Rowen, Janet Fogg, Chad Leonard and Darryl Boyland.

Carla Kelley, director of this show and three other WRP productions, said she was proud of the way the newcomers have assimilated into the group.

"They are a very organized group and lots of fun," Kelley said. "We are all volunteers, giving a lot of our free time to do this. It's a gift to the community on so many levels."

Dinner is served at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays April 30 and May 7, Fridays May 1 and May 8, and Saturday May 2. An earlier dinner will be served at 4 p.m. on Sundays May 3 and May 10, with the show starting at 5:30 p.m. Reservations are required 24 hours in advance; call 715-246-1028 or visit

Although many of the novices cite their involvement as doing something they thought would be fun, Doll auditioned to fulfill a promise.

Doll plays "Tiffany Starmite," a throw-back hippie contestant who wears outrageous clothes and says "du-ude" with regularity. However, she said that she got interested in acting through her boyfriend.

"He always was into acting and the theater," Doll said in her naturally reserved manner. "We had wanted to be in a show together.

"But then he got cancer," she continued, "so I'm doing this for him."