A Chicago theater director recently revealed a not-so-secret secret.
No one shot J.R.
At least, not the J.R. in this story.
J.R. Rose remains very much alive and crucial to a triumvirate of talent from Homewood-Flossmoor High School now generating loads of belly laughs at the Royal George Cabaret in Chicago.
Still, this J.R. did carry a burden with his moniker, as readers will learn later in this article.
A tall brawny man with the heft of a football player, Rose’s passions nevertheless are education and theater arts. At H-F, he revels in the best of both worlds.
This award-winning theater director and honors English teacher and two of his former drama students, Anne Litchfield Calderon and Charlie Lubeck, comprise the H-F threesome involved in “First Date,” at the Halsted Street venue.
A daring and irreverent Broadway musical comedy scripted for the 21st century, the Chicago production of “First Date” under Rose’s direction opened Feb. 12 and originally was scheduled to close this month. However, a heavy demand for tickets persuaded producers to extend the rollicking romance by Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary and Elizabeth Doran through April 26 (see review).
Recently seen on national television in Oxygen network’s “The Glee Project,” season two, Lubeck carries the male lead, Aaron, in “First Date.”
Calderon is one of four actors who switch from one role to another, sometimes faster-than-the-eye-can-see in the often hyper-paced comedy Rose directs with spot-on precision.
In addition to his range of responsibilities at the high school, Rose’s regional directing credits are extensive. In addition, he has taken two shows across the pond, one to England and another to Scotland. Rose also was tapped for the artistic director position with S.L.A.T.E. (Southland Area Theatre Ensemble) at Governor State University’s Center for Performing Arts in University Park.
“I’m really enjoying it all,” he says. “Yes, it’s hard to balance but I have to make time for directing (off campus also) as it’s so much a part of who I am.”
When the Park Ridge native began teaching at H-F with his crisp sheepskin from Illinois State University, his original plan was to move on after one year in the South Suburbs.
“That was 13 years ago and I’m still here,” Rose quipped. “The next year, I bought a condo.
“I treasure the Southland.
“This is an amazing community and H-F is a remarkable high school. Kids growing up in this diverse community are so prepared for the real world. And the students here do not group themselves by wealth, religion or color and I love that.”
Clearly Rose and the acclaimed senior high is a match. However, Calderon, 27, and Lubeck, 25, arrived at H-F with theater on their minds.
Lubeck, seen nationally on season two of “The Glee Project” on the Oxygen network in addition to work on several regional stages, reminisces.
“Annie and I actually go back to Western Avenue School (in Flossmoor). We both had the legendary Mrs. (Judith) Kirby for music. She put on some very complex musicals with dozens of kids, crazy choreography and even multiple casts.
“Her expectations always were high and somehow everyone managed to meet them.”
Calderon agrees. “They were the most memorable experiences from elementary school and so much fun.”
With Kirby’s productions behind them, Lubeck and Calderon were ready to expand their thespian skills.
Rose’s impact on Calderon and Lubeck continues. Both have theater degrees and have worked with their former teacher in regional productions. Calderon also teaches at H-F.
But all three involved in one professional production? It’s a first.
“There are about 10 former students I keep in touch with, all in theater in one way or another. Charlie and Annie are great actors and doing a professional show with them is really neat.”
“This is a hoot,” Calderon says. “It’s so much fun to be back in the game together and in this way, as a professional. It feels different but it also feels so natural,” she said.
Rose has directed Lubeck on several occasions since high school, and the young actor shares his unabashed admiration for his former teacher.
“Working with J.R. so many times allows me to see and quickly understand his vision,” Lubeck says. “Sometimes we slip back into the teacher/student roles but I am so fortunate to work with him.
“He is true mentor and understands me. He is family.”
Now about J.R.’s name problem.
“I was born in 1978 just before “Dallas” started its legendary run on TV,” Rose recalls during an interview. J.R. Ewing, the charming “Dallas” bad guy, was a national icon when Rose was a toddler.
“I spent my entire early years with my aunts and other people pinching my cheeks saying, ‘Who shot J.R.’”