East Side Last May, the theater industry was saddened by the death of Bob Sickinger, a charismatic man who believed in community theatre. Known as the father of Chicago’s off-Loop theater, Sickinger earned a reputation for writing and directing challenging productions. In his last days, he collaborated with Alaric Jans to write a musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel Nicholas Nickleby.
The two met in Chicago many years ago, when Sickinger was heading the Hull House theater program at the James Addams Center. Throughout his career he became known for running provocative plays, including the Off Broadway show “22 Years,” about the life of Charles Manson.
He began working on the Nicholas Nickleby production six years ago, originally inspired by his lifetime love of Dickens. At that time, Sickinger was retired and focusing his attention on this play. His wife Jo-Ann said he was getting anxious to finish it because he knew that he was running out of time as he aged.
They finished the play about 2 months before Sickinger passed away, and although he didn’t get to see it performed, he was extremely happy to have finished the script. In his final days, his wife promised that she would produce his play and make sure it found its life on stage.
“It was the only thing that would perk him up in those last few days,” Pastor said. His five children were also there to support him, and joined her in promising their father that they would help to produce his final project.
Wasting no time, Pastor quickly flew to Louisiana and had the entire play recorded so she could shop around the demo to find interested investors, directors, and actors. From there, the ball kept rolling and she was able to raise enough money to produce a 34-person play. It is being performed at the Theater for the New City from April 17 – May 4th.
Through mutual friends, Lissa Moira came upon the recording and knew she wanted to become a part of this production. She helped find singers to sing at Sickinger’s memorial, and everything really started to come together once she became the director. “I knew from the day she read the material that she absolutely understood it,” Pastor explained. “She really understands where Bob was coming from, and she is doing exactly what he would have wanted.”
The play boasts a talented cast, and because of the Theater for the New City’s intimate size, the audience is truly surrounded by the performance. The cast does an outstanding job of bringing Dickens’ classic tale to life. It is a two and a half hour play, but once it finishes, you are left wishing for more.
Opening night was so successful, they had to start turning people away at the door after it was sold out. “The night was glorious, the magic of the theater really kicked in,” said Moira. “The cast was wonderful, and I was overwhelmed with the beauty of it all, it was such a collaborative effort.”
Sickinger wanted the play to represent the passion he had for theater throughout his entire life and career. After inspiring his family and friends for so many years, they really wanted to make sure this play came to life on stage in his memory.
Pastor’s goal is to bring this production to a larger audience, and hopes to one day see it on Broadway. “I just can’t tell you how exciting this is for me, we’ve worked so hard, and I know he would be so proud,” Pastor said. “This show is an accumulation of everything he loved: theater, literature, and music.”
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