My Funny Valentine” was written by Rodgers and Hart and recorded by Sinatra, among others. But this winter, Riverside’s Laura Kirin is mesmerizing local audiences with her take on the classic ballad.
Kirin is currently starring in “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center on the campus of Morton College in Cicero. The musical opened last week and will run this weekend and next.
The show, the latest at the ambitious Jedlicka, involves four performers and weaves 50 Sinatra classic tunes into an original story. Kirin, a veteran of the stage, said her favorite numbers are “L.A. is My Lady,” “?I’m Gonna Make it All the Way” and “Valentine,” especially “Valentine.” She sings the latter tune alone behind an old-fashioned microphone.
“I love to sing ballads. ‘My Funny Valentine’ is just a beautiful song. It’s a classic and I still love it,” Kirin said.
During the first week of performances, the song was no doubt one of the many that triggered memories for members of the audience. Other numbers may have helped younger folks in the crowd get a little more familiar with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ body of work.
“After the show, some older people came up to me and said they were singing right along,” Kirin said. “One woman said she got teary-eyed hearing ‘My Funny Valentine,’ and that was so heart-warming. For older people the show is about memories. For younger people it may be something new.”
Kirin said the most rewarding part of performing is this opportunity to take the audience on a journey with her music. It’s one of the reasons this sales and marketing employee by day devotes so many nights and weekends to the stage.
“That’s the beauty of theater,” she said. “When people come to see it, you don’t know what’s going on in their lives. And if you’ve brought them some happiness … It’s wonderful that I can utilize this gift I have and that somebody else can enjoy it. That’s more rewarding than a paycheck, when you’ve touched someone and taken them away from whatever they are going through. That’s the fun of it.”
Originally from Lyons and a Morton West High School alumna, Kirin has been performing since she was a child. Singing, dancing and playing instruments was always strongly encouraged in her Croatian family. She is a former Houby Queen at Berwyn’s annual festival and has also done some modeling.
She has appeared in several Jedlicka productions over the years and has also directed. According to Joseph Messina, a longtime friend and the director of “My Way,” Kirin’s signature role came in the early 1990s when she played Maria, the spiritual leader of the slaves, in Joe Brooks’ futuristic thriller “Metropolis,” a musical that had its North American premier at the Morton College theater.
Kirin later reprised the role in a nine-month stint in the show at the Olympic Theater in Cicero, a performance that earned her several plaudits and a paycheck; it was a professional production compared to the not-for-profit Jedlicka.
“That was the perfect meeting of role and artist,” Messina said about Kirin in “Metropolis.” “Some roles just seem like they are written for people. And Joe Brooks (the show’s well-known composer) seemed to enjoy her performance more than the people he had cast in London (where the show debuted). Hers was definitely the performance of that role.”
The lengthy stay of “Metropolis” was in stark contrast to the much shorter runs for plays at Jedlicka. But Kirin spoke about the importance of bringing the same enthusiasm to the role every night regardless of whether it’s the eighth or 80th time she is performing the material.
Kirin, a regular theatergoer in Chicago, New York and London, said she has occasionally been let down by Broadway-level shows where she sensed the actors were simply going through the motions.
“I remember years ago seeing ‘A Chorus Line’ on Broadway and being so disappointed. And I had wanted to see it for so long,” she said. “So, I don’t care if I’ve had a bad day at work. Once I get to the theater, I know I have to give the audience everything. They shouldn’t know what I am going through. You are taking them away and they need to see a great performance.”
While Metropolis may have been Kirin’s greatest performance, Messina said there have been several other memorable roles for the actress at Jedlicka. She played Mrs. Potts the Teapot in “Beauty and the Beast,” Lady Caroline Bramble in “Enchanted April” and has also been in “Nefertiti,” “Evita,” “Blood Brothers,” “City of Angels” and “Jekyll & Hyde,” to name a few.
“I’ve acted with Laura in several productions and she has always been a joy to work with and a positive energetic force,” he said. “When casting ‘My Way,’ I didn’t just want four people who could technically sing the parts. Sinatra did not just sing his songs, he acted them out. So, I needed the best singer/actor I have, and Laura is at the top of the list.”
Kirin also hopes to be top of the list for future Jedlicka shows, including a production of “Miss Saigon” this spring. Jedlicka’s staging of this Cameron McIntosh classic will be another example of the theater living up to its reputation as “one of the most aggressive producing theaters anywhere in the Chicago area,” according to one Chicago daily newspaper.
“We don’t think small at the JPAC,” Messina said about a theater that is also scheduled to stage “Cats” in the summer. “Our reputation is as one of the most aggressive theaters anywhere in the suburbs and we wear that with pride. We don’t see any limitations. We attract a high-quality of talent on stage and backstage. It’s a great place to see the show for a fraction of the price.”
Kirin recalled hearing from a co-worker, who is a regular theatergoer, about his positive impressions of one Jedlicka performance.
“He often goes to Marriott’s Lincolnshire and Drury Lane and came to see “Jekyll & Hyde” [at the Jedlicka] thinking it was going to be like community theater,” she said. “But he said he was blown away and said, “Your production at the college should be downtown.”
Those interested in seeing Kirin and hearing the songs of Sinatra have five more chances to do so. “My Way” starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 and 4. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased by calling 656-3948.