In 1923, in a small, quiet corner of the Midwest nestled between the City of the Big Shoulders and vast forest preserves, the village of North Riverside was incorporated, setting the trajectory toward a century of life in the suburb which bills itself as “a small community with a big heart.”
At the end of July, the village celebrated 100 years in true North Riverside fashion — first, with a parade, then followed by live music, carnival games, hot food and fireworks on Des Plaines Avenue.
And now, just over three months after the big bash, the village’s beloved theater troupe, the North Riverside Players, is capping off the century celebration with a special Centennial Show.
In what could be considered a friendly roast of the village mixed with a lively pop culture walk down memory lane, on Nov. 11 and 12, the Players will be presenting a special historical production of music and history from 1923 through 2023.
The show, which was written by a committee of Players board members and actors, will feature a four-person scripted dialogue and 10 people singing and dancing on stage at a time. Alongside oral history and pictures cast on a screen on stage from across the years, the Centennial Shows will wow audiences with its comprehensive coverage from the early years of the village (’20s through ’40s), boom years of North Riverside (’50s through ’70s), the explosion in retail and public facilities (’70s through ’90s), and the present and future.
With everything from historical background on where the land for village incorporation came from and the origins of the Riverside Golf Club, to reflections of memories from the nationally-renowned Melody Mill Ballroom (closed in 1984), opening of North Riverside Park Mall, groundbreaking of a new Village Hall, generational ties to Mater Christi Church and Komarek School and more, the goal of the production is not only to celebrate 100 years of North Riverside, but also fondly look back on the people and institutions which have made the village the unique western suburb that it is.
“There’s a lot of things that connect people to the Village of North Riverside,” said Bryant Rouleau, a lifelong resident and vice president of the Players. “This show is based on how our schools, churches, the mall and other landmarks came about, and how properties have changed over time. Our goal is to highlight village events and sprinkle in cultural references through song as they relate to the time periods.”
Jeff Kasal, who grew up in North Riverside from the late ’60s through the ’80s, has been involved with the Players for over 25 years. He even participated in the group’s North Riverside 75th anniversary show back in 1998.
Though he now lives in St. Charles, his mother still lives in the house he grew up in on 13th Avenue, and he feels that staying involved with the Players is just another way of staying connected to the town which produced so many wonderful memories for him during his formative years.
“In the show, we talk about places and buildings, but people have lived in this town for years — generations,” he explained. “You buy a house in this town, and don’t leave. The house my mother lives in was only seven years old when she bought it. My mother hangs around with people she’s known forever, and it’s a great, friendly town. Many people move here and stay here.”
Kasal says that for many families in North Riverside, something in the town continues to draw people back.
“People can always relate to the generational aspects of the village,” he said, “and I think the fact that the Players is doing this show will also help pique interest in the history of the village for younger, newer residents.”
Though longtime Players’ member Sue Matulionis grew up in neighboring towns, she said the process of learning about the history behind many North Riverside landmarks will be interesting for older generations to learn about and reminisce on.
“Not being from North Riverside but having lived nearby in Stickney and Berwyn, it’s interesting to know the history behind some of these places throughout history that we would go to or pass by back in the day,” she said. “I went to Melody Mill before it closed with my parents — they were dancers — and it’s been great to learn about it.”
The North Riverside Players Centennial Show will run Saturday Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 12 at 2:30 p.m. at Scheck Village Commons, 2401 S. Des Plaines Ave. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased at nrplayers.com.