Many area arts enthusiasts have kept up with the career of native Peorian Andrew Driscoll-from his Broadway appearances to his return to central Illinois as a performer and director. Currently, Driscoll is the producing artistic director of the Prairie Cabaret Theatre located in The Waterhouse in downtown Peoria.

Driscoll started producing Equity theatre in Peoria under the name of the Apollo Professional Theatre. "Really, this venture is a continuation of what I started with the Apollo. We solved the physical issues we had before and have chosen shows that are more comedic and entertainment-driven than offered before."

He said he moved the venue to The Waterhouse because of Pat Sullivan and John Hunt. "Pat and John have been friends of the arts for a long time. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be at their beautiful location," Driscoll said.

Prairie Cabaret’s holiday show is Winter Wonderettes, which he described as laughter, fun, and four-part harmony. "You can celebrate the holidays with great professional entertainment, fabulously sung Christmas music, and nonstop laughs with Winter Wonderettes. Warm up your holiday with the nostalgia and revelry of The Marvelous Wonderettes as they return to their hometown for a Christmas concert celebration, complete with great renditions of 1950s and 1960s holiday tunes. This lively mix of rockin’ holiday hits and classic Christmas standards will have you dancing in the aisles."

The plot involves four spirited young women, friends since high school and now grown with lives of their own, who reunite their old act to form The Marvelous Wonderettes. "As a longtime employee of Harper’s Hardware, Betty Jean is in charge of the company Christmas party, and naturally, the Wonderettes come to mind as the logical choice for entertainment. However, when Santa Claus turns up missing, the girls must use their talent, with the support of some great holiday tunes, to rectify a Christmas party without the jolly big guy in red. The result is a wonderful show that will have audiences roaring with laughter and in the mood for some holiday fun," he said.

The production was written by Roger Bean (Beach Blanket Bash, Route 66, The Marvelous Wonderettes) and directed by Chicago-based director/ choreographer Jessica Redish, Driscoll said. "Winter Wonderettes will be a fun and entertaining way to celebrate the holidays this year. If you liked Forever Plaid, you’ll love Winter Wonderettes."

Next up for Prairie Cabaret Theatre is a concert tribute to Dan Fogelberg called "Longer." Driscoll said the show will be performed January 29 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Tickets, which range from $10 to $25, go on sale to the general public December 1.

In addition to stage productions and concert tributes, Prairie Cabaret offers a number of other events. "Every Friday night, we host a theatre open mic at 10 p.m.," Driscoll said. "It’s like live karoake; the only stipulation is you have to sing a show tune. The Late Nite Cabaret series takes place every Saturday night during Winter Wonderettes, when we’ll offer solo cabaret performances starting at 10:30. Concerts are also featured-from legendary Australian Blues guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, to the University of Illinois a cappella group The Other Guys, to local bands like Waterstreet. We’re also a full service banquet facility and host wedding receptions, anniversary and birthday parties, fraternity/sorority semi-formals, and class reunions."

Driscoll certainly has the background for this multi-purpose venture. "Days before my 18th birthday, I moved to New York City to pursue a life in the arts. After 10 years in the acting business, I returned to my hometown to bring some of what I’d experienced in New York City to Peoria."

While in New York, he made his Broadway debut in the hit musical Miss Saigon. He then won rave reviews from Variety for his portrayal of Gideon Briggs in the failed pre-Broadway tryout of Frank Loessers’ Greenwillow. Off-Broadway, he performed in Oedipus; Private Eye at Musical Theatre Works; and played J.J. in Slain in the Spirit, a play with music by blues legend Taj Mahal. Other New York City credits include Buried Child, Bobby Gould in Hell, Streamers, Curse of the Starving Class, Oleanna, Sophistry, Midnight Caller, Reservoir Dogs, Goose and TomTom, and Women and Wallace.

Among his impressive accomplishments, Driscoll has released three solo recordings on Conundrum Records: "What I Am" in 1998, "Just In Time For Christmas" in 1999, and "Singing The Standards" in 2001. Other recordings include "A Bag Of Popcorn And A Dream" on Original Cast Records and the original concept/backers recording of the new Broadway musical, Rhythm Club (then called Swing Alley).

Upon his return to Peoria, Driscoll performed a lineup of popular concerts including "The Billy Joel Songbook: Part 1 The 70’s" in 2000, "Singing The Standards: A 1940’s Radio Show" in 2001, and "The Billy Joel Songbook: Part 2 The 80’s & 90’s" in 2002. Some of his cabaret shows have included "What I Am" and "Just In Time For Christmas."

Driscoll is best known locally for his portrayal of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Eastlight Theatre. Other local performances include the dual title roles in Jekyll and Hyde, Steven in the national premiere of Metropolis, Huck Finn in Big River, Hero in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, and Max in Lend Me A Tenor. Regionally, he’s performed in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Damn Yankees, The King and I, Strike Up The Band with Bea Arthur, and Babes In Arms with George Wendt. His film and TV credits include NBC’s Witness To The Mob, It Had To Be You, Looking For An Echo, and Company Man.

Driscoll also directed the Apollo Professional Theatre productions of My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Songs for a New World, The Last Five Years, and Stephen King’s Misery.

Winter Wonderettes runs November 17 to December 18. As a special holiday gift, tickets to the professional performance cost $24. For more information, call 494-9100 or visit www.waterhousepeoria.com/PrairieCabaret/. AA!