From Corn Stock to Carnegie Hall, Bart Shatto has made his mark in Peoria, on Broadway and beyond.
As a Peoria historian, I have written a lot of stories about Peorians from our past, famous and infamous, and then let them slip back into obscurity. So, it gives me great pleasure to tell you about a young man who is still very much alive… and still following his dream. His name is Bart Shatto, and I am proud to say that he is my nephew. I‘ve watched Bart’s career develop from childhood to this very moment in time, and I can tell you he is still pursuing the dream he had as far back as he can remember.
Born in Peoria and raised in Bradford, Illinois, Bart is the son of Sara and Player Shatto. Although he has lost his father, not a day goes by that he does not feel his presence, because both his mom and his dad supported him from day one. “At two, we thought something was wrong with him because he never wanted to go outside,” his mom says. “All he wanted to do was stay in the house and listen to music and rock in his rocking chair.” Bart will tell you it was around that time that he already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. That was the beginning of his dream, and Broadway was his destination. Once his family—including his brother, Brett, and sisters, Beth and Carey—moved to Peoria, that’s when Bart’s odyssey really began.
I remember the first time I saw him—in a production of Peter Pan in Bartonville—and I thought he was just sensational. Of course, I’m his uncle, so please expect some bias from me. But in every local show, he seemed to blossom, and I knew I was watching a kid who knew exactly where he wanted to go and what he wanted to accomplish.
A Bergan High School graduate, Bart was always active in school plays, as well as community theatre in Peoria and Bartonville. He had many roles in Corn Stock and Peoria Players productions before heading to college at Western Illinois University and then Southern, where he continued to pursue his acting ambitions. From there he went to St. Louis, happily working with the Theater Project Company and playing roles in Baby and The Twelfth Night.
After settling down and starting a family (An interesting tidbit: Bart’s son, Connor, is already an accomplished singer with serious designs on following his father’s dream), Bart began to land more substantial roles, and traveling became a part of his life. “I lived like a gypsy,” he said, “and when I was on Broadway, I thought to myself, ‘Is this all there is?’” He confides that playing Broadway was “a lot like playing at Peoria Players, only it paid more money.” When our families got together, I always thought of Bart as being a bit shy, and to me, it seemed like going in front of an audience must have been painful for him, but he knew how to handle it. “I guess it’s because I’m not myself… I am just playing a character.”
Bart’s career picked up as he became more proficient at his art by spending hours and hours preparing for his many auditions. My wife and I saw him at Carnegie Hall when he got us into a closed rehearsal with Rosemary Clooney by telling her we were his parents. Bart was part of a quartet in the cast. Those were a glorious couple of hours. Playing Carnegie Hall, wow! Not bad for a shy kid from Peoria.
A versatile actor and singer, Bart has starred in plays on Broadway, off Broadway and in cities across the United States. On Broadway, he played the part of Private Hotchkiss in The Civil War. He starred as Quincy Morris in Dracula, and was a cast member in an Emmy Awards presentation. He thrilled his family when he came to Peoria and played the lead, Jean Valjean, in Les Misérables, as well as a great role with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Truth is, we felt the same way when he played two parts in Cats in his hometown.
Bart once came back to town to do a solo act he called From Peoria to Broadway. Personally, I think that was my favorite time with my nephew, there at the old Apollo Theater. He returned to the Apollo another time with a show called Songs for a New World, telling a reporter, simply, “It’s cool to be back.” This March, he played four parts in the Broadway musical Hands on a Hard Body, and in April, revised his role of D.H. Lawrence in London—a role he originally played in New Orleans—for the musical Lawrence.
Outside of live theatre, Bart has done numerous commercials, soap operas and character voices for Disney. Last year, he landed a role in the movie Something Whispered, starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which will soon be in a theater near you. I wish I could tell you about all of the shows and projects Bart has been a part of, but maybe I’ll save that until I write his biography.
You would think by the way I am carrying on that I get paid by the word, but the truth is, Bart Shatto’s life is so jam-packed with exciting roles and personal accomplishments that a short piece like this cannot do him justice. You can look him up online and follow this brilliant actor and singer as he pursues his dream and continues his Broadway odyssey. He would be happy to have you tag along. Tell him his Uncle Norm sent you. a&s
Norm Kelly is a Peoria historian, true-crime writer and author of twelve books. He can be reached at [email protected].