Penguin Players’ Inaugural Production Opens July 10 at ICC

A new venture by Illinois Central College is set to take flight and give students with special needs opportunities to perform on stage.

The Penguin Players, a collaboration involving Illinois Central College and the Penguin Project, presents six performances of Godspell, Jr. over two weekends from July 10 to July 19 in the ICC Performing Arts Center, located on the East Peoria Campus. Shows take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and on Sundays at 2:30 pm.

The Penguin Players program is patterned after The Penguin Project, the successful local program which gives individuals 10 to 21 years old with special needs the opportunity to participate in the performing arts. However, ICC’s Penguin Players program does not have an upper age limit; individuals must only be academically accepted to ICC.

Members of the Godspell, Jr. cast include: Cristiano “Cris” Salazar Bennett of Peoria Heights as Debtor, Rich Man, Servant and Landowner; Charles “C.J.” Blackwell of Peoria as Jesus; Nicholas “Nick” Butler of Pekin as the King, Robber 1 and Father; Vanessa Ellis of Peoria as Judge; Taylor Graves of East Peoria as Samaritan Narrator and Prodigal Son Narrator; Kelsi Gustafson of Peoria as Disciple; Naomi Hardesty of East Peoria as Priest and Goat; Mary Hootman of Peoria as Disciple; Ryan Shanahan of East Peoria as Judas and John the Baptist; Amanda “Mandy” Totten of Chillicothe as Rich Man Narrator; Alexander “Alex” Tucker of Morton as Robber 2, Older Son, and Sheep; and Adam West of Peoria as Shy Kid.

In addition to cast members, the production includes peer mentors who work with participants with special needs and are present with them on stage during productions. Peer mentors are responsible for knowing all lines, songs and blocking for their partners.

Serving as mentors for cast members are Nathan Apodaca of Brimfield, Mailys Bateman of Peoria, Chris McHenry of Washington, Annaliese Springer of Eurek,a and Rebekah Waters of Minonk.

Godspell, Jr. is based on the book by John Michael Tebelak with lyrics and music by Stephen Schwartz. The play is being produced with special arrangement by Samuel French, Inc.

The ICC production is directed by Sarah Salazar. Katie Fitch serves as music director and Ryan Mitacek is technical director and stage manager for the production. Brittany Talab and MacKinzee Smith serve as choreographers for the show.

Chris Gray is dean of the ICC arts and communication department and administers the Penguin Players program. Dr. Andrew Morgan, founder of the Penguin Project, serves as a consultant for the Penguin Players.

Participants in Penguin Players productions must be accepted for enrollment at ICC and register with department approval in ICC’s Theatre 220 course, a three credit hour summer semester course. Participants work with several theatre instructors in the preparation, rehearsing and staging for a musical theatre production in the ICC Performing Arts Center. Participants in the production of Godspell, Jr. have been rehearsing regularly since May.

Godspell, Jr. is an adapted version of Godspell in which a group of people help Jesus Christ tell different parables by using a wide variety of games and storytelling techniques with some funny moments as well. Featuring the international hit “Day by Day,” an eclectic blend of songs ranging in style from pop to vaudeville is employed as the story of Jesus’s life is portrayed onstage based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

Tickets cost $10 for all ages and can be purchased online at or by calling the ICC Performing Arts Center Box Office at (309) 694-5136.