Wilmette, Community

Another year, another sellout for McKenzie Variety Show — a community classic

The McKenzie Variety Show needs no introduction.

The musical, jubilant and often silly production has captivated the community for 44 years, while supporting the Wilmette elementary school.

But even after four decades, the program seemingly continues to reach new heights.

Katy Jones-Pritchard shows off her musical talents during the show.

This year’s directors, Dane Thomas and Jeff Sorenson, believe more parents are participating in the 2024 variety show than ever before.

“The momentum for having done this so many years has attracted parents to want to be in it and families and friends want to come and support them,” said Sorenson, who said the cast and crew is just shy of 200 people.

The charm of the variety show has also kept Thomas and Sorenson coming back. Both are in their third years participating.

Per usual, the show is sold out with shows each day this week through Saturday, March 9.

Laura Kalnins plays her best pilot during the variety show.

For this year’s show, the crew developed a story centered on travel. Called “Wanderlust,” the variety show takes the audience through four parts of a trip: the preparation, the journey, the destination and the return.

Along fun and friendly songs about packing and airplanes, and in classic variety show fashion, parents will be dressed up as airplanes, buses, suitcases and more.

“It’s relatable,” Sorenson said. “Everyone goes on trips and travels and kids can really related to that as well. The costumes and little details are really pulling it through. … You can’t help but smile.”

Putting together the variety show is a year-long process, starting with story ideation. As more parents begin to participate, show leaders collect song and story ideas. Sorenson said they received more than 100 ideas before narrowing them down to 20 for the final production.

Travis Parr and Lauren Coady perform in a song about the traveling journey.

Once the cast and crew are set, the parents begin rehearsing one night a week with each parent appearing in two to three numbers each.

The rehearsing leads to tech week, which includes a practice a night for a week.

All of the effort cultivates a bond between the participants — a bond that can be rare for busy parents.

“You would be hard-pressed to find any other opportunities for middle-aged adults with children to spend a lot of quality time with with other local parents — that aren’t play dates,” Thomas said. “You spend so much quality time with people establishing friendships and that bubbles out beyond the variety show.

“And it’s fun to get together and create a show. It’s very, very creative. There are not a lot of other opportunities like it.”

The whole cast of the McKenzie Variety Show participates in one of the show’s last songs.

All the while, the event raises money for the school’s parent-teacher association, either for a specific project, such as a new playground in recent years, or for general funds, like this year.

And then there is one more benefit.

“The importance of our kids seeing us go up on stage and doing something out of the ordinary, I think it means a lot to them,” Thomas said. “I think it’s a lesson they take away for the rest of their lives. You are never too old to go on stage and do something incredibly silly.”

Jason Douglass as a cowboy in a song about preparation and packing.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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