GENESEO – Talk about straight As. Jeff Utsinger is an administrator, an actor and he excels in academics.|
The dean of students at Geneseo High School will make his local stage debut with the Richmond Hill Players production of "Last Romance," a romantic comedy by Joe DiPietro. Mr. Utsinger is cast as "young Ralph" in the four-person show, directed by Tom Morrow, Rock Island. He will be singing a cappella bits of nine (seven Italian and two French) opera songs.
The setting for "Last Romance" is on an ordinary day in the routine life of Ralph, who that day decides to take a different path on his daily walk -- one that leads him to an unexpected second chance at love. Relying on a renewed boyish charm, Ralph attempts to woo the elegant but distant Carol.
Defying Carol's reticence, and his lonely sister's jealousy, Ralph regains a happiness that seemed lost. The cast also features Tom Naab and Stephanie Naab, Moline, and Jackie Skiles of Geneseo.
Mr. Utsinger grew up on a farm in Ellisville, Ill., near Canton. He was valedictorian of the senior class at Spoon River Valley High School, London Mills, attended the University of Illinois, Champaign, and Illinois State University, Normal, earning a bachelor's degree in mathematics education. He completed a master's at Bradley University, Peoria, in educational administration.
After teaching high school math for two years, Mr. Utsinger was a corporate instructor for Sprint for two years, and then returned to teaching high school math for another seven years before being hired last year as dean of students at Geneseo High School.
He began singing as a child at local churches, began playing the trumpet when he was in fifth grade and said that is when his music endeavors "truly started ... I started singing in musicals and performing with my trumpet at local events and concerts," Mr. Utsinger said.
After college, he was asked to sing at weddings and also joined Peoria area choirs which enabled him to perform with a variety of talented people, he said. "One of my most memorable singing experiences was singing in a group at the Canton Evangelical Free Church for more than a year," he said. "The group consisted of professional singers, including my great-uncle, who also happened to be an opera singer."
His love for opera stems from listening to his great-uncle sing.
"He was a music teacher and I listened to him sing and when I was in high school I had the opportunity to stand next to him and sing in the 'New Young Messiah.' I immediately felt a bond with him and learned so much from him," Mr. Utsinger said.
Referring to the upcoming Richmond Hill production, Mr. Utsinger said he has not performed "in a show of this magnitude in many years." "I got my break by singing at the school's Veterans Day assembly this year. I was extremely nervous since it had been years since I had performed and here I was to sing 'God Bless the USA' to the entire student body of Geneseo High School," he recalled.
"I knew I had to prove myself since I told several people I was an opera singer. The song went very well and soon the video was uploaded to YouTube," he said. "Joe DePauw (also a director for Richmond Hill Players as well as director of musicals at Geneseo High School) mentioned to me that there was a play coming up at Richmond Hill that needed a male opera singer."
Mr. Utsinger said vocal instructor Pamela Edwards helped him find the obscure sheet music for the play and also helped him with correct pronunciations of the Italian and French.
Mr. Utsinger was married in October of last year and he and his wife, Lori, live in Geneseo. "The community events and the great reputation of the school system sold us in moving to the area," he said. I have been embraced by the staff at Geneseo High School and have learned from fellow administrators.
"Geneseo is an ideal town for my wife and I to raise our future children and then one day retire," he said. "I look forward to performing in many more shows as well as to participating in many community events."
If you go
What: "The Last Romance."
When: April 24-27 and May 1-4, 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Barn Theater, atop Richmond Hill Park in Geneseo.
Tickets: $10, available at 309-944-2244 or rhplayers.com.