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Local actor living a dream on stage

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When he steps onto the Peoria Civic Center Theatre stage on Saturday, Eddie Urish figures he will finally realize the feeling he's thought about for nearly 30 years — to have people he knows watching him perform professionally in his home town.

In that respect, he is "living a dream" as part of the cast of the Tony Award-winning musical "Memphis," which is on a national tour that stops in Peoria for two shows on Saturday.

"I literally am the 'third guy from the left' in this show," he said, remarking about the fact it is a smaller, non-starring role as part of the ensemble. "But that's fine with me right now. That is exactly where I want to be and where I need to be while still getting to share my passion with people I know. It is a dream come true."

Urish, with whom we caught up while the show was on a bus from Cedar Falls, Iowa to Ames, Iowa, has long been a headliner in Peoria, either on stage or directing in community theatre or on local television.

He attended the Goodman School of Drama out of high school and has acted professionally in the past, but he is now on a journey that started more than two years ago when he left Peoria after going through life changes to search for something different, something new.

After spending years running a theatre after co-founding Haberdashers in Peoria and then Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria, teaching theatre, co-hosting a morning television program and other jobs while being a family man, Urish took the opportunity to get into professional theatre in upstate New York and has been pursuing that path since.

"I found something different, and I am still on that wheel without any knowledge where it will lead after this tour is over next June. But right now I am enjoying it. It is truly amazing," said Urish, 49.

"There is still a lot to get used to, like the vampire lifestyle professional performers sometimes have. But we really just got started. At this point, it's all still so new and exciting," he said.

The Peoria stop will be only the fifth on the tour, which started Oct. 15 in Appleton, Wis., before heading to Cedar Falls, then Ames and then Whitewater, Wis., before it lands in Peoria just in time for the cast and crew to do sound checks for the 3 p.m. matinee. There is also a 7:30 p.m. performance.

All told the tour will reach 35 states, including Alaska, and there will be well over 200 performances before it is finished.

This is actually Urish's second professional tour; he did a tour in "Huck Finn" last year. But that was not what is known as a Broadway tour and the difference, he said, is incredible.

"I will say this — I will never again trade where I am working for a role. This is one of the smallest roles I've ever done but it is glorious because of everybody around me. The quality of the people, the talent that everybody has on stage and backstage ...

"I remember on opening night standing in the wings and looking out onto the stage and thinking, 'this is amazing. Here I am, standing here where I've always dreamed of being. Everything about this is mind boggling. Everybody here is 100 percent committed to what they are doing. It is even better than I anticipated it being," he said.

"For the first time I felt like I was part of something where everybody was rowing in the same direction."

He talked about the logistics of doing a professional touring show and his amazement at how it all gets done. "You walk out on stage and everything looks different. No two places are alike. But everything you need for the show — props, costumes, everything — is right where it is supposed to be. I tried at Eastlight to make everything there be as close as possible to professional theatre and I think we did okay. But what we see here is incredible," he said.

Urish also is enjoying the close-up view of the business end of professional theatre. "There are so many checks and balances. There really has to be, of course, but it is so different," he said.

Also different is "living the life of professional theatre. We aren't running from a day job to get to rehearsal for a couple hours for several weeks just to do a handful of shows. On 'Memphis' we rehearsed for only two weeks before we took it to Boise, Idaho for previews but those rehearsals were eight hours a day."

Urish doesn't like to talk much about the life changes he experience a couple years ago because he prefers to keep his private life private. He said his decision to seek out professional theatre, the life he always wanted since he saw his first professional show as a teen-ager and "Children of a Lesser God" played at the Shrine Mosque in Peoria, was basically spur of the moment.

A friend who ran a professional theatre in Rochester, N.Y., called and asked Urish to come out and be in a show called "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up." After it ended he got a role in "August: Osage County" in regional professional theatre in Lancaster, Penn. He hasn't stopped yet.

"I literally thought, 'Life is too short to not go for it.' So I did, and it gave me a chance to be closer to my daughter Whitney, who was in New York City at that time. But I really didn't expect it to last, either. I thought the rep theatre bit in Indiana was going to be my last show outside of Peoria," he said.

He was referring to his run of a few weeks in a drama called "Woman in Black" at Crossroads Repertory Theatre in Terre Haute, Ind. It closed July 23. Soon thereafter he was in New York auditioning for a role in a touring company of "Beauty and the Beast."

He didn't get that, but he was offered the opportunity to be in "Memphis," a show he'd seen on Broadway and loved.

He didn't rush at the opportunity, even though he knew it was really what he wanted. "I guess I still wasn't that sure of myself. But my friends and people I care for urged me on. Even though I was scared they said 'you can do this.' I'm doing it, and I'm loving it," he said.

Urish has no idea what he will do when the tour is finished. He is taking voice lessons while on the road in case another musical opportunity presents itself.

"I don't want to be an actor for the rest of my life but I'm enjoying it while I can. Like I said, right now this is where I need to be," he said.

He hopes to see a lot of family and friends in the audience on Saturday, watching him realize his dream. That includes his younger daughter, Ellie, who performs in area musicals and played Jane in the recent production of "Tarzan" at Youthlight Theatre in East Peoria.

It also includes Whitney, who toured professionally herself a few years ago in "Big River." Urish admits he was living vicariously through his daughter by seeing the show in several different venues. "I think I drove Whitney nuts going to so many of the shows but it was so much fun watching her perform and she was so good. Maybe now I can fully realize what it feels like. I think I will," he said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).