CITADEL THEATRE has been a pillar of the performing arts for North Shore residents for two decades. Producing four mainstage productions a season with each show running for five weeks at a time, Citadel has entertained and captivated the hearts of sophisticated theatergoers and arts-minded audience members alike.
The productions range from comedies to dramas to musicals—all performed in the intimate 144-seat auditorium. However, Citadel is not just known for professional quality performances. Over the last decade, the nonprofit theater company has also built a reputation for hosting one of Lake Forest’s most coveted events of the social season—the iconic Citadel summer gala.
This year’s gala, “A Night at the Moulin Rouge,” will be held July 16 at a renowned David Adler estate in Lake Forest that has been purchased and is being restored by local residents Adrian and Nancy Smith.
“Over the years, our gala has evolved to being touted as the party of the year in Lake Forest,” says Ellen Phelps, co-founder of Citadel Theatre with her husband, Scott Phelps.
But exactly how does Citadel keep upping the ante every year?
Just as it requires a village to create each of the theater’s productions, the summer gala is orchestrated by a dedicated committee of 44 local residents who believe in the theater and gala’s fundraising mission.
“We’ve been blessed with a following of creative and arts-minded individuals who have created long-standing friendships in the process,” says Jennifer McGregor, a long-standing Citadel committee member who has been responsible for establishing the strategic brand and art direction for the galas. “What is truly unique are our layered and diverse personalities and the multi-generational composition of our committee.”
“We truly have our gala committee to thank and the Smiths, who are at the heart of our annual fundraising efforts,” adds Phelps.
McGregor says this year’s gala will be a dramatic complement to Citadel’s glitzy and elevated Gatsby and royal themes of the past.
“It’s clearly edgy and provocative and we are up to the challenge to thrill and delight our guests,” she explains.
The gala’s committee has an event lineup to immerse partygoers into an experience like no other.
With the iconic estate as the backdrop and with the help of the talented decor team led by Lori Lennon, 400 guests will be transported to the Moulin Rouge, titillating guests in all five senses. Along with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, silent and live auctions, a tour of the property, and dancing, guests will also enjoy exciting entertainment.
“Because we are a performing arts company, we felt strongly that we provide live entertainment like dancers, singers, aerialists, and acrobats,” says Phelps.
“Our entertainment is layered with musical artists, dancers, divers, and actors, providing elements of surprise along the way,” says McGregor. “We can’t wait to see how everyone embraces the theme.”
The dinner menu consists of a mesclun salad with poached pear, Roquefort cheese, and walnut followed by sliced breast duck a l’orange, garnished with saffron couscous, French green beans, carrots, and oven-baked cherry tomato. A vegetarian option of rotolo with ricotta cheese and plum tomato sauce will also be available and to top off the dining experience is a dark chocolate and berries mousse cake for dessert.
“An Evening at the Moulin Rouge” starts at 4 p.m. While considered a “formal” event, you can expect to see just about anything from long gowns and tuxedos to themed costumes and fun dresses.
“As long as it can end up in the pool, even better!” says McGregor. “Trust me when I say this, our gala is not your traditional Lake Forest fundraiser.”
“Due to the success of our galas, we are able to grow our mainstage productions, our children’s education classes, and our outreach programming,” says Phelps. “We are so thankful for all the talented people that help us not only throw a great party but also bring great theater to our community.”
Funds raised from “An Evening at the Moulin Rouge,” benefit the theater and children’s educational programs and performances.
“Citadel Cares provides scholarships for our education classes and summer camps and allows us to provide complimentary tickets to our mainstage productions for military families and nonprofit organizations from underserved communities that wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience live theater,” says Phelps.
This summer, Citadel Theatre is also producing “Winnie the Pooh” outdoors at Lake Forest Open Lands and during the winter holiday months, “Junior Clause” will be in production for some holiday fun.
“We also produce TYA, Theatre for Young Audiences, performed by professional actors for children,” says Phelps. “This season’s productions consist of a musical in the fall, ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ a comedic British farce; ‘It Runs in the Family,” that will make you laugh through the holidays; ‘The Christians,’ my husband and I saw this produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and fell in love with this Obie-award winning play; and finally, ‘Airness,’ a hilarious look inside air guitar competitions.”
McGregor says the arts and cultural awareness that Citadel Theatre has brought to the Lake Forest community is now competitive with the Chicago theater scene, pulling city theatergoers north. And it all started with Scott and Ellen.
The couple met at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and then went on to New York City to work in professional theater. However, after setting roots in Lake Forest, the couple wanted to bring live theater along with them.
“Because we lived in Lake Forest raising our four children, we didn’t want to travel into the city to see or perform theater,” says Phelps. “Scott and I felt the community would benefit from a cultural entity we could all be proud of. Since then, we have partnered with restaurants and retailers making the whole community stronger.”
For more information about Citadel Theatre or to get tickets for “A Night at the Moulin Rouge,” visit citadeltheatre.org.