Chicago musical theater star Bernie Yvon killed in car accident

SHARE Chicago musical theater star Bernie Yvon killed in car accident

Bernie Yvon starred as Harold Hill in “The Music Man” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

In what can only be described as a horrific day for the Chicago theater community, Bernie Yvon, one of the most ubiquitous stars on this city’s musical theater stages, died in a car accident on his way to rehearsal for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana. His death, reported as the result of “blunt force trauma,” by the Indiana police, came on the very same day that actress Molly Glynn died of injuries sustained when she was hit by a tree while biking through Friday’s thunderstorm.

Yvon, 50, was a zestily gifted contemporary performer who possessed the easeful flair and charm of a Broadway musical theater actor of an earlier era. He appeared as Harry Houdini in the Broadway production of “Ragtime.” But he was the quintessential music man of Chicago — never better than when he assumed the role of Harold Hill in the 2010 production of “The Music Man,” or as Bert, the chimney sweep, in the 2013 production of “Mary Poppins,” both at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. He also was part of the Lyric Opera casts for such Broadway musicals as “Show Boat” and “The Sound of Music.” And for years he understudied Donny Osmond in “The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“We were best friends for 30 years, and I cannot count the number of shows he did for us during that time,” said a clearly shaken Terry James, executive producer of the Marriott Theatre. “We hired him for ‘Big River’ soon after he graduated from Northwestern University, and he has been working here ever since.”

“Bernie was one of those people whose persona on stage was very close to who he was in real life,” said James. ” The theater was so much a part of him, and he was one of the happiest and most loving people I’ve ever known. I think that’s why audiences took to him with such ease. He was one of our biggest draws. And Bernie didn’t care if he was ‘second from left’ in the chorus, or carrying the whole show, though of course he preferred the latter. And he was a worker. I cannot tell you how many times he would do a children’s show in the morning — and he really enjoyed them — and then be back onstage for our main show at night. He was really ‘old school,’ and the whole theater community here is hurting at the news.”

For Bill Pullinsi, artistic director of Theatre at the Center, the shock was intense and intimate.

“We had a rehearsal scheduled for a 10 a.m. on Saturday, and Bernie called from the road and said, ‘I’ll be there in five minutes’,” said Pullinsi. “An hour went by, and he didn’t answer his cell, and then we heard there had been an accident not far from the theater. It took quite a while before the police would even release his name.”

Pullinsi, founder of the now defunct Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Summit, Il., also knew Yvon from the earliest ears of his career.

“I saw him in a revue at the old Drury Lane Evergreen Park Theatre and realized this was a guy who could do everything — act, sing and really dance well,” Pullinsi said. “I cast him in ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ and in our 1990 production of Sondheim’s ‘Follies.’ He worked all over town, and was loved by the theater community, and was very outgoing. That’s one reason why he was so ideal for our current show, ‘Women on the Verge.’ He was playing the character called Taxi Driver, who speaks directly to the audience as a kind of narrator, and needs a warm, lovable personality.”

Saturday was one of the final days of rehearsal for “Women on the Verge” before the show was to begin “tech” and then start previews on Sept. 11. The cast was sent home, with no rehearsals scheduled til Tuesday. Plans to replace Yvon, and to delay some dates for the show, are currently being discussed.

“Bernie also had just been part of a cast of six actors who did a season preview event for our 2015 shows, and he did such a great job,” said Pullinsi. “And we were starting to talk about his possibly doing ‘Big Fish’ with us.”

The Maine-bred Yvon is survived by his parents and three sisters, and by his partner, the actor, choreographer and director Matt Raftery. There is no information about funeral services as yet.

Bernie Yvon, costarred with Summer Naomi Smart in “Mary Poppins” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

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