Ron Onesti: Movie stars turned musicians

BACKSTAGE with the Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti

I am not ashamed to say that at times, I am star struck. Many of my peers in showbiz make it a point to show that the stars they hire for their stages “put their pants on one leg at a time, just like me … no big deal.” To that I say, “It IS a big deal!” And when one of these Hollywood superstars move from in front of the camera to being in front of a live audience, things happen. Cool things happen, all the more reason to be excited … and impressed.

Not too long ago we had the star of the hit television series “24” and many films including, “Stand By Me,” “Flatliners” and “A Few Good Men,” Keifer Sutherland. When he is not filming for television and film, he is performing original country/Americana tunes, singing the songs and playing his six-string acoustic guitar with his band.

It was my first time meeting the star and I found him to be quite charismatic. He has a soft-spoken demeanor, much like his legendary actor/father, Donald Sutherland.

Generous with his time and tales, Keifer was so appreciative for the opportunity to play the “iconic” Arcada Theatre. He shared story after story, and answered my question, “Why do this?”

“When I am filming, I am given a script and become the character. When I do music, I get to share deep thoughts and feelings with real people, as me and not someone I am supposed to be. One of my songs is about losing my mother. As I sang the song, I noticed a girl whose eyes said it all. She went through the same thing. We made eye contact and we both knew what the other was feeling. That, is real,” he said.

As we were talking, I kept on looking at the face I knew from the big and little screens. It still was surreal for me. I am talking to Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (“A Few Good Men”) and Jack Bauer (“24”)!

When we opened our new property, The Des Plaines Theatre, we did it with Kevin Costner. Talk about a Hollywood legend! We spent almost four years building that theater back to its original 1925 splendor. So who else should reopen this palace than the guy who made, “If you build it, they will come,” famous?

He is another one that you just stare at when you are with him. He has been so much a part of cinematic pop culture that you really feel as if you know him when you are in his presence. He is another one who loves doing his “side-gig” of playing music to enthusiastic and supportive audiences.

His band Modern West also does Americana/country originals, many of which were written while he was awaiting his call on a movie set. But man, I have to tell you, being a baseball movie fan, he is the “Holy Grail” of baseball movies. I WAS star struck! “JFK,” “The Untouchables,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham,” “Yellowstone” … sooooo many reasons to love this guy!

He was extremely warm and enamored with the character of our vintage theaters, since he played The Arcada a few years back as well. He really has an appreciation for the classic venues. So much so that he autographed a poster that said, “Ron, you built it, and they came … Congratulations! Kevin Costner.” He was just so cool!

I mentioned the film, “Stand By Me” earlier. Remember Corey Feldman, one of the young stars of that film? He performed at The Arcada with his band, “The Angels.” That show was more of an oddity than a musical performance. It was a Victoria’s Secret ad come to life — complete with white feathered wings on his all-female band. But still, to see someone you practically grew up with at the movies be on your stage with a guitar still had its share of cool. I still scratch my head about that one, though. He was a good guy, but definitely a bit “eccentric,” to say the least. Anyway, we got through it!

Billy Bob Thornton, the ex-husband of famed actress Angelina Jolie, also has a band. It’s called The Boxmasters. His stuff is pretty intense, but it’s really good. The actor from “Slingblade,” “Armageddon” and “Fargo” fronts a blues/rock experience reminiscent of those southern bands you would see in small, smoke-filled clubs off the Mississippi. We had him before, and the music is fabulous, but it is a bit intimidating when this tall movie star would look down at me. I felt as if I was in one of his thriller flicks!

And what can I say about one of my favorites, Kevin Bacon? My six degrees of separation turned to one as he played The Arcada with his brother, Michael. The “Footloose” star has so many acting credits they are just too numerous to mention. But he showed up in worn jeans and a white T-shirt, humble and friendly. He has been playing music with his brother for a long time, and his music and personal stories kept the fans engaged and at the edge of their seats, that is, until he played the title song of the film, “Footloose.” It turned into an ’80s dance party!

All in all, these guys have all been great. To see them through a different pair of eyes is interesting to say the least. But to hear them connect with their audience by way of personal stories, both spoken and sung, is truly a special experience.

I now have a bucket list of other actor/singer/songwriters. Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, Bruce Willis, and even Minnie Driver is on this list. I am sure I will get them all! I just hope I do before they all move to the Hollywood Home for the Aged!

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp., the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and the Des Plaines Theatre. Celebrity questions and comments? Email

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