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Man of Monroe dedicates life to Chicago theater
John Reeger, known as John Schuetze during his youth in Monroe, and Paula Scrofano, his wife, were honored last year with the 2015 Equity Special Award for their lifetime achievement during the Jeff Awards, which make note of exceptional contributions to the Chicago theater scene. (Photo supplied)
MONROE - As "The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes" winds down its two-month musical debut in Chicago, story creator John Reeger has counted himself lucky to go from a native of Monroe to a successful contributor within the musical community of the Windy City.

The son of a Monroe store owner and high school history teacher, Reeger was originally known as John Schuetze. He switched to the use of his middle name for his last name in the 1980s as a stage name to avoid confusion in both spelling and pronunciation.

His father, Willard, owned Schuetze's Clothing Store on the Square for a number of years and also partly owned WEKZ radio station for some time. Reeger's mother, June, taught American history at Monroe High School. Reeger graduated from MHS in 1968.

Acting since his time spent at Northwestern University, or as he put it, "literally my whole adult life," Reeger became part of an acting duo early in his career. During his freshman year, he met his future wife Paula Scrofano. While rehearsing a play in their junior year, the pair announced their engagement. Since then, they have performed in 48 productions together and spent nearly 45 years as a married couple. The pair has not only spent more than four decades acting in Chicago, they also raised two children. Both were recently honored with the 2015 Equity Special Award for lifetime achievement in October during the Jeff Awards, which make note of exceptional contributions to the Chicago theater scene.

"That was kind of a sweet surprise," Reeger said. "We were very honored. We've been very lucky to spend our careers in Chicago. When we started out, we didn't realize what a great community it would become."

Not only has Reeger taken part in more than 150 shows, mostly in Chicago, he has also most recently entertained with narrative. The book "The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes" was written by Reeger and was turned into a musical with the help of theater community cohorts.

In the beginning, Reeger teamed up with longtime friend Julie Shannon, who began to develop the show musically. However, in 2012, Shannon died from cancer, and Reeger said he did not think the story would ever reach an audience from a Chicago stage. In 2014, Michael Mahler read through the work and told Reeger he saw "potential." Mahler, who had created other notable shows for the Chicago theater community, worked with Reeger to finish the show, and "The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes" graced the stage of Chicago's Mercury Theater on Jan. 20. The play will host its final show Sunday.

The story is a work of fiction embedded in fact. Reeger delved into the mind of Arthur Conan Doyle to create a crossover with reality in which the author interacts with his subject. Doyle killed off Holmes in his 24th piece titled "The Final Problem." After this happened, his fans, including family and even Winston Churchill, expressed outrage at the death of the famous detective. Doyle fled London to escape. Within the story, Reeger follows Doyle during his sabbatical to create an adventure between the author and Holmes, who appears out of the mist to argue that he should be brought back to life in another book. Holmes and Doyle exchange droll arguments before whisking off to solve the case of "The Wyrley Ripper."

"It has received surprisingly great reviews," Reeger said. "People seem to really like it. There's mystery and a great deal of wordplay."

Reeger was also surprised by Monroe friends who attended the show in Chicago. He was happily shocked to see that though he's "been out of Monroe so long" those who chose to remain in Wisconsin have still taken an interest in the work which has been his life.