Local woman participates in musical to honor late cousin.
PEORIA (25News Now) - Acting isn’t Whitney Jenson’s day job. According to her, she hasn’t performed in a musical production in years. Now, she has a new motivation, and is making her way back to the stage to honor her cousin Valerie Kelley.
“I couldn’t think of a better reason for me to put myself out there than for my cousin Valerie, I’m definitely doing it for her.” says Jenson.
Valerie was well known and liked throughout the theatre community, having performed in many shows at both Corn Stock and Peoria Players. Those who worked with her say she had a spirit larger than life.
“She was free spirited, she was positive, everybody who knew her absolutely loved her.” says Peggy Breaux Hupp.
Back in 2015 Breaux Hupp directed Sister Act The Musical at the Peoria Players Theatre. Valerie was casted as Michelle, a back-up singer for the lead character Deloris Van Cartier. In addition to Sister Act, Val performed in several shows and holiday productions, including Hair Spray and The Little Mermaid. Her friends and family would agree that she had a talent that was undeniable.
However, in January of 2022 things took a turn for the worst when Valerie was diagnosed with a rare form of bladder cancer. After going undetected for so long, the cancer progressed quickly, and Valerie Kelley died in April 2022 at only 40 years old. It was something no one expected.
Still dealing with the pain of losing her cousin who was more like her sister, Jenson learned Corn Stock Theatre was performing Sister Act The Musical and made a selfless decision.
Jenson reached out to the show’s director Jimmy Ulrich looking to take on whatever role he had open. To her surprise Ulrich would cast her as Michelle, the same exact role Valerie played 8 years ago.
Grateful for the opportunity, she says this has been a healing process not just for her but for her family as well. As part of their tradition, the entire family will be at opening night. Undoubtedly an emotional moment where they’ll remember and reflect on the life and legacy of Valerie Kelley.
Sister Act The Musical will be at the Corn Stock Theatre June 2nd -10th. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students 18 and under. Tickets and more information about the show can be found here.
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