SULLIVAN – Theatergoers Jean Jones and Janice Catolano of Springfield didn't realize until they arrived at the Little Theatre on the Square on Wednesday that television star Doug Wilson would be on stage in "Guys and Dolls" as Sky Masterson.
"We couldn't be more pleased," Catolano said during intermission. "We were just thrilled that he's here."
It's likely that many people who weren't even at the opening of the theater's 51st season are pleased with Wilson's presence in Sullivan.
The Broadlands native is not only starring in the musical, but he has bought and is renovating Jibby's restaurant at 19 N. Main St., Sullivan, and plans to buy a place to stay in the Moultrie County seat.
"Jibby's has a lot of attachment to the theater in terms of history," Wilson said after signing autographs after the Wednesday matinee. "Theatergoers have gone to Jibby's for decades. It's really a tradition between the theater and restaurant."
Along with Jibby's, Wilson purchased the "Gallery of Stars" – the autographed portraits of the major actors who performed at Little Theatre during the years that founder Guy Little ran it as a star theater. Among them are Carol Burnett, Mickey Rooney and Margaret Hamilton.
The photographs will be displayed in Jibby's, which closed earlier this year after having been a mainstay in Sullivan for eons, according to Lori Harbaugh, business manager of Little Theatre.
"My grandfather used to frequent that establishment in the early days," she said.
The Little Theatre is not involved in the Jibby's project, Harbaugh said. It is Wilson's alone, and his first restaurant, he said.
The television star and interior designer, who will maintain his home in New York, plans to bring in a chef and serve food such as steak, seafood and pasta for which Jibby's had become known. He plans to adjust the menu, though, according to local tastes.
"I want to get a pulse on what people really want to eat there," he said. "It's going to be central Illinois' finest."
As for performing at the Little Theater, Wilson said he had wanted for a number of years to get back on the boards.
"I've been doing television nine years straight," he said. "My brother lives in Gays, and he's a season ticket-holder and he had been talking to me about the shows at the Little Theatre. And Jibby's became available."
He said he also wanted to get back to his roots. Wilson grew up on a farm in eastern Champaign County – his parents, Tom and Joyce Wilson, have since moved to Sidney. He also acted at Unity High School, graduating in 1983. As a senior there, he portrayed the cool con man Sky Masterson.
He also acted for the Villa Grove Community Theatre, Sunshine Dinner Playhouse in Champaign and student productions at the University of Illinois, where he studied voice and acting.
Eager to begin his career, he left the university for New York, was accepted to the National Shakespeare Conservatory and after graduating in 1988, toured for three years with the Theater Rehabilitation for Youth.
It was then that Wilson, to support himself, began doing odd jobs for interior decorators, drawing on skills he had learned on his family farm and while working for Oren Johnson, an interior designer in Champaign-Urbana.
In New York, he started a business called Handy Man Can. Eventually he began doing decorative finishes and gained a reputation among interior designers, including Albert Hadley of Parish-Hadley, a legendary firm that did the Kennedy White House. Wilson began working for Hadley on contract.
By the time the producers of "Trading Spaces" asked him to audition for The Learning Channel series, Wilson had become one of the top decorators in New York. He is now taping his eighth season of "Trading Spaces" – a reality-based series in which neighbors renovate a space in each other's home – and will begin taping his fifth season later this summer as host of "Moving Up." In that show, homeowners discover how the new owners redecorated their former homes.
In addition to his television work, Wilson appears at home shows nationwide and continues to do a few "pet projects," among them redecorating actress Lindsay Lohan's apartment.
"That's been an interesting endeavor," he said.
In 2004, Clarkson Potter published "Doug's Rooms: Transforming Your Space One Room at a Time."
"It's my 'Decorating 101,'" Wilson said. "It's not 'Trading Spaces' rooms. It's a guideline and inspiration to help people decorate and get motivated, to find their inspiration and put it in motion."