QC “Prince Charming” finally finds his princess, proposes marriage in song on Circa stage

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Dennis VanDerGinst performs for his now fiancee Kim Kurtenbach on the Circa ’21 stage, Rock Island, on Nov. 6, 2021.

Talk about a fairy-tale ending.

On the Circa ’21 stage where veteran actress Kim Kurtenbach has spent more than 30 years, she ended the run of her last musical, “Disenchanted,” on Saturday, Nov. 6, witnessing a surprise production number as a coda.

Still in her Snow White costume, Kurtenbach was placed on the show’s throne and treated to a brief video, narrated by her close friend (and “Disenchanted” director) Cory Johnson, which began: “What follows is proof that love can make people do silly, yet amazing things…and that fairy tales really can come true.”

Johnson narrated that Kurtenbach was a fair maiden in the magical kingdom known as the Quad Cities, known far and wide for her beautiful voice, her dazzling smile and her charming personality. Her boyfriend, attorney Dennis VanDerGinst, was dressed as Prince Charming and spoke with his chirping bird about rescuing Kim, who was in trouble.

VanDerGinst, on screen as Prince Charming, talks with a chirping bird in a video shown at Circa.

Then, in person, he came out on stage in costume and performed an original song with the “Disenchanted” cast, ending by getting down on one knee and asking Kurtenbach to marry him, offering a diamond engagement ring.

Of course, she said yes, the crowd erupted, and it will be the third marriage each for the 50-year-old Kurtenbach and the 59-year-old VanDerGinst. He said Tuesday that he’s very much not an actor or singer, though he’s written a few songs before, mainly for himself. (You can see the proposal video HERE.)

Dennis asking Kim to marry him at Circa, Nov. 6, 2021.

After he saw Kurtenbach in the wacky send-up of Disney princesses, he got inspired to do the mini-production at the end of the last night of the six-week run.

“We had already talked, it was self-evident, that we were destined to get married,” VanDerGinst said. “There had to be some surprise left in it.”

Kurtenbach knew a proposal was coming, but thought it would be a quiet, private, low-key affair. It turned out the opposite.

“This really was very much a surprise for me,” she said. “I was very much shocked, but thrilled. In my mind, I thought it would be at Christmas, just the two of us, by the tree. My life has always been a big production.”

“What was cool to me was, I requested and nearly demanded that it be really small,” Kurtenbach said of the marriage proposal. “It wasn’t supposed to be a big public thing. When it settled in, it was just the most thoughtful, the time that he put into it – the weeks of preparation, and finding all the people that were involved.

The whole “Disenchanted” cast celebrates with VanDerGinst after Kurtenbach accepted the proposal.

“I was so overwhelmed with how much he put into it,” she said. “I realized that the proposal isn’t about the girl, really. The proposal is the guy’s thing to do. The man typically proposes, and who am I to say what he should or shouldn’t say?”

“I thought, man, this is perfect – a show about princesses becoming disgruntled, don’t need a Prince Charming, don’t need a man and all that,” VanDerGinst said. “I kind of thought on it, and it struck me, this would be the perfect opportunity.”

A surprise weeks in the making

He first reached out to Denny and Brett Hitchcock (Circa’s owner and director of audience development) and the “Disenchanted” cast, who all loved the idea. Music director Ron May played the piano to accompany him, and costume designer Greg Hiatt did the prince costume for him.

The “Disenchanted” cast featured Tammie Harris, left, Kim Kurtenbach, Shelley Walljasper, Sydney Dexter, Erica Lee Bigelow, and Quinn Mei Lysaght.

VanDerGinst recorded the video at his house with friend Joe Janz, while Kurtenbach was doing a show. He bought a number of electronic birds from Amazon, and got one to work.

He wrote the intro for Cory Johnson (a St. Ambrose theater professor) to read, and she had to record it — rather than say it live — because she started crying the first time she read it. Johnson and Kurtenbach are very close friends.

“It all just came together like that, and worked out great – better than I had any right to expect, for sure,” VanDerGinst said.

They’ve known each other for 10 years and were first friends. About six months ago, Kurtenbach was getting power of attorney paperwork for her mom, and she needed an attorney. VanDerGinst volunteered, and when she asked what she owed him, he said ‘dinner.’

Kim Kurtenbach and Dennis VanDerGinst in the lobby of Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, on Nov. 9, 2021 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“I was smitten with her when I first met her,” he said. “The timing wasn’t right. We had different directions in our lives at the time.”

Kurtenbach met him right before her diagnosis of stage 3 ovarian cancer (her surgery and treatment have been successful).

“When you find it, why wait?” VanDerGinst said of finding love. “I know she’s a lot more cautious and methodical about choices she makes. When I conclude something, I act on it. It didn’t take me a whole lot of time to examine and act. I was probably the one pushing things forward at breakneck speed.”

Kurtenbach turned 50 in June (he also threw her a big surprise party for that), and said when you’re older, you know what you want. “Some of those decisions are a little easier to make,” she said. “The hard part was, I haven’t been married in a very, very long time. I’ve lived a very independent life.”

Neither have children from previous marriages.

Third time is the charm for both

“I have in the song that the third time is the charm,” VanDerGinst said, and afterward he had many people come up to him and agree that is literally true.

“Whether it’s the third time or the first time, it’s right when you know it’s right,” he said.

With her being an actress and having so many ties to Circa, it felt perfect to do the proposal there, VanDerGinst said. “Really, what struck me as significant, when it comes to the proposal itself, I don’t care who knows that we love each other. I want everybody to know; the reasons why we love each other are what should remain private.”

While he said he probably went overboard, Kurtenbach said as she’s gotten to know him, “it is absolutely Dennis.”

“It was about us, but it was something to share with friends and family,” he said, noting they had many friends and family come in from out of town (including New York and Texas) to see it Nov. 6, talking up about 25 tables at Circa.

“It almost was like it was the wedding,” Kurtenbach said. “Then there was a huge party afterwards. It was just the most immense proposal I’ve ever seen or certainly been part of.”

VanDerGinst said most people knew he was going to propose, but not how he was going to. He was extremely nervous on stage.

VanDerGinst performs on the Circa stage as Kurtenbach watches.

“It was a blur when I was up there; I told people after, I don’t even remember,” he said. “I couldn’t hear the music, I couldn’t hear myself. I wasn’t sure people could hear me. It wasn’t until I saw the video that, OK, people could actually hear me.”

The “Disenchanted” cast of six women were very close, and bonded much during the run, which made sharing the proposal with them all the more meaningful.

“I’ve been working at Circa for 30 years, and this cast in particularly is probably in my top three favorite shows that I’ve done here,” Kurtenbach said. “I’ve loved every show, but this is definitely a very special one. The girls and I were all very close. Also, having come through the pandemic and seeing theater get back on its feet again – seeing a theater full of people laughing.”

The Circa ’21 cast of “Disenchanted.”

“It was just a joy to work with all these girls and remain close friends,” she said. “And to have them be part of something so special – because this is something I’ll obviously remember for the rest of my life. So to have those girls be part of that was great.”

Johnson also coordinated an emotional, star-studded one-night cabaret May 1, 2014 at Circa for Kurtenbach, as she was battling cancer, and many friends performed in her honor, before a sold-out house.

Then, she was watching all of her friends, the entire arts community singing and dancing, and speaking for her. “That was overwhelming as well; a very similar feeling,” Kurtenbach said Tuesday. “I was overwhelmed with the love and support of not only friends and family, but the community, really.”

“Cory is one of my closest and dearest friends,” she said, noting in January, she will be eight years in remission.

Kim and Dennis haven’t set a wedding date yet, but part of their future will be continuing to support charitable causes that are dear to their hearts. One of VanDerGinst’s biggest efforts has been giving away tens of thousands of bike helmets to kids in the area.

VanDerGinst Law (which specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases) has offices in Moline, Chicago, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

Circa – where Kurtenbach has acted since she was 19 – is also a second home and one she prizes as the only professional theater in the Quad Cities.

“To see people come back out and enjoying musical theater is something I’m very passionate about,” she said. “I love this place. Dennis is right, it was the perfect place to propose, because it is a home to me, since I was 19 years old. And Dennis Hitchcock is like a father to me.”

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