By Erin Fleming
“Where you wanna go on a Saturday night?”
It’s a good question, and the opening line to an uptempo rock gem of a number called “Too Drunk To Be 15,” from the show Jenna Roxy and The Church of Modern Love, a new musical described as a “super immersive Hedwig” – and just one of the promising new productions in this year’s Chicago Musical Theatre Festival.
And this is where you want to go next Saturday night. And Tuesday. And Thursday…It’s here!
The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, now in its third year, is Underscore Theatre Company’s showcase of groundbreaking new work, created to nurture Chicago’s ever-growing crop of innovative musical theatre artists. According to Festival Director Alex Higgin-Houser, this year the CMTF offers up more opportunities than ever before for composing teams to partner with local production powerhouses like Kokandy Productions, CPA Theatricals and Bailiwick Chicago.
In addition to showcasing local performers and artists, the festival provides a much needed forum for the development of emerging authors who would otherwise struggle to find a company willing to take on the financial and artistic risks of producing new work. CMTF participants share resources to keep costs low, and half of all ticket proceeds are returned to the producers.
This year’s CMTF includes 14 new musicals in rep August 9th-28th at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park, with each production running for 4 performances. The full schedule (Tuesdays-Sundays) can be found at www.cmtf.org. Tickets are on sale for $20 per show, and there are two free workshop productions. With shows ranging from a Righteous Brothers tribute, to a song cycle exploring the relationships of modern queer men, to a celebration of Jewish cuisine and a musical about what kind of crappy day job you might find after the Rapture – the festival truly has something for everyone.
The Sneak Preview on Monday, August 8 at Victory Gardens was buzzing with the energy of good-spirited collaboration, an often overlooked distinction of the Chicago musical theatre community. Those in attendance got to hear a little bit about and from each production and listen to some amazing performers.
The stand-out performance of the night had to be Vasily Deris’ balls-out, soul-baring power ballad, “I’m Ready,” from Planted, accompanied by composer Jeff Bouthiette on piano. How many songs in the American Musical Theatre canon address the fear and joy of anticipating fatherhood from a gay man’s perspective? Not enough. But the bar by which to judge future contributions to this neglected subject has been established. Deris’ vulnerability, compellingly belied by the strength of his vocals, brings the audience in immediately to recognize the universal in these very personal lyrics:
I’m ready. Ready to be a dad.
To be the one I never had.
To love my daughter or my son.
Something great has begun.
All this love for free.
Other highlights of the night included three great group numbers:
The ripped-from-sketch-comedy cast of Tribulation – it’s the end of the world, but you still need a job–sang “We Told You So,” an irreverent and judgy lesson led by Nathan, who is described as “born again, a little too late.” With lyrics like “If you’re not Christian, you’re just stupid,” hilariously performed by Bobby Richards, Lisa Burton, Nick Shine, Seth Wanta, Chris Blake and Erin Rein, one imagines this show will appeal to fans of The Book of Mormon.
The well-balanced ensemble from Jeffery Lyle Segal’s Mating sang a medley of six songs from this clever revue about modern romance, “In the Produce Aisle” performed by Amanda Hartley, “My Baby Used To Be a Man” performed by Joseph Alvey, “Honky Tonk Knight” performed by Natalie Rae, “Love Online” performed by Edward J. MacLennan and “Finally” performed by the ensemble. The numbers vary in style, tempo and genre as they address different aspects of contemporary relationships, but all feature Segal’s signature humor and Sondheimian rhymes.
The triple threats from New American Folk Theater (they act, they sing, they play their own instruments!) roused the audience to clap along with “Come In This House,” from My Life Is A Country Song. Suzanne Bracken, Kelly Combs, Jenna Fawcett, Derek Fawcett, Charlie Irving, Kirk Jackson and Anthony Whitaker showed us what it sounds like when “Good Baptist Girls” decide to be bad for a night.
And a final show-capper by Jenna Schoppe sent everyone out laughing with “Happy Fucking Day,” the ultimate Bridezilla lament, from Pen, accompanied by Musical Director Aaron Benham on piano.
Here’s a run down of each show – be sure to catch at least one!
The Bridge Program
DAPHNE’S SUNSET presented by CPA Theatricals
Previously performed as Spot on the Wall at the New York Musical Festival
Book and Lyrics By Kevin Jaeger, Music by Alex Mitchell
Directed by Mark Lococo, Music Direction by Justin LaForte
Cast: Cody Dericks, Colleen DeRosa, Gerald Richardson, Gary Smiley and Jess Thigpen.
Daphne’s Sunset tells the story of one family’s search for expression and empathy inside a museum. With allusions to Greek mythology and a contemporary score, Daphne’s Sunset reminds us to delve into the ugly truth and look for the beauty.
FLIGHT presented by Kokandy Productions
Book, Music and Lyrics by Michael Potsic
Directed by Allison Hendrix, Music Direction by Kevin Reeks
Choreography by Gloria Mwez
Cast: Nathan Carroll, Nick Graffagna and Lauren Kerbs with Johnny Kyle Cook, Colin Funk, Emily Grayson, Jeff Meyer, Courtney Mize, Johanna Moffitt and Jared Rein.
Based on the Greek myth “The Flight of Icarus,” Flight follows Daedalus, his wife Aeden and their son Icarus as they learn that to truly live and love comes with great risk.
PLANTED presented by Rogue Elephant Productions
Co-conceived by Christopher Pazdernik and Jeff Bouthiette
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bouthiette, with additional lyrics by Rebekah Walendzak
Directed by Christopher Pazdernik, Music Direction by Jeff Bouthiette
Cast: Vasily Deris, Maxwell J. DeTogne, Cisco Lopez, Conor McGarry, Jerome Riley and Korey White.
Planted is a contemporary song-cycle exploring relationships of modern-day queer men. Five men navigate through the minefields of dating, marriage, separation and independence. Through a multitude of characters and songs, audiences are introduced to stories both heart-breaking and hilarious during this one-act musical collage.
TRIBULATION: THE MUSICAL presented by Higgin’s Beach Productions
Previously performed at iO Mission Theater, Chicago
Book and Lyrics by Molly Miller, Music by Brad Kemp
Directed by Tyler Samples, Music Direction by Jennifer Mitchell
Cast: Lexi Alioto, Chris Blake, Lisa Burton, Sarah Dell’Amico, Rosie Moan, Erin Rein, Bobby Richards, Niq Schwartz, Nick Shine and Seth Wanta.
It’s the end of the world… and you still need a job. Prophets, whores, middle managers, grad students and delivery guys alike all struggle to find their own pat and prevent the Apocalypse in this hilarious take on the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
THAT LOVIN’ FEELIN’ presented by Off Broadway Dinner Theatres, Inc.
Previously performed at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre
Book by James A. Zimmerman, Musical Arrangements by J. Michael Roy
Direction and Music Direction by James A. Zimmerman
Choreography by Lydia Keith
Cast: Peter Alexander, David Wesley Frank, Philip Frieler, Yvonne Freese, Joe Keith, Greg Lund, Leon Hammer, Brittany Oberstadt, Lydia Olson and Wayne Peterson.
Now That Lovin’ Feelin’, the extraordinary “musical biography” of The Righteous Brothers, chronicles the story and songs of the duo that defined “Blue-Eyed Soul” for a generation. This energetic tribute to the unique genius of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield features more than 20 hits including “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Justine,” “Unchained Melody,” and of course, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”
MATING presented by Jeffery Lyle Segal
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jeffery Lyle Segal
Directed by Jeffery Lyle Segal, Music Direction by Michael Goldman
Cast: Edward J. MacLennan, Bradley Halverson, Natalie Rae and Amanda Hartley Urteaga.
The tragicomedy of modern romance is celebrated with laughter and tears in this smart new musical revue.
MY LIFE IS A COUNTRY SONG
Presented by New American Folk Theatre
Book, Music and Lyrics by Anthony Whitaker
Directed by JamAl Howard, Music Direction by Anthony Whitaker
Music Arrangements by Derek Fawcett
Cast: SuzAnne Bracken, Derek Fawcett, Jenna Fawcett, Charlie Irving and Kirk Jackson.
The story of Donna, a woman starting life over after leaving a long-term abusive relationship. It becomes of a story of forgiveness; forgiving herself for allowing herself to be victimized, her family for turning their heads and even her ex-husband.
Music and Lyrics by Leo Schwartz, Book and Lyrics by DC Cathro
Directed by Michael Driscoll, Music Direction by Aaron Benham
Cast: Michael Owen Achenbach, Shaun Baer, Randolph Johnson, Lauren Paris, Jenna Schoppe and Paul Michael Thomson.
Still reeling from a recent breakup and looking for a distraction, Paul starts corresponding with Rod, a pen pal in another state. Meanwhile, Paul’s co-worker, Lee, is in the planning stages of her wedding. Soon, what began as an innocent flirtation evolves into an emotional attachment that neither of them expected. The problem? Paul’s ex, Grayson, returns to try to win him back. The bigger issue? Paul’s pen pal is a prisoner, incarcerated for 13 more years.
GEFILTE FISH CHRONICLES
Previously performed at the New York Musical Festival
Book by Matty Selman and Iris Burnett. Music and Lyrics by Matty Selman
Directed by Emily Maltby, Music Direction by Jermaine Hill
Orchestrations by James Higgins
Cast: Caron Buinis, Jonas Davidow, Andrew Jessop, Neill Kelly, Kayla Kennedy, Katie Ratliff and Ashlyn Seehafer.
The last of the colorful Dubroff sisters, Goldie, has just passed away and her granddaughter, an aspiring actress, leaves for Hollywood instead of staying home and having the traditional family Passover (songs, stories, prayers and massive amounts of food), with her mother. When the family photographer magically appears after being gone for 50 years, the stage begins to sparkle with a musical that is enchanting, heartwarming and uproariously funny.
STALKER: THE MUSICAL presented by RPG Productions
Previously performed at the New York International Fringe Festival 2015
Concept by David Russell, Book and Lyrics by David Russell and Alex Giles
Music by Andy Peterson
Directed by Nich Radcliffe, Music Direction by Andy Peterson
Cast: Tamara Bodnar Sydney Alex Dycus, Jessica Fisher, Michael Kingston, Molly LeCaptain, Lukas Nowakowski, Josh Pritchett Elizabeth Stenholt, Ethan Warren, Nik Whitcomb and Christopher Zeglin.
In a dystopian world, where love is completely outlawed, “stalking'” has emerged as a replacement for relationships, and people adhere to the concept of “Look, but don’t touch.” When a stranger from another world arrives, society is thrown into chaos, not least because this stranger introduces a novel concept: that of love.
WILL THE CIRCLE
Book by L.C. Bernadine; Music and Lyrics by Kevin Welch
Directed by Vi Tran, Music Direction by T.J. Anderson
Cast: Gianna Clark, Jon Patrick Penick, Justin Pierce, Willa Sachs and Aaron Sarka.
Four people at a block party – apartment-dwellers in a world of homeowners – are drawn to each other because of their status as invisible renters, their mutual penchant for a kind of loopy conversational improv and their desire for anything that resembles security at a time when the threat of violence simmers at The Edge of every day and every horizon.
THE TRANSCIVILITY OF ALBERT CASHIER
Presented by Permovio Productions and Keaton Wooden
Created by Jay Paul Deratany
Book by Jay Paul Deratany, Music and Lyrics by Joe Stevens
Directed by Keaton Wooden, Music Direction by Joe Stevens
Cast: To be announced.
An exploration of the life and story of Albert Cashier, a Civil War soldier with a secret that resonates with issues in the public eye150 years later. From the author of Veronica (Greenhouse Theater) and Haram, Iran (London).
NUMBERS NERDS presented by CPA Theatricals
Book by Laura Stratford, Lyrics by Alex Higgin-Houser, Music by David Kornfeld
Directed by Amber Mak, Music Direction by John Cockerill
Cast: Danielle Davila, Britain Gebhardt, Madison Kauffman, Jhardon Milton, Hanah Rose Nardon and Maisie Rose.
Against a backdrop of drama-queens-turned-janitors, loose ferrets and college pressure, a diverse (almost) all-girls high school Math Team must band (and sing!) together to raise the money to go to the National competition, surmount their differences to win and figure out if unicorns are extinct.
JENNA ROXY AND THE CHURCH OF MODERN LOVE presented by Bailiwick Chicago in conjunction with With a Machete Productions
Book, Music and Lyrics by Ethan Krupp and Davyd Reddyk
Directed by Jon Martinez, Music Direction by Davyd Reddyk
Cast: Becca Brown, Maxwell J. DeTogne, Gary Fields, Mike Gospel, Brendan Mulhern and Sophia Shrand.
When the inventor Dole Roxy created the world’s most popular cough syrup, he collected a group of people who drink it so regularly that he began a commune, focused on music, love and drinking Roxy’s Cough Syrup. When he passes away, his spirit is “transmigrated” into his newborn daughter (Jenna) making her the new leader.