CHICAGO – Refuge Theatre Project, the three-year-old company that stunned some observers when their HIGH FIDELITY: THE MUSICAL won the 2017 Non-Equity Jeff Awards for Best Musical Production, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Scenic Design, has announced that their next production – the professional Chicago premiere of LYSISTRATA JONES – will be directed and choreographed by the husband-wife team of Broadway veterans Justin Brill and Shanna VanDerwerker.
Brill, who now resides in Chicago, appeared on Broadway in RENT, ALL SHOOK UP, and HIGH FIDELITY; and has been seen locally in key roles at Drury Lane Oakbrook (CHICAGO, CRAZY FOR YOU), Theater at the Center (Jimmy in NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, ALL SHOOK UP) and Marriott Theater (ELF, CINDERELLA AFTER THE BALL). LYSISTRATA JONES will be his directorial debut. VanDerwerker’s Broadway credits include assignments as performer (WICKED), assistant choreographer (HIGH FIDELITY) and associate choreographer (AMAZING GRACE).
Brill explains how he connected with Refuge Theatre Project and their Artistic Director Christopher Pazdernik. “Chris and I met while working at Chicago Shakespeare. He came running into the call center where I was working and wanted to have a chat about my theatre history. I was keeping it under wraps, apparently, that I had done a few shows in NYC and on the road.
About a year ago we had lunch and he pitched me on the idea of directing for Refuge with my wife Shanna as the choreographer.
“I’ve always felt a kismet connection to Refuge…the show where I met Shanna was HIGH FIDELITY on Broadway and Refuge’s big hit so far was their production of “HiFi.” The star of LYSISTRATA JONES on Broadway was Patti Murin, who Shanna and I toured with in WICKED and I worked with this spring on the pre-Broadway lab of Disney’s FROZEN. It just felt right to make my directorial debut with Chris, Refuge and this show. Plus, a fun pop music theatre update of a Greek comedy about basketball, cheerleaders and female empowerment? I’m in!!”
LYSISTRATA JONES – a musical comedy by five-time Tony Award® nominee Douglas Carter Beane, with songs by Lewis Flinn – takes the premise of the Greek comedy LYSISTRATA, in which the women of Athens refuse to have sex with their husbands and lovers until the long-lasting Peloponnesian War is finally ended – and updates it to the present day at an American college. In Beane and Flinn’s musical, a cheerleader named Lysistrata Jones convinces the girls at the fictional Athens University to withhold sexual favors until the school’s basketball team ends its 30-year losing streak.
LYSISTRATA JONES was first produced by the Dallas Theater Center in Texas in 2010, and in early 2011 transferred to New York City, where it played off-Broadway in The Gym at Judson – an actual gymnasium in a church that is used for theatrical performances. Reviewing that production, THE NEW YORK TIMES’s chief theater critic Ben Brantley called it “effervescent, tasty and surprisingly filling.” The production transferred to Broadway in December 2011 and won Beane a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical.
For LYSISTRATA JONES, Refuge will continue its practice of staging in site-specific venues when it mounts the musical in a church gymnasium, as did the original off-Broadway production. The Refuge production will be mounted in the Unity Lutheran Church gym, at 1212 W. Balmoral (at Broadway) in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood.
Cast in the title role – who is also called “Lyssie J.” – is Mary-Margaret Roberts. Roberts was recently seen as Tracy Partridge in THE BARDY BUNCH at Mercury Theatre and appeared in FAR FROM HEAVEN with Porchlight Theatre and THE CHRISTIANS at Steppenwolf. Lyssie J.’s boyfriend Mick will be played by Collin Sanderson, who has appeared as Lucas in THE ADDAMS FAMILY at the Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois; and in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, ELF AND SEUSSICAL at Marriott Theatre and CABARET at Theater at the Center. The goddess Hetaira, narrator of the story, will be played by Gina Francesca, who appeared in Refuge’s production of BARE: A POP OPERA last fall. Also in the cast are Kaleb Van Rijswijck (Xander); Maisie Rose (Robin); Xavier Euzarraga (Uardo); Dwayne Everett (Tillus); Kyra Sorce (Cleonice); Marisa Riegle (Lampito); Jayla Craig (Myrrhine); Ryan Armstrong (Cinesias); Miles Blim (Harold); Maurice Rex Randle, Merrick Robinson, Mollyanne Nunn, Brandy Miller (ensemble); and Raymond Goodall (male swing/dance captain).