This year’s festival features an unprecedented 13 world-premiere musicals by local artists. Created to showcase Chicago’s burgeoning field of musical theatre creators, the festival includes 10 full-length musicals and three one-acts. All performances are at The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.
From a new spin on the Chicago Mayoral race to a Chekhov-inspired rock musical to a fantastical journey back in time to a 1980s prom, the festival promises something for everyone. Productions are chosen from two categories: mentored submissions, for which writers and composers submit completed works of musical theatre to be produced by Underscore Theatre – and independent submissions, for which producers submit “production-ready” works of musical theatre to be produced independently by the submitters. After receiving 45 submissions, the festival’s team selected two mentored musicals and 11 independent musicals to be performed.
“Chicago has a vibrant, growing community of musical theatre creators who need an artistic home, and we aim to give them one,” said Festival Director and Underscore Theatre Company Artistic Director Alex Higgin-Houser. “Sources of support often go to larger institutions, and with the exception of the well-connected, there are few avenues in Chicago to produce a new musical. Which makes sense – musicals are risky, and more expensive than putting on a play. But by creating the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, Underscore is providing a platform for emerging composer/lyricist teams to have their work supported, explored and most importantly – performed.”
The full Second Annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival lineup includes:
Book and Lyrics by Nick Jester, Music by David von Kampen
Directed by Emma Couling, Music Direction by David Kornfeld
Featuring Brian Elliot, Katy Fattaleh, Michael Palmenderi, Cami Rene Philgreen, Katie Sherman and Jonathan Wilson.
Brian is an IT technician at the corporate headquarters of American Smoothie Inc. He pines after the cute accountant, stews in jealousy over his too-good coworkers and prays to the spirit of John Grisham for salvation. Part thriller, part romance, and all hilarious, American Smoothie is a world premiere chock-full of bombs, bird fetishes and nutritious whole-fruit flavor.
Music and Lyrics by Kevin Wong
Directed by David Lipschutz, Music Direction by Zack Wright
Featuring Alisha Fabbi, Sadie Rose Glaspey, Allison Kochanski, Judi Riley, Ty Rood, Nick Shoda and Brenda Turner.
How well can you come to know a person you never meet? A mother sings a lullaby to her child. A teacher imparts ‘wordly wisdom’ upon a student. A man recounts his emotional journey on his wedding day. These and more seemingly disparate lives are bound together by a common thread of recurrence; they have all been touched and impacted in some way by the same person. This contemporary and unique conceptual take on the song cycle aims to explore the impact of one life through presenting seven chronological vignettes of individuals affected by a man named John, who never appears to the audience.
Presented by New American Folk Theatre
Book, Music and Lyrics by Anthony Whitaker
Directed and Choreographed by Jamal Howard, Musical Direction by Ellen Morris
Featuring Carrie Campana, Kelly Combs, Grant Drager, Sarah Gise, Eliza Helm, Kirk Jackson, Coco Kasperowicz, Chante Keller, Brenna Palfi, Shyrah Perkins and Hilary Sigale.
Dirty Girl is a musical comedy one-act following a girl who wishes she could go to the prom. Her fairy god-cousin-through-marriage appears and answers her wish with the 1980s prom of her dreams. At the prom, she faces off with the popular jock, the nerd and the cheerleaders, quickly learning that the real world can be even better than fairy tales.
Presented by American Demigods
Book by Reina Hardy, Music and Lyrics by Matt Board
Directed by Kate Staiger, Musical Direction by Ellen Morris
Featuring Jeff Bouthiette, Michael Carten, Kat Evans, Stephen Garrett, Sarah Inendino, Rory Leahy, Charlotte Ostro and Annie Passanisi.
This sci-fi convention is a geek’s paradise – costumes, robots and the chance to meet Scott Furnish, creator of spies-in-space TV show Angel 8. But this gathering of devoted Angel 8 fans has been infiltrated by a real-life spy: a reporter for anti-nerd lads’ mag Pump. Even worse, when Scott Furnish finally arrives, he has terrible news: Angel 8 has been cancelled! With their inspiration off the air, the con-goers must band together to restore faith to their devastated hero, and to themselves. Along the way, they will prove that no power in the universe can keep a story from its fans.
See the ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com review of Fanatical here.
Presented by Duplicity Ensemble
Conceived and Composed by Pamela Maurer
Devised by Duplicity Ensemble and the Marble, GA cast
Directed by Nathan Wonder, Choreographed by Annaleah Tubbin
Featuring Emily Draffen, Annemarie Friedo, Meg Palermo, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Kyle Whalen and Kegan Witzki.
Lucy’s last living relative has passed away, and she is summoned from Chicago to the rural Georgia town of Marble, home of the mythic Georgia guidestones. An orphan, Lucy had clung to fantastical stories of fame and fortune, hoping to discover she was meant to be among them – but when she arrives in Marble, the mystery of the guidestones teaches her more about her family and herself than she ever imagined.
Book by Michael Gibson and Dewayne Perkins, Music and Lyrics by Michael Gibson
Directed by Tyler Christie, Music Direction by Michael E. Gibson
Featuring Jared Grant, Ashley J. Hicks, Allie Jae, Cassie Nelson, Nicole Nola, Daven Taba, Joy Valdez-Pappas, David Stobbe and Jocelyn Villa with additional vocals by Eric Bonner, Ulises Rincon and Axel Sandoval.
Felix is a young man who possesses an amazing ability, passed down to him from generations past: he has nine lives. Felix can awaken from death as if it never happened. Drama, comedy, fantasy and mystery collide as Felix’s gift forces him to choose for himself whether he lives or dies.
One Thousand Words
Book and Lyrics by Michael Braud, Music by Curran Latas
Directed by Lavina Jadhwani
Featuring Michael Achenbach, Bill Chamberlain, Megan Gill, Joe Hornberger, Mark Labella, Eddie Ledford, Juwan Lockett, Aaron Mason, Rylee Rawcliffe, Justin Stevens, Jessup Stokes, Trevor Straub, Shaina Summerville and Alaina Wis.
Richard Hanks knows that writing a thousand words about two men who were in love in the 1940s will help promote himself at the Forward magazine, but what he doesn’t realize is how much hearing the story of the men will change his perspective on equality. The audience follows Richard’s journey, and in doing so, gets a glimpse at a love story that must struggle against a quickly changing, unacceptable culture.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Patrick Thompson
Directed by Patrick Thompson
Featuring Doug Clemons, Harper Navin, Sally Staats and Ben Usatinsky.
Passing By is about firsts. Your first kiss, your first dance, your first best friend, your first true love. This is a story about two young people who grew up in a small town and experienced many of their “firsts” with each other. They go through their first 18 years of life without ever leaving their hometown so when it finally comes time to grow up and make decisions about the rest of their lives, they quickly find out what they will get to experience together or on their own.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Robert Eric Shoemaker
Orchestration by Abigail Pershing and Nikolai Maximay
Directed by Robert Eric Shoemaker
Featuring Justin Krivda and Alexandra Merrit Mathews
Plath/Hughes explores the truth behind the turbulent marriage of two of the past century’s most renowned and celebrated poets, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Following the fateful meeting of Sylvia and Ted and traveling the timeline through childbirth, mental illness and both poets’ deaths, Plath/Hughes is a breathless original piece that defies traditional musical theatre structure and conceits. Winner of the 2014 Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize for Best Play.
Book and Lyrics by Alex Higgin-Houser, David Kornfeld, Brendan Siegfried and Laura Stratford
Music by David Kornfeld
Directed by Jon Martinez
Featuring Bobby Arnold, Kristi Parker Barnhart, Leo Bennett, Sarah Hoch, Nick Kern, Leah Tirado and Anna Wilharm with Jordan Arrasmith, Julia Beck, Raymond Goodall, Savannah Hoover, Hayleigh Hutchinson, Joseph Kuchey, Ann Libera, Isaac Loomer, Dalton Rhodes and Travis Austin Wright.
pr0ne follows Jessica Harrison, a young woman struggling to find her place in the film industry, and her family as the country discovers her secret: that she is the unnamed, possibly exploited young woman in an adult “casting couch” video at the heart of a highly-publicized legal battle. As Jessie struggles to decide how to testify, her brother and his ridiculous college roommate quest to clear her name and her parents try to come to grips with the idea of their little girl in porn. pr0ne is equal parts raucous, poignant and provocative, exploring the intersecting worlds of internet pornography, the justice system and the American family as an aspiring actress is dragged into the public spotlight.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Beth Hyland
Directed by Rebecca Willingham, Musical Direction and Additional Music by Patrick Budde
Featuring Anna Basile, Ella Pennington, Will Sonheim and Sammy Zeisel.
Seagulls is an indie-rock musical loosely based on Anton Chekov‘s The Seagull. This contemporary retelling of the classic tragicomedy follows four friends and band mates at a small college as they struggle to achieve artistic greatness without losing themselves – or each other.
How to Run for Mayor
Book by Gilbert Tanner, Music and Lyrics by Aaron Aptaker
Directed by Aaron Aptaker
Featuring Paola Sanchez Abreu, Trent Eisfeller, Mike Foster, Brian Healy, Steve Lords, Grace Palmer, Molly Parchment, Ryan Semmelmayer and Rachael Smith.
Kim needs a job. Unfortunately, she just graduated college, which means she isn’t really qualified for anything. So… she decides to run for mayor of Chicago. After her campaign goes viral, Kim winds up as the leading opponent to Rahm Emanuel. How to Run for Mayor is an irreverent and hilarious take on elections in the 21st century.
Slide (part 1)
Book by Kalena Victoria Chevalier, Music and Lyrics by Steve Clark and Ed Plough
Directed by Rachel Staelens
Featuring Amelia Bethel, Jorge Bolanos, Conor Clark, Joe Lugosch, Aaron Mann, Siobhan McKissic, Shawn Morgenlander, Rachel Pallante and Ben Schlofelt.
Loosely inspired by Upton Sinclair‘s The Jungle, Slide (part 1) follows an immigrant family’s arrival in an amazing new land of opportunity and beauty. But that beauty comes at a terrible price. As the inner workings of its mysterious factory are revealed, the family discovers that it is their very lives greasing the wheels. Broken and alone, one of them begins an impossible journey to make peace with the machine.
Dates: Tuesday, June 30 – Sunday, July 19, 2015
Press Opening: The press opening is Tuesday, June 30 at 6 pm (How To Run For Mayor), 7:30 pm (Fanatical) and 9:30 pm (American Smoothie). Press are welcome to attend all additional musicals upon request.
Schedule: Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays from 6 pm – 10 pm; Saturdays and Sundays from 12 pm – 9:30 pm.
Tickets: $15 for one-acts; $20 full-length productions; all-festival pass are available at a discounted rate. The full schedule of performances and tickets are available here.
Founded in 2011, Underscore Theatre Company is a team of producing artists dedicated to exploring stories of power and resonance through a musical lens; fostering the development of new musicals; and bolstering Chicago’s role as a national leader in musical theatre. Since its creation, Underscore has produced 14 world-premiere musicals in Chicago.