Amber Mak named to new works development post at Paramount Theatre

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For years the clarion call of nearly every theater has been to “make it new,” with the drive to develop new playwrights and new plays a crucial mission. Devising new musicals is always a far more complicated undertaking — one that demands far more extensive collaboration and funding — yet that, too, has been the goal of theaters, whether they are devoted solely to musicals, or to a mix of plays and musical theater.Now, in its 5th season of self-producing an immensely successful Broadway musical series, Aurora’s Paramount Theatre has announced a major step toward overseeing just such an initiative to develop new musicals with the appointment of Chicago director-choreographer Amber Mak as its first-ever New Works Development Director.A fixture on the Chicago musical theater scene, Mak is custom-made for the job.  Not only did she direct Paramount’s latest hit, “Hairspray — The Musical” (which finished its run this past weekend), and serve as assistant director and associate choreographer of Paramount’s 2014 hit production of “Mary Poppins,” but in 2014 she became the founding artistic director of Chicago’s FWD Theatre Project, which is wholly devoted to the showcasing and further production of new musicals. As part of FWD she recently collaborated with Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, co-creators of “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon,” on their concert reading and English premiere of an early work, “La Revolution Francaise.” (While Mak is stepping down as artistic director of FWD to accept her new position at Paramount, she will remain a close collaborator and member of the project’s board of directors.)

Amber Mak directed the recent hit production of “Hairspray – The Musical,” at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Amber Mak directed the recent hit production of “Hairspray – The Musical,” at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre. (Photo: Liz Lauren)

So now, in addition to staging grand-scale revivals of Broadway classics, Paramount will now be actively pursuing the development of new musicals. Mak’s position, which is full-time, and begins immediately, suggests the arrival of an exciting new era of artistic and economic expansion for the Paramount. Mak will help expand the theater’s mission by overseeing the discovery, creation, development and production of new musicals for the Paramount Theatre Broadway Series. A key goal is to introduce Paramount audiences to the company’s first world-premiere musical within the next three to five years.“I believe the Paramount’s artistic vision, dedication to creating high quality productions, Broadway-caliber facilities and passion for excellence makes it an ideal place to develop the next great musical,” said Mak in a statement. “Paramount is already a proven place to re-imagine and revive our greatest musicals. Now we’re looking to the future, being a part of the conversation and contributing to the growth and development of the art form.”In addition to “Hairspray,” Mak’s credits include serving as Assistant/SDC Observership Fellow for Susan Stroman for the new musical, “Big Fish,” in Chicago and on Broadway. Mak was Jeff-nominated for her choreography of “Singin’ in the Rain” at Drury Lane — a theater, not incidentally, that created a similar “new works” position recently. The Chicago area’s other major musicals producer, Marriott Theatre, has been testing new works for many seasons, so clearly there will be plenty of competition for potential hot properties.Originally from suburban Kansas City, Mak, a Northwestern University graduate, has served on the National High School Institute faculty for the past 15 years.

In a prepared statement, Tim Rater, president and CEO of Paramount Theatre noted: “With today’s announcement, Paramount is adding an extremely talented Chicago theater artist and experienced, well-connected producer to our staff. Paramount has radically altered Chicago’s musical theater landscape in just the last five years with one Broadway-caliber musical after another. The time is now to take the next step in our growth plan, expand into new play development and stake Paramount’s claim in advancing the form.”Jim Corti, Paramount’s artistic director added: “Amber Mak’s passion for new work matches our own, and she brings with her discerning taste and resourcefulness we would never know without her. … A risky and brave sort, this collaboration personally expands all of us as well, as we embark in a new direction yet logical next step for our company: cultivating and nourishing new work for the theater, made in Aurora.”For more details visit ParamountAurora.com/NewWorks.

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