Two festivals revving up to showcase new plays and musicals

SHARE Two festivals revving up to showcase new plays and musicals

Facade of Victory Gardens Theater. (Photo: Emily Herrington)

Make it new and try it out. That is the imperative, whether it takes the form of a new play or a new musical.That also is the motivation behind a burst of midsummer energy evidenced by two festivals: The Chicago Ignition Festival for new plays, running Aug. 5 – 7, and the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival (CMTF), running Aug. 9 – 28. Both festivals will be in residence on the stages of the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln.Produced by Victory Gardens, the Ignition Festival will feature free readings of six plays by writers from throughout the U.S., to be directed by leading artists from Chicago. Two of the plays may ultimately be selected for intensive workshops during Victory Gardens’ 2016-17 season, and Victory Gardens may produce one of these final scripts in an upcoming season. For details (including related events), call (773) 871-3000 or visit

 The lineup for the Ignition Festival includes: 

+ “The Wayward Bunny” (Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m.): By Greg Kotis (of “Urinetown the Musical” fame), directed by Henry Wishcamper, with dramaturgy by Carina Abbaticchio. The cast will include Kirsten Fitzgerald, Philip Earl Johnson, Aaron Lamm, Steve Pickering and Mary Ann Thebus. When a mystery writer returns to his childhood home in search of his missing son, he lives through a night of terror told through bedtime stories, past transgressions, and forgotten truths that force him to confront his essential nature.

Playwright Greg Kotis. (Photo: Courtesy of Victory Gardens Theater)

Playwright Greg Kotis. (Photo: Courtesy of Victory Gardens Theater)

+ BREACH: a manifesto on race in America through the eyes of a black girl recovering from self-hate” (Aug. 6 at 3p.m.): By Antoinette Nwandu, directed by Devon de Mayo, with dramaturgy by Polly Hubbard. The cast includes Japhet Balaban, Linda Bright Clay, Travis Delgado, Cruz Gonzalez and Ericka Ratcliff. What happens when an African American woman with a dead-end job and a fizzling relationship accidentally gets pregnant by a man she is not dating? A play about motherhood, race, and how hard is it to love others when it’s you that you loathe most of all.

Playwright Antoinette Nwandu. (Photo: Courtesy of Victory Gardens Theater)

Playwright Antoinette Nwandu. (Photo: Courtesy of Victory Gardens Theater)

+ “EOM (end of message)” (Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m.): By Laura Jacqmin, directed by Monty Cole, with dramaturgy by Isaac Gomez. The cast includes Owais Ahmed, Jordan Brodess, Coby Goss, Casey Morris, Kelly O’Sullivan, Alec Silver and Penelope Walker. When the milestone date on their new video game is suddenly moved up – the week before Thanksgiving – a ragtag team of game developers must camp out at the office for seven days straight, crunching to meet an impossible deadline.

Playwright Laura Jacqmin. (Photo: Courtesy of Victory Gardens Theater)

Playwright Laura Jacqmin. (Photo: Courtesy of Victory Gardens Theater)

+ “Kill Move Paradise” (Aug. 7 at 12 noon): By James Ijames, directed by Marti Lyons, with dramaturgy by Rebecca Adelsheim. Set in a netherworld, we follow Isa, Daz, Grif and Tiny as they try to make sense of the world they have been ripped from. Colliding the Elysium Greek myth with recent events, the play is “an expressionistic buzz saw” through the contemporary myth that “all lives matter.”

+ “Gaza Rehearsal” (Aug. 7 at 3 p.m.): By Karen Hartman, directed by Chay Yew. A play within a play, a tragedy inside a comedy. A group of faculty and students at a large public university stage a little-known political drama, “Goliath,” set in Gaza, 2005. Its playwright, who is on faculty, is desperate to “spark dialogue” about Israel/ Palestine on campus. And she does.

+ “Girls in Cars Underwater” (Aug. 7 at 7:30 p.m.): By Tegan McLeod, directed by Will Davis, with dramaturgy by Isaac Gomez. When newcomer Dusty is hired as a shot girl at one of the toughest bars in the city, she forms an unexpected bond with the hard-edged women who work there. Just as she begins to settle into her new family, Dusty loses herself in the underbelly of the night.


Produced by Underscore Theatre, in partnership with CPA Theatricals, Kokandy Productions and Bailiwick Chicago, the goal of CMTF, now in its third year, is to help the many musical theatre creators and performers in Chicago who often are thwarted by the high risks of producing new musicals. CMTF is designed from the ground up to keep costs low by sharing resources, returning half of all ticket proceeds to producers, and showcasing emerging authors from Chicago and beyond.Here, in alphabetical order, are the 12 musicals (each to receive four performances) in the festival. The full schedule can be found at, with single tickets ($20) and festival passes currently on-sale.

+ “Daphne’s Sunset,” presented by CPA Theatricals: Book and lyrics By Kevin Jaeger, music by Alex Mitchell. (Previously performed as Spot on the Wall at the New York Musical Festival.) The story of one family’s search for expression and empathy inside a museum. Paul Hunter, a talented photographer, is about to have an exhibition of his work at the museum – but when his artwork focuses on his mother’s recent lost battle with cancer, his family finds out how difficult it can be to face your pain and your past. 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.

A scene from “Daphne’s Sunset,” part of the Chicago Musical Theater Festival. (Photo: Jenny Anderson)

A scene from “Daphne’s Sunset,” part of the Chicago Musical Theater Festival. (Photo: Jenny Anderson)

+ “Flight,” a world premiere presented by Kokandy Productions: Book, music and lyrics by Michael Potsic. Based on the Greek myth, “The Flight of Icarus,” the show follows Daedalus, his wife Aeden ,and their son Icarus as they learn that to truly live and love comes with great risk.

+ “Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” previously performed at the New York Musical Festival: Book by Matty Selman and Iris Burnett. Music and lyrics by Matty Selman. 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.

+ “Mating,” a world premiere presented by Jeffery Lyle Segal: Book, music and lyrics by Jeffery Lyle Segal. The tragicomedy of modern romance is celebrated with laughter and tears in this new musical revue. In the first act, the performers sing mostly comedic complaints about the difficulty of finding “the one.” In the second act, the couples join and find happiness. But those love songs are followed by songs of breaking up, with their accompanying emotional pain. In the end, the couples reunite, and celebrate in love and unity.

+ “My Life Is a Country Song,” a world premiere presented by New American Folk Theatre: Book, music and lyrics by Anthony Whitaker. The story of Donna, a woman starting life over after leaving a long-term abusive relationship. She has rented a mill house and is trying to begin a new life while trying to understand the years of mental and physical violence she endured. 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.

+ “Pen,” a world premiere: Music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz, book and lyrics by DC Cathro. 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.

+ “Planted,” presented by Rogue Elephant Productions: Co-conceived by Christopher Pazdernik and Jeff Bouthiette, with music and lyrics by Jeff Bouthiette, with additional lyrics by Rebekah Walendzak. In today’s media, the depiction of LGBT life in America has evolved enormously: television such as ‘Transparent’ and ‘Modern Family’ as well as book musicals such as Kinky Boots and Fun Home have not shied away from telling the bold and complicated stories of queer individuals. One popular theatrical medium, however, has lagged behind: the song cycle. In the tradition of classic hetero-centric works such as “Closer Than Ever” and “Songs for a New World,” “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 will be introduced to stories both heart-breaking and hilarious during this one-act musical collage.

+ “Stalker: The Musical,” presented by RPG Productions, and previously performed at the New York International Fringe Festival 2015: Concept by David Russell, book and lyrics by David Russell and Alex Giles, and music by Andy Peterson. 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.

+ “The Transcivility of Albert Cashier,” a world premiere presented by Permovio Productions and Keaton Wooden

Created by Jay Paul Deratany, with book by Jay Paul Deratany, and music and lyrics by Joe Stevens. An exploration of the life and story of Albert Cashier, a Civil War soldier with a secret that resonates with issues in the public eye 150 years later. From the author of “Veronica” (Greenhouse Theater) and “Haram, Iran” (London).

+ “Tribulation: The Musical,” presented by Higgin’s Beach Productions: Book and lyrics by Molly Miller and music by Brad Kemp. It’s the end of the world… and you still need a job. Tribulation: The Musical follows Genevieve, a would-be poet who ends up at a crappy desk job after she realizes that being left behind in the rapture doesn’t mean rent isn’t due. 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’ Feeling’,” presented by Off Broadway Dinner Theatres, Inc.: Book by James A. Zimmerman, and musical arrangements by J. Michael Roy. You know the songs, but do you know the story? This “musical biography” of The Righteous Brothers chronicles the story and songs of the duo that defined “Blue-Eyed Soul” for a generation. Follow two young dreamers from Orange County as they break into R&B, find enormous success and later enjoy a lifetime collaboration and friendship. 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’.”

+”Will the Circle,” a world premiere: Book by L.C. Bernadine and music and lyrics by Kevin Welch. 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. Unfortunately, getting to know each other ends up involving just the tiniest bit of home invasion.

Two additional workshops will be part of the mix.

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