Monday, December 9, 2019

Steep Theatre Casting Announced for The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar
The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys
By Isaac Gomez
Directed by Laura Alcalá Baker
January 24 – February 29, 2020

Here at ChiIL Live Shows, we're excited for the upcoming Isaac Gomez Commission at Steep Theatre. He's a favorite Chicago playwright of ours, and this year I got to know him personally when I had the honor of being accepted for a playwriting intensive he co-led. I'll be out for the press opening, January 24th, so check back soon for my full review.

Isaac Gomez

All families have secrets, but some live in an underbelly too dark to even whisper about. After ten years of walking away, Son returns to his home along the U.S./Mexican border searching for answers about his uncle’s mysterious death, but what he finds there are the men he tried to escape and the memories he thought he left behind. The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys is an excavation of truth amidst lies, intimacy amidst violence, and a reckoning of learning how to love the very thing you hate the most. 

Laura Alcalá Baker will direct Steep’s second commissioned play, Isaac Gomez’ The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys, opening January 24. Gomez has quickly become one of Chicago’s, and the nation’s, most exciting playwrights with productions being staged throughout the country. Alcalá Baker and Gomez recently collaborated on the world premiere production of his the way she spoke, and both are making their Steep Theatre debuts.

The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys will feature Steep Company Member Brandon Rivera with Sebastian Arboleda, Alec Coles Perez, Eduardo Curley-Carrillo, Arash Fakhrabadi, Dennis Garcia, Victor Maraña, and Juan Muñoz, all making their Steep debuts.

This new work is the fifth Steep world premiere in as many years. Steep has premiered work from Hamish Linklater and notable Chicago playwrights Alex Lubischer, Calamity West, Ike Holter, and now Gomez. “It’s been a dream to collaborate with Isaac throughout this development process,” said Artistic Director Peter Moore. “He and Laura have an inspiring partnership and they’ve assembled a brilliant team to bring this powerful story to life.”

About the Playwright
Isaac Gomez is an award-winning Chicago-based playwright originally from El Paso, Texas / Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. His play La Ruta received its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theater Company this past Winter. His one-woman show the way she spoke premiered Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre (produced by Audible) in Summer 2019. He is currently under commission from South Coast Repertory, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and Steep Theatre. His plays have been supported by Steppenwolf, Primary Stages, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Goodman Theatre, Albany Park Theater Project, WaterTower Theater, Haven Theater, Greenhouse Theater Center, Pivot Arts, and many others. He is the recipient of the 2018 Dramatists Guild Lanford Wilson Award, the 2017 Jeffry Melnick New Playwright Award at Primary Stages, an inaugural 3Arts “Make A Wave” grantee, a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists, an Artistic Associate with Victory Gardens Theater, Ensemble Member with Teatro Vista, Artistic Associate with Pivot Arts, and an advisory committee member of the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC). He is a Professional Lecturer at The Theatre School at DePaul University, and is represented by The Gersh Agency and Circle of Confusion.

About the Director
Laura Alcalá Baker is a Chicago-based director and casting director. She served as the Casting Director and Artistic Programs Manager at Victory Gardens Theater from 2016-2019 leading programs such as The Access Project and Directors’ Inclusion Initiative. While at working at B Street Theatre, CA, as an Artistic Associate, she directed Equivocation, The Giver, 11:11, Collapse and assistant directed May Adrales on Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.  Shifting her focus to new play development, Laura directed the world premiere of Isaac Gomez’s The Way She Spoke: A Docu-mythologia (DCASE, Greenhouse Theater Center). Other select Chicago pieces include: There is No Message in the Message, Shamed (The Gift Theatre’s TEN), Project Potential (Broken Nose Theatre’s Bechdel Fest), Jets, Sharks, and Beckys (Collaboraction's Peacebook Festival) and assistant directing Seth Bockley on the world-premiere of Samsara by Lauren Yee (Victory Gardens Theater). Most recently, she directed the audio drama BRAVA by Nancy Garcia Loza (Make-Believe Association) which is available on all podcast platforms. Laura has continually sought out creative means for accessibility in the theatre through directing programs such as Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium’s Access Live, which provides theatre leaders a live example of growing practices integrated with accessibility in mind. Laura is a proud member of the Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists and was nominated for 'Best Casting Director' at the 2018 ALTA Awards.

About Steep Theatre
Housed in what was once a small grocery store, steps from the Berwyn Red Line stop, and lead by an ensemble of 41 actors, directors, designers, writers, and other theatre artists, Steep is the quintessential storefront theatre. Described by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune as "the most fearless theater in town," Steep creates powerful productions of plays by today's most exciting writers and features the work of Chicago's hottest theatre artists in an intimate, accessible space. Currently in its 19th season, Steep is known as a home for hard-hitting, finely tuned ensemble work. With each production, the company has shepherded a growing community of audiences and artists into bold new territories of story and performance.

Steep Theatre is conveniently located by the Berwyn Red Line stop and is within blocks of the #92, #36, #146, #147, and #151 buses.

About Chicago Theatre Week
Chicago Theatre Week is an annual celebration of the rich tradition of theatre-going in Chicago during which visitors and residents can access value-priced tickets. As a program of the League of Chicago Theatres, in partnership with Choose Chicago, CTW is heading into its eighth year and will take place February 13-23, 2020. More than 100 theatre productions are expected to participate in neighborhoods throughout the city and suburbs. Find more information at

Steep Theatre
1115 West Berwyn Ave., Chicago, IL 60640

January 24 – February 29, 2020
Previews: January 18 – 23, 2020
Press Opening: Friday, January 24, 8:00pm
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8pm
Sunday matinees at 3pm
Accessible Performances:
-Audio Description: Saturday, February 15, 8pm
-Open Captioning: Saturday, February 22, 8pm & Sunday, February 23, 3pm
Chicago Theatre Week: February 15 – 23

General Admission Tickets: $27
Reserved Seat Tickets: $39
Access Tickets: $10 (Steep’s universal discount for students, artists, whomever)
(773) 649-3186

Twitter: @SteepTheatre
Facebook: SteepTheatre

Sebastian Arboleda*
Alec Coles Perez 
Eduardo Curley-Carrillo 
Arash Fakhrabadi 
Dennis Garcia 
Victor Maraña 
Juan Muñoz 
Brandon Riveraˆ

Director – Laura Alcalá Baker
Stage Manager – Jon Ravenscroftˆˆ
Set Designer – Arnel Sancianco
Lighting Designer – Alexander Ridgers
Sound Designer – Thomas Dixonˆ
Costume Designer – Uriel Gomez
Props Designer – Emma Cullimore
Intimacy & Violence Director – Micah Figueroa
Choreographer – Breon Arzell
Dramaturg – Lucas Garcia
Production Manager – Catherine Allenˆˆ
Technical Director – Evan Sposato
Assistant Director – Ismael Lara

ˆ Steep Company Member
ˆˆ Steep Artistic Associate
* Appearing through an Agreement between Steep Theatre and Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Martyna Majok

By Martyna Majok
Directed by Jonathan Berryˆ 
April 17 – May 23, 2020
Press Opening: April 17 at 8:00

Twenty-two years, three relationships, and one New Jersey bus stop tell the story of Darja’s journey through the American Dream. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Martyna Majok’s Ironbound navigates the murky waters of love, security, immigration, and mobility with heartbreaking humor.

Lucy Carapetyanˆ 
Jeffery Freelon, Jr
Joel Reitsmaˆ*
Brandon Riveraˆ

ˆ Steep Company Member
* Member of Actors' Equity Association


ChiIL Live Shows on our radar

Season includes the World Premieres of

The Tasters 
by Meghan Brown, directed by RTE member Devon de Mayo, Spay by Madison Fiedler, directed by RTE member Hallie Gordon
45 Plays for America’s First Ladies 
by Chloe Johnston, Sharon Greene, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, and Andy Bayiates in a co-production with Chicago’s The Neo-Futurists

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble proudly announces its 2020 Season including the World Premieres of The Tasters by Meghan Brown, directed by RTE member Devon de Mayo and Spay by Madison Fiedler and directed by RTE member Hallie Gordon, as well as 45 Plays for America’s First Ladies by Chloe Johnston, Sharon Greene, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, and Andy Bayiates, in a co-production with Chicago’s The Neo-Futurists. All productions will be performed at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago.

This year, Rivendell celebrates its 25th anniversary season during what may be the most important and divisive election cycle in U.S. history. To mark the occasion, Rivendell has selected three plays that wrestle with some of the key issues driving this nation’s discourse: the rise of authoritarianism, the chaos and challenge of the opioid crisis, and the rising role of women in our political and social culture

Founder and Artistic Director Tara Mallen comments, “We can trace a straight line from WRENS, to The Walls, to Women at War, through Scientific Method and all the way to Something Clean. 25 years of new plays inspiring imperative conversations that spark change. Plays that lift up women and offer them a voice...a female service member returning home after a lengthy deployment, only to have her young daughter no longer recognize her; or a young woman battling to finish her PhD and stay afloat in a sexist and racist research lab, or how, in the ripple effects of a sex crime, one mother grapples with the pervasiveness of guilt and tries to rebuild her world. As we approach what may be the most critical election in U.S. history, Rivendell is committed to meeting the future head-on and with 2020 vision—as we have for the past 25 years—with ingenuity, with resolve, and with women right up front and center." 

The Rivendell 2020 Season is as follows:

The World Premiere of

Written by Meghan Brown 
Directed by RTE member Devon de Mayo 

Featuring ensemble members Paula Ramirez and Eric Slater with Shariba Rivers, Daniella Pereira, and Collin Quinn Rice

January 10 - February 16, 2020

With so many government leaders getting poisoned these days, the Tasters have a critical job to do. They sample mouthwatering gourmet meals…then wait to see if they die in agony. When government forces capture renowned resistance leader Elyse, they make her a Taster and assume they've won. But Elyse has a plan of her own, which kicks off a series of events that might just alter the course of history—and put all the other Tasters' lives at risk. Fresh out of Victory Garden’s 2019 IGNITION Festival, Meghan Brown’s chilling and sharply observed new play examines the nuances of political resistance, self-interest, and individual action that creates hope in the face of oppression. 

The World Premiere of

Written by Madison Fiedler 
Directed by RTE member Hallie Gordon featuring RTE member Rae Gray

April 23 – June 7, 2020

Twenty-year-old Noah has been an addict ever since the birth of her son five years ago when her half-sister, Harper, assumed custody of the child. When an organization shows up in their tiny West Virginia town offering to sterilize Noah and other addicts for pay, the sisters clash over the question of who deserves to be a mother in a nation hooked on pills. This provocative world premiere by recent Northwestern grad Madison Fiedler takes an unblinking look at addiction, poverty, and the families our system has failed. Selected from a field of over 150 new plays, SPAY is one of the six new plays featured in the National New Play Network's Annual Showcase of New Plays this December in Atlanta, Georgia.

45 Plays for America’s First Ladies
by Chloe Johnston, Sharon Greene, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, and Andy Bayiates

In a co-production with Chicago’s The Neo-Futurists

September 24 - October 31, 2020 

Forty-five plays. Fifty First Ladies. A 100-minute journey through American history, 45 Plays for America’s First Ladies leaps from comedy to tragedy and back again as it surveys the lives of the women who have served (and avoided serving) as First Lady. 45 Plays is a biographical, meta-theatrical, genre-bending ride through race, gender, and everything else your history teacher never taught you about the founding (and the confounding) of America.

Following the enormous success of 45 Plays for 45 Presidents, members of the Neo-Futurists ensemble bring their trademark wit and style to tell the other side of the story. They'll partner with Chicago's premiere women's company, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, where women's lives and perspectives have always been the main event. 

April 1 - 12, 2020

Curated by new RTE member Kristen Osborn, this festival of solo voices features thee one-woman performance pieces. Projects will be announced in February 2020. 

Subscription Packages

Subscription packages may be purchased at any time and include one ticket to the next three Rivendell mainstage productions. The Preview Pass is priced at $59 and the Performance Pass is $80. Benefits include: no-fee ticket exchange up to 48 hours prior to the performance, reserved seating, exclusive invites to Rivendell events, and a 10% discount for additional family and friends tickets purchased through the box office.

Single Tickets
General Admission
Previews: $28
Regular Run: $38

Student, Senior, Active Military, Veteran
Preview: $18
Regular Run: $28

Pay What You Can: Five seats (10% of the house) are available for each performance. Reservations are made on a first come, first served basis.

Location: Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, 5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago.

Box Office: (773) 334-7728 or

Parking and Transportation: Free parking is available in the Senn High School parking lot (located a block and a half from the theatre behind the school off Thorndale Avenue). There is limited paid and free street parking in the area. The theatre is easily accessible via the Clark (#22) or Broadway (#36) bus, and is a short walk from the Bryn Mawr Red Line El Station.

About Rivendell Theatre Ensemble 

Founded in 1994, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble advances the lives of women through theatre. Rivendell cultivates the talents of women artists—writers, actors, directors, designers and technicians—by seeking out innovative plays that explore unique female experiences and producing them in an intimate salon environment. 

Rivendell fills an important role in the Chicago region as the only Equity theatre dedicated to producing artistically challenging and original plays created by and about women. After years of being an itinerant company, Rivendell moved into its own theater space in 2011 in Edgewater. The company is focused on becoming an integral community partner and serving as a catalyst to engage audiences in a discussion of local social issues. 

For more information about Rivendell Theater Ensemble, visit Follow Rivendell on Facebook at, on Twitter @RivendellThtr, and on Instagram at rivendelltheatre. 

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is supported by generous grants from: The Alphawood Foundation;   Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; The Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development; The Chicago Community Trust; The Chicago Foundation for Women; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; The MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; The League of Chicago Theatres and ComEd; The Reva and David Logan Foundation; The Luria Family Foundation; The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust; The Alfred Pick Jr. Fund; Shubert Foundation; SIF Fund at The Chicago Community Trust; Cultural Outreach Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events; and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.  

Blue Man Group Chicago Announces Winter Performance Schedule And Andy Warhol Ticket Pairing with Art Institute of Chicago

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar

New Limited-Time-Only Art Institute of Chicago Ticket Package Available Through January 23

Blue Man Group, continuing its open run at Chicago’s Briar Street Theatre (3133 N. Halsted), is delighted to announce its winter 2020 performance schedule. The expansive calendar includes added performances on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.

Audiences looking to beat the winter blues can take advantage of Blue Man Group’s newest ticket package with the Art Institute of Chicago. The special ticket package is $79 and includes a main floor seat to Blue Man Group at Chicago’s Briar Street Theatre and a FastPass admission ticket to the Art Institute including a pass to Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again, on view through January 26, 2020.

Blue Man Group ticket buyers are invited to use code WARHOL when purchasing full price Blue Man Group Chicago tickets to receive an equal number of FastPass admission and Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again exhibition passes at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Art Institute tickets must be picked up at the Briar Street Theatre box office and do not need to be used on the same day as the Blue Man Group performance.

Blue Man Group Ticket Information

Tickets are available from $49-$104. Tickets may be purchased by calling 1-800-BLUE-MAN (1-800-258-3626) or visiting A full show schedule and ticket pricing, can also be found at

VIP Experience ticket packages are also available starting at $150 per person and include a three-course dinner at Drew’s on Halsted, premium seat and one pre-show beverage at the Briar Street Theatre, souvenir lanyard and a post-show meet-and-greet with a Blue Man. 

Special rates are available for groups of 10 or more, varying from $46.50- $79.50 per person. For groups of 10 or more, call the group sales department to book at: 773-348-3300 or email to request information.

2020 Winter Performance Schedule:

Wednesday, Jan. 1 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 2 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 3 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 4 – 11 a.m. and 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 5 – 1 and 4 p.m.
Thursday, January 9 – 8 p.m.
Friday, January 10 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, January 11 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, January 12 – 1 and 4 p.m.
Thursday, January 16 – 8 p.m.
Friday, January 17 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, January 18 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, January 19 – 1, 4 and 7 p.m.
Monday, January 20 – 2 p.m. (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)
Thursday, January 23 – 8 p.m.
Friday, January 24 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, January 25 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, January 26 – 1 and 4 p.m.
Thursday, January 30 – 8 p.m.
Friday, January 31 – 8 p.m.

Saturday, February 1 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, February 2 – 1 p.m.
Thursday, February 6 – 8 p.m.
Friday, February 7 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, February 8 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, February 9 – 1 and 4 p.m.
Thursday, February 13 – 8 p.m.
Friday, February 14 – 6 and 9 p.m. (Valentine’s Day)
Saturday, February 15 – 1, 4, 7 and 10 p.m.
Sunday, February 16 – 1, 4 and 7 p.m.
Monday, February 17 – 1 p.m. (President’s Day)
Thursday, February 20 – 8 p.m.
Friday, February 21 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, February 22 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, February 23 – 1 and 4 p.m.
Thursday, February 27 – 8 p.m.
Friday, February 28 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, February 29 – 2, 5 and 8 p.m.

About Blue Man Group
Blue Man Group is an award-winning show and entertainment phenomenon seen by more than 35 million people worldwide since 1991. A dynamic combination of art, music, comedy and technology, the show’s euphoric celebration of human connection has universal appeal for a broad range of age groups and cultural backgrounds. The show is continually refreshed with new music, fresh stories, custom instruments and state-of-the-art technology. Blue Man Group has permanent theatrical productions in New York, Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Berlin and a World Tour. Blue Man Group is owned and operated by Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

This creative collective has become part of the pop culture zeitgeist. Blue Man Group has served as the face of branding campaigns for Intel and TIM/Brasil and appeared countless times on hit shows like “The Tonight Show,” “Arrested Development,” “Ellen,” “Schlag den Raab” (Germany), “WOWOW” (Japan), and “Caldeirão do Huck” (Brasil).

Beyond the stage show, they are Grammy-nominated recording artists, known for their contributions to various film and TV scores and multiple Blue Man Group albums, including their most recent, THREE. Their “Megastar World Tour” rock concert parody played arenas across the globe. The group’s recently published first-ever book, Blue Man World, is a visually stunning anthropological exploration of the curious bald and blue character.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

HELP OUT: “Hams4Hams” Holiday Fundraiser Via Hell in a Handbag Productions

Hell in a Handbag Productions Launches
“Hams4Hams” Holiday Fundraiser

Hell in a Handbag Productions is pleased to bring back its annual Hams4Hams fundraiser during the company’s two holiday productions. Since launching the initiative in 2012, Handbag has raised over $40,000 for Groceryland, which provides food and nutritional counseling for those impacted by HIV and AIDS in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood and on the North Side. Groceryland was started by the longtime Chicago LGBTQ+ advocate and activist Lori Cannon, who started feeding people during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s through Open Hand/Chicago.

Comments Handbag Artistic Director David Cerda, “We want to continue to support the community that has given us so much over the years. Due to City budget cuts, Lori Cannon and Groceryland need our help more than ever. Our audience have been extremely generous over the past seven years, so we hope they’ll join us again this year to help feed our neighbors.”

Hell in a Handbag will be collecting for Groceryland during its two holiday shows: THE GOLDEN GIRLS: The Holiday Edition, Vol. 2 (November 27 - December 28, 2019) and BETTE: XMAS AT THE CONTINENTAL BATHS (December 6 – 31, 2019) at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. For tickets and information, visit All donations collected will go directly to Groceryland.

About Hell in a Handbag Productions
Hell in a Handbag is dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and celebration of works ingrained in the realm of popular culture via theatrical productions through parody, music and homage. Handbag is a 501(c)(3) Not for Profit.

Friday, December 6, 2019

REVIEW: Firebrand Theatre’s Always... Patsy Cline Now Extended Through January 4, 2020

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar
Three Added Weeks of Performances!
Firebrand Theatre’s
Extends Through January 4, 2020 at The Den Theatre

Christina Hall in Firebrand Theatre’s production of ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE. 
All Photos by Michael Brosilow.

Featuring Harmony France and Christina Hall 
in Alternating Roles

Due to popular demand, Firebrand Theatre’s hit revival of ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE will add three additional weeks of performances, extending through Saturday, January 4, 2020 at The Den Theatre’s Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago.

(left to right) Christina Hall and Harmony France

Trading Off In The Lead Roles: 
Harmony France as Patsy Cline & Christina Hall as Louise Seger

by bonnie kenaz-mara

Firebrand Theatre’s Always Patsy Cline is so enjoyable, I just bought 3 tickets as birthday gifts and I'm sending my in laws and husband to catch it this weekend. For the press opening, I caught Christina Hall as iconic country crossover star, Patsy Cline. Her impressive vocals and embodiment of Cline were spot on. 

(pictured) Christina Hall 

I also adored Firebrand's Artistic Director, Harmony France as feisty, fangirl Louise. She's a hoot! Both powerhouse vocalists have played Patsy Cline in past productions, so either cast configuration is a win/win and I love that Firebrand has cast the show this way. It's a rare treat to see a production where the leads trade off in a 50/50 split, and it's exciting to see how it changes up the show having different actors in each role. I'm seriously considering coming back again to see the roles swapped. 

(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall 

Always Patsy Cline is a delightful time capsule of true friendship, the travails of touring as a young mother, southern hospitality, old school correspondence and the power of music to draw people together and get them through tough times. Don't miss this celebration of simpler times and a talent taken too soon.

(pictured) Christina Hall 

From blackbox to barn, The Den Theatre’s Janet Bookspan Theatre has been transformed into a homey little venue, complete with cabaret tables and southern charm. The band is dressed for line dancing and prominently featured on stage, where they are fun to watch as they play and interact with Patsy and Louise. 

(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall 

(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall 

Whether these two are breaking out a flask or spilling the tea about exes, kids and life, Firebrand's rendition of this true life friendship is heartfelt, funny and sustaining. Expect to enjoy many of Patsy's unforgettable hits such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walking After Midnight”… 27 songs in all!  The show’s title was inspired by Patsy’s letters to Louise, which were consistently signed “Love ALWAYS… Patsy Cline.”

Harmony France and Christina Hall

Firebrand Theatre’s Always... Patsy Cline is a fabulous find for holiday gifting or entertaining visiting friends and family. Experiential gifts are the ultimate clutter busting choice and great for someone who has everything. So make some memories. Always... Patsy Cline is highly recommended. 

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she has published frequently since 2008: (adult) & (family friendly).

Firebrand Theatre’s
Extends Through January 4, 2020 at The Den Theatre

Harmony France as Patsy Cline

Harmony France as Patsy Cline & Christina Hall as Louise Seger

Written by Ted Swindley, with direction by Brigitte Ditmars and music direction by Andra Velis Simon, ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE, features Artistic Director Harmony France and Christina Hall, who have both previously played the titular music legend. France and Hall alternate in the roles of Patsy Cline and Louise Seger – so if you love the show, come see it again with the cast flipped! For tickets and a schedule of roles, visit

Patsy Cline was an American country music singer and part of the Nashville sound during the late 1950s and early 1960s. She successfully "crossed over" to pop music and was one of the most influential, successful, and acclaimed vocalists of the 20th century.

ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE is based on the true story of Patsy's friendship with Houstonite Louise Seger. Having first heard Patsy on the Arthur Godfrey Show in 1957, Louise became an immediate and avid fan of Patsy's and she constantly hounded the local disc jockey to play Patsy's records on the radio. In 1961 when Patsy went to Houston for a show, Louise and her buddies arrived about an hour-and-a-half early and, by coincidence, met Patsy who was traveling alone. The two women struck up a friendship – a friendship that lasted the rest of Patsy Cline's life.

Harmony France as Patsy Cline & Christina Hall as Louise Seger

The production team includes Lauren Nichols (scenic design), Steph Taylor (costume design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Giselle Castro (sound design, sound engineer), Rachelle “Rocky” Kolecke (props design, scenic decoration), Keith Ryan (wig design), Lauren Griffith (assistant director), Richie Vavrina (master electrician), Jessica Baldinger (assistant scenic designer), Adrienne Miikelle Johnson (assistant lighting designer), Jon Martinez (producer), Lucy Walker (associate producer), Rose Hamill (production manager), Anika Jones (assistant production manager), Jacqueline Widman (stage manager) and Claire Haussner (assistant stage manager).

Firebrand is the first musical theatre company committed to employing and empowering womxn* by expanding opportunities on and off the stage. *womxn is used to include trans and non-binary folx.

Music Director: Andra Velis Simon
Cast: Harmony France and Christina Hall (Patsy Cline and Louise Seger).

Band: Andra Velis Simon (conductor/keyboard), Steven Romero Schaeffer (guitars), Emma Sheikh (fiddle) and Tina Muñoz Pandya (drums).

Understudies: Gabby Diaz (Louise) and Liz Chidester (Patsy).

Location: The Den Theatre’s Janet Bookspan Theatre 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Regular run: Thursday, November 21 – Saturday, January 4, 2020
Curtain Times: Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm & 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Thursday, December 26.

Tickets: $40 general admission, $50 VIP cabaret table. $30 Firebrand members. $20 students/industry rush tickets available at the box office. Tickets are currently available at

About The Artists
Christina Hall's (Patsy Cline/Louise Seger) recent credits include Gary Griffin’s Into The Woods at Writers Theater and The Fly Honey Show X with the Inconvenience. Other Chicago credits include: Goodman Theatre (Mary Zimmerman’s Wonderful Town, Feathers and Teeth, New Stages Women Laughing Alone with Salad and Cressida on Top); Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (Emma Goldman in Ragtime – 2018 Jeff Award Best Musical); Paramount Theatre (Ursula in The Little Mermaid); Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Peter Pan); Mercury Theatre (The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes); The Inconvenience (The Fly Honey Show IX, Woyzek in Sarajevo). Milwaukee credits include Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (Always.. Patsy Cline and Run Bambi Run Workshops); Skylight Music Theatre (Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd). Voiceover credits include: Glucerna, CLR, Jacuzzi, Land O’ Lakes and Chateau Saint Michelle. She is a TimeOut Chicago Performer of the Week and is proudly represented by Gray Talent Group.

Harmony France (Patsy Cline/Louise Seger) is a founder and the artistic director of Firebrand Theatre, Chicago's own feminist musical theatre company, where she has been the producer of Lizzie, 9 To 5, Caroline, Or Change, Queen of the Mist and now, Always… Patsy Cline. As an actor, Harmony has traveled the world with the Broadway National/International tour of Sister Act. She has been nominated for two Jeff Awards for Best actress and is the recipient of a BroadwayWorld Award for playing the title role in Violet at Bailiwick Chicago. Most recently she was the asst. director for David Cromer's acclaimed production of Next To Normal at Writers Theatre. Additionally, Harmony has worked with TimeLine Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Peninsula Players, Theatre at the Center, American Theater Company, Porchlight Music Theatre, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, Windy City Playhouse, The New Colony, Route 66, City Lit Theatre, and Timberlake Playhouse where she played Patsy in  Always, Patsy Cline. She studied opera at Brenau University, acting at Columbia College, and Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 2019, she was honored by NewCity Stage as one of the “Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago” and has been featured in Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago Social and Playbill.

Brigitte Ditmars (Director) is a Chicago based director/choreographer with over 25 years of experience in professional and educational theatre.  She is pleased to return to Firebrand having served as Associate Director/Choreographer for Caroline, or Change. Professional credits include work with Birmingham Children's Theatre, Timber Lake Playhouse, Porchlight Music Theatre, American Theater Company, Mercury Theatre, Theater Wit, Emerald City Children's Theatre, Fox Valley Repertory, Circle Theatre, Signal Ensemble Theatre, Hell in a Handbag Productions, Strawdog Theatre, Metropolis Center for the Performing Arts, The Factory Theater and Northwestern University. She has received two Joseph Jefferson Awards for Achievement in Choreography, as well as three additional nominations.

Andra Velis Simon (Music Director) is the Resident Music Director for Firebrand, where she has music directed Caroline, or Change, 9 to 5 The Musical, and Firebrand’s inaugural production of Lizzie. Andra has worked regionally at Actors Theatre of Louisville, A.R.T. in Cambridge, Berkeley Rep, Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYU’s Skirball Center, Olney Theatre Center in Maryland, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Pasadena Playhouse, and others. In Chicago, her work has been seen at Steppenwolf, Goodman, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Theater Wit, The Hypocrites, and dozens of others. Most recently, she music directed Next to Normal at Writers Theatre and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murderat Porchlight Music Theatre. Andra is also adjunct faculty at Columbia College Chicago, where she has taught musical theatre performance since 2008.

Firebrand Theatre’s 2019-20 season sponsor: Michael and Mona Heath of the HeathFund.

Firebrand Theatre the world’s first equity musical theatre company committed to employing and empowering womxn* on and off the stage. Based in the vibrant city of Chicago, Firebrand Theatre’s productions will expand the traditional roles of womxn in musical theatre by reimagining classics, producing unknown gems and commissioning new works. *womxn is used to include trans and non-binary folx. Firebrand is a 501(c)(3) Equity theatre.

Company members: Artistic Director: Harmony France, Associate Artistic Director: Jon Martinez, Grants and Fundraising: Danni Smith, Social Media Director: Amanda Horvath-Adair, Casting Director: Adelina Feldman-Schultz; Advisory Board: Lili-Anne Brown, Brenda Didier, Emjoy Gavino, Amber Mak, Company Members: Becca Brown, Giselle Castro, Sydney Charles, Liz Chidester, Eric Martin, Natalie O'hea, Amelia Jo Parish, Tyler Symone, Andra Velis Simon and JC Widman.


What We're Watching:

Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Wide)
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Written By: Billy Ray

This Wednesday, I'll be catching an advance press screening of Richard Jewell. The movie opens to the public this Friday, December 13th. Check back with soon for my full review.

Based on the Article: ‘American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner
Based Upon the Book: ‘The Suspect” by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen
Cast: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates
Run Time: 130 min
Rating: R for language including some sexual references and brief bloody images

Directed by Clint Eastwood and based on true events, “Richard Jewell” is a story of what happens when what is reported as fact obscures the truth.

“There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have thirty minutes.” The world is first introduced to Richard Jewell as the security guard who reports finding the device at the 1996 Atlanta bombing—his report making him a hero whose swift actions save countless lives. But within days, the law enforcement wannabe becomes the FBI’s number one suspect, vilified by press and public alike, his life ripped apart. Reaching out to independent, anti-establishment attorney Watson Bryant, Jewell staunchly professes his innocence. But Bryant finds he is out of his depth as he fights the combined powers of the FBI, GBI and APD to clear his client’s name, while keeping Richard from trusting the very people trying to destroy him.

The film stars Oscar winners Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) as Watson Bryant and Kathy Bates (“Misery,” TV’s “American Horror Story”) as Richard’s mom, Bobi; Jon Hamm (“Baby Driver”) as the lead FBI investigator; Olivia Wilde (“Life Itself”) as Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs; and Paul Walter Hauser (“I, Tonya”) stars as Richard Jewell.

Oscar winner Eastwood directed from a screenplay by Oscar nominee Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”), based on the Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare—The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner. Eastwood also produced under his Malpaso banner, alongside Tim Moore, Jessica Meier, Kevin Misher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson and Jonah Hill.

Eastwood’s creative team includes director of photography Yves Bélanger and production designer Kevin Ishioka, along with longtime costume designer Deborah Hopper and Oscarwinning editor Joel Cox (“Unforgiven”), who have worked with Eastwood throughout the years on numerous projects. The music is by Arturo Sandoval, who scored 2018’s “The Mule.”

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents a Malpaso Production, an Appian Way/Misher Films/75 Year Plan Production, “Richard Jewell.” The film will be in theaters on December 13, 2019 and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Official Site:
Hashtag:           #RichardJewell

Thursday, November 14, 2019

3rd Annual Slackfest Featuring The Slackers Returns To Reggie's Rock Club November 14-16, 2019

Chi, IL Live Shows On Our Radar
Join Us For a 3 Night Ska Bonanza

Last year I had 1 night press/photo credentials. We had so much fun that this year we sprung for two 3-day tickets. Can't wait to catch them live again.

Check out all my Slackfest 2018 live show shots of The Slackers here then come on out this week and catch them live!
(Sunday, December 2, 2018: 2nd Annual Slackfest)

The Circle City Demons 
(direct support for The Slackers: Slackfest 2018)

2019 Three Nights with The Slackers with Three different sets…

Thursday, November 14 – Play Deep Cuts: support by Mephiskapheles, The Drastics and DJ Chuck Wren

Friday, November 15 – Play Love and War: support by Pinata Protest, The Scotch Bonnets and DJ Chuck Wren

Saturday, November 16 – Play Big Tunes: support by Green Room Rockers & special guests, The Prizefighters and DJ Chuck Wren

The Slackers have spreading their gospel of “Jamaican Rock N Roll” for 21 years now. While they have been influenced, and even personally taught by Jamaican ska/reggae originators, like the Skatalites and the Upsetters (Original backing band for the Wailers) they play it with a decidedly American accent. Basically, this band is equally appreciative of old blues, country, 60s soul, rock, and Rnb as it is of reggae, rocksteady, dub, and Ska. It is as if the Rolling Stones or the Yardbirds had grown up on Bob Marley as well as Muddy Waters.

Smashing the stereotypes of “ska” as happy, uptempo, and shallow music, the Slackers play with an aggressive edge and their songs veer in themes from the personal to the political. Back in 1996, the NY Times declared the Slackers to be part of “the sound of New York”, a mantle they haven’t given up since. Ten years later, Alternative Nation stated that their music is “protest music made for dim, sweaty basements.

Monday, October 28, 2019

REVIEW: Noir Thriller Three Stories Up Via Theatre in the Dark Now Playing Through November 9, 2019

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar
Noir Thriller 
Three Stories Up 
Via Theatre in the Dark
by Mackenzie Gordon
Directed by Corey Bradberry

An immersive experience performed completely in the dark

by bonnie kenaz-mara

As I was sitting in the impenetrable dark with a gin gimlet in hand, it was easy to imagine a black and white cityscape and a smart, gumshoe dame smiling sardonically while crisscrossed with lines from the light of the window blinds. Of course it was all in my mind's eye, as Theatre in the Dark lives up to it's name and this fabulously fun noir thriller is indeed, performed in a dark so enveloping and complete that the audience audibly gasped when we all removed our blindfolds at the start of the show to see... absolutely nothing. Not a sliver of light penetrates the set of Three Stories Up. At first it was disconcerting, but I quickly became so absorbed in the story that I can't imagine this show any other way. The dialogue popped and the audience was so immersed in the plot that there was hardly a rustle or peep for the whole 80 minutes. Three Stories Up has the vibe of iconic pre-TV radio dramas, melded with the intimacy and immediacy of live performance, and the pure joy of being read to as a child. Highly recommended. 

I joked with The Saints who were ushering the show, about how the theatre was getting their money's worth out of them. These ushers went above and beyond the usual easy seating duties by passing out blindfolds, and leading the audience to their seats in small groups, conga line style. It was a vulnerable, empathy inducing experience, and a great way to settle into the show.  

The script for Three Stories Up is poetic, well written, and a joy to experience, and the actors more than do it justice. I thought they could have even punched up the noir jazz and rain motifs even more, but overall the vocal talent and live Foley sound effects were excellent. I had a front row seat, and it was an up close and personal experience that went well beyond stereo. I spent more than a few nervous minutes wondering how the actors navigate in the engulfing dark, and avoid landing in the audience's laps. This is a spoiler-free review as far as plot goes, but I will disclose their blocking secret. The performance space is a large plus, consisting of crossing carpet runners of different textures, and the actors are in socks. Pretty ingenious. If you're ready to get out of your comfort zone for a unique and memorable theatrical experience and some stellar storytelling, then head on out to Three Stories Up for some old school, noir fun, with a dark twist.

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she has published frequently since 2008: (adult) & (family friendly).

Three Stories Up // Theatre in the Dark from Corey Bradberry on Vimeo.

Theatre in the Dark, a new company that focuses on performances staged entirely in complete darkness, will mount as its inaugural production the Chicago premiere of the noir mystery thriller THREE STORIES UP by the Canadian-born Chicago playwright Mackenzie Gordon.The production is an immersive experience - performed completely in total darkness with sound effects and dialogue surrounding the audience,

In Gordon’s 80-minute drama, Vancouver transit cop Beatrice Dulaurier has found her detective husband’s dead body, The police call it a suicide, but Beatrice doesn’t buy that explanation. To find the truth, she enlists the help of her late husband’s last known informant, a drug runner who carries secrets of his own. The two embark on a hair-raising investigation through the city's colorful characters in search of justice… and revenge. Inspired by hard-boiled paperback novels and the radio mystery plays of the ‘30s and ‘40s, it introduces the audience to sadder-but-wiser, hard-boiled detectives and shady characters whose loyalties are never certain.

The new company is the brainchild of Director Corey Bradberry and Associate Producers Mackenzie Gordon, Kelly Greene, James McDougald, and Zachary Parkhurst.

Performed entirely in the dark, as it was in its 2016 world premiere in Vancouver, THREE STORIES UP will combine recorded sound, live Foley effects, and the human voice -- in front, beside, and behind the audience -- to create a three dimensional soundscape that will be far more enveloping and environmental than a mere radio play. Audiences will be blindfolded after their arrival at the performance venue and guided to their seats. They will remove their blindfolds after the performance begins in pitch darkness and the lights will remain out until curtain call. THREE STORIES UP will be unique among Chicago theatre productions in that patrons with low visibility will enjoy exactly the same experience as their fellow audience members.

Bradberry says, “One of the oldest traditions in noir storytelling is the use of setting as a main character. No set designer could outdo the descriptive language of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, or for that matter, our playwright Mackenzie Gordon. THREE STORIES UP leans so hard into the words, we decided to turn out the lights altogether.”

THREE STORIES UP will be performed at The Church on Thorndale, 1244 W. Thorndale, in Edgewater. The Chicago production will be directed by Corey Bradberry and the cast will include the playwright, Mackenzie Gordon, and Bethany Arrington.

Left - right: Bethany Arrington, Mackenzie Gordon. Photo by Zachary Parkhurst.

Colin Thomas of VANCOUVER GREENROOM, in reviewing the 2016 premiere of THREE STORIES UP, called the play “Viscerally compelling, THREE STORIES UP makes you pay attention—and it pays off. The plot is satisfyingly complex, and phrase by phrase Gordon’s writing is gorgeous… Stroke of genius to set it in the dark… very, very rewarding.”  Mark Robins of VANCOUVER PRESENTS said, “Gordon’s words, helped immensely by the performances, paint vivid pictures that transcend gimmick.”

Tickets and further information are available at

October 24 – November 9, 2019
Venue: The Church on Thorndale, 1244 W. Thorndale, Chicago (west of Broadway, near Thorndale Red Line station)
Previews: Thursday October 24, Friday October 25 at 8 pm, Saturday October 26 at 3 and  8 pm
Press Opening Sunday October 27 at 7 pm and Wednesday October 30 at 8 pm
Regular run: October 31 – November 9, 2019
Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 pm, Sunday November 3 at 7 pm, Wednesday November 6 at 8 pm

Ticket Prices regular run October 31 – November 9: $35 general, $20 for persons age 25 and under. Group rates available.
Tickets on sale now at, or at box office prior to showtime
Phone for info only (no ticketing): 312.285.0314

Accessibility: Due to the historical nature of our venue, entryways into and out of our building are non-ADA compliant. However, we encourage audiences with special needs to contact us in advance to see how best we can best accommodate them!

Mackenzie Gordon, Bethany Arrington, Corey Bradberry

Corey Bradberry (Director) is a stage director and producer committed to clear, efficient, and compelling storytelling. A Chicago newcomer, he most recently returned to his native Atlanta to direct MURDER! AT THE STRAND II: DARK MATTERS, an immersive sci-fi murder mystery which puts the audience in the central role of Investigator. Chicago: THE LAKES, THE MAN THAT CORRUPTED CHRISTMAS (Inertia Theatre Project); 24-Hour-Playfests (iO, Eclectic Full-Contact); SIMPLER DAYS (Woof Pack Comedy). Atlanta: MURDER! AT THE STRAND (Earl and Rachel Smith Strand); THE DEVIL TREE, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (The Collective Project Inc.); THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SIR WM MCGONAGALL (Atlanta Fringe). Education: Master of Fine Arts in Directing (Theatre), University of Southern Mississippi; Bachelor of Arts in Theatre & Performance Studies (Performance Concentration) from Kennesaw State University; additional training from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, Kennedy Center MFA Playwright’s Workshop + Directing Intensive, Second City Training Center. Corey was a 2015 National Directing Fellow through the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and was awarded the 2013 Emerging Artist Award for Theatre from the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

Mackenzie Gordon (Playwright, Actor) has been writing plays for ten years. His work has been published in DISCORDER MAGAZINE, CARTE BLANCHE, and Speakeasy Theatre’s PULL ANTHOLOGY. His plays have been performed by ITSAZOO Productions (DEBTS, FIVE RED BALLOONS), Western Canada Theatre (THE BALLAD OF THE BURNING LADY), Upintheair Theatre (VISITORS) and Level-Headed Friends Productions (SIX FINE LINES; SHAKE THE SHEETS!; DEAD CELEBRITIES). He is a three-time writing contributor to Sum Theatre's Pull Festival and a four-time Jessie Richardson Theatre Award nominee. THREE STORIES UP was workshopped during the 2014 Playwrights Theatre Centre Colony, dramaturged by author Michael Springate.

Bethany Arrington (Actress) is an actor, model, and voice over talent originally from Carmel, Indiana. She is a proud member of the Artistic Council and ensemble of NoMads Art Collective. Bethany is very pleased to be working with Theatre in the Dark for the very first time. She is represented by Lily’s Talent.  Hear and see more of Bethany at 

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