Showing posts with label Guest Critic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guest Critic. Show all posts

Thursday, August 11, 2022

REVIEW: Failure: A Love Story at Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview, On Stage Through September 4, 2022

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

Failure: A Love Story 

at Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview


By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 

“Cool space!” we noted upon our arrival at the Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview. The front lobby has a nice bar, and complementary cookies are provided for patrons during every performance. Tucked away near the library and the Glenview House Restaurant, (where we had a lovely meal served by a young man with fabulous hair who reminded me of Patrick Swayze), this is the only Professional Theatre in Glenview. 

Photo Credit for all Production Shots, Gosia Photography

I was not acquainted with Failure: A Love Story, which may have detracted from my enjoyment. The script was kind of hard to follow for those of us unfamiliar with the storyline. Having one actress play the three sisters, and their mother, (Kendal Romero) was confusing. Some of the action, especially of the Snake character on the floor, (yes, there are Pet characters. Weird.) was difficult to see. The staging needs to be considered, as the sightlines were tough to overcome for the Short of Stature. 

The Fail Family “got rid of their ‘Bottoms”” at Ellis Island when their name was shortened from “Failbotton” to just “Fail.” Owning a clock company, “A ‘Fail Clock’ is a working clock,” provides for the family. (All the clocks on the walls, and the actors mimicking clocks, reminded me of my childhood home because my Mom loved clocks.) When the parents die, the sisters take over the family business downtown. 

The cast was very energetic and enthused. I liked the chorus parts played by Jasmine Robertson, Jordan Zelvin, and Philip J. Macaluso. The Chicago storyline was cool, opening with references to the Eastland disaster of 1915 which killed 844 people, including nearly two dozen entire families. The setting was all in Chicago, and the parents perish the day of the worst shipwreck on the Great Lakes. The entire show focuses on loss and death. The Mom loses a baby in 1910 and is never the same. One of the daughters dies accidentally on her wedding day. Another sister tries to swim Lake Michigan from Chicago to Indiana (wouldn’t it be Michigan?) but disappears in the process. (“Have you ever smelled Indiana?” asks one of the characters.) 

Failure: A Love Story reminds us how “it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” (Thank you, Alfred Lord Tennyson). 

Catherine Hellmann teaches teens by day and attends theater by night. She thinks sleeping until noon on Saturday is an accomplishment. 

By Philip Dawkins
Directed by Xavier Custodio

Oil Lamp Theater's 10th Anniversary season rolls on with this whimsical romp exploring life and death in the Roaring '20s. 

PLOT: The year is 1928 and we meet the Fail sisters: Nelly, Jenny June, and Gerty. Born in that order. The sisters were bubbly, determined, and brittle. Also in that order. Set in the family home and clock shop near the Chicago River, this magical, musical fable follows the Fail sisters’ triumphs and tragedies. As with so many things in life such as blunt objects, disappearances and consumption, the Fail sisters never saw death coming. Happily ever after can’t last forever. But in this upbeat look at life’s ups and downs, we learn you can either be a grump about death, or you can live, love, and sing some catchy songs along the way.

Trevor Earley: Mortimer Mortimer
Van Ferro: John N.
Philip J. Macaluso: Chorus Member
Kendal Romero: Gertie, Jenny June, Nelly Fail
Jasmine Robertson: Chorus Member
Jordan Zelvin: Chorus Member

Esther Fishbein: Gertie, Jenny June, Nelly Fail (U/S)
Rae Hamilton-Vargo: John & Chorus (U/S)
Katie Luchtenburg: Chorus Member (U/S)
Brooks Whitlock: Mortimer Mortimer (U/S)

Director: Xavier M. Custodio
Rochelle Hovde: Stage Manager
Philip Dawkins: Playwright
Greg Korak: Technical Director / Carpenter
Hannah Wien: Lighting Designer
Elizabeth Monti: Costume Designer
Ellen Markus - Co-Set Designer & Prop Designer
Jay Pastucha - Co-Set Designer

Thursday, 8pm
Friday, 8pm
Saturday, 3pm & 8pm
Sunday, 3pm

$35 - Previews July 21, 22, 23 (3pm)
$45 - Run July 23 (8pm) - Sept. 4
For tickets and more:

Xavier M. Custodio is one of the Co-Founders and Artistic Director of Visión Latino Theatre Company. He feels honored to be directing Failure: A Love Story, and getting the opportunity to work with Oil Lamp Theater to bring this fun story to life. Xavier’s directing credits includes: Y Tu Abuela, Where is She?, Baskerville: A Sherklock Holmes Mystery, Stories of Us, Fame, In The Heights, Yellow Eyes, Revolt, and Parachute Man (Assistant Director). He has been in the following productions: The Scarecrow (Minster Dodge), Rent (Benny), Godspell (John the Baptist), Man of La Mancha (Juan), Nine Lives: A Musical Web Series (BFPS Manger), Evita, Ragtime, and The Wiz.

Oil Lamp Theater recommends wearing masks when not actively eating or drinking.
Masks will be required for our Saturday 3pm matinees.

About OLT
Mission Statement

Oil Lamp Theater is a professional not-for-profit theater organization that is dedicated to the presentation of traditional theater in a unique, inviting and intimate venue. Its mission is not only to stimulate interest in the performing arts but also to promote a sense of, and provide a service to, the community.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

REVIEW: Sister Act at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre On Stage Through August 27th, 2022

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar 

Sister Act 

at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre 

in Arlington Heights


By Guest Critic Catherine Hellmann

“This is a beautiful theater! Everything here looks new,” marveled my sister and burgeoning theater critic. We made the trek to Arlington Heights for a performance of Sister Act. Having been raised in a big Catholic family and attending parochial schools, we knew the topic would be something we could relate to. (Well, ok, beides being a nightclub singer hiding in a convent from her murderous boyfriend…) Natalie “Nat” Renee Savoy has a blast as Deloris Van Cartier, the singer-in-disguise-as-a-nun. She seems more comfortable in the role of Sister Mary Clarence (“patron saint of prisoners!”) than as Deloris, even if she does want to accessorize her black and white habit.  :-) 

Monsignor O’Hara (Christopher Johnson, having fun in the role) convinces Mother Superior (a great Lauren Miller) that Deloris will be joining the order. Mother isn’t thrilled and questions the decision. Father reminds her that she took a Vow of Charity. 

“I take it back!” she yells. 

The women’s choir at the convent is terrible; it’s laughable and impressive how bad their singing is. To describe the atrocious choir, Mother Superior says, “There are no words.” Sister Mary Clarence is given the challenge by Mother Superior of improving the choir; Deloris is to use her talents as a performer to elevate their singing. Under her guidance, the sisters bond, the Church’s finances turn around, the two “bachelors who liked the ‘gothic look’ of the church” and want to buy it end up declining, and an offer is extended to sing for the Pope. Sister Mary Clarence is making her mark. 

The breakout role was Sister Mary Robert played by understudy Athena Kopulos. She was so sweet and charming as the very shy novice who finds her voice and her courage. I love when understudies get a shot and shine. 

We assumed we’d recognize the songs from the Whoopie Goldberg movie. But all the songs were unfamiliar, penned by Alan Menken (“Little Mermaid,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Newsies”) and Glenn Slater. Of course, the songs help with the characterizations and move the plot along. 

The choreography by Jen Cupani was clever and fun. The costumes were perfect by Sara Morrison; I especially liked the sparkled nun costumes at the end of the show. 

Sadly, I also want to address performance etiquette. An audience member next to me asked at intermission if children are allowed into the theaters in Chicago. I said most venues prohibit children under five. It’s very rare to hear a baby in the theater. But there was a toddler who kept making noise during the performance; I kept waiting for parents to remove her, but they never did. Plus, cell phones went off at least three times during the show. Ugh. It is so frustrating and distracting. I admire when the actors are able to continue on without being thrown off. 

The cast looked like they were having such a great time, which adds to the atmosphere. 

After the show, we had a delectable dinner at Carlos & Carlos Restaurant. Lobster ravioli, fresh bread with butter and olive oil, shrimp scampi, generous pours of wine. We enjoyed our lovely day in the ‘burbs. 

Catherine Hellmann loves her family, theater, and a good Chardonnay. 

Musical comedy smash Sister Act brings the hit film of the same name to life onstage at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre through August 27, 2022.
Based on the hit film, Sister Act is the musical smash that has audiences jumping to their feet. Featuring music by Tony and Oscar winner Alan Menken, this uplifting comedy was nominated for five Tony Awards. When wannabe diva Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a crime, she’s put in protective custody where she won’t be found: a convent! Disguised as a nun, Deloris finds herself at odds with her rigid new lifestyle. On a mission to bring new life into the church, Deloris introduces disco moves and powerhouse singing to the choir. The group’s unexpected popularity attracts newfound attention – blowing her cover. Sister Act brings a unique mix of Motown, soul, funk, and disco to the stage. A sparkling tribute to the power of friendship with glorious music and dazzling dance numbers, Sister Act is a reason to rejoice.

COVID Protocols: Metropolis COVID protocols continue to evolve as federal and state mandates relax and conditions improve. For current information on COVID protocols visit Metropolis’ website. Metropolis thanks you in advance for helping to provide the safest environment possible for the return to live indoor entertainment.
Regular Run Performances of Sister Act are July 21 – August 27, 2022. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online at, via phone at 847.577.2121, or via email at The Metropolis Box Office is currently open Monday-Saturday 12:00-4:00pm. On performances Monday through Saturday, the Box Office will remain open from noon through at least the start of the performance. On Sunday performances, the Box Office will open one hour prior to show time.

Metropolis’ cast for Sister Act includes Henry Allan (Pablo; Ensemble), Justine Cameron (Sister Mary Robert), Jonathan Cortez (Curtis; Ensemble), Valerie Gorman (Sister Mary Theresa), Natalie Henry (Sister Mary Patrick; Ensemble), Mary Heyl (Sister Mary Martin-Of-Tours; Ensemble), Bob Hussey (Joey), Christopher Johnson (Monsignor O’Hara; Ensemble), Ania Martin (Tina; Nun; Ensemble), Natalie Mattson (Nun; Ensemble), Kedar Miller (Eddie), Lauren Miller (Mother Superior), Amber Parker (Michelle; Nun; Ensemble), Tuesdai B. Perry (Nun; Ensemble), Barb Rieger (Nun; Ensemble), Natalie “Nat” Renee Savoy [they/them] (Deloris Van Cartier), Michelle Tibble (Sister Mary Lazarus; Ensemble), and Brenden Zwiebel (Ernie; Ensemble). Understudies include internal members of the cast, Athena Kopulos and Daniel Rausch.
Sister Act has Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater; Book by Cheri Steinkellner & Bill Steinkellner; with Additional Book Material by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Sade’ May, Assistant Directed by Mikee Parangalan, Music Directed by DeMario Tribett, Choreographed by Jen Cupani. Designers are Jenna Houck (Scenic Designer), Patrick McGuire (Properties Designer), Christopher Moore II (Lighting Designer), David Moreland (Technical Director), and Sara Morrison (Costume Designer). Metropolis Production Manager is Chris Causer.
Supporting Show Sponsor for Sister Act is HKM Architects + Planners; Costume Sponsor is Marty Pfister & Maria Bradley; Season Costume Storage Sponsor is Jennifer Burnidge, State Farm, CLU, CHFC; Season Paint Sponsor is Marc Poulos Painting. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is partially supported by grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency and Ecolab Foundation.

Sister Act is the final show of The Metropolis 2021-2022 subscription series. The 2022-2023 subscription series includes Cabaret (September 15 - October 22, 2022), The Legend of Georgia McBride (January 26 – March 4, 2023), Ragtime (May 4 – June 10, 2023), and Xanadu (July 13 – August 19, 2023).
Metropolis is located in the heart of Chicago’s northwest suburbs in downtown Arlington Heights at the intersection of Campbell and Vail Avenue (111 West Campbell Street). Street parking is available. Due to Arlington Alfresco, there is modified street access and parking on West Campbell Street. Please allow extra time for arrival before your show. Free parking is available in the public garage behind the theatre. For more information about Metropolis and a complete performance schedule, visit or call the Box Office at 847.577.2121.
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre provides professional entertainment and arts education, enriching our community.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

REVIEW: Ken Ludwig’s “Dear Jack, Dear Louise” Now Playing at Northlight Theatre Through August 7, 2022

Northlight Theatre Presents 

Ken Ludwig’s “Dear Jack, Dear Louise”

Now Playing Through August 7, 2022

directed by Jessica Fisch

featuring Casey Hoekstra and Sarah Price

The run time is 1:45, including intermission


By Guest Critic Catherine Hellmann

“Why the hell didn’t we write this show?” asked my sister when I explained the premise. Two young people in World War ll, a Jewish doctor witnessing the horrors of battle and an aspiring actress/dancer trying to get her big break onto Broadway, begin a letter-writing correspondence at the encouragement of their fathers who knew each other in the old country. Our mom was a WWll Army nurse who cared for our dad when he got deathly ill with spinal meningitis, and they began a correspondence when she shipped out from the States. Our dad always said their romance was indebted to the U.S. Army Mail System. (Unlike Ludwig’s parents, whose mom destroyed their letters, our family still has our Dad’s. We gave his Army story letters to my son who is a Social Studies teacher.) 

The cast is Casey Hoekstra (Jack) and Sarah Price (Louise). All Production Photos by Michael Brosilow

“Dear Jack, Dear Louise” is a charmer. From the initial letter in 1942 when their dads suggest they “get acquainted in a social way,” we get to know these two young people just as they get to know each other through their letters. Initially, Jack is stationed in Oregon, and Louise is in NYC. We cheer for their budding romance and the hope that they finally get to meet in person and overcome the huge obstacles in their way. 

But we know that they do, because their future son is the playwright. 

Both Casey Hoekstra as Jack and Sarah Price as Louise are wonderful. Jack is reserved; he oversees amputations and skin grafts on a regular basis in his grueling work. Sarah is upbeat, sassy, ambitious, and swears a lot when she’s mad. These penpals blossom from friends to a deep caring for each other. By the time they meet in person, they know each other deeply through their words, which seems quaint but a lot more “real” than the Internet dating of modern times. When there is a lull in their literary conversation because of career interruptions or other priorities, the patience they have to practice seems unfathomable to us in the world of texting and instant messages.

I loved all the time period references. Louise is auditioning for “Arsenic and Old Lace” on Broadway. She adores a production of “Oklahoma!” starring Celeste Holm as Ado Annie. Her favorite performers are Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, and Rosalind Russell. Louise’s costumes by Izumi Inaba evoke the flattering styles of the 1940’s. And the fun soundtrack includes “Night and Day” by Cole Porter, “For Me and My Gal,” and “It Had to Be You.”    

I assumed that Ludwig borrowed and pieced together sections of his parents’ letters, but he had to create all the dialog from scratch. Since his mother must have felt the letters were too “intimate,” she didn’t save them for her sons. Knowing this background fact makes Ludwig’s entertaining script all the more impressive. The two characters interact through their letters without actually interacting together. I wondered how this was going to work theatrically, (would it just be a lot of back and forth letter reading like a vocal tennis game?), but it does so beautifully.    

One other factual aspect of the backstory is that Jack’s mother was one of 13 girls, so Jack had 12 aunts! Louise goes to Pennsylvania from New York to meet the family, which results in her brave recap of facing a dozen potential critics. Louise describes Jack’s family as appearing “out of a Norman Rockwell painting if Norman Rockwell painted Jews.” 

At our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, Dad gave an awesome speech where he said our mom “took special care of me because she told me later,’I didn’t want you to die on my watch.’ And she’s still taking care of me because I am not dead yet!” 

Luckily, for my six siblings and I, and for Ken Ludwig and his brother, that military postal service was efficient and reliable! None of us would be here if it wasn’t for the powerful correspondence between Paul and Mildred and for Jack and Louise. 

Catherine Hellmann is the youngest of seven children and a teacher like her dad. (But he had the GI Bill to pay for college.) Her kids are teachers and a librarian, so apparently this literary stuff is hereditary. 

Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, continues its 2021–2022 season with Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise by Ken Ludwig.  The production runs July 7 – August 7, 2022 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie. 

When two strangers meet by letter during World War II, a love story begins. U.S. Army Captain Jack Ludwig, a military doctor stationed in Oregon, begins writing to Louise Rabiner, an aspiring actress and dancer in New York City, hoping to meet her someday if the war will allow. But as the war continues, it threatens to end their relationship before it even starts.  

Two-time Olivier Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig tells the poignant story of his own parents’ unlikely courtship during World War II.

The creative team includes Yeaji Kim (Scenic Design), Izumi Inaba (Costume Design), Jackie Fox (Lighting Design), Eric Backus (Sound Design), and Lonnae Hickman (Props). The production stage manager is Rita Vreeland.

**A reminder that masks are required at all times at the theater.  Safety protocols are available here:**

Featuring: Casey Hoekstra (Jack) and Sarah Price (Louise).

Creative Team: Yeaji Kim (Scenic Design), Izumi Inaba (Costume Design), Jackie Fox (Lighting Design), Eric Backus (Sound Design), and Lonnae Hickman (Props). The production stage manager is Rita Vreeland.


Regular run: July 16-August 7, 2022

Tuesdays: 7:30pm (July 12 and August 26 only)

Wednesdays: 1:00pm and 7:30pm

Thursdays: 7:30pm 

Fridays: 8:00pm

Saturdays: 2:30pm (except July 9) and 8:00pm

Sundays: 2:30pm; and 7:00pm (July 10 and 24 only)

A Touch Tour. Open Captioning and Audio Described performance will be held on Saturday, July 30 at 2:30pm. A Relaxed performance for individuals with sensory sensitivity will be held Sunday, July 24 at 7:00pm.


Northlight Theatre is located at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie


Previews: $30-$61

Regular run: $30-$89

Student tickets are $15, any performance (subject to availability)

Box Office: The Box Office is located at 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie. 847.673.6300;

Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences, reflecting our community to the world and the world to our community.

Founded in 1974, the organization has mounted over 220 productions, including more than 40 world premieres. Northlight has earned 208 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 36 Awards, as well as ten Edgerton Foundation for New Play Awards. As one of the area’s premier theatre companies, Northlight is a regional magnet for critical and professional acclaim, as well as talent of the highest quality.

Northlight is supported in part by generous contributions from Allstate Insurance; the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; BMO Harris Bank; Bulley and Andrews; Byline Bank; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; CoBank; ComEd, An Exelon Company; Eckenhoff Saunders; Evanston Arts Council; Evanston Community Foundation; Lloyd A. Fry Foundation; Full Circle Foundation; The Gross Foundation; Gruman Butkus Associates; John R. Halligan Fund; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; Illinois Humanities; Katten Muchin Roseman LLP; Kirkland & Ellis Foundation; The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation;  Modestus Bauer Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Niles Township; NorthShore University HealthSystems; Northwestern University; The Offield Family Foundation; The Pauls Foundation; PNC Bank; Polsinelli; Ralla Klepak Trust for the Performing Arts; Room & Board; Sanborn Family Foundation; The Saints Foundation; Dr. Scholl Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; The Sullivan Family Foundation; and Tom Stringer Design Partners.

REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Musical Now Playing at Mercury Theater Through September 11, 2022

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Based on the film “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” by Stephan Elliot

Featuring legendary cabaret chanteuse Honey West as Bernadette

and Josh Houghton as Tick/Mitzi

Now Playing Through September 11, 2022


By Guest Critic Catherine Hellmann

Credit for All Production Photos, Brett Beiner Photography

“It’s raining men! Hallelujah!”  So opens this exuberant production. The audience was as stoked as the cast on opening night. After a crazy/frustrating couple years, delays, and  rumors that the historic Mercury Theater was closing, Priscilla was finally here! Hallelujah, indeed. 

“Hey, I know a lot of these songs!” declared my excited, easygoing sister. Of all the theater I have been dragging her to (like 3-5 shows a week), Teresa proclaimed this fun musical was one of her favorites. It is a crowd-pleaser with a very familiar score, such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and “Shake Your Groove Thing.” The rendition of the absurd “MacArthur Park” of the “cake left out in the rain” is an absolute hoot. 

I was excited to finally see the famous Honey West perform; she is perfect as the mature drag queen, Bernadette. Josh Houghton is wonderful as Tick/Mitzi. And Shaun White as Adam/Felicia is hilarious and bitchy; his lip-synch of “Sempre Libre” from Verdi’s opera La traviata is a highlight with his facial expressions and gestures. (Boy, I hate when drag queens have better legs than I do…) The three “divas” who act as a chorus are also standouts, especially Jessica Brooke Seals’ vocals. (“How do they change their costumes so fast?” my sis marveled.) Ayana Strutz has a dance number that made the audience gasp at her astounding flexibility! 

“Priscilla” is actually the name of the RV which the trio of drag queens take on their long journey. The scenic design by Jonathan Berg-Einhorn is truly inspired. The small stage of Mercury is limited, but the pink RV divided into decorated parts is clever and imaginative. How do you find an RV full of drag queens? “Follow the glitter.” 

The costumes by Robert Kuhn must be mentioned. (Ensembles in the audience made for great people-watching as well.) No diva worth her high heels can be complete without fabulous gowns. One of Mitzi’s dresses is covered in flip flops, which was my favorite. And the wigs by Keith Ryan are also inventive and fun.

Although this is an amusing and outrageous show, there are poignant moments and a strong message of acceptance. One of the drag queens asks why do they put up with insults and abuse every night? “So we feel like real women?” Hmmm…they get it. And there are also unabashed examples of prejudice and gay bashing in the show which remind us of the courage required to be so open about their “True Colors.” 

So, hobble on your stilettos and drape those feather boas and head out to catch “Priscilla.” You won’t want to miss this wild ride.

Catherine Hellmann is an educator, mom of educators, and theater junkie. She also loves reading and Chicago. And reading about Chicago. 

Mercury Theater Artistic Director Christopher Chase Carter, Managing Director Kristi J. Martens and Executive Producers Walter Stearns and Eugene Dizon announce the cast and creative team for the much-anticipated production of the summer, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The musical features a book by Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott and is based on the film “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” by Stephan Elliot. This production is directed and choreographed by Artistic Director Christopher Chase Carter, with music direction by Executive Producer Eugene Dizon. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert runs July 15 – September 11, 2022 at Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Avenue. 

The cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is led by legendary cabaret chanteuse Honey West as Bernadette and Josh Houghton as Tick/Mitzi and features Heather J. Beck (Diva, US Marion, US Shirley), Lydia Burke (Diva, US Cynthia, US Miss Understanding), John Cardone (Ensemble, US Bernadette), Marcus Jackson (Jimmy, Frank, Ensemble, US Bob, Dance Captain), Brittany D. Parker (Marion, Shirley, Ensemble, US Diva), Darren Patin (Miss Understanding, Ensemble, US Adam/Felicia), Jason Richards (Bob, Ensemble), Jessica Brooke Seals (Diva), Gabriel Solis (Benji), and Ayana Strutz (Cynthia, Ensemble), Shaun White (Adam/Felicia) and Matthew Weidenbener (Young Bernadette). 

The creative team for Priscilla Queen of the Desert includes Christopher Chase Carter (director/choreographer), Eugene Dizon (music director), Jonathan Berg-Einhorn (scenic and props designer), Bob Kuhn (costume designer), Carl Wahlstrom (sound designer), Max Maxim (video designer), Rachel West (lighting supervisor), Will Hughes (scenic supervisor), Kathy Logelin (dialect director) and Keely Vasquez (casting associate). The production stage manager is Kristi J. Martens and the assistant stage manager is Katie-Sarah Phillips.

Based on the smash-hit movie, Priscilla is the heartwarming, uplifting adventure of a glamorous Sydney-based performing trio who take their show to the middle of the Australian outback. They hop aboard a battered old bus (nicknamed Priscilla) searching for love and friendship and end up finding more than they ever imagined. With a hit parade of dance floor favorites including “It's Raining Men," "I Will Survive," "Hot Stuff," "Boogie Wonderland," "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and "I Love The Nightlife" this wildly fresh and funny musical is a journey to the heart of fabulous!

Tickets for Priscilla Queen of the Desert, priced $39-$85, are on sale now at the box office, 3745 N. Southport Avenue in Chicago,

More About Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Book by: Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott

Based on the film “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” by Stephan Elliot

Directed and Choreographed by: Artistic Director Christopher Chase Carter

Music Direction by: Executive Producer Eugene Dizon

Featuring: Honey West (Bernadette) and Josh Houghton (Tick/Mitzi), as well as Heather J. Beck (Diva, US Marion, US Shirley), Lydia Burke (Diva, US Cynthia, US Miss Understanding), John Cardone (Ensemble, US Bernadette), Daniel Hurst (Young Bernadette, Ensemble, US Tick/Mitzi), Marcus Jackson (Jimmy, Frank, Ensemble, US Bob, Dance Captain), Brittany D. Parker (Marion, Shirley, Ensemble, US Diva), Darren Patin (Miss Understanding, Ensemble, US Adam/Felicia), Jason Richards (Bob, Ensemble), Jessica Brooke Seals (Diva), Gabriel Solis (Benji), and Ayana Strutz (Cynthia, Ensemble). Casting for the role of Adam/Felicia will be announced at a later date.

Creative Team: Christopher Chase Carter (director/choreographer), Eugene Dizon (music director), Jonathan Berg-Einhorn (scenic and props designer), Bob Kuhn (costume designer), Carl Wahlstrom (sound designer), Max Maxim (video designer), Rachel West (lighting supervisor), Will Hughes (scenic supervisor), Kathy Logelin (dialect director) and Keely Vasquez (casting associate). The production stage manager is Kristi J. Martens and the assistant stage manager is Daniel J. Hanson.

Dates: July 15 – September 11, 2022


Wednesdays: 7:30 p.m.

Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.

Fridays: 7:30 p.m.

Saturdays: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Sundays: 2 p.m.

Location: Mercury Theater Chicago

3745 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago

Tickets: $39 – $85

Box Office: 3745 N. Southport Avenue in Chicago

COVID PROTOCOL: Mercury Theater Chicago follows the CDC and State of Illinois recommendations about maintaining a COVID safe environment. Any interaction with the public poses an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19. By visiting Mercury Theater Chicago, it is understood that everyone voluntarily assumes all risks related to exposure.

All patrons will have to wear a mask throughout the performance when not actively eating or drinking regardless of vaccination status.

About Mercury Theater Chicago

The beautifully renovated Mercury Theater Chicago is in the heart of the Southport Corridor at 3745 North Southport Avenue, within a sophisticated neighborhood of restaurants and boutiques just steps from Wrigley Field. A delightful destination, Mercury Theater Chicago is a live-theater seating 280 people, adjoining Venus Cabaret Theater (seating 80). 

The building that houses the Mercury opened in 1912 as a silent film nickelodeon, named The Blaine Theatre after actor and former Senator and Secretary of State James G. Blaine. The Blaine became obsolete when talking pictures became popular nationwide in 1928. The building served a variety of uses until 1994, when it was purchased by theater producer Michael Cullen and transformed into a live theatre, named the Mercury Theatre.

In 2010 the building was sold again and reopened as Mercury Theater Chicago under the direction of Walter Stearns, a veteran theater director and producer. Mercury Theater Chicago's second performance space, Venus Cabaret Theater, offers a unique intimate theatrical experience complemented by specialty cocktails. Mercury Theater Chicago is thrilled to be part of the city's vibrant theatre community, boasting record-setting long runs, employing hundreds of artists and recognized with dozens of award nominations. Mercury Theater Chicago's team includes Christopher Chase Carter (Artistic Director), Walter Stearns and Eugene Dizon (Executive Producers), Kristi J. Martens (Managing Director) and Honey West (Cabaret Director). Visit

Thursday, July 21, 2022

REVIEW: Get Out Alive Via Haven Now Playing at Den Theater Through August 6, 2022

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar

Get Out Alive

Written by and Starring Nikki Lynette
Co-Directed by Roger Ellis and Lucky Stiff

at The Den Theater 


By Guest Critic Catherine Hellmann

One in five adults experiences mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But it’s one in a million who can take their extremely personal experiences with depression and turn it into a kick-ass musical. 

Which is exactly what singer-songwriter-activist NIkki Lynette has done with her autobiographical show “Get Out Alive” currently playing at The Den. Lynette speaks openly about her strained relationship with her mother; they adored each other, but Mom was so worried about her daughter following in her footsteps of bad choices that she smacks Lynette during an argument about boys…which, devastatingly, sets the precedent that people we love can hurt us. And leads Lynette down the very path her mother was trying to persuade her to avoid.  

Lynette shares and sings of trauma and loss. Of losing her beloved mother to cancer. Of not showering for a week, leading her best friend to tell her,”You smell how you feel.” Of being in the psych ward after a suicide attempt. She says she met others in the hospital who felt as alone as she did, so she promised to tell their story. 

The show includes video interviews with people talking about their mental health struggles. I really liked these segments because they were raw and honest, but also easy to follow. Some of the songs, while exhibiting Lynette’s powerful voice, were difficult to understand the lyrics. That was disappointing when her message is so important. Although, she did have a very funny song where Lynette relays her family suspects she is trying to steal her deceased mother’s fur coats. “Did I mention I’ve been a vegan for twenty years?” Which segues into the song,”Vegans Don’t Wear Fur!”  

The show’s set is designed like a runway at a fashion show. Anna Wooden’s costume design is goth and hip. The giant “paper doll” gowns were especially inspired. 

Two backup dancers accompany Lynette, and they are fantastic. Jacinda Ratcliffe as Echo #1 and Keeley Morris as Echo #2 are wonderful additions to the show. Their dancing was incredible. (Their energy made me feel 100 years old.) 

“Get Out Alive” has perfect timing with the introduction of a new national suicide hotline number, 988, being introduced. It’s 24/7 and an excellent resource if the caller is concerned for a friend or family member as well. It’s time as a society that we talk about mental illness which used to be shrouded in secrecy and shame. 

There is a giant tarp in the lobby of the theater where audience members can write what they do to stay happy, healthy, and alive. Someone had written to “stay away from negative people.” Mine was: “lots of theater & music!”    

A floral display in the theater resembles the shrines that are hurriedly thrown together after a disaster or yet another tragic shooting. It symbolizes that Nikki Lynette could have needed a funeral, but she had the courage and resolve to live.  

Catherine Hellmann teaches at a therapeutic day school with teens who struggle with mental illness. Being a kid these days is hard enough. She urges everyone to be kind and take their meds. 


Haven is pleased to continue its 2021-22 season with Nikki Lynette’s multidisciplinary afrogoth musical Get Out Alive, co-directed by Roger Ellis and Lucky Stiff, which features the writer and her personal journey with mental health. Get Out Alive will play July 8 – August 6, 2022 at Haven’s resident home, The Den Theatre's Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets are currently available at  or by calling the Den Theatre Box Office at (773) 697-3830. 
The cast also includes DJ Jason “P1” Lloyd, Keeley Morris and Jacinda Ratcliffe.
Get Out Alive is a new interdisciplinary musical by independent artist, actor and activist Nikki Lynette. This autobiographical afrogoth musical is equal parts raucous, tender, intelligent and triumphant. Recounting her personal journey marked by abuse, grief, sexual assault and suicide, Lynette raises mental health awareness through the lens of a hip-hop concert. Using storytelling, song, dance, visual media and a live DJ, Lynette’s offbeat approach to sharing her personal mental health journey shows that even when life leads us to a bad place, we can always make it out alive.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness. In addition to stigmatization and lack of access to insurance and resources, lack of diversity and cultural competency among providers create significant barriers to mental health care access. These barriers disproportionately affect people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. This musical aims to deepen the conversation around mental health, leading to substantive change in the lives of individuals, particularly members of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities.
Comments writer/performer Nikki Lynette, “When I went into the psyche ward after a suicide attempt, I met all these people with the same issues as me, and they felt alone, too. I told them when I got out, I would use my platform to tell our stories — and I'm keeping my word.”
The production team includes Eleanor Kahn (scenic design), Anna Wooden (costume design), Gabrielle Strong (lighting design), Brett Ashleigh (sound design), Caitlin McLeod (props design, set dressing design), Keeley Morris (co-choreographer), Jacinda Ratcliffe (co-choreographer), Chris Owens (projections design), Ty Huey aka Lucy Stoole (hair and make-up design), Brannon Bowers (creative producer), Matt Hennessy (music producer), Devin Sullivan (master electrician), Allen Weusthoff (master carpenter), John Johnson (Audio 1), Jayce Lewis (production stage manager) and Angela Matera (assistant stage manager).
Haven is pleased to host two special events to accompany the run of Get Out Alive. On Sunday, July 17 from 12:30 pm - 2:30 pm, Haven will hold a pre-show Wellness Event featuring a panel of local wellness practitioners and vendors. ($10 suggested donation for entry). Following the Friday, July 22 performance, Haven will host Get Out and Thrive, featuring music by DJ Ca$h Era, dancing and joy.


Location: The Den Theatre's Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Dates: Previews: Friday, July 8 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, July 9 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, July 10 at 3 pm
Press performance: Wednesday, July 13 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Thursday, July 14 – Saturday, August 6, 2022
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.
Tickets: Previews: pay-what-you-can. Regular run $36. Reserved seating $46. Student $21. Industry $31. Tickets are currently available at or by calling The Den Theatre Box Office at (773) 697-3830
Industry Night: Monday, July 25 at 7:30 pm
Open-Captioned Performances: Thursday, July 28 – Sunday, July 31.

COVID guidelines: In the interest of keeping patrons and staff safe, and in accordance with the League of Chicago Theatres, The Den Theatre will continue to require proof of vaccination to attend any event for the indefinite future. While masking is no longer required, The Den strongly encourages patrons to continue wearing a mask when not eating or drinking. For the most current information on The Den’s COVID guidelines, visit


About the Artists
Nikki Lynette (Book, Music, Lyrics, Performer, she/her) is a social impact artist and mental health activist. Her music is featured in popular shows on Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and more. Since going public about her suicide recovery in 2016, Nikki's outreach grew from a mental health video series for AFROPUNK to giving a TEDx Talk hosted by Princeton University. With her play Get Out Alive, Nikki made history as the first black female playwright to be produced by American Music Theatre Project and the first AMTP work to debut at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She was recently honored with an Ambassador of the Year Award by NAMI, the largest grassroots mental health organization in America.
Roger Ellis (Co-Director, they/them) is a director-producer of tech-forward experimental performance projects. Ellis’ work explores identity, post-traumatic growth and the relationship between digital technology and the human body. Recent projects include the film adaptation of Nikki Lynette’s afrogoth musical Get Out Alive, and [re: CLICK], an app-based performance devised in response to Click by Jacqueline Goldfinger. Ellis’ choreography for AntigoneNOW was featured in the 27th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre. Ellis’ work has been produced in Atlanta, NYC, Chicago and Southern California. Ellis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University.
Lucky Stiff (Co-Director, they/them) is a trans and nonbinary director, writer and performer working in Chicago and New York. They build original experiences that combine nightclub culture, theater and performance art which have been featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Blue Man Group, Boy Friday Dance Company and Bushwig Festival of Drag, among many others. Most recently they directed Hullabaloo by Sarah Schecter for #Enough: Plays To End Gun Violence, presented digitally by the International Thespian Society. They hold an MFA in Directing for Theater from Northwestern University.

About Haven:
Ian Damont Martin (Artistic Director, he/they) is a writer/director by passion and a creative executive by trade. Ian is the Artistic Director of Haven Chicago, and the executive director of Inclusion & Belonging at the Art Institute of Chicago. Ian has worked with a number of arts and cultural institutions, including Enrich Chicago: a collaborative of arts, culture and funding institutions collectively engaging in the work of anti-racist and racial equity organizing. In 2016, he was awarded the Joyce Foundation-funded artistic producing apprenticeship at Goodman Theatre. Selected directing credits include Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Twelfth Night and The Tempest; an adaptation of The Ridiculous Darkness by Wolfram Lotz for Sideshow Theatre; The Toilet by Amiri Baraka for Haven Chicago; a reading of The America Play by Susan Lori-Parks for Goodman Theatre. Ian is originally from Cincinnati, OH and gives love and gratitude to the people who helped shape the person he is today.
Angela Salinas (Executive Director, she/her/hers) moved to Chicago in 2017 for the prestigious, year-long Production Management Apprenticeship at the Goodman Theatre. She had previously worked in several regional theaters including: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and Cal Shakes. Later that same year, Angela joined Haven Theatre serving as the Assistant Production Manager for that season's Director’s Haven. In January 2018, she was hired on as Haven’s General/Production Manager, and finally as of September 2019, Angela officially took the reins as the full-time Executive Director of Haven. Angela graduated with a Bachelor of the Arts in Stage Management and Lighting Design from California State University, Fresno.
We embolden visionary artists to practice and hone their craft by providing an equitable haven of opportunity for the creation of innovative performance, theatre and media arts.
Centering our artists, audiences and the work, Haven Chicago commits to the following values:
People First –We honor people for their stories, talents, contributions and spirit of collaboration by creating a safe and equitable working environment. 
Inclusion – We aim to be accessible to all. As an anti-racist, multicultural institution, we value diversity, equity and inclusion.
Accountability – We cultivate trust and accountability to our community and mission through clear communication and intention.
Mentorship – We foster mentorship as a way of giving back to the community and carve pathways for the next generation of artists.

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