American Blues Theater opens its 2019-2020 Season by welcoming home Ensemble member Rick Cleveland with the Chicago Premiere of his play Five Presidents, directed by Ensemble member Marty Higginbotham. Five Presidents runs September 6 - October 19, 2019 at Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont Ave in Chicago.
There was only one day in history when all five of these U.S. Presidents were in the same room at the same time: the holding room prior to entering the memorial service for President Richard Nixon. Five Presidents is the presentation of this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, as imagined by “The West Wing” and “House of Cards” writer Ensemble member Rick Cleveland.
“Rick Cleveland brilliantly dramatizes this imagined once-in-a-lifetime conversation between five U.S. Presidents – each with personal policies, agendas, and favorite cocktails,” notes Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “Written during President Barack Obama’s tenure, today’s 2019 America represents a different political, ideological, and cultural awareness than even four years ago. Cleveland returned to the play with a sharpened pencil and tongue. While we celebrate this Chicago premiere, the manuscript has been a living document for Cleveland. Like the U.S. Constitution, it got amended. We are grateful to Rick for joining us through the rehearsal process.”
Five Presidents features John Carter Brown (George H.W. Bush), James Leaming* (Ronald Reagan), Martin L’Herault (Jimmy Carter), Tom McElroy (Gerald Ford), Stephen Spencer (Bill Clinton), and Denzel Tsopnang* (Agent Kirby).
The creative team includes Grant Sabin* (scenic design), Alexander Ridgers* (lighting design), Michael Alan Stein (costume designer), Warren Levon* (sound design), Mary O’Dowd (props design), and Shandee Vaughan* (stage & production manager).
*Ensemble & Artistic Affiliates of American Blues Theater
About the Artists
MARTY HIGGINBOTHAM (Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. American Blues acting credits include: Desire Under the Elms, Monsters, On the Waterfront, Tom and Jerry, The Homage that Follows, Stalag 17, Bus Stop, The Three Penny Opera, Working, The Trip to Bountiful, American Dead, and Oklahoma; American Blues sound design/original score credits: Monsters, Monsters II, Monsters III, Food from Trash, The Homage That Follows, The Million Bells of Ocean, and A Lie of the Mind. Marty has also worked on and off stage at The Old Globe, The Prince Music Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Circle Theatre, and Organic Theater Company. Marty directed the original full production of It's a Wonderful: A Live Radio Play in 2004 and continued to helm the production up to 2008, moving with the Ensemble in 2009 to the Biograph, and remounting at the Greenhouse. Marty is also Founder and President of The Stage Channel, a video production company serving the Arts in Chicago and across the country since 2001.
RICK CLEVELAND (Playwright) is a proud founding Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. Rick is a playwright and an Emmy winning writer/producer whose television credits include The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Nurse Jackie, House of Cards, Archer, Legit, and Man In The High Castle. Rick performed his one man show My Buddy Bill at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, and won the Best Solo Performance Award at the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen in 2006. He also performed the piece at the 92nd Street Y in New York City for a one hour Comedy Central special in 2007. As a playwright Rick has earned playwriting grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays. Rick was invited to the National Playwrights' Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center twice, and he is a Founding Member of the Ojai Playwrights Conference. Rick was a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and he received his MFA from the University of Iowa's Playwrights' Workshop.
JOHN CARTER BROWN (George H. W. Bush) is returning to American Blues Theater in Five Presidents where he was first seen as Guy in “Groovy Town” for the initial production of Monsters. He was last seen in Chicago as Thomas Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons with TimeLine Theatre. Other credits include work with Steppenwolf Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Zebra Crossing Theatre, Open Eye, Griffin, Mary Archie Theatre, Edinburg Festival Fringe, several others, and Boxer Rebellion Theatre, which he helped found in the late 90s. Film and Television credits include Boss, Detroit 1-8-7, ER, Under the City, Surviving Christmas, In the Company of Darkness, and numerous commercials.
JAMES LEAMING (Ronald Reagan) is a proud founding Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. Ongoing projects: national tours of Defamation and Botanic Garden with Canamac Productions; This Wonderful Life (solo version of It’s a Wonderful Life featuring 47 characters) at American Blues Theater, North Coast Repertory Theatre (CA), Laguna Playhouse (CA), Cleveland Play House (OH), Syracuse Stage (NY), and Asolo Repertory Theatre (FL), directed by Peter Amster and Carmen Roman. Regional theater: Indiana Repertory Theatre, Kitchen Theatre (NY), Geva Theatre (NY), North Coast Repertory Theatre (CA), Alliance Theatre (GA), Peninsula Players (WI), and Asolo Repertory Theatre (FL). Chicago: Steppenwolf Theatre, First Folio Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Next Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Goodman Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre, Fox Theatricals, Second City, and Body Politic. Training: American Conservatory Theatre (San Francisco) and Second City (Chicago). Awards: 2000 After Dark Award (Chicago) – Best Actor; 2009 Sarasota Magazine Awards – Best Actor and Best Show; 2012 Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago) – Scenic Design; 2014 Craig Noel Award nomination (San Diego) – Solo Performance; 2018 Joseph Jefferson Award nomination (Chicago) – Solo Performance. Film/TV: Chicago Fire, Mind Games, Prison Break, Early Edition, Running Scared, and Code of Silence.
MARTIN L’HERAULT (Jimmy Carter) is making his American Blues Theater debut and to be in the cast of this fascinating play. Recent credits include: Five Presidents (Old Log Theatre), Once (Theater Latte Da), Guys and Dolls (Old Log Theatre), The Country House (Morningside Players), Bonus Army (The Gym at Judson), and Playboy of the Western World (Pacific Art Center). TV/Film credits include: A Crime to Remember: Judge, Jury, Executioner (Investigation Discovery Channel).
TOM MCELROY (Gerald Ford) makes his American Blues Theater debut. He was last on stage in Provision Theater’s Redeemed: The Fall and Rise of Chuck Colson, playing multiple roles. Some favorite roles have been “Doc” in West Side Story (Paramount Theatre), “Henry” in the world premiere of The Art of Disappearing (16th Street Theater), “Torlief” in Old Glory (Writers Theatre), and “Frank” in Weekend Comedy (The New Theater Restaurant). Film work: The Dark Knight, What If…, Southside With You, The Law of Moises, and recently finished filming The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlin, For Prophet, and Pardoned by Grace, all coming soon. Television credits: Early Edition, Prison Break, The Secret Santa, Chicago Code, Chicago Fire, andChicago Med. Tom voiced “Rayford Steele” in the Left Behind Dramatic Audio Series (144 episodes) and multiple characters in The Twilight Zone, The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and Unshackled! radio dramas. Tom is a company member of Provision Theater.
STEPHEN SPENCER (Bill Clinton) is honored to be performing with American Blues Theater, a company he has long admired. Chicago: Queen (Victory Gardens Theater); Blizzard ’67 (16thStreet Theater / Chicago Dramatists); The Life of Galileo, Our Class, Night and Day (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company); Body + Blood, Ten (Gift Theatre); The Quality of Life (The Den Theatre & Theater on the Lake); Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Wait Until Dark (Court Theatre); Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Congo Square Theatre/Goodman Theatre); Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost (Oak Park Festival Theatre). Regional: Blackbird (Riverside Theatre); Romeo & Juliet, The Winter's Tale (Illinois Shakespeare); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare Rep); and Heroes (Nebraska Repertory Theatre). Also: Utah Shakespeare and Asolo Repertory Theatre. Overseas: Medeamaterial (Moscow's Leninsky Komsomol Theatre) and Battery(Edinburgh Festival Fringe). He’s a proud Associate Artist at Chicago Dramatists and a Founding Member of The Chicago Shakespeare Project.
DENZEL TSOPNANG (Agent Kirby) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. Hailing from Batavia, IL, Denzel holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Millikin University and is represented by Gray Talent Group. After joining last year’s Jeff Award winning production of Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story, he is thrilled to be returning to American Blues Theater with this amazing team and cast! Some of his favorite Chicago credits include: South Pacific (Drury Lane Theatre), Five Guys Named Moe (Court Theatre), Ragtime (Griffin Theatre), The Scottsboro Boys (Porchlight Music Theatre), Annie Warbucks (Theatre at the Center), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Drury Lane Theatre), Velveteen Rabbit (Marriott Theatre), Heathers: The Musical (Kokandy Productions), and Northanger Abbey (Lifeline Theatre).
Fact Sheet Five Presidents
Title: Five Presidents
Written by: Rick Cleveland*
Directed by: Marty Higginbotham*
Featuring: John Carter Brown (George H.W. Bush), James Leaming* (Ronald Reagan), Martin L’Herault (Jimmy Carter), Tom McElroy (Gerald Ford), Stephen Spencer (Bill Clinton), and Denzel Tsopnang* (Agent Kirby).
Creative Team: Grant Sabin* (scenic design), Alexander Ridgers* (lighting design), Michael Alan Stein (costume designer), Warren Levon* (sound design), Mary O’Dowd (props design), and Shandee Vaughan* (stage & production manager).
Dates: September 6 – October 19, 2019
Previews: September 6 - 11, 2019
Press Opening: Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 7:30 p.m.
Regular Run: September 13 – October 19, 2019
Schedule: Thursdays: 7:30pm; Fridays: 7:30pm; Saturdays: 3:00pm & 7:30pm; Sundays: 2:30pm
Blues Views: free post-show discussions follow Sunday performances
Audio Described Performance: September 22, 2019 at 2:30pm
Open Captioned Performance: September 29, 2019 at 2:30pm
Additional performances on September 11, 2019 at 7:30pm; October 14, 2019 at 7:30pm; October 17 at 2:30pm
No performances on September 7 & 14 at 3:00pm; October 19 at 7:30pm
Location: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago
Ticket prices: $19 - $39
Box Office: Buy online at AmericanBluesTheater.com or by calling 773.654.3103.
About American Blues Theater
Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home. American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.
The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago. The 35-member Ensemble has 600+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2018, the theater and artists received 204 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and over 36 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.
American Blues Theater programs and activities are made possible, in part by funding by The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at Prince, the Shubert Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, Angell Foundation, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Anixter Foundation, Actors’ Equity Foundation, and the Chip Pringle Fund. ComEd is the Season Lighting Sponsor.
Editor's Note (8/22/19): Per producer request, an artist bio has been updated.
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