Refuge Theatre Project, the three-year-old company that stunned some observers when their HIGH FIDELITY: THE MUSICAL won the 2017 Non-Equity Jeff Awards for Best Musical Production, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Scenic Design, has announced that their next production – the professional Chicago premiere of LYSISTRATA JONES - will be directed and choreographed by the husband-wife team of Broadway veterans Justin Brill and Shanna VanDerwerker. Brill, who now resides in Chicago, appeared on Broadway in RENT, ALL SHOOK UP, and HIGH FIDELITY; and has been seen locally in key roles at Drury Lane Oakbrook (CHICAGO, CRAZY FOR YOU), Theater at the Center (Jimmy in NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, ALL SHOOK UP) and Marriott Theater (ELF, CINDERELLA AFTER THE BALL). LYSISTRATA JONES will be his directorial debut. VanDerwerker’s Broadway credits include assignments as performer (WICKED), assistant choreographer (HIGH FIDELITY) and associate choreographer (AMAZING GRACE).
Brill explains how he connected with Refuge Theatre Project and their Artistic Director Christopher Pazdernik. “Chris and I met while working at Chicago Shakespeare. He came running into the call center where I was working and wanted to have a chat about my theatre history. I was keeping it under wraps, apparently, that I had done a few shows in NYC and on the road.
About a year ago we had lunch and he pitched me on the idea of directing for Refuge with my wife Shanna as the choreographer.
“I've always felt a kismet connection to Refuge...the show where I met Shanna was HIGH FIDELITY on Broadway and Refuge's big hit so far was their production of “HiFi.” The star of LYSISTRATA JONES on Broadway was Patti Murin, who Shanna and I toured with in WICKED and I worked with this spring on the pre-Broadway lab of Disney's FROZEN. It just felt right to make my directorial debut with Chris, Refuge and this show. Plus, a fun pop music theatre update of a Greek comedy about basketball, cheerleaders and female empowerment? I'm in!!"
LYSISTRATA JONES – a musical comedy by five-time Tony Award® nominee Douglas Carter Beane, with songs by Lewis Flinn – takes the premise of the Greek comedy LYSISTRATA, in which the women of Athens refuse to have sex with their husbands and lovers until the long-lasting Peloponnesian War is finally ended – and updates it to the present day at an American college. In Beane and Flinn’s musical, a cheerleader named Lysistrata Jones convinces the girls at the fictional Athens University to withhold sexual favors until the school’s basketball team ends its 30-year losing streak.
LYSISTRATA JONES was first produced by the Dallas Theater Center in Texas in 2010, and in early 2011 transferred to New York City, where it played off-Broadway in The Gym at Judson – an actual gymnasium in a church that is used for theatrical performances. Reviewing that production, THE NEW YORK TIMES’s chief theater critic Ben Brantley called it “effervescent, tasty and surprisingly filling.” The production transferred to Broadway in December 2011 and won Beane a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical.
For LYSISTRATA JONES, Refuge will continue its practice of staging in site-specific venues when it mounts the musical in a church gymnasium, as did the original off-Broadway production. The Refuge production will be mounted in the Unity Lutheran Church gym, at 1212 W. Balmoral (at Broadway) in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood.
Cast in the title role – who is also called “Lyssie J.” - is Mary-Margaret Roberts. Roberts was recently seen as Tracy Partridge in THE BARDY BUNCH at Mercury Theatre and appeared in FAR FROM HEAVEN with Porchlight Theatre and THE CHRISTIANS at Steppenwolf. Lyssie J.’s boyfriend Mick will be played by Collin Sanderson, who has appeared as Lucas in THE ADDAMS FAMILY at the Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois; and in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, ELF AND SEUSSICAL at Marriott Theatre and CABARET at Theater at the Center. The goddess Hetaira, narrator of the story, will be played by Gina Francesca, who appeared in Refuge’s production of BARE: A POP OPERA last fall. Also in the cast are Kaleb Van Rijswijck (Xander); Maisie Rose (Robin); Xavier Euzarraga (Uardo); Dwayne Everett (Tillus); Kyra Sorce (Cleonice); Marisa Riegle (Lampito); Jayla Craig (Myrrhine); Ryan Armstrong (Cinesias); Miles Blim (Harold); Maurice Rex Randle, Merrick Robinson, Mollyanne Nunn, Brandy Miller (ensemble); and Raymond Goodall (male swing/dance captain).
The design/production team will include Evan Frank (set designer), Issac Mandel (sound designer/engineer), Collin Henlou & Jennifer Kules (lighting designers), Emily Swanson (costume designer) and Kate Leslie (stage manager).
Preview performances will be Friday, October 20 and Saturday, October 21 at 8 pm. Press opening will be Sunday, October 22 at 6:00 pm. Performances for the regular run, which will continue through November 19, will be Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm (with a 4 pm matinee on Saturday, November 18) and Sundays at 6 pm, through November 19th. Ticket prices for all seats are $25.00 plus applicable fees and may be ordered online at www.refugetheatre.com.
Douglas Carter Beane (bookwriter) has written the screenplays for TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR; ADVICE FROM A CATERPILLAR (Best Film, Aspen Comedy Festival, Best Feature, Toyota Comedy Festival) and Skinner's Eddy. His plays include THE NANCE, AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN (Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award, Drama Desk Best Play Nomination); THE COUNTRY CLUB (LA Times Critics' Choice & Dramalogue Awards); MUSIC FROM A SPARKLING PLANET; ADVICE FROM A CATERPILLAR (Outer Critics Circle Award Nomination); WHITE LIES; DEVIL MAY CARE and OLD MONEY. His new musical, THE BIG TIME (with music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen) was just produced by Drama Dept. THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED which transferred from Second Stage Theatre was his Broadway debut. Beane wrote the book for XANADU, a stage musical adaptation of the 1980 film of the same name, adding new plot twists and humor parodying the original movie. Beane won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. In 2011, Beane was hired to 'doctor' the book for the musical SISTER ACT alongside Bill and Cheri Steinkellner for which he was nominated for a Tony. Beane wrote the book of the Broadway Musical LYSISTRATA JONES and rewrote the book for a new adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA. Beane is currently the artistic director of the Drama Dept. Theater Company in New York.
Lewis Flinn (composer-lyricist) has written scores and songs for national commercials, network TV shows, Broadway plays, musicals, and independent films. Flinn's theater musicals include LYSISTRATA JONES; OTHER GIRLS, an R&B musical with Steven Sater; LIKE LOVE with Barry Jay Kaplan; THE WINNER, with Joe Sutton; and DOWN THERE, with Brian Crawley, based on the book "Sex: An Oral History". His songs have been featured in Lincoln Center's American Songbook series and recorded by artists including Jennifer Holliday. In addition to writing musicals, Flinn has composed scores and songs for over 50 productions around the country including the Tony nominated THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED on Broadway and often collaborating with NY playwright/sensation Charles Busch (THE DIVINE SISTER and DIE MOMMIE DIE).
In the world of TV and film, Flinn composed and produced the music and main themes for primetime shows, "The Power of 10" and "Million Dollar Password" for CBS. These programs now air in over 50 countries around the world. He has also written scores for commercials- from the AFL/CIO to Life Cereal to Saab. He and his partner, Douglas Carter Beane, were the proud 2010 honorees of the Family Equality Council. They live in New York City with their children, Cooper and Gabrielle.
Justin Brill (director) An honors graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama, Brill has worked professionally as a musical theater performer for 18 years. He began his career in New York City, where he performed in the original Broadway casts of ALL SHOOK UP and HIGH FIDELITY, the national tours of WICKED and SPAMALOT AND Madison Square Garden’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE MUSICAL. He’s also performed at The Metropolitan Opera, shows on the Las Vegas strip and regional theatres around the country. Now a resident of Chicago, he has appeared in key roles at Drury Lane Oakbrook, Marriott Theatre and Theater at the Center. Having worked with many of Broadway’s most successful musical theater directors of the past several decades (Mike Nichols, Joe Mantello, Michael Greif, Christopher Ashley, Susan Stroman, Walter Bobbie and Casey Nicholaw), Brill will make his directorial debut with Refuge’s LYSISTRATA JONES.
Aside from performing, Brill co-produced Steven Strafford’s one person show METHTACULAR! with About Face Theatre which culminated in Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for Steven in the solo performance category. He also helped to found FWD Theatre Project, a non-profit company whose mission is to bring new musicals to life in Chicago with staged readings.
Shanna VanDerwerker (choreographer) has choreographed for the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson, WI (SOUTH PACIFIC, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN) and was the Associate Choreographer for AMAZING GRACE THE MUSICAL here in Chicago and on Broadway, as well as Assistant Choreographer for Broadway’s HIGH FIDELITY. As a performer, Shanna was dance captain and swing for the 1st National Tour of WICKED and performed in the show on Broadway, in Chicago, and the 2nd National Tour. She has also performed at the Fireside Theatre and with dre.dance in New York City with Artistic Directors Andrew Palermo and Taye Diggs. She has a BA in Dance from Point Park University and is currently on faculty at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Music and Lyrics by Lewis Flinn
Directed by Justin Brill
Choreographed by Shanna VanDerwerker
Music Direction by Annabelle Revak
Set Design by Evan Frank
Assistant Direction by Lindsay Marsland
October 20 – November 19, 2017
Previews: October 20th and October 21st at 8 pm
Regular run Sunday, October 22 through Sunday, November 19
Press performance Sunday, October 22 at 6 pm
Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 6 pm, plus Saturday, November 18 at 4 pm
Unity Lutheran Church; 1212 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago
Tickets are $25 and on sale at www.refugetheatre.com
LYSISTRATA JONES by Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn takes the premise of the Greek comedy LYSISTRATA, in which the women of Athens refuse to have sex with their husbands and lovers until the long-lasting Peloponnesian War is finally ended – and updates it to the present day at an American college. In Beane and Flinn’s musical, a cheerleader named Lysistrata Jones convinces the girls at the fictional Athens University to withhold sexual favors until the school’s basketball team ends its 30-year losing streak.
ABOUT REFUGE THEATRE PROJECT
Refuge Theatre Project was founded in 2015 by Ross and Morgan Egan with the goal of utilizing the appeal of musical theatre to foster a broader and more accessible theatre community. We produce contemporary musical theatre in found spaces creating a unique, affordable, only-in-Chicago theatrical experience. www.refugetheatre.com.
The company’s previous productions include the musicals NEXT THING YOU KNOW, produced in February 2015; GLORY DAYS, which opened in August 2015; HIGH FIDELITY: THE MUSICAL, originally staged in February 2016 and remounted in January-March 2017; BARE: A POP OPERA, in October-November 2016, and THINGS TO RUIN, in May/June 2017.