Northwestern alumni bring original show “The Hilary Duff Project” back to Chicago


Courtesy of Sarah Potter

The Cast of “The Hilary Duff Project.” The show will open this Friday at The Newport Theater.

Baylor Spears, Reporter

During their freshman year at Northwestern, Cat McGee (School of Communication ‘15) and Alex Benjamin (School of Communication ‘15) discovered their mutual love for Hilary Duff’s debut album, “Metamorphosis.” This started a joking semi-obsession with Duff, leading to a discussion about a theoretical poetry reading of her songs and in-depth research about her life.

This inspired “The Hilary Duff Project,” a show that takes the audience through the life of the former Disney star. This show will return to Chicago for its second professional production, opening this Friday at the Newport Theater.

“We describe it as a nostalgic trip celebrating female empowerment through the lens of Hilary Duff’s life,” McGee said. “There’s singing and dancing and a lot of references back to the early 2000s Disney Channel stars and Hilary Duff’s life, including calls to Aaron Carter with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor.”

McGee and Benjamin produced the show three times before, twice at Northwestern and once in Chicago in 2017. McGee said before the first show at Jones Fine and Performing Arts Residential College, she didn’t think anyone would actually be interested in the story. The show, which at the time was a fundraiser for the Freshman Musical, turned out a full house.

McGee said one of the most significant changes in this new production was that Benjamin, as well as some other people who worked on the first show, were not involved. In rewriting the script for the new production, McGee had to write without Benjamin to bounce ideas off of. For the first time, she went to a script workshop.

“This is my first thing that I’ve ever written in this capacity by myself,” McGee said. “There was a lot of personal growth and confidence that needed to go along with all of it. In doing the workshop, I was given a lot of really good feedback about how to create a more cohesive narrative.”

The show is split into five different time periods of Duff’s life. Originally, the show did not follow a chronological order, but McGee decided to alter the script to start with Duff’s early roles to create a more cohesive story.

Anne Martin (School of Communication ‘15) said this was a comical change for her because instead of being Hilary Duff One, her original role, she is now Hilary Duff Three. Playing the same role for the fourth time, Martin decided to rewatch interviews of young Duff and found herself impressed by the teen.

“She’s articulate. She doesn’t want to divulge too much about her personal life,” Martin said. “So I think I’ve definitely developed more of an appreciation for how composed she was at such a young age, especially as I’ve gotten older.”

For the two Northwestern shows, Collin Quinn Rice (School of Communication ‘15) was part of the ensemble, but they took on the role of choreographer for the professional productions.

Rice said when they developed the movement for the show in 2017, Rice and the co-choreographer looked back at early 2000s trends to create something that would support the main action while also sparking nostalgia in the audience members. They also said matching the environment of the show was important.

“The idea almost is that you come in and you’re attending the church of Hilary Duff,” Rice said. “We are the pastors and you are the congregation, and Hillary is our deity. Because it’s already so big, we figured with the choreography, why not also make it big.”

As the show continues to grow, Rice and the other NU alumni are more confident than ever in the success of their college dream.

“It has this nugget of something that people are just constantly drawn to,” Rice said. “I don’t really need hope for the Hilary Duff Project because I know it’s going to have a really cool, exciting future.”

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Twitter: @baylorspears_

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