Northwestern grads star in upcoming Chicago Musical Theatre Festival


Source: Katy Campbell

Ryan Frenk, center, and the cast of “Double Vision” create a wormhole between parallel universes in one of the shows in the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival. The scenic design was by Ryan Jones.

Jordan Mangi, Reporter


What do time travel, edibles and parallel universes have in common? They are all the subjects of new musicals premiering this week and the next at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, many of which feature the work of Northwestern alumni and current students.

Produced by the Underscore Theatre Company, the festival is in its sixth year. It presents new musicals by emerging artists and keeps costs low by sharing resources among the shows. In recent years, the company has added a judging component, with all eight shows receiving feedback from industry professionals, according to the press preview.

Taylor Stark (Communication ‘19) directed “Baked! The Musical,” a standout from the preview. Communication juniors Mary Tomei and Michael Daalder assistant directed and stage-managed the show, respectively.

The musical, which features an all-Asian cast, follows overachiever Jane Huang as she and her friends sell edible-marijuana versions of her family’s pastries to raise money for her college tuition.

“It truly is a fun production that touches on the heart of family, of friendship, of cultural significance,” Yuchi Chiu (Communication ‘14), who plays one of Jane’s friends, said. “It tells a personal story about a culture that is so real to so many people, and it is definitely something worth watching.”

Zach Barr (Communication ‘17) directed “Double Vision” for the festival, which features two Northwestern grads, Nina Jayashankar and Ethan Carlson (both Communication ‘18). The musical follows astrophysics Ph.D. student Luke as he opens a wormhole and finds aspiring screenwriter Sam on the other side.

“Beneath the sci-fi veneer that is very quirky and out of the box, there is a very human and relatable story underneath it,” Barr said.

The actors and directors said a compelling part of the festival is getting to work on new musicals that are developed and edited during the rehearsal process.

Many of the shows have already had workshops, but the festival is the first time they have been fully-staged.

“When you’re working on something new, the scripts could change, your songs can change, (and) material you’re very attached to can get cut to serve the story,” Jayashankar said. “You have to be open and malleable to making changes on the fly, even as material you end up performing is different from what you started with. As an actor, it’s a really exciting challenge.”

Other shows that involve Northwestern alumni include “Billy and the Potato Powered Time Machine” which stars Elijah Warfield (Communication ‘19) as Billy, and “Verve” which Mo Yeh (Communication ‘19) music directs.

Warfield said his Northwestern education has been vital in helping him prepare for his work at the Festival.

“It completely shifted how I viewed working in theater,” Warfield said. “Northwestern really puts a beautiful work ethic in you in how you approach a show. They tell you how to take care of the work as well as how to take care of yourself.”

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