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It Came From Outer Space Doesn’t Quite Land at Chicago Shakespeare Theater



A new science fiction musical has invaded Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  It Came From Outer Space, by Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosean,  based on the 1953 Universal Pictures movie of the same name, has touched down there for its premiere developmental production.

For years, musical theater writing teams have tried to musicalize sci-fi films of the

John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones) and Ellen Fields (Jaye Ladymore) look to the stars. Photo by Liz Lauren.

1950’s.  Previous efforts I have seen include The Brain From Planet X, It Came From Beyond, Wild Women of Planet Wongo, and Illuminati Lizards from Space.  However, all of these show suffered from the same problem. They are all heartless, winking, genre parodies with cardboard characters we simply don’t care about.  Although better crafted in many ways than most of its predecessors, It Came From Outer Space suffers from the same fundamental lack of emotionality.

John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones) dances, surrounded by Maizie (Ann Delaney), Borney (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), and George (Alex Goodrich). Photo by Liz Lauren.

The evening is saved by some fine performances, and endlessly clever staging by director Laura Braza and her design team, all of which manage to distract us from the real question: Why is this a musical at all?

Frank (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis) and George (Alex Goodrich). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Kinosian and Blair are the talented writing team who previously brought their freshman collaboration, Murder for Two, very successfully to Chicago Shakespeare.  No question these are two clever guys who know how to write a good song.  But without the right structure to musicalize, they are just beating a dead alien.

The townspeople of Sand Rock—Heckie (Sharriese Y. Hamilton), Frank (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), Maizie (Ann Delaney), Ellen Fields (Jaye Ladymore), and George (Alex Goodrich). Photo by Liz Lauren.

In the original film, an alien craft crashes outside a small desert town, and is discovered by a scientist, John Putnam, played here with just the right amount of starch in his shirt, and beautifully sung, by Christopher Kale Jones.

John is engaged to a local girl, Ellen Fields, played here by Jaye Ladymore.  She does her best to bring life to the role. But the flatness of her character on paper doesn’t give her much to work with.

John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones) ventures into the cavern with Borney (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), Ellen Fields (Jaye Ladymore), Maizie (Ann Delaney), Heckie (Sharriese Y. Hamilton), and Sheriff Matt Warren (Alex Goodrich). Photo by Liz Lauren.

The aliens kidnap some of the locals and replace them after assuming their human forms.  The scientist realizes this but he can’t get anyone, including the town sheriff, to believe him.  Alex Goodrich gives a brilliant comedic performance as both the soft-spoken sherriff, whose voice peters out at the end of every phrase when he tries to sing a love song, and as the telephone lineman, George, who gets abducted and replaced by an alien.

George (Alex Goodrich) and Frank (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as George’s co-worker, Frank,  Ann Delaney as the town’s chatty old lady, Maizie, and Sharriese Y. Hamilton, a local favorite who doesn’t get nearly enough to do as the reporter, Heckie, round out the small but mighty cast, who alternate between their human selves and their alien dopplegangers.

George (Alex Goodrich), Borney (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones), and Maizie (Ann Delaney) have an extraterrestrial encounter. Photo by Liz Lauren.

When her actors are being the alien lookalikes, Braza cleverly lets the onstage actors mouth the dialogue while it is spoken off stage by another actor.  So their voices are noticeably different when human and alien.  Also, the funny alien walk they all do could have been  a good excuse for a comedy dance number.  But it never materializes.

Ellen Fields (Jaye Ladymore). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Kenosian and Blair have smartly expanded the original story to allow John to be captured and replaced by the aliens as well. This allows a smattering of human interest to develop, as Ellen wonders why she can’t relate to her fiancée anymore, in a song called “I Can’t Figure Out Men”.  But ultimately, her character isn’t real enough to gain our sympathy.

Maizie (Ann Delaney), Ellen Fields (Jaye Ladymore), Borney (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), and John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones). Photo by Liz Lauren.

When John learns that the aliens have come in peace and just want to go home, he and Ellen have to stop the frightened town from destroying them.  But how the townspeople and the aliens bond in the end is quite silly, and equally lacking in credibility.  Even the message of acceptance gets short shrift.

John Putnam (Christopher Kale Jones). Photo by Liz Lauren.

That said, this little production is tremendous fun to watch.   The tiny upstairs black box theater at Chicago Shakes has been packed with a constantly entertaining blend of projections, puppetry and clever use of small scenic elements.   Inventive costuming and staging choices allow the small cast to play multiple roles both alien and human. Special kudos to Video/Projection Designers Rasean Davonte Johnson and Michael Salvatore Commendatore, puppet consultant Manual Cinema, and costumer designer Mieka Van Der Ploeg.

With the exception of the song that opens and closes the show, “We Are Out There”, which is a real earworm, you won’t remember any of this music ten seconds after they are done singing it. However, orchestrator Macy Schmidt, Electronic Music Designer Ethan Deppe, Music Director Tom Vendafreddo, and the fine band under the baton of Associate Music Director Kevin Reeks, together with Sound Designer Nicholas Pope, set the visual elements in a finely textured musical soundscape that provides just the right ambiance.

Is there a space story with real emotion waiting to be musicalized successfully?  I believe there is. It’s just not this one.  So put your 3D glasses on, and watch for another bright sci-fi themed musical to someday land on Broadway.

Jeffery Lyle Segal is a multifaceted theater artist who has worn many professional hats. He started as a musical theater performer in his teens. He attended Stanford U., Northwestern University, and SUNY at Binghamton to study acting, directing and dramatic literature. He also wrote theater reviews for The Stanford Daily and was Arts Editor of WNUR Radio at Northwestern. After college, he is proud to have been the first full time Executive Director of Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater Company. He left them to work as a theater actor and director. His special effects makeup skills got him into the movies, working on the seminal cult horror film, Re-Animator.He also did casting for several important Chicago projects, sometimes wearing both production hats, as he did on Chicago’s most famous independent movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. While living in Los Angeles, he joined the Academy for New Musical Theater, where he developed two book musicals as a composer, lyricist and librettist, Down to Earth Girl (formerly I Come for Love, NYMF 2008), and Scandalous Behavior! (York Developmental Reading Series 2010). He wrote, produced and performed his song “Forever Mine” as the end title theme of the horror film, Trapped! He also has written songs for his performances in cabaret over the years, and the time he spent pursuing country music in Nashville. Most recently he created a musical revue, Mating the Musical, for the Chicago Musical Theater Festival 2016. In NYC, he has attended the BMI musical theater writers’ workshop, and the Commercial Theater Institute 14 week producer program. He is currently creating a company to develop new musicals online. He still keeps up his makeup chops, working with top doctors in NYC and Chicago as one of the country’s most highly regarded permanent cosmetic artists ( and as a member of Chicago local IATSE 476.


The Olivier Awards Return



Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.

Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.

The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.

The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.

The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.

And the nominees are:

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Out of Town

The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview




Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNATwo People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova.

Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.

During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.

Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?

Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic.  The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.

What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?

For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process.  Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.

The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.

Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?

We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play.  We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.

Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!

Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…

We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months.  There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft.  Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.

What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?

For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art.  Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.

For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years.  The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.

The most rewarding?

Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine.  Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.

What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?

We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto.  We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine.  And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.

First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit

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Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T



Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde

Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.

Rachel Chavkin Photo Credit Erik Tanner

Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.

Martyna Majok by Josiah Bania

Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.

Sonya Tayeh

American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little PillWaitressNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at

Thomas Bartlett Photo Credit York Tillyer

Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.

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