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Wuthering Heights Storms Into Chicago Shakespeare Theater



Chicago has been roused from its winter doldrums by a breath of fresh air blowing across the Yorkshire moors. The Wise Children’s production of director/adapter Emma Rice’s poetic, overtly theatrical, contemporary-tinged adaptation of Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, a big hit in London, has been imported intact to Chicago Shakespeare Theater for a limited run. This brilliant, endlessly inventive production pulses and throbs with music, puppetry, theatricality, social conscience, and an ensemble of ravishing performances. It’s the not-to-be-missed event of the season.

Catherine (Leah Brotherhead), Photo by Muriel Steinke, courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Chicago audiences are no strangers to this story theater style, which has been taught at Northwestern University in the oral interpretation department for decades. Actors alternate between narrating the action and living within it. The upstage wall is a projection screen filled with moody images of the Yorkshire moors. Actors, seated in chairs around the stage, come in and out to move fragmentary walls and doors representing houses. They carry books on sticks which flap like birds. The onstage band provides a pulsing, beautiful underscore peppered with Near Eastern influences, along accompaniment to the many songs that enliven the production.

Jordan Laviniere with Young Heathcliff Photo by Kevin Berne, courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Ms. Rice’s adaptation is far more complete and faithful to the spirit of the book than the overly romanticized 1939 film, which most fans of the book no doubt have seen.  The book tells the story of two neighboring families, the Lintons and the Earnshaws, who live on the Yorkshire moors. It is a dark and passionate tale of unrequited love and pitiless revenge which takes the lives of several family members before the later generation can finally break the pattern.

In the book, the story is told to a tenant on the property in flashback by the nanny, Nellie Dean. Ms. Rice has replaced that narrator with a Greek chorus representing the moors themselves, lead by the expressive Jordan Laviniere.  The chorus lends commentary in song and dance, adding energy, beauty, and lightness to what could be an otherwise grim scenario.  They also warn of what is to come, singing “Be careful what you seed.”

The real story begins  when Mr. Earnshaw (T.J. Holmes) adopts an ophan boy he finds on the docks, whom he names Heathcliff.  In another highly theatrical choice, Heathcliff and all the other young children are played by life sized puppets, carried onstage by members of the ensemble.

This adaptation makes it quite clear that Heathcliff is not a smooth, white boy who will grow up to be Laurence Olivier. When grown, he is chillingly played with a proud and brooding sense of menace, and a native Indian accent, by Liam Tamne. We quickly realize in this production that this is a story not just of class prejudice but racial prejudice as well.

When Earnshaw dies, his son, Hindley, now lord of the manor, relegates Heathcliff to the status of a stable boy. Nonetheless, Heathcliff grows up alongside Earnshaw’s other child, Catherine, and falls in love with his playmate. On opening night, Catherine was played by her cover, Katy Ellis. She was magnificently earthy, funny, passionate, haunted, and vulnerable.  She tugged at my heart with every breath, and simply could not have been better.

Mr. Lockwood (Sam Archer) and Catherine (Leah Brotherhead) Photo by Kevin Berne, courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

When Catherine marries the wealthy but bland neighbor boy, Edgar Linton, played by the physically expressive Sam Archer,  instead of Heathcliff, and proclaims that it would have been beneath her to marry him, she drives a stake into Heathcliff’s heart which leads him on a twenty year path of revenge against Catherine’s family.  Only after the death of both Heathcliff and Catherine can her own daughter, also named Cathy, and Hareton Earnshaw, the son of Hindley, restore peace and love to the moors.

Young Cathy is played by Eleanor Sutton, who also plays Hindley’s silly wife, Frances. She, too, is powerfully passionate, rivetingly direct, and utterly beautiful from the depths of her soul.  In the dual role of Hindley and his own son, Hereton, Tama Phethean manages to earn our sympathy and understanding in his complex presentation of two dark and troubled men.

T.J. Holmes is outstanding as the doctor who spends most of his time dispensing family members to the great beyond.  In a top hat and frock coat, with his thin limbs and large, mobile face, looking rather like Jiminy Cricket come to life, he created a very funny and almost otherworldly presence.

However, the most delightful and surprising performer of the evening, among many great actors, was  for me, Georgia Bruce. She is very petite and deliberately boyish here.  So she makes either an excellent whiny young woman as Isabelle Linton, the sister of Hindey whom Heathcliff marries to spite Catherine when she rejects him, or later as her own spoiled and weak son, Little Linton.  She made me smile with every single line reading or gesture.

Catherine (Leah Brotherhead), Heathcliff (Liam Tamne), and the Leader of the Yorkshire Moors (Jordan Laviniere) Photo by Kevin Berne, courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

I had always thought of Wuthering Heights as a tale mired in darkness.  But there is unexpected light at the end of this story which this production delivers as well, sending the audience home with the wonderfully satisfying sense of having lived through the soul-shaking tale themselves, much as its surviving characters do.

Kudos to the whole production team, including composer Ian Ross, movement director and choeographer Eta Murfit, Music Diretor Pat Moran, and the entire design staff.

This production will  live in my memory for years to come, as I’m sure it will in yours if you are fortunate enough to see it.  Get your tickets while you can.

Wuthering Heights plays at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier now through February 19

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.


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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Reading For Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee New Musical Other World



Other World, a new musical with an original score and story by Tony Award Nominee Hunter Bell (book), Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), and singer-songwriter and author Ann McNamee(music and lyrics) will present invite-only staged readings on Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17 at Open Jar Studios in New York City. With direction by Jenn Rapp (The Illusionists Director/Choreographer) and choreography by Karla Puno Garcia (Tick, Tick … BOOM! film, Kennedy Center Honors), Other World is being developed in creative consultation with the five-time Academy Award winning WĒTĀ Workshop (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies).

Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee

One moment Sri and Lorraine are in a garage on Earth. The next, they’re unexpectedly transported into Sri’s favorite video game, Other World. Now trapped in the game and in a race against the clock, this unlikely pair must work together, discover their inner strengths, and connect with gifted gamers and astonishing avatars in order to survive and find a way home. With art direction provided by Academy Award–winning Wētā Workshop (The Lord of the RingsAvatar), this heartfelt, humorous musical explores the connections we make on- and off-line, while celebrating the families and friendships we need to thrive in any world. Join us for this spectacular, original, otherwordly adventure. Your journey begins…now!

The cast features Micah Beauvais (Sri), Bella Coppola (Lorraine), Ryan Andes (Roman/Antagon), Madeleine Doherty (Myra), Kaden Kearney (Tris), Brandi Porter (Temula), Mikaela Secada (Jamie), with Sojouner Brown, Elena Camp, Sommer Carbuccia, Laura Dadap, Seth Rettberg, Sherisse Springer, Blake Stadnik, Levin Valayil, and Jason Williams.

The creative team for the developmental presentation also features music direction by Amanda Morton (KPOP), casting by Paul Hardt Casting (Once Upon A One More Time), video design by Khristian Bork (Coco live at the Hollywood Bowl, Danny Elfman – Coachella), sound design by Hidenori Nakajo (Octet), and general management by Alchemy Production Group (The Music Man, Come From Away).  The Executive Producer is Lauren Tucker/Alchemy Production Group.

For more information about the show, visit

Hunter Bell (Book) earned an OBIE Award, a Drama League nomination, a GLAAD Media nomination, and a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, all for the original Broadway musical [title of show]. Other credits include the books for Silence! The Musical (Lucille Lortel Nomination, Outstanding Musical), Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Bellobration! (Ringling Bros. Circus), Villains Tonight! (Disney Cruise Lines), Found (Atlantic Theater, Drama Desk Nomination, Outstanding Book of a Musical), and Julie Andrews’ The Great American Mousical (Goodspeed). He is a co-creator of the web series “the [title of show] show” and has developed television with ABC Studios/ABC Television. Hunter is a proud graduate and distinguished alumnus of Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, a member of the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, a MacDowell Fellow, and currently serves on the board of the Educational Theatre Association and Educational Theatre Foundation, national arts advocacy organizations representing theatre teachers and students.

Jeff Bowen (Music and Lyrics) wrote the music and lyrics for and starred in the Broadway musical [title of show] (OBIE Award) and Now. Here. This. Additionally, he has written music and lyrics for Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Villains Tonight! (Walt Disney Company), and the theme songs for the web series “the [title of show] show” and “Squad ’85.” His songs can be heard on the original cast albums of [title of show], Now. Here. This., as well as Broadway Bares Openingsand Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project. He is a proud member of ASCAP, AEA, Writers Guild, Dramatists Guild, and the National Audubon Society. He serves as a faculty member of the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

Ann McNamee(Music and Lyrics) received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University, leading to a twenty-year career in teaching, choral conducting, and music research at Swarthmore College. After retiring as Professor Emerita, Ann composed for, sang, played keys, and toured with the Flying Other Brothers and Moonalice, both bands led by her husband Roger McNamee. She composed the majority of the songs on the Moonalice album that was part of T Bone Burnett’s nomination for Producer of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. For the Lilith Fair tour in 2010, she fronted the band Ann Atomic. Another highlight was opening up for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum in November 2011. She retired from touring in 2012 in order to collaborate on musical theater projects full-time. Ann’s outside interests include co-founding the Haight Street Art Center, a community center/poster music/print shop to celebrate rock poster art in the Bay Area.

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Out of Town

The Avett Brothers Musical Swept Away Sails Into Arena Stage This Fall



Swept Away, the new musical written by Tony Award winner John Logan (book) and “America’s biggest roots band” (Rolling Stone), The Avett Brothers (music and lyrics), was announced today as part of the  2023/24 season at Arena Stage, Washington, DC (Molly Smith, Artistic Director; Edgar Dobie, Executive Producer).  Performances will begin November 25 and will continue through December 30. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer will direct the production as he had last year in the musical’s sold-out world premiere at Berkeley Rep. The Arena Stage engagement will feature an updated score with additional, never-before-heard songs. Swept Away is produced by Special Arrangement with Matthew Masten, Sean Hudock, and Madison Wells Live.

Swept Away
 is set in 1888, off the coast of New Bedford, MA. When a violent storm sinks their whaling ship, the four surviving souls — a young man in search of adventure, his older brother who has sworn to protect him, a captain at the end of a long career at sea, and a worldly first mate who has fallen from grace — each face a reckoning: How far will I go to stay alive? And can I live with the consequences?

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000.

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