Northlight Theatre presents The World Premiere of “Shining Lives: A Musical” May 8 – June 14, 2015

ShiningLives-300x300Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, presents the world premiere of Shining Lives: A Musical.Directed by Jessica Thebus and developed through Northlight’s Interplay Series, the musical is adapted from the Northlight-commissioned play These Shining Lives. The production will run at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie, from May 8 – June 14, 2015.

It’s 1922 and the young women of Chicago’s Radium Dial Company are living a dream— earning good wages and beaming with new-found independence. After years of hand painting watch dials, the so-called “harmless” radium that provided for so much joy leads to tragic results. Four courageous women upend their lives with a determination to change the future in this compelling new musical, the transcendent tale of heroic lives that glowed with promise.

The cast features Jess Godwin (Frances), Alex Goodrich (Tom/Ensemble), Erik Hellman (Ensemble), Johanna McKenzie Miller (Catherine), Matt Mueller (Ensemble), Bri Sudia(Charlotte) and Tiffany Topol (Pearl).

The artistic team is Jessica Thebus (Director/Book & Lyrics), Andre Pluess (Composer), Amanda Dehnert (Composer), Chuck Larkin (Music Director), Vanessa Stalling(Choreographer), Scott Davis (Set Design), Linda Roethke (Costume Design), JR Lederle (Lighting Design), Stephan Mazurek (Projection Design), and Ray Nardelli (Sound Design). The stage manager is Rita Vreeland.

BJ Jones comments, “We finish our smash 40th Anniversary season with a play by women and about women, as we present Shining Lives: A Musical. I first commissioned Melanie Marnich (of Showtime’s The Affair) to write the story of the pioneering women of the Ottawa Watch factory, some dozen years ago. Now Jessica Thebus, Andre Pluess and Amanda Dehnert transform this play into a musical theatre piece celebrating these extraordinary women, their lives and their courage.”

Jessica Thebus (Book & Lyrics/Director) is a director of theater and an educator based in Chicago. Past Northlight credits include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Inherit the Wind and Red Herring. At Steppenwolf, she has directed Sex with Strangers, Intimate Apparel, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, No Place Like Home, When the Messenger is Hot (also at 59 E 59th in NYC) and Sonia Flew. Recent credits: In the Garden by Sarah Gmitter at Lookingglass, Buzzer by Tracy Scott Wilson at Goodman, Welcome Home Jenny Sutter (Next), As You Like It (Oregon Shakespeare); The Feast: an intimate Tempest (Chicago Shakespeare with Redmoon). She is Director of the Graduate Directing Program at Northwestern University.

Andre Pluess (Co-Composer) previously sound designed at Northlight for Season’s Greetings, Lieutenant of Inishmore, Po Boy Tango, Inherit the Wind, The Retreat from Moscow andRed Herring. Design and composition credits include projects for Lookingglass (artistic associate), Court (1999-02 resident artist), Victory Gardens (resident designer), About Face (associate artist), Goodman, Steppenwolf and many other Chicago and regional theaters. Broadway credits: I Am My Own Wife and Metamorphoses. Awards: nine Jeff Awards and Citations, an L.A. Ovation Award, a Drama Critics Circle Award and a Lortel nomination for composition and sound design.

Amanda Dehnert (Co-Composer) Recent productions include: Into the Woods, My Fair Lady (Oregon Shakespeare), Eastland: A New Musical (Lookingglass, world premiere, direction and orchestration), Richard III (Public Theatre Mobile Shakespeare Unit, director/composer), Julius Caesar (Oregon Shakespeare, director and adaptor), The Verona Project (California Shakespeare, world premiere, words and music), Peter Pan (A Play) (Lookingglass, author), Death of a Salesman (Dallas Theatre Center, director and composer), Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chicago Shakespeare, director, adaptor, and composer). She is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Northwestern University.

Melanie Marnich (playwright/These Shining Lives) Plays include Quake, Blur, Tallgrass Gothic, These Shining Lives, Calling All, Beautiful Again, The Sparrow Project and A Sleeping Country. These Shining Lives premiered at Baltimore Center Stage in April 2008 and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and the Weissberger Award in 2005. Blur received its world premiere Off Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club and also won the Francesca Primus Prize from Denver Center Theatre. Her plays have been produced or developed at New York’s Public Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre, London’s Royal Court Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, Arena Stage, Portland Center Stage and Denver Center for the Arts. She has written for HBO’s Big Love and Showtime’s The Big C and The Affair.

Jess Godwin (Frances) was previously seen on stage at Northlight as Susan in Snapshots. In addition to Shining Lives, she is working on the development of Exposure this summer. To find out more about her 12-part music video dedication series, check out

Alex Goodrich (Tom/Ensemble) Previous Northlight credits include A Civil War Christmas and She Stoops to Conquer. Other Chicago credits: Hero: The Musical (Jeff Award, Best Supporting Actor – Musical), On The Town, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, For The Boys, How Can You Run … (Marriott); Old Jews Telling Jokes (Royal George); Everything Is Illuminated (Next); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Indiana Repertory); The Emperor’s New Clothes, Taming of the Shrew, Aladdin (Chicago Shakespeare); Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon (Chicago Children’s Theater); The Comedy of Errors (Court); The Front Page (TimeLine); and several productions with Provision.

Erik Hellman (Ensemble) is returning to Northlight after The Commons of Pensacola and Lost in Yonkers. Chicago: Luna Gale (Goodman and Center Theatre Group, LA); The Good Book, Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, Proof (Jeff Nomination – Supporting Actor), The Comedy of Errors, The Mystery of Irma Vep (Jeff Nomination – Lead Actor), Titus Andronicus and Arcadia(Court); Eastland (Lookingglass); Hesperia (Writers); The Madness of King George III, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth and Edward II (Chicago Shakespeare); Honest, The Elephant Man and Huck Finn (Steppenwolf); All My Sons (TimeLine); as well as shows at Next, Chicago Dramatists, Remy Bumppo, House Theatre of Chicago and as a company member of Strawdog. Outside of Chicago: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory, Geva, Syracuse Stage, Indianapolis Repertory, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Houston’s Stages Repertory and Off-Broadway at Mirror Repertory. Film/TV: The Dark Knight, The Chicago Code, Boss, Betrayal, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD.

Johanna McKenzie Miller (Catherine) is making her Northlight debut. Other Chicago credits include Claire in On The Town, Mary Poppins, Cats, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Changeand Marian Paroo in The Music Man (The Marriott); Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein (Drury Lane); Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet; and work at Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman, Ravinia and Court. Johanna is the co-founder of Lombard Children’s Theater Workshop and a member of Actors Equity Association.

Matt Mueller (Ensemble) makes his Northlight debut. He recently released a new cast recording of Woody Guthrie’s American Song at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, California. Regional credits include productions at Chicago Shakespeare, Capital Repertory, Asolo Repertory, Utah Shakespeare, Theatreworks (Colorado Springs), Marin Theatre Company, Palm Beach Dramaworks, Colorado Shakespeare, Arvada Center, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Bri Sudia (Charlotte) makes her Northlight debut. Other Chicago credits include Pericles and Road Show at Chicago Shakespeare and understudying Tribes at Steppenwolf. Regional credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Music Man, Into the Woods, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice (Utah Shakespeare Festival); Camelot, The Winter’s Tale (Texas Shakespeare); Richard III, Big River (Arkansas Shakespeare); and roles at Notre Dame Shakespeare and Milwaukee Repertory. Bri received her MFA in Acting from The University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign and holds a degree in Sign Language Interpreting.

Tiffany Topol (Pearl) makes her Northlight debut. Select credits: Once the Musical (1st National Tour), Xanadu (1st National Tour), Sweet Charity (Writers Theatre), Eastland (World Premiere, Lookingglass Theatre), Cabaret (Milwaukee Repertory). When in Chicago, Tiffany often performs with The Back Room Shakespeare Project. She is a singer/songwriter/ukulele player in several projects, including her band, Glad Fanny (, and gypsy-folk outfit Youth in a Roman Field (

Northlight is continuing its popular special event series in conjunction with each production. All events are free.

Backstage with BJ is a mid-day discussion with Artistic Director BJ Jones, featuring special guest artists, actors, directors and designers, offering behind-the-scenes insight into each production while it is still in rehearsal. Backstage with BJ for Shining Lives: A Musical will be held on Friday, May 1 at 12:00pm and will last approximately one hour. Reservations are required, 847.679.9501 x3605 or

Community Panel Discussions
With topics ranging from women in the workplace, to labor law reform, to the ongoing radium cleanup still taking place in Ottawa, civic leaders and area experts will join Northlight artists to address the local impact of issues raised in the play.

Highland Park Public Library – Monday, May 18, 1:00pm, 494 Laurel Ave, Highland Park. Panelists are casting director Lynn Baber and cast member Johanna McKenzie Miller.

Evanston History Center – Monday, May 18, 6:30pm, 225 Greenwood, Evanston. Panelists include representatives from Northwestern University, Frances Willard House and Evanston History Center.

Skokie Public Library – Tuesday, June 2, 2:00pm, 5215 Oakton Ave, Skokie. Featured panelist: Leonard and Ray Grossman, sons of the lawyer Leonard Grossman who represented the women in the case against Radium Dial Factory.

Northlight Theatre – Thursday, June 4, following the 7:30 performance. This discussion will focus on the local impact of issues raised in the play such as women in the workplace, labor law reform, safe working conditions and corporate responsibility. Panelists include state representative Robyn Gabel, labor lawyer Lydia Bueschel, and a doctor from NorthShore University Health System.

Chicago History Museum – Saturday, June 6, 10:00am, 1601 N Clark, Chicago. Panelists are director/co-creator Jessica Thebus and Russell Lewis, Executive Vice President and Chief Historian for the Chicago History Museum. (This event requires tickets, purchase at


Notes of Interest:

  • Shining Lives: A Musical is based on the Northlight-commissioned play These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich. Shining Lives: A Musical was developed through Northlight’sInterplay program.
  • In the current season, Northlight is producing two world premiere works (White Guy on the Bus and Shining Lives: A Musical), the second-ever productions of two plays (The Commons of Pensacola and Outside Mullingar) and a classic rarely produced in the US (The Mousetrap). In addition, Northlight has a number of new works in development throughmInterplay, a program that has sent 25 out of 29 scripts on to full professional productions throughout the country and developed Northlight’s three best-selling plays: Better Late by Larry Gelbart and Craig Wright, The Outgoing Tide by Bruce Graham and Chapatti by Christian O’Reilly.
  • Melanie Marnich’s latest project is The Affair on Showtime.
  • Shining Lives: A Musical is based on the women of the Radium Dial Company in nearby Ottawa, Illinois. It remains an important part the history of the Chicago area. A documentary “Radium City” tells the first-hand account of the survivors and the aftermath of the contamination.

Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences, reflecting our community to the world and the world to our community.

Now in its 40th season, the organization has mounted nearly 200 productions, including over 40 world premieres. Northlight has earned 188 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 31 Awards. As one of the area’s premier theatre companies, Northlight is a regional magnet for critical and professional acclaim, as well as talent of the highest quality.

The 40th Anniversary is supported by season sponsor BMO Harris Bank and lighting sponsor ComEd.

Shining Lives: A Musical is made possible in part by Individual Production Sponsors Bob and Lisa Silverman and Jill and Leif Soderberg, and by Corporate and Foundation Production Sponsors NorthShore University Health System, Kellogg Cancer Center, and The Farny R. Wurlitzer Foundation.

Northlight is supported in part by generous contributions from the Paul M. Angell Fund; BMO Harris Bank; Cramer-Krasselt; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; ComEd, An Exelon Company; Edgerton Foundation for New American Plays Award; Evanston Community Foundation; First Bank & Trust; Full Circle Foundation; The Homestead Hotel; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; KinderMorgan Foundation; Kirkland & Ellis Foundation; The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Melvoin Award for Playwriting; Modestus Bauer Foundation; North Shore Center for the Performing Arts Foundation; NorthShore University HealthSystem; The Offield Family Foundation; The Pauls Foundation; Plante Moran; The Pritzger Pucker Family Foundation; Quince at the Homestead; The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation; Room & Board; Sage Products; Sanborn Family Foundation; The Shubert Foundation; Skokie Fine Arts Council; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; The Sullivan Family Foundation; Tom Stringer Design Partners; the Venturous Theater Fund; and The Farny R. Wurlitzer Foundation.