Podcast with ‘Signs of LIfe’ Producer VIRGINIA CRISTE
Signs of Life producer Virginia Criste discusses this poignant new drama with music based on the true story of the Czech ghetto Theresienstadt, which tells one of the most fascinating and least known stories of the Holocaust. For more information, visit SignsofLifeTheMusical.com
VIRGINIA CRISTE (Producer) who commissioned this show, is president of the producing company SNAP-TWO PRODUCTIONS, INC. She received her BA from Mount Holyoke College and her JD from George Washington University. After the Berlin wall fell and during Havel’s first year as Chief of State of the Czech Republic, Virginia went to Terezin to try to learn about her grandparents, who spent their final years there. At that time, there was only a small exhibit and a depository of artifacts that they allowed her and her son to view alone in the company of a Museum official. Spending a day with the remnants of hand drawn posters announcing show performances, cabaret tickets, albums of dorm life, and so much more was hard to forget. A stop at London theatre on her return to the United States helped form the thought: if Les Miserables and Miss Saigon could be musicals, why couldn’t the story of Terezin be set to music? After all, the inhabitants of Terezin kept music and theater as a vital part of their life in captivity. Flash forward and you have the piece that is now being performed with the talented artists whose biographies appear herein. Virginia practices law in Indian Wells, California.
SIGNS OF LIFE, A Tale of Terezin, is thrilled to announce the full cast for its Chicago premiere this fall at the Zacek McVay Theater at Victory Gardens Theater (2433 N Lincoln Ave). SIGNS OF LIFE will play Chicago for a limited six week engagement September 18 – October 27, 2013 with Press Night on Sep. 25, 2013.
Joining Lara Filip as Berta and Jason Collins as Kurt are Nathan Cooper, Brennan Dougherty, Matt Edmonds, Megan Long, Michael Joseph Mitchell, Doug Pawlik, and James Rank.
Rounding out the Chicago creative team with composer Joel Derfner, lyricist Len Schiff, librettist Peter Ullian,director Lisa Portes and musical director Mike Pettry are choreographer Julia Neary and Music Supervisor Paul Bogaev. SIGNS OF LIFE will feature scenic and lighting design by Brian Sidney Bembridge, costume design by Elsa Hiltner, sound design by Mikhail Fiskel, projection design by Anna Henson, and orchestrations by Christian Imboden.
SIGNS OF LIFE, a new musical drama based on the true story of the Czech ghetto Theresienstadt, tells one of the most fascinating and least known stories of the Holocaust.
Originally founded by the Nazis, Theresienstadt was specifically designated for the academic and artistic Jews of Europe. In an attempt to deceive the Red Cross and sway public perception, the Nazis decided to “beautify” the ghetto and commission a propaganda film. SIGNS OF LIFE shows the struggles of the captives of Theresienstadt as they try to expose the truth through art and music–and in doing so, discover the humanity they all share.
The inception of the musical began when creator Virginia S. Criste chose to visit the ghetto Theresienstadt, located in what was then Czechoslovakia, to learn more about her grandparents, who spent their final years there. At that time, there was only a small exhibit and a depository of artifacts that they allowed her to view in the company of a Museum official. “Spending a day with the remnants of hand-drawn posters announcing show performances, cabaret tickets, albums of dorm life, and so much more was hard to forget,” stated Criste.
Writing a musical about captives living in a ghetto during the Holocaust is not an easy task; the authors had to take a heartbreaking time in world history and turn it into a human story, a story infused with the life, spirit, and even humor of the people who lived these events. And when people see SIGNS OF LIFE, they see the emotion and humanity of this piece.
As a ghetto filled with artists, musicians and thespians, among others, a great deal of artwork arose from Theresienstadt that still exists today. SIGNS OF LIFE incorporates a number of pieces from the original artwork. “We want to use the visuals available to us to help tell the story,” commented Criste.
SIGNS OF LIFE is a story that must be told, and it’s never been told quite this way before. “It is an important story because it was an event of tremendous importance to Jewish, European, and Western history, and as such, is still important today, in knowing who we are and where we come from,” said librettist Peter Ullian. “That said, living in a time as fraught as ours, a time of peril, violence, authoritarianism, sectarianism and genocide, a story about people trying to hold on to what makes them human, to bear witness to horror, and to struggle to make difficult moral choices, has a strong contemporary resonance.”
“It’s a story about what it’s like to be caught in a web of tyranny and deception, and what people do mentally and emotionally to survive it; we want people to see it not only as a Holocaust story, but as a human story,” concluded Criste.
The performance schedule for SIGNS OF LIFE is as follows:
Wednesdays at 2:00 & 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8:00 p.m.
Saturdays at 5:00 & 8:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3:00 p.m.
Please note: Ticket prices and performance schedule are subject to change.
Tickets for SIGNS OF LIFE at the Victory Gardens Theater range from $45-$65. Discounted tickets are available for seniors ($25), students ($20) and survivors ($20). Individual tickets are available now by calling the Victory Gardens Theater box office at 773.871.3000 or online at www.victorygardens.org. Tickets are available for groups of 10 or more by calling Victory Gardens Theater Group Sales at 773.328.2136. For more information, visitwww.signsoflifethemusical.com or www.victorygardens.org.
Follow SIGNS OF LIFE on Twitter at @SignsofLifeCHI and on Facebook at Signs of Life The Musical.
SIGNS OF LIFE CAST/CREATIVE BIOS
JASON COLLINS (Kurt Gerard) Broadway National Tour: Annie (Jimmy Johnson/Morganthau/U.S. Rooster). Off Broadway: Signs Of Life (Kurt), Concert Premier of The Wedding Banquet (Sean). Off, Off: Prospect Theater Company:The Blue Flower (Sewing Machine Man) Regional: Arkansas Rep: The 39 Steps (Clown 2), To Kill A Mockingbird, (Bob Ewell), Henry V (Fluellen). Village Theatre: Original Developmental Production of Next To Normal (Dan); Importance Of Being Earnest (Algernon). Cast Recordings: David Austin’s A Christmas Carol, (Bob Cratchett), 30th Anniversary Cast Album of Annie.
NATHAN COOPER (Jonas, Red Cross Inspector, Russian) is thrilled to be making his professional Chicago theater debut. He just received his BFA in Musical Theater Performance from Columbia College Chicago (CCC) in May 2013. Previous shows include CCC Mainstage productions of Victor/Victoria (Toddy), City On The Make (Lefty), RENT (Mark) and Floyd Collins (Reporter). He also recently won the Foundation of Artists Mentored in Entertainment vocal competition hosted by Lily’s Talent Agency. Big thank you to his instructors at Columbia College Chicago and his family and friends for their endless love and support.
BRENNAN DOUGHERTY (Wolfie Schumann) Brennan has just had the honor of performing Signs of Life in Prague. Previous Credits include: Oliver! (Workhouse Boy/Fagin’s Gang) at Drury Lane, Oliver! (Charley Bates) at Light Opera Works, and Midsummer Night’s Dream at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Local Productions include: High School Musical(Troy Bolton), Fiddler on the Roof, Music Man, Willy Wonka, and Aladdin. Brennan, 13 years old, enjoys singing, dancing and playing the piano and guitar. Brennan would like to thank Style Casting, the team of Signs of Life and everyone else who made it possible for this incredible opportunity. Also, thank you to family, friends, and Melissa (Stacey De) for their continuous support.
MATT EDMONDS (Simon Müller) is pretty darn excited you’re here and hopes you like the show a lot. Chicago: All-American (Redtwist Theatre), State Street (City Lit Theatre), You Never Can Tell (Remy Bumppo), The Andrews Brothers (Metropolis PAC), and A Little Night Music (Circle Theatre). Regional: Next to Normal (TheatreSquared) andTwelfth Night (Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival). B.A. in Theatre and Cognitive Science from Northwestern University. www.matt-edmonds.com.
LARA FILIP (Berta Pluhar) is thrilled to join this amazing creative team for this beautiful piece of theatre and history. Most recently Lara appeared as Molly Ivors in James Joyce’s The Dead at Court Theatre. As a performer, writer and director, Lara’s work has been seen on nearly every stage in Chicago. She has also traveled extensively in lead roles in several National touring companies. Lara is also Artistic Director of Arranmore Arts, bringing unique arts and education experiences to the Western Suburbs. She is currently in the studio recording the debut album of her band Birdie Wing.
MEGAN LONG (Lorelei Schumann) is honored to join the cast of Signs of Life. She was recently seen in Kansas City as Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee ( New Theatre). Chicago credits include Stephen Schwartz’s new musical Snapshots (Northlight Theatre), Esther Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis (Drury Lane Water Tower), The Emperor’s New Clothes and Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chicago Shakespeare), A Little Night Music (Light Opera Works), Always, Patsy Cline and Married Alive! (Fox Valley Repertory), Little Women(Marriott Theatre), Carter’s Way (The Steppenwolf Theatre Company), A Christmas Carol (Drury Lane Oakbrook),Shout! ( Drury Lane Water Tower) and My Favorite Year (Bailiwick Repertory). Proud AEA member. BFA Denison University. Many thanks to Gray Talent and the Signs of Life team. Much love to Momma, Dad, Sis and my wonderful husband, Michael.
MICHAEL JOSEPH MITCHELL (Jacob Schumann) Recent Chicago area experience: Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (Drury Lane Oakbrook); Freud (and standby for both Freud & Lewis) in Freud’s Last Session (Mercury Theater); Antonio inMerchant Of Venice (First Folio); Ross in The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia? (Remy Bumppo); The Invasion Of Skokie, Voyeurs De Venus (Chicago Dramatists, where he is an Artistic Associate); The Real Thing (Illinois Theatre Center);Underneath The Lintel (City Lit Theatre, Jefferson Award nomination for best solo performance); Slaphappy (Beat The Jester); In The Bubble (American Music Theater Project, directed by Michael Greif). Regional: The Boys Next Door(Syracuse Stage); The Life Of Galileo, The Perfume Shop, Hearts (Asolo Repertory); Permanent Collection & Doubt(BoarsHead Theater). Recent film: Scrooge’s Father in “Scrooge & Marley.” He is a proud member of the Actors Equity Association.
DOUG PAWLIK (Officer Heindel) is grateful to work with this incredible cast and team to tell you this story! He recently returned from touring The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance to American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, an adaptation he helped create. You may also have seen him in their productions of The Mikado and Cabaret. Other productions include I Love Lucy Live on Stage (Broadway Playhouse), Route 66 (Paramount Theater), Sunday in the Park with George (Porchlight Theater), They’re Playing Our Song (Fox Valley Rep), and The Philadelphia Story(Circle Theatre). A Chicagoland Native, Doug is blessed to be a part of this theater community and is a proud graduate of North Central College. Love and thanks to my family and friends for their support, and especially to my Lamb, Leah!
JAMES RANK (Commandant Rahm) has had an active career in musical theater, opera and concert venues. Recently, he played Cord Elam in Lyric Opera’s production of Oklahoma! and Fredric in A Little Night Music at Indiana Repertory Theatre. He appeared as Charlemagne in The Musical Theatre Company’s production of Pippin, and in the title role of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey at Provision Theatre. Other roles include: Kromow in The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago; Morell in A Minister’s Wife and Kodaly in She Loves Me, both at Writers’ Theatre of Glencoe; Jules in Sunday in the Park with George at Peninsula Players; Sam (Jeff Award Winner) in The American Dreams Songbook at Next Theater; The Baron (Jeff Nomination)in Grand Hotel at Drury Lane Water Tower; Lt. Torasso in Passion at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Billy Bigelow in Carousel and The Phantom in Phantom at the Candlelight Theater; Aaron in Curtains, Joe Cable in South Pacific and Superman in It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, all at Drury Lane Oakbrook; Voltaire/Pangloss in Candide, El Gallo in The Fantasticks, and File in 110 in the Shade all at Light Opera Works; Regionally he has appeared in The Beggar’s Opera at Santa Fe Opera; The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado at Central City Opera; Carmen, L’Italiana in Algeri, Hansel and Gretel and La Traviata (Pamiro Opera). Jim has sung concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Ravinia Festival, The Elgin Symphony Orchestra, The Chicago Sinfonietta, and with various ensembles from Northwestern University, where he received his Master’s Degree.
EMILY BERMAN (Swing: Lori, Berta) is honored to be a part of the Signs of Life company. She is a Chicago native, recently returned to the area after spending a season at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, where she performed the roles of Margot in The Diary of Anne Frank, and the Proprietor’s Assistant in Assassins, among others. Chicago credits include Blood Wedding (Pursuit Productions), and Spoon River Anthology (Provision Theater). Emily graduated from the University of Michigan, where favorite credits include Cloud 9, The Beaux’ Strategem, Pentecost, and Parade. Many thanks to Emily’s family and friends for their constant love and support.
NATHAN MITTLEMAN (Swing: Jonas, Simon, Heindel) is thrilled to be working o Signs of Life again, after appearing in the reading here at Victory Gardens. Chicago credits: Shrek (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); 42nd Street (Theatre at the Center); Oliver!, Man of La Mancha, Camelot (Light Opera Works). Regional credits: Annie (Cardinal Stage Company); The Music Man (Indiana Festival Theatre); Plain and Fancy, Once Upon a Mattress, 42nd Street (Round Barn Theatre). Nathan received a BFA in musical theatre from Indiana University. www.nathanmittleman.com
BRIAN ROONEY (Swing: Kurt, Rahm, Jacob) has been acting for more than forty years. It is a pleasure for him to join this fine cast. Chicago credits include Madness Of George III (Chicago Shakes), The Man Who Was Thursday (New Leaf), A Christmas Carol (Drury Lane) and Imitation Of Life (Theatre 47) to name a few. Regional credits include State Of The Union, Pride And Prejudice (Millwaukee Rep); The Tempest, Three Musketeers, Scapin (Illinois Shakes);Pillowman, As You Like It (Theatre South Carolina) and The Lost Colony. Film and Television credits include “General Hospital,” “For The Boys” and the soon-to-be-released “Tasmanian Tiger” and “Dead Girls.” Brian has an MFA in Acting from University of South Carolina. www.brianrooneyactor.com
JORDAN RICE (Swing: Wolfie) Jordan is very excited to be part of Signs of Life. Jordan lives in Lakeview with his parents and brother, Andrew, and attends Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. Jordan was recently seen as Thing One/Thing Two in Emerald City Theatre’s Cat in the Hat at the Apollo Theater and the Broadway Playhouse.
PETER ULLIAN (Book) has received awards for his dramatic writing from the Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theater Foundation, the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, and the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Mr. Ullian wrote the libretto for Elliot Ness in Cleveland, produced at both the Denver Theatre Center and the Cleveland Playhouse. He also wrote the libretto for 3hree: Flight of the Lawnchair Man, directed by Harold Prince at both the Prince Music Theatre and the Ahmanson Theatre. Mr. Ullian’s play Hester Street Hideaway: A Lower East Side Love Story was produced off-Broadway by En Garde Art, and his play Black Fire White Fire was recently presented by Jewish Plays Project as part of OPEN: The Festival of New Jewish Theater at the 14th Street Y. Other plays have been produced around the country and in New York, as well as in England and Scotland. He has written screenplays for both independent and major studios, and his short fiction has appeared in periodicals and anthologies. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild. He lives with his wife and two sons in New York’s Hudson Valley. www.peterullian.com
JOEL DERFNER (composer) is from Charleston, South Carolina, where his great-grandmother had an affair with George Gershwin. His one-act musical Blood Drive, with book and lyrics by Rachel Sheinkin, has been produced at the Bridewell Theatre in London, the Provincetown Playhouse in NY, and Theatre Latte Da in Minneapolis. Joel has been in residence three times at the O’Neill Music Theater Conference, and his work from his first year there has been heard at the Duplex and Joe’s Pub in New York. Joel is a grateful alumnus of the Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at NYU where he is now on faculty. He is or has been an aerobics instructor, a knitter, a go-go boy, a math teacher, a cheerleader, and the author of “Gay Haiku” (Random House, 2005), “Swish: a Memoir” (Random House, 2008), and “Lawfully Wedded Husband: How my Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013). He has also written for a number of national periodicals, including “Out,” “Genre,” and “The Advocate.” He can be found on the web at www.joelderfner.com.
LEN SCHIFF (Lyricist) was born in Brooklyn, teaches on Long Island and lives in Queens with his wife and son. He is an alumnus of Queens College, the BMI Musical Theater Writing Advanced Workshop, and NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program where he sometimes teaches. He has held residences at the Ragdale Foundation in Forest Park, IL and the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN. Len has written for the alternative paper “The Island Ear” and penned a series of interviews for “The Sondheim Review.” Theatre works include the Alfred Jarry biographyAethernity (with Chris Sidorfsky), the theological Zach in Progress (with Georgia Stitt) , the opera Usher, Falling (with Randall Eng) and the psychic manatee romantic thriller Frondy (with Signs of Life collaborators Joel Derfner and Peter Ullian). Len is grateful for the support of his family, his friends and students at North Shore High School, and for everyone who has ever waited patiently for him while he worked on something else. Len Schiff is a lyricist, teacher and occasional journalist. An alumnus of The BMI Musical Theater Workshop and NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program, he feels honored to see Signs of Life make its Chicago debut. His musical The Golem of Havana (see a theme here?) with music by Salomon Lerner and book by Michel Hausmann, premiered at New York’s La Mama Theater last month in a production directed by Hausmann. Len lives in Queens, NY, with his wife and son, too many board games and a mostly-finished hovercraft.
LISA PORTES (Director) Recent credits include Night Over Erzinga by Adriana Sevahn-Nichols (Silk Road Rising),Ghostwritten (Goodman Theatre), After a Hundred Years (Guthrie Theatre), and Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West (Timeline Theatre) all by Naomi Iizuka, Highway 47 by KJ Sanchez (Yo Solo Festival and H.E.R.E), Elliot, A Soldiers Fugue by Quiara Alegría Hudes (Teatro Vista and Steppenwolf Theatre), Ski Dubai by Laura Jacqmin andSpare Change by Mia McCullough (First Look, Steppenwolf Theatre), Permanent Collection by Thomas Gibbons (Northlight Theatre), The Piano Teacher by Julia Cho, In the Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks and Far Away by Caryl Churchill (Next Theatre). Musicals include Wilder by Erin Cressida Wilson and the Red Clay Ramblers (Playwrights Horizons), Kudzu, A Southern Musical by Doug Marlette and the Red Clay Ramblers (Fords Theatre), and Barrio Grrrlby Quiara Hudes (Chicago Playworks). Lisa served as the Associate Director on the Tony Award-winning musical,Tommy and mounted its international productions in Canada, Germany and London, as well as its upcoming revival at the Stratford Festival Theatre. She heads the MFA Directing program at The Theatre School at DePaul University.
JULIA NEARY (Choreographer) Julia was a founding member of the Organic Theatre Collective, Powertap Productions and Running With Scissors, all companies based in the creation of original and physically inspired work. She has directed and choreographed dance, movement and combat for theater, television and film. She has co-adapted three novels for the stage one of which, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, received two After Dark Awards and a nomination for a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Adaptation. As an actor, Television and film credits include “Early Edition,” “The Untouchables,” “Black Days,” “Samaritan,” “Four/Four,” “Jack Slash,” “Etchings,” “Thanks, Mom!,” “I Think Not” and “The Break Up.” Julia has worked with various theaters throughout Chicago including Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, Next, Plasticene, Teatro Vista, Chicago Dramatists, Lifeline, Collaboration, Strawdog, Rivendell, About Face and received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actress as a ventriloquist’s dummy in Famous Door’s award winning production of Ghetto, which she also choreographed. She is an Assistant Professor of Movement and Acting at The Theatre School, DePaul University where has directed and choreographed various productions including last year’s production of Spring Awakening directed by Damon Kiely.
PAUL BOGAEV (Music Supervisor) is a multi-award winning music director, arranger, conductor, and composer. He received his first GRAMMY for Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida , for which he produced and conducted the TONY award-winning score. He was also music director on Broadway for Tarzan, Bombay Dreams (TONY nomination for best orchestrations). Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love, Chess, Les Miserables, Starlight Express, Cats and The Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. Last season Paul joined the new creative team of Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark as music producer. Paul’s second GRAMMY was as Executive Producer of the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning film musical, Chicago. His other films include Nine, Across the Universe, Dreamgirls, Connie and Carla, and the animated Lion King, Tarzan, Mulan, and Emperor’s New Groove.