Underscore Theatre Company Announces 2018-19 Season

Underscore Theatre Company Announces 2018-19 Season 1 Underscore Theatre Company is pleased to announce its full 2018-19 Season, featuring two fully-produced musicals, plus the 5th annual CHICAGO MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL. The season kicks off this fall with Jamie Shriner’s one-woman musical comedy WIFE MATERIAL, directed by Dana Anderson,with music direction by Kyra Leigh. WIFE MATERIAL will play at Underscore’s new-remodeled, permanent home, The Understudy, 4609 N. Clark St. in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. 

Underscore Theatre Company is pleased to announce its full 2018-19 Season, featuring two fully-produced musicals, plus the 5th annual CHICAGO MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL. The season kicks off this fall with Jamie Shriner’s one-woman musical comedy WIFE MATERIAL, directed by Dana Anderson,with music direction by Kyra LeighWIFE MATERIAL will play at Underscore’s new-remodeled, permanent home, The Understudy, 4609 N. Clark St. in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. 

This winter, Underscore is pleased to present its 5th annual CHICAGO MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL, created to showcase and support the growing field of musical theatre creators from Chicago and beyond. After receiving more than 25 submissions, Underscore has chosen nine new musicals for this year’s Festival to be presented in full productions (see full line-up below!) This year’s Festival will be performed simultaneously on two stages at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway in Chicago Edgewater neighborhood.

Underscore’s 2018-19 Season will conclude next summer with the musical comedy THE BALLAD OF LEFTY & CRABBE, which won “Best of the Fest” at last season’s CHICAGO MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL. Featuring book and lyrics by Brian Huther, Ben Auxier and Seth Macci, music by Ben Auxier and Brian Huther, additional music and arrangements by Ryan McCall, direction by Rusty Sneary and music direction by Ryan McCall, LEFTY & CRABBE will also be presented at The Understudy.

Tickets will go on sale at a later date at underscoretheatre.org.

Comments Underscore Theatre Company Artistic Director Laura Stratford, “I am thrilled that the stories Underscore will be telling during my first year as Artistic Director are stories that I care very much about. Jamie Shriner is a sharp, deftly comedic performer with an important experience to share, and Wife Material is unlike any musical we have ever produced – a one-woman show with supporting ensemble, based far more on pop than traditional ‘musical theatre’ in its musical stylings. To have Wife Material also kick off our residency in our new theatrical home, The Understudy, makes it doubly special. This year’s CMTF has double the stages and introduces a partnership with Stage Rights to help our participants understand the possible life their shows have beyond the festival in the wider world of publication. Finally, The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe was a fan (and staff) favorite in last year’s CMTF, and we are excited to work with the creative team and partner with The Living Room Theatre in Kansas City to bring this vaudeville buddy comedy to a wider Chicago audience.”

Underscore Theatre Company’s 2018-19 Season includes:

November 13 – December 9, 2018

Book, Music and Lyrics by Jamie Shriner

Directed by Dana Anderson

Music Direction by Kyra Leigh

Featuring Jamie Shriner

at The Understudy, 4609 N. Clark St., Chicago

Growing up in conservative Indiana, Jamie Shriner always knew what it meant to be “wife material,” but as a queer, sex-positive feminist, she never fit the bill. Yet in January 2017, she found herself married to a man. What gives? In Wife Material, Shriner brings her comedic chops and pop-music sensibility to explore the pressures and constraints put on young women, and to prove that even “that girl” deserves true love.

February 4 – 24, 2019


at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, Chicago

The full line-up includes:

OH HI, JOHNNY: The Room-sical Parody

Music and Lyrics by Alex Syiek

Book and Additional Lyrics by Bryan Jager

Oh Hi, Johnny is the unauthorized musical parody of Tommy Wiseau’s disaster-piece, The Room. Join in the fun as we watch this writer/director/producer/star turn his “sacred artist vision” (dubbed the Citizen Kane of bad movies) into a big hit Broadway musical. Filled with chocolate, doggies and playing football in tuxedos… for some reason.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Evan Cullinan

Creating a story is hard work, especially when you’re staring at a brand new page. Eve, a composer new to Chicago, attempts to tell a brand new story through song while dealing with the fiery embodiment of her unconscious thoughts: Ember, always burning over her shoulder. An Artist and The Ember: A Self-Love Story, examines the relationship between an artist and the personal anxiety in the act of creation and the effect that has on the creator and the creation for the world.


Book, Music and Lyrics by Jami-Leigh Bartschi

Follow the legendary friendship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Through the mystery, action, and cleverness woven throughout Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, My Dear Watson looks beyond the realm of narrative and into the heart of the man himself… that is, if he has one at all. In this dramatic musical told from the perspective of Dr. Watson, we are forced to reanalyze and redefine love and friendship for a man who is seemingly incapable of both. Is there a man in the machine?


Book, Music and Lyrics by Adina Kruskal

Additional Music by Elyse Anderson

Unison follows a tight-knit high school wind ensemble infected with a bad outbreak of Senioritis. As deadlines loom one after another, seven seniors struggle to balance band with the intense demands of the college application process. Between audition prep, personal essays, roommate pacts, and Ivy League rejections, everyone’s individual problems pull them away from the group, leaving some students lost along the way. In order to lock in their post-grad plans without destroying their friendships, they’ll have to practice hard, but party harder.


Words and Music by Ryan Martin

When Hadley Breaker’s father passes away, all of the adults in her life are quick to offer their sincere condolences and some not exactly asked-for advice: move on. Not the kind to take advice from grownups, Hadley and her friend Spider decide instead to build an impossibly tall ladder so they can visit Hadley’s father in Heaven. Ryan Martin’s new musical fairy tale is an adventure through the credible and the incredible, in which you don’t realize what you’ve left behind until you can see it clearly from six thousand feet in the sky.


Book, Music and Lyrics by J. Linn Allen

What will you feel when you’re nearing the end? Bitterness, love, despair, faith, resignation, determination? Who will you meet along your way? A retired city water engineer, dying of cancer and estranged from his daughter and her family, struggles with emotion and memory as – hoping for a reconciliation – he tries to write a song for his granddaughter’s wedding.


Book, Music and Lyrics by Barton Kuebler

Moonshiner is a magical take on film noir set among the alleys of Chicago in 1952. Selene Orb, chanteuse-cum-femme fatale, engages private eye Nicodemus Silver to uncover the secret of her husband Peter’s monthly absences. The ensuing investigation unleashes a flood of secrets, leading the trio into desperate straits before a surprise visitor arrives to save the day. Ideal for fans of hard-boiled detective movies, classic American musicals and a slight touch of the supernatural, Moonshiner is a delightful evening not to be missed!


Book by Sarah Frasco

Music by Gabriella Hirsch 

Lyrics by Sarah Frasco and Gabriella Hirsch 

This is a story about a girl named Lucky. Okay, but really, it is! Lucky is a unique young woman, whose cosmology revolves around her copy of The Care and Keeping of You sent to her by her absent mother. Upon entering college, Lucky is forced to face the reality that not every obstacle she faces will be covered by her beloved book, and that maybe, her book is not as great as she once thought. Inspired by The Care and Keeping of You, Lucky: A Musical follows one young woman’s journey of growing up, making new friends and understanding the wonderful, heartbreaking and magical elements of being a woman.


Book and Lyrics by Rachael Migler

Music by Eric Grunin

A daring, evocative fantasy, Brooke Astor’s Last Affair tells the true story of the charismatic, complex dynamo who ruled New York high society and rebuilt much of the city with her fortune until she was betrayed by her only child and his wife, leading to disaster for the family and Manhattan’s splashiest criminal trial. With a lyrical, passionate score, the show tracks the rise and fall of one of America’s most powerful, glamorous women and her epic, high-stakes quest to grow, love and forgive. Brooke comes to CMTF from festivals at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Emerging Artists Theater in New York.

June 2019


Book and Lyrics by Brian Huther, Ben Auxier and Seth Macci

Music by Ben Auxier and Brian Huther

Additional Music and Arrangements by Ryan McCall

Directed by Rusty Sneary 

Music Direction by Ryan McCall

at The Understudy, 4609 N. Clark St., Chicago

Set at the death of vaudeville and the rise of Hollywood, The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe tracks two ultra-talented but down-on-their-luck performers and friends as they navigate the ever-changing landscape of the entertainment world. Lightning-fast and “fall down funny,” Lefty & Crabbe was born as part of the Kansas City Fringe Festival in 2015, received its first full production at The Living Room Theatre in 2017 and won Best of the Fest for its 2018 production at The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival.

About the Artists

Jamie Shriner (Book, Music, Lyrics, Performer – Wife Material) is a Chicago-based actress, singer, comedian, writer and teaching artist. Shriner is known regionally for her breakout hit, Wife Material (Prop Thtr), which earned praise for its unique voice and all-new music. She has performed for the BBC and played Judy in the hit musical 9 to 5 at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The sold-out run of her original cabaret, Little Miss (a show about loving food and loving your body), earned critical acclaim during its 2016 run at Sloans’ Bar in Glasgow, Scotland. Recent credits include Alice in Wonderland (AlphaBet Soup Productions), Little Miss (Davenport’s Piano Bar), The Last Days of the Commune (Prop Thtr), The Night that Disco Died (Under the Gun Theatre) and On Loss (Prop Thtr). ​ You can catch her performing her original stand-up and musical comedy all over the country. She holds an MA in Musical Theatre from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and earned her BFA in Musical Theatre at Milikin University.

Dana Anderson (Director – Wife Material) is a director, teaching artist and actor based in Chicago. Directing credits include Lonesome WestFour by Tenn (AstonRep), Jamie Shriner’s Little Miss, Belle of Austin (RhinoFest 2018) and The Agency’s Dirty Little Secrets 24 Hour Play Festival. She is the Associate Artistic Director of Shakespeare Corrected, a program that works with female offenders in Decatur Correctional Center to perform full-length Shakespeare plays. Credits with SC include Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About NothingAs You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She is also a teaching artist with Mudlark Theater Company.

Kyra Leigh (Music Director – Wife Material) she/her/her is Southern Belle transwoman (transgoddess some might say) with classical training now living safely about the Mason-Dixon Line. She has an extensive background in both music and theatre. In Houston, she acted as a composer and performer two years in a row for the prestigious Stewart Ostrow Musical Theatre Lab. In Chicago, she has performed with theatres such as the Jeff Award-winning Theo Ubique and The National Pastime Theatre. She’s also written extensively for Prop Thtr in recent years. She’s performed as a solo singer/songwriter at venues such at Mary’s Attic, Park West, The Abbey Pub and Davenport’s Cabaret and Piano Bar and earlier this year released her debut full length album, “Transfigure.” She also serves as a director at the Chicago School of Rock and music director at the Theatre of Western Springs and Prop Thtr (and most recently with Jedlicka Performing Arts Center). She’s also an active church musician with North Shore Baptist and has worked with Church of Our Savior and St. Thomas the Apostle church. She is a passionate advocate for trans visibility in both the worlds of pop music, classical music and theatre.

Brian Huther (Book, Music, Lyric – The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe) is a Chicago-based creator, performer and musician, and erstwhile radio producer and greeting-card writer. His projects with creative partners at Friend Dog Studios have accumulated millions of views on YouTube and Facebook (Drunk Trump, 2016 The Movie: The Trailer) and packed out theatres in Kansas City, Missouri (The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe, Milking Christmas, Hacks). He has written two one-act plays, and is currently developing a five-act near-future epic because he likes the pain. Performing credits include Theatre Wit, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, KC Actors Theatre, The Living Room, Chicago PD and a cornucopia of storefront projects, sketch/improv shows, music projects and commercials. www.brianhuther.com www.frienddogstudios.com

Ben Auxier (Book, Music, Lyrics – The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe) is an actor, writer and comedian originally from Kansas City who moved to Chicago in late 2016. His other co-writing endeavors include the musical comedy Milking Christmas, which premiered in Kansas City in 2017, the dark comedy straight play HACKS, which won a Best of Fringe recognition in 2016, and loads and loads of sketch, including lot of work for the occasionally-viral online comedy channel Friend Dog Studios. His acting credits over the last few years include the original Chicago run of Lefty & Crabbe, Mozart in THEATREWORKS’ production of Amadeus in Colorado, and several appearances with KC-based companies The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and The Living Room Theatre. www.benauxier.com

Seth Macci (Book, Lyrics – The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe) is an actor, comedian and writer located in Kansas City. Previous acting appearances at New Theatre in Kansas City include Bernard in Boeing Boeing, Chris in Beau Jest, Paul in Over the Moon and Tony in You Can’t Take It With You. Seth was also in Our Town and A Christmas Carol at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, The Mistakes Madeline MadeH4CKSThe Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe and Milking Christmas at The Living Room, Not About Heroes at the MET and Fiddler on the Roof at Spinning Tree. Seth is also a co-creator of Friend Dog Studios, a creative collaboration he shares with Ben Auxier and Brian Huther. Together, they have made dozens of online comedy sketches, a podcast, and three world premiere stage productions, which they mounted at The Living Room. Check out some of the stuff they have created online at www.frienddogstudios.com

Ryan McCall (Additional Music, Arrangements, Music Direction – The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe) is a composer/arranger/performer currently serving as the Music Director/Accompanist for the Theater and Dance Department at the University of Kansas. KU credits include: Music Director for La Cage aux Folles, Spring Awakening, Company, Little Women, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along, Anything Goes, The Adding Machine, My Fair Lady, Kiss Me Kate; Composer of And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, Man Equals Man, Summer and Smoke, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (North American Premiere in it’s original pronunciation). Ryan has worked professionally with Kansas City Ballet, Second City, Improv Olympic, KC Rep, Giordano Dance Company and The Living Room Theater. Recently, Ryan joined forces with Friend Dog Studios as a composer and arranger for two new musicals, The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe and Milking Christmas. He is also the composer of the family musical Noah’s Art, which he wrote with his longtime friend Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting, Amelie), and the rock musical Stillwater with Tysen and their band, Joe’s Pet Project. Ryan has taught songwriting workshops at the Kansas, Florida and International Thespian Conferences and is one of the Music Directors for the Lovewell Institute for the Creative Arts, a program dedicated to teaching young artists how to write for the musical theater stage. Ryan is originally from Salina, KS.

Rusty Sneary (Director – The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe) graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre performance. In the spring of 2010. he co-founded The Living Room Theatre where he serves as the Artistic Director. Rusty has produced and served as Artistic Director on over 50 productions including over 25 world premieres. He has also served as a lighting designer, sound designer and the director of many productions, has acted in numerous productions at The Living Room, and continues to act on other professional Kansas City stages. Directing credits include the world premieres of The Ballad of Lefty & CrabbeTrigger Happy and The Grave, as well as AnnapurnaSome Girl(s)Talk Radio and Race.

About Underscore Theatre Company 

Founded in 2011, Underscore Theatre Company is a team of producing artists dedicated to exploring stories of power and resonance through a musical lens; fostering the development of new musicals; and bolstering Chicago’s role as a national leader in musical theatre. Since its creation, Underscore has produced or co-produced 65 new mainstage and workshop musicals in Chicago. Underscore is proud to be Chicago’s home for new musicals.

Picture: THE BALLAD OF LEFTY & CRABBE from The Living Room Theatre’s 2017 production in Kansas City, will be featured in Underscore Theatre Company’s 2018-19 Season.

Photo by Paul Andrews