Jessica Redish loves musical theatre. When talking about the art form, her speech speeds up to the point the mind reels — and I love it. Because, I, too, am a fan of the showtunes.
But for Redish, it’s not just about the music — oh no. “It’s cathartic,” she says. “Musical theatre offers this unique synthesis of text, music and dramatic moment — and the result is nothing short of thrilling!”
This is probably the reason Redish founded The Music Theatre Company — a new artistic group devoted to producing musical theatre in the Highland Park area.
To be honest, I knew nothing of this group until I was at their space (the former second home of the late Apple Tree Theatre) to see Broadway personality Seth Rudetsky deconstruct some divas. When I walked up the sidewalk to the modest brick venue, I noticed the branding for their company on the walls. That was the first surprise. Then, inside I noticed a small poster advertising a production of Merrily We Roll Along — a show I’ve been pining to see for some time in Chicago (press night is April 7 — check back here for my thoughts!) — starring some up-and-coming Chicago actors such as Alan Schmuckler, Jessie Mueller and Stephanie Herman.
“Who the hell is this group?” I said out loud.
So, out of curiosity, I contacted Redish, and she happily agreed to discuss her new theatre company and vision with this Chicago Theatre Addict. Here are some highlights from that conversation:
How was The Music Theatre Group formed?
“I’ve always loved musicals, and when I graduated from Northwestern, I was inspired to direct a production of [the Kander and Ebb musical revue] And the World Goes ‘Round, so I founded a company called called La Red — based on my last name. Long story short, La Red eventually evolved into what is now The Music Theatre Company.”
To help fill in this story, Redish then moved to NYC and quickly found work directing and choreographing pieces for the New York International Fringe Festival and Musical Theatre Festival. During this time, she met people who inspired her with their talent and passion. One of them was David Cromer, where she served as movement director for the off-Broadway production of Adding Machine that he directed.
“This was a very daring production — and a production that probably would never have been seen by New York audiences if Next Theatre in Evanston hadn’t taking the risk in producing it first,” Redish notes. “While I always knew I wanted to form a theater company, it wasn’t until this experience with David that it became clear that Chicago was the place for me.” So Redish packed her bags and tapped into the many talented people she’d met on her NYC journey to help form The Music Theatre Company.
Why Highland Park?
“I grew up in Highland Park,” says Redish, who attended Apple Tree’s youth theatre programs as a kid. “They just ‘get’ the arts here – it’s an extremely supportive community.” As evidence to this point, their current space was essentially given to them by the city of Highland Park after Apple Tree Theatre closed its doors in September 2009. “I hope, in a way, that we carry the torch that Apple Tree left by producing professional theatre that’s supported by the community.”
What makes the Music Theatre Company different from other companies out there in Chicago?
“I think what makes our company unique is the kind of talent we have in our ensemble – we’re a nationally-based group, with people in LA, NYC, Washington, D.C., Chicago and elsewhere. Our diverse experiences lend to a really unique and well-rounded approach to the work we create.”
Redish also notes that her time in NYC allowed her to discover the wealth of up-and-coming musical theatre composers in the city. “I was in the thick of it, hearing all these great, new writers presenting their work each night at small venues — the city is saturated with amazing talent!”
And Redish plans to harness that talent at The Music Theatre Company. “We have a professional space here that these up-and-coming composers — from both New York and Chicago — can use to try their work out.”
In addition, Redish points out that the Young Artists’ Program is another aspect of the company that makes it stand out. “The program is a six-week pre-professional theatre experience for high school through college age that helps develop our emerging local talent by working with our diverse and experienced company — and then getting the opportunity to perform a new work for a three-week run. It really gives them a good, well-rounded sense of the business.”
What drew you to Merrily We Roll Along?
“As our first big musical production as a company, I think it’s a perfect starting point for us. It has great things to say about the power of collaboration and how people change. And, it’s a rarely-produced Sondheim show. In fact, I was toying with the idea of staging the Kaufman and Hart play [the 1934 play on which the musical is based] in rep with the musical. I actually had the opportunity to meet Sondheim, and I told him about this idea — and he seemed very excited about us presenting the play. But now that we’re in the thick of it, we quickly discovered what a major undertaking that would be – both creatively and financially. So, instead, we’re going to do a one night only staged reading of the play with our cast. I think it’ll be a great experience — both for our cast and for the audience.”
What can we expect from The Music Theatre Company’s production of Merrily We Roll Along?
“We have an amazing cast, an excellent design team and first-rate music direction. We’re an Equity company with a storefront aesthetic. Who knows: with the team we’ve assembled, I think the roof might blow off.”
“Merrily We Roll Along” begins performances March 31 and runs through May 1 at The Music Theatre Company Space, 1850 Green Bay Road. More information can be found here >