Tuesday, August 29, 2023

OPENING: World Premiere of Mesmerized: A Ben Franklin Science & History Mystery at Chicago Children’s Theatre September 23-October 15, 2023


ChiIL Mama’s ChiIL Picks List
Chicago Children’s Theatre’s new play 
Mesmerized: A Ben Franklin Science & History Mystery 
to electrify kids, parents and teachers this fall

The creative team for Chicago Children’s Theatre’s world premiere of Mesmerized: A Ben Franklin Science & History Mystery includes (from left) Suzanne Maynard Miller (adaptor), Tommy Rapley (director) and (at press time, June 22) cast members China Brickey, Kasey Foster, Rika Nishikawa and Shawn Pfautsch.

Here at ChiIL Mama, we've been huge fans of Chicago Children’s Theatre since their inception, 19 years ago, when I brought my then toddlers to see their first show ever, A Year with Frog and Toad. Over the years my son and daughter grew up with Chicago Children’s Theatre and so many original, world class productions and book based adaptations. Fast forward to the present, where and my now 20 and 22 year olds still adore theatre, and my son has graduated from Northwestern with a degree in the field, and a passion for theatre for young audiences and teaching children! Theatre sparks creativity and empathy as well as opening doors in the imagination. You never know where those doors might lead. We're excited for Chicago Children’s Theatre's latest brand new production, and I'll be out to review at the press opening, still with my son. How many parents of adult children can say that? I'm one lucky mama. 

Chicago Children’s Theatre, Chicago’s largest professional theater devoted to children and young families, is amped to launch its 19th season with an electrifying new production, the world premiere of Mesmerized: A Ben Franklin Science & History Mystery.

Part farce, part docudrama, Mesmerized is a fun new introduction for kids to Ben Franklin, one of our country’s founding fathers and most famous scientists, best known for being the first to harness electricity with a kite and a key.

Through fabulous storytelling, fast-paced comedy and audience interaction, Ben and his smart, outspoken young niece, Sarah, embark on a journey to France where they discover that people are being magically cured by a mysterious man - Dr. Mesmer. So Ben and Sarah agree to employ the Scientific Method to put Dr. Mesmer's mystical powers to the test. Is it science, is it magic, or will we all be Mesmerized? 

Watching the on-stage pandemonium unfold through the eyes of young Sarah, kids will be having such a good time that they won’t even realize they’re learning about science, history, the American Revolution and Ben Franklin’s many scientific discoveries and inventions. 

Mesmerized: A Ben Franklin Science & History Mystery runs September 23-October 15, 2023, Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Press openings are Saturday and Sunday, September 23 and 24 at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Run time is 60 minutes. Mesmerized is recommended for ages seven and up. 

Single tickets, $30-$40 (including fees), are on sale now. Visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org, call (312) 374-8835, or email boxoffice@chicagochildrenstheatre.org for tickets, group rates and more information.

Even better, subscriptions to Chicago Children’s Theatre’s 2023-24 season are now on sale at chicagochildrenstheater.org. Three-show packages including MesmerizedThe Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party, and A Year with Frog and Toad, start at just $83. Or, choose a two-play package starting at just $53. 

Chicago Children’s Theatre is located at 100 S. Racine Ave., at Monroe, in the heart of Chicago's West Loop. It’s minutes from I-90 and I-290, as well as downtown and Ashland Avenue. Free, onsite parking is available on the south side of the building. Free street parking can be found nearby on weekends, or try the Impark parking lot, 1301 W. Madison St.

For more, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org, follow the company on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to its YouTube channel, CCTv: Virtual Theatre and Learning from Chicago Children’s Theatre.

Behind-the-scenes of Mesmerized: A Ben Franklin Science & History Mystery

Mesmerized: A Ben Franklin Science & History Mystery is based on a real-life, scientific stand-off between Ben Franklin and Dr. Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician known for coining the term “animal magnetism” and one of very few people whose name has become a verb in everyday use – mesmerize. In 1782, at the behest of the King of France and his teen bride, Marie Antoinette, Franklin was summoned to the halls of Versailles, where he used the Scientific Method to put Dr. Mesmer’s dubious new miracle cure-all to the ultimate test.

“In the end, the story of Ben Franklin and Franz Mesmer exhibits the strength of the imagination and the power of the Placebo Effect,” says Suzanne Maynard Miller, who adapted the play, inspired by Mara Rockcliff’s book “Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France.” “But, most of all, this narrative explores the idea of science and its capacity to guide us as we navigate this thing called life.” 

Chicago Children’s Theatre’s debut production of Mesmerized is directed by Tommy Rapley, who previously staged the company’s acclaimed production of Leo Lionni’s Frederick, also adapted by Suzanne Maynard Miller, and choreographed CCT’s productions of The Hundred Dresses and A Year with Frog and Toad

The cast for Mesmerized features China Brickey as Marie Antoinette, Tony Carter as Mesmer, Kasey Foster as Charles, Rika Nishikawa as Sarah, Eli Sulkowksi as the King, and Shawn Pfautsch as Ben Franklin. They’ll be supported by a nimble ensemble working at lightning speed to tell the true story of a defining moment in science history. 

Per usual, this CCT world premiere also showcases the work of top Chicago professional designers, including Collette Pollard (set), Mieka van der Ploeg(costumes), Trey Brazeal (lights), Matthew Muñiz (sound and original music), Bren Coombs (props), Megan E. Pirtle (wigs, assistant costume designer), Lauren Nichols (assistant scenic designer), Anastar Alvarez(production stage manager) and Shannon Golden-Starr and Zachary Crewse(assistant stage managers). 

Coming soon at Chicago Children’s Theatre
(left) Returning cast members Felix Mayes and Lily Emerson in the 2022 production of The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party. (right) Audience members enjoying the post-show holiday tea party. Photos by Charles Osgood.

The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party
Based on the stories by Beatrix Potter
Created by Will Bishop, Lara Carling, Kay Kron, Grace Needlman and Ray Rehberg
Directed by Will Bishop
Puppet designs by Grace Needlman
Original music by Ray Rehberg and Charlie Malave
Starring Lily Emerson, Charlie Malave and Felix Mayes
Designed by Grace Needlman (puppets), Johan Gallardo (costumes) and Daniel Etti-Williams (sound)
November 4-December 31, 2023
Public performances: Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., with added weekday morning matinees for school groups and the holidays
For ages up to 8

Children, you are cordially invited to meet your favorite Beatrix Potter friends, including Mrs. Tittlemouse, the Two Bad Mice, the Tailor of Gloucester, and of course, Peter Rabbit. These four adorable Beatrix Potter favorite tales come to life in Chicago Children’s Theatre’s ever-popular, interactive trunk and puppet show, complete with original music on mandolin, violin, toy piano and banjo. Levers are pulled and cranks are turned to reveal images that surprise and delight children, many experiencing live theater for the first time. 

This handmade, lovingly crafted piece is an annual favorite at CCT. Over the past seven years, Beatrix Potter & Friends has toured to schools, libraries, cultural institutions, and even to China. CCT’s charming storytellers interweave the classic narration and guide gentle interactive moments, recruiting young watchers to join the adventure. After the show, head to the lobby to play with the puppets, take pictures with the cast, and join fellow Chicago families for a communal tea party featuring a festive spread of holiday treats.

(left, from left) Matthew Yee played Frog and Andy Nagraj was Toad in Chicago Children’s Theatre’s A Year with Frog and Toad in 2017. Photo by Charles Osgood. (right) Michelle Lopez-Rios will direct CCT’s new 2024 staging of A Year with Frog and Toad.

A Year with Frog and Toad
Book and lyrics by Robert Reale and Willie Reale
Based on the books by Arnold Lobel 
Directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios
Music Direction and Musical Reductions by Christie Chilles Twillie
Designers include Micah Figueroa (choreographer and associate director), Courtney O'Neill (set), Rachel Healy (costumes), Trey Brazeal (lights), Christie Chilles Twillie (sound) and Lonnae Hickman (props) 
April 13-June 9, 2024
Press opening: Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14 at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Public performances: Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
For all ages        
Chicago Children’s Theatre’s 19th season finale is a celebration of the joyful energy that launched the company, A Year with Frog and Toad. Children’s author and illustrator Arnold Lobel's beloved characters hop from the page to the stage in this Tony-nominated musical based on his popular children’s book that follows two best friends – the cheerful, popular Frog and the rather grumpy Toad – through four fun-filled seasons. 

Michelle Lopez-Rios, who staged CCT’s 2022 world premiere Carmela Full of Wishes, returns to direct a new take on this beloved tale of friendship that endures, weathering all seasons. The design team features top Chicago professionals like Courtney O’Neill (set), Lonnae Hickman (props) and Christie Chilles Twillie (sound), underscoring CCT’s commitment to producing high caliber productions for children. The cast is TBA.

A Year with Frog and Toad was originally presented on Broadway by Bob Boyett, Adrianne Lobel, Michael Gardner, Lawrence Horowitz and Roy Furman. The play had its world Premiere at The Children's Theatre Company Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

About Chicago Children’s Theatre

“The Chicago theater scene is legendarily vibrant, so naturally a number of companies tailor productions to younger audiences. The cream of the crop is Chicago Children’s Theatre.” – Chicago Tribune

Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine St. in Chicago’s West Loop, is Chicago’s destination for the best plays, musicals, classes and performing arts camps for young audiences. 

The company was founded in 2005 with a big idea: Chicago is the greatest theater city in the world, and it deserves a great children’s theater. Today, Chicago Children’s Theatre is the city’s largest professional theater company devoted exclusively to children and young families. 

In 2017, following 11 years of itinerancy, Chicago Children’s Theatre celebrated the opening of its forever home in Chicago’s West Loop community. The building, formerly the 12th District Chicago Police Station, was repurposed into a LEED Gold-certified, mixed-use performing arts, education and community engagement facility. For children, parents, caregivers and teachers, CCT is a convenient, welcoming community hub, centrally located in the city, with free, onsite parking. 

Chicago Children’s Theatre has established a national reputation for the production of first-rate children’s theater with professional writing, performing, and directorial talent and high-quality design and production expertise. In 2019, the company won the National TYA Artistic Innovation Award from Theatre for Young Audiences/USA. Chicago Children’s Theatre has also garnered six NEA Art Works grants, and in 2017, was the first theater for young audiences to win a National Theatre Award from the American Theatre Wing, creators of the Tony Awards.

In tandem with its live productions, Chicago Children’s Theatre offers a full slate of Access services for patrons with disabilities, including ASL interpretation, open captioning, touch tours and sensory friendly performances. CCT also provides thousands of free and reduced-price tickets to under-resourced schools each season in partnership with Chicago Public Schools.

In addition to live shows, CCT offers a full roster of performing arts education programs for ages 0 to 14. Visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org/family-programs for information on classes, workshops, winter, spring break and “school’s out” camps, and summer camps. Due to popular demand, in addition to its home in the West Loop, CCT camps and classes have expanded to new locations including Menomonee Club Drucker Center in Lincoln Park. Chicago Children’s Theatre also provides live theater experiences, classes and camps for children with autism and other special needs via its Red Kite Project, celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2023.

Chicago Children’s Theatre is supported by Goldman SachsPaul M. Angell Family FoundationThe Ralla Klepak Foundation for Education in the Performing ArtsThe Shubert FoundationPolk Bros FoundationThe MacArthur Fund for Culture, Equity and the Arts at PrinceBayless Family FoundationThe Crown FamilyRea Charitable TrustComEdUS BankCity of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)Illinois Arts Council, Illinois Humanities CouncilNational Endowment for the Arts (NEA)The Susan M. Venturi Fund in memory of James and Roslyn Marks to Support Theatre Education Access, and Erin and Jason, Ben, Bici and David Pritzker

Chicago Children’s Theatre is led by Co-Founders, Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell and Board Chair Todd Leland, with Board President Armando Chacon

For more, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org, follow the company on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to its YouTube channel, CCTv: Virtual Theatre and Learning from Chicago Children’s Theatre.

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