Joey Katsiroubas traces his love of musicals back to the Disney movies he watched as a kid growing up in Roselle.
Favorites included "The Lion King" and "Aladdin."
"Each Disney movie was practically a Broadway production in your living room," he says. "Disney was the starting point of that love of music in the storytelling genre."
Now, Katsiroubas is telling musical stories of his own. He wrote the music and lyrics for "Musical Therapy," featured in the fourth annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival that runs Feb. 5-25 at Chicago's Greenhouse Theater Center.
The event, presented by Underscore Theatre Company, showcases the growing field of musical theater creators from the Chicago area. This year's fest features seven new musicals and two staged readings.
Katsiroubas, who also serves as musical director of "Musical Therapy," came up with the concept of a couples counseling musical. The show features three bickering couples and their neurotic therapist, Theresa. She has had trouble finding a guy of her own -- until she meets the man moving into the office next door.
Katsiroubas worked with close friend and Crystal Lake native Dan Hass, who wrote the book, on the project.
Hass said they wanted to do a show where the hero is a villain -- "not just their own worst enemy, but a cunning, active antagonist complete with her own maniacal laugh," he says. "So we settled on Theresa, a couples therapist who can't find love and is one crate short of a barrel. And as awful as she can be, you never lose your love for her."
Working on the project with his best friend was a blast, though the process had its challenges, Hass said.
Though it's tempting to be stubborn about details, "the constant open communication, all-out honesty and minimum of 75 texts back and forth every day has made us better writers through and through," he says.
Together, they found a way to mix humor into a serious topic.
"The problems the couples are facing aren't as serious as money or divorce issues," Katsiroubas says. "We stuck to little problems. One of the couples moves in with each other too fast, and that's something directly out of my life. It's hard to know someone until you live with them."
The festival run marks the show's second production, following its debut at Gorilla Tango Theatre in Chicago. "Musical Therapy" heads to a fringe festival this summer in Washington, D.C., and Katsiroubas says he'd love for it to get picked up by Second City or a larger theater.
The pair want audiences to laugh and to remember the music.
"As the composer, I want them to get the songs stuck in their heads," Katsiroubas says. "I love the feeling you get when you walk away from a musical humming the tunes."
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Chicago Musical Theatre Festival
When: Feb. 5-25; see website for showtimes
Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, www.cmtf.org
Tickets: $15-$20; $120 for a seven-show festival pass