Suburban actors help launch new musicals at Chicago theater fest
Conor McGarry has a colorful way of describing his latest acting role.
The Hoffman Estates native has had only a few weeks to rehearse for the show, while last-minute script changes are still being made. "This experience has kind of been like riding a roller coaster backward -- and it's on fire," he says. "And you're blindfolded."
Starring in the new musical "Planted," McGarry is one of several suburban actors participating in the third Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, which runs through Aug. 28 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. The event, produced by Underscore Theatre Company, was created to showcase and support the city's burgeoning field of musical theater creators.
Producing new musicals is a risky business, organizers say, with few companies willing to take a chance on new authors. The festival helps keep costs low by sharing resources and returning half of ticket proceeds to producers.
The festival features 14 new musical productions, touching on topics as diverse as Jewish cuisine and culture to Greek mythology to a Righteous Brothers tribute. Each selected production runs for four performances.
This year, organizers received more than 60 submissions, ultimately choosing 14 musicals, 12 of which will be presented in full productions. There are also two workshop productions.
New this year is the Bridge Program, where composing teams are paired with an established theater company that helps oversee casting and rehearsals.
"This year's festival continues CMTF's trend of growth to better serve and provide an artistic home for our vibrant Chicago community of musical theater creators," says festival director and Underscore Theatre Company Artistic Director Alex Higgin-Houser. "This year, we're providing composing teams more opportunities than ever before to connect with the musical theater powerhouses of Chicago."
Festival productions include "Planted," which explores the relationships of gay men through a variety of characters and songs. McGarry, a recent graduate of Columbia College in Chicago, where he studied acting, is looking forward to his role.
"We sing the entire show and each song is its own stand-alone piece that is only connected to the whole thematically," he says. "'Planted' tells the story of what it is like to live as a gay male in contemporary society -- the good, the bad and the ugly. But it is driven by the message that as a whole, we are stronger than the sum of us individually."
"Planted" also stars Maxwell DeTogne of Arlington Heights.
Chris Zeglin, meanwhile, has a role in "Stalker The Musical," playing the part of a townsperson who is "all heart and not much brain," he shares.
Like McGarry, Zeglin had an extremely short rehearsal process. With just a handful of performances and less elaborate staging than splashy established shows, the new musicals are generally produced on a more condensed schedule.
"It's been an interesting challenge for me, as I've never done a full show in that short amount of time," Zeglin says. "It's been a neat experience."
The college student from Lake in the Hills -- who studies vocal performance at Northeastern Illinois University -- is participating in the theater festival for the first time. He loves the acting process -- getting into characters, deconstructing their emotions and motives and figuring out the psychology behind their behavior. And singing?
"It just releases all kinds of hormones and it makes you feel good," he says.