At Wit's End, Musical Tale of The New Yorker, Makes Chicago Debut May 21

News   At Wit's End, Musical Tale of The New Yorker, Makes Chicago Debut May 21 At Wit's End, the award-winning musical about the wits of the Algonquin Round Table and the founding of The New Yorker, opens May 21 following previews since May 14 at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL.
(L-R) Sean Fortunato, Blake Hammond, and Susie McMonagle in Northlight Theatre's production of At Wit's End.
(L-R) Sean Fortunato, Blake Hammond, and Susie McMonagle in Northlight Theatre's production of At Wit's End. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

The show — featuring such yeasty literary characters as Alexander Woollcott, Edna Ferber and Dorothy Parker — is by Chicago writers Cheri Coons (book and lyrics) and Michael Duff (music), with direction by Joe Leonardo.

Performances play the not-for-profit Northlight Theatre (where The Last 5 Years made its debut) at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, to June 22.

At Wit's End had its world premiere at Florida Stage in 2001, where it received Florida's Carbonell Award for Best New Work. The show "transports audiences to 1929 where the flamboyant members of the famed Algonquin Round Table (Tallulah Bankhead, George Kaufman, Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber, among others) perform a play in the lobby of New York's Algonquin Hotel to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their first luncheon there," according to Northlight production notes. "The historical figures play themselves, as well as bellboys, telephone operators and waiters. At the heart of the story is a love triangle between three of the Round Table members. Budding journalist Jane Grant and her husband, newsman Harold Ross, have conceived a sassy and sophisticated new magazine (a little publication called The New Yorker), but have neither the funds nor the connections to get it off the ground. Meanwhile, powerful New York Times theatre critic Alexander Woollcott, full of vicious verve, is smitten with Jane and turns his unrequited love to spite, using all his influence to further impede their success. The story that unfolds is one of perseverance, wit and love…with a bit of flamboyance and egocentricity thrown in for good measure."

The cast includes Sara Davis (as Dorothy Parker), Sean Fortunato (as Harold Ross), Blake Hammond (as Alexander Woollcott), George Keating (as Robert Benchley), Iris Lieberman (as Edna Ferber), Susie McMonagle (as Jane Grant), Carrie McNulty (as Tallulah Bankhead), Marci Medwed (as Helen Hayes), Jason Sperling (as George S. Kaufman), Stephen Wallem (as Marc Connelly) and Gene Weygandt (as Adams/Fleishmann).

Cheri Coons and Michael Duff wrote the role of Alexander Woollcott for actor Blake Hammond. Fresh from the first National Tour of The Lion King (where he played "Pumba"), Hammond returns to At Wit's End after receiving the 2001 Carbonell Award for Best Actor in a Musical at Florida Stage. The actor is a Chicago favorite (he also appeared in Broadway's The Music Man). Hammond has just been cast in the national tour of Hairspray. Lyricist and playwright Cheri Coons has co-written 10 musicals that have received professional productions or professional developmental presentations, including Ms. Cinderella, Phantom of the Country Opera (with Duff and book writers Sean Grennan and Kathy Santen) and Rodeo and The Ho Ho Ho Show (with Duff and librettist Grennan). She shared a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work for Sylvia's Real Good Advice and received an After Dark Award for her lyrics for Female Problems, an Unhelpful Guide, based on the book by syndicated columnist Nicole Hollander.

Composer Duff has written four musicals that have received professional productions and served as musical director-conductor for over 80 productions, including the national tours of Les Misérables and Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby.

The At Wit's End production team includes Marla Lampert (choreography), Kristine Knanishu (costume design), Diane Williams (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design) and Richard and Jacqueline Penrod (set design).

For information, call (847) 673-6300 or by visiting Northlight's web site at www.northlight.org.