Shazam! Erich Bergen Is Hero in New Chicago Musical About the World of Comic Books
By Kenneth Jones
Hero, a new musical about a young comic-book artist, gets its world premiere on June 20 by Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, following earlier development. Erich Bergen, of the national tour of Jersey Boys, plays Hero Batowski.
David H. Bell, an 11-time Jeff Award winner, directs and choreographs the show by Chicago writers Aaron Thielen (book) and Michael Mahler (music and lyrics). The cast also includes Chicago veterans Heidi Kettenring as Jane, Don Forston as Al, Alex Goodrich as Kirk, Dara Cameron as Susan, Jonah Rawitz as Nate (Zach Keller at matinees), Summer Naomi Smart as Adele, Michael Aaron Lindner as Kyle and ensemble members Kelley Abell, Jameson Cooper and Alex Goldklang.
Hero: A New Musical was previously developed in two Marriott readings and as a part of the 2011 American Musical Theater Project at Northwestern University.
Marriott's opening night is June 27. Performances play to Aug. 19.
"Hero, according to Marriott notes, "tells the story of a talented young artist living anything but a superhero life. After a life-changing event his senior year in high school, Hero still finds himself living at home with his dad, Al, who runs the family comic book shop in Milwaukee. Things start to change for him when he bumps into an old girlfriend, and with the encouragement of his dad, and his best friend and cousin, Kirk, Hero finally has a chance to realize his own dream."
It called "an endearing musical that explores those extraordinary moments in ordinary life…when there are no superheroes to the rescue."
New works have long been part of Marriott's mission (The Bowery Boys, For the Boys and more). "Though it's certainly unusual for a commercial theatre to risk a new work, our subscribers have always embraced them over our 35 year history," Terry James, executive producer of the Marriott Theatre, said in a statement. "In theatre, there is really nothing more exciting than playing an active role in the birth of a new musical. Our subscribers enjoy playing that role."
Writer Thielen, who is Marriott's co-artistic director, said in a statement, "The inspiration for Hero started with a visit to one of my favorite shops in my hometown of Milwaukee. There is this great old store across the street from the Allen Bradley building on 1st Street. I've always had a love for comics and superheroes, so I started creating this story and placing it in this shop. I thought, 'what a great set for a show' — the store, the little yard and the family home — their whole world in one block."
Songwriter Mahler added, "[The show is] about real people, with real problems, and how they measure their lives against the comic book heroes they grew up loving. Sometimes things don't always measure up, but it's about learning to see the wonder not just in comic books, but in the everyday world all around us."
Expect "a traditional musical theatre score in the best sense of the term," Mahler said. "The songs spring out of scene to drive the plot and characters forward, so book, music and lyrics are working in tandem to tell the story in the clearest and most exciting way. It's true to the traditions and values that have made American musical theatre so great." But it also "has a contemporary pop-rock drive and edge that makes it feel fresh and exciting."
The Hero creative team includes music director Ryan T. Nelson, lighting designer Jesse Klug, scenic designer Thomas M. Ryan, costume designers Nancy Missimi and Erin Wuorenma, sound designer Robert E. Gilmartin and properties designer Sally Weiss. Comic book illustrations and designs are by Charles Riffenburg. Patti Garwood serves as the musical supervisor. Composer Michael Mahler conducts the Marriott Theatre Orchestra.
Marriott Theatre collaborated with website and comic book designer and illustrator Charles Riffenburg of Grab Bag Media to create the show's website, heromusical.com. It offers audiences "an in-depth look into the creation of the show and the world through Hero's eye," following "the entire creative process of bringing this new work to the stage, complete with audio, videos and a blog."
For more information, visit MarriottTheatre.com.
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