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music by Jenny Giering
lyrics by Beth Blatt
Directed by Kurt Johns
Musical Direction by Diana Lawrence
Julia Zayas-Melendez, AEA Stage Manager
Erin Fast, Costume Designer
Dave Ferguson, Lighting Designer
Amy Jackson, Set Designer
Daniel Pellant, Prop Designer
Steve Ptacek, Sound Designer

Best Production Revue
Best Director Revue
Best Actress Revue

A musical tale of sacrifice, lust and renewal that explores the lives and loves of five mistresses through history. The musical reveals the fascinating lives of several lovers-minus the holy matrimony, a mosaic of beautiful music and heart-stirring stories.



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Dec. 12 -Jan. 5

The Cast
Charissa Pic

Charissa Armon (Tess) returns to Apple Tree Theatre where she appeared in Dessa Rose.Chicago credits include: Mother in Ragtime (After Dark Award, Jeff Award Nomination); Clara in Passion,Anne in A Little Night Music at Porchlight;Dolly/Ensemble in The Merry Wives of Windsor at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Sister Leo in Nunsensations at Drury Lane Oakbrook; Fay Apple in Anyone Can Whistle at Pegasus Players’Theatre;The Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol at Provision Theater;Mae in LaChiusa’s The Wild Party at Circle Theatre. Regional credits include: Lady Capulet in The People vs. Friar Laurence, the Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet at BoarsHead Theater; and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Heritage Theatre Group.Charissa can be heard as the voice of Leah Rose in the Left Behind Dramatic Audio Series and is an artistic associate of Porchlight Music Theatre. www.charissaarmon.com

Carol Pic

Carol Angeli Feiger (Ching) is thrilled to make her Apple Tree Theatre Debut! A native of New Jersey, her last Chicago appearance was this summer’s ...Superman! at Drury Lane Oakbrook. Favorite Regional Credits include Kim in Miss Saigon at The Palace Theatre and at LaComedia which earned her an Ohio Daytony Award for Lead Actress in a Musical; Juliet in Romeo and Juliet; Cinderella in Into the Woods; Helene in Sweet Charity; Little Eva/ Tuptim u/s in The King and I; Liat in South Pacific; Anita in West Side Story; and Guillotine in King of Hearts among others. She proudly holds a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Penn State University and has been a trained dancer since age 3. She has toured England and California for the WPUNJ and Penn State’s 100 Years of Broadway and has appeared in the FedEx Orange Bowl! This show is for her “9” - “Love, love, love! Smile, k??”

Angela Pic

Angela Ingersoll (Anais Nin) is delighted to make her Apple Tree Theatre debut. Chicago credits include:Martha in The Secret Garden (Jeff Award Nomination) at Porchlight; Nellie Forbush in South Pacific at Light Opera Works; Anne Boleyn/Elizabeth in Rodgers & Harnick’s Rex at Theatre Building Chicago’s Stages Festival; and Riley in the original cast of How Can You Run With a Shell On Your Back? at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, where she will appear this spring as Luciana in The Comedy of Errors. Regional credits include: Julie Jordan in Carousel at Madison Repertory; Outstanding Actress Awards for her performances of Belle in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast; Lady McBeth in Macbeth; Lucy in Jekyll & Hyde; and Shelley in Bat Boy:The Musical; with nominations for her role as Aldonza in Man of La Mancha; Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime at Playhouse on the Square; and Thomasina in Arcadia at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Proud member AEA. Represented by Geddes. She thanks her devoted husband, Michael. Visit www.angelaingersoll.com.

Susie Pic

Susie McMonagle (Diane de Poitiers) Broadway credits include: Fantine in Les Miserables.National Tours include:Martha/ Ensemble in The Secret Garden; Fantine in Les Miserables; and The Sound of Music. Regional credits include:The Papermill Playhouse,Denver Center Theatre,New American Theatre,Mill Mountain Theatre: Mrs. Lyons in Blood Brothers;Dot/Marie in Sunday in the Park with George;Hypatia in Misalliance; Sally in Me and My Girl (Denver Drama Critics Circle); and Rhetta in Pump Boys and Dinettes. Recent Chicago credits include: All Night Strut at the Marriott Theatre;The Court Theatre’s award winning production of Man of La Mancha and Annie in Annie Get your Gun (After Dark Award.) Susie’s favorite Apple Tree Theatre productions include: Hello Again;Mae/Jo in Dirty Blonde and Flora in Indian Ink. New works include: Jane Grant in At Wits End at Northlight Theater. Susie is a 9 time Joseph Jefferson nominee for her performances of Shelby in The Spitfire Grill at Apple Tree Theatre; the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, Ellen in Miss Saigon, Florence in Chess, Eva Peron in Evita, Grizabella in Cats- all at Marriott Lincolnshire Theater; Reno in Anything Goes at Drury Lane Oakbrook; and Daisy in Side Show at Northlight Theater. She holds a B.F.A. from Stephens College

Karen Pic

Karen Marie Richardson (Lulu) is delighted to be a part of The Mistress Cycle. She is excited to work with the Apple Tree Theatre for the first time. Her credits include The Life with The Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, The Wild Women of Boho, Respect, A Musical Journey of Women in West Palm Beach, Florida, and her personal favorite, Nell Carter Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Timberlake Playhouse. She would like to thank Jesus, her parents, EDDE, EEG, and music for its constant friendship. And Thank you Mr.Davis.

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Chicago Tribune Review

Chicago Sun Times Review

ChicagoCritic.com review

Lake County Journal Review

Pioneer Press feature

Chicago Sun-Times feature

Daily Herald feature

Highlights from the Chicago Tribune review by Chris Jones

Saturday night in Highland Park, it felt as though they had turned the clocks back a decade or more.

In the 1990's, Apple Tree Theatre was known for intimate, serious musicals. These productions - "Violet" in 1999 comes to mind, as does "Assassins" in 1996 and "The Baker's Wife" in 1990 - featured top-flight Equity actors and directors. They often championed the work of gifted young composers such as Jeanine Tesori. They introduced new, challenging material to the Chicago area. And they were superbly sung. Lovers of the genre drove in from all over the North Shore. Downtown. Wherever.

Kurt Johns' bold and passionate production of "The Mistress Cycle" is one of those shows. It's hard to overstate the sense of relief one feels. It's like a much-loved cultural institution has suddenly returned to creative life...

..."The Mistress Cycle" is a must-see for lovers and supporters of new musicals.

Granted, this sensual, boudoir-style, 85-minute piece (music by jenny Giering and lyrics by Beth Blatt) is more of a song cycle (comparable to "Songs for a New World") than a fully wrought musical. It's a composite of the experiences of various famous historical mistresses, including Anais Nin (Angela Ingersoll), Diane de Pontiers (Susie McMonagle), a 12th Century concubine named Ching (Carol Angeli Feiger), a New Orleans bordello madame named Lulu (Karen Marie Richardson) and, in the central unifying role, Tess Walker (Charissa Armon), a modern Manhattan photgrapher.

...["The Mistress Cycle"] does provide exquisite - musical snapshots of life from the point of view of the other women.

With her rich melodies, lush vocal arrangements, and formatively compelling song structures, Giering is an immensely promising American composer.

But the main reason to see this show is to enjoy the emotional intensity of thes richly connected actresses - a blend of established pros and up-and-comers - and to appreciate the beauty of their harmonies under the superb musical direction of Diana Lawrence. ...These ensemble performances are, without exception, both beguiling and beautifully sung. It's a very timely reminder of what Apple Tree long has meant to Chicago theater.

Highly Recommended - Critic's Pick - Hottest Ticket

Highlights from the Chicago Sun-Times review by Mary Houlihan

Revues can be just as delightful and captivating as full-blown musicals. Short and precise, a revue serves as an intimate platform for powerhouse performances. Ample evidence of this is at Apple Tree Theatre, where a sharp, engaging new work, "The Mistress Cycle," is setting the stage ablaze.

Creators Jenny Giering (music) and Beth Blatt (lyrics) have taken a curious topic and, with the help of a roster of beautiful, clever songs, transformed it into a riveting 85-minute show. Director Kurt Johns chose wisely when casting the show with a mix of up-and-coming talent as well as more established musical theater actresses. The voices are in fine form; there are moments that will take your breath away.

The writers do not try to give an in-depth analysis of what it means to be a "mistress." Instead, they conjure four women from history and allow them each to give their point of view on what it means to be "the other woman."

As one song tells it, all these women "crave the same poison." It is this poison that has attracted Tess (Charissa Armon), a conflicted photographer who has fallen for a married man. As she ponders stepping into the role of mistress, she conjures the advice of Anais Nin (Angela Ingersoll), the famed sexual adventurer and writer; Diane de Poitiers (Susie McMonagle), the mistress of King Henri II of France; Lulu White (Karen Marie Richardson), a turn-of-the-century New Orleans bordello owner; and Ching (Carol Angeli Feiger), a 14-year-old concubine in 12th century China.

On Amy Jackson's boudoir set, the women take turns explaining why they gave their hearts and souls to men already owned by other women. They console, warn and urge Tess via songs that brim over with beautiful harmonies and clever lyrics.

All of the performances are top-notch, but it's McMonagle and Ingersoll who bring extra punch to their characters. As de Poitiers nurses Henri's wife, Catherine de Medici, who is sick with scarlet fever, McMonagle's plea for understanding is heartwrenching. And Ingersoll is simply stunning as Nin, whose life is a maze of men and hidden longing.

Highly Recommended

Highlights from the Chicagocritic.com review by Tom Williams

Apple Tree Theatre, now in their temporary facility, presents its first musical in a long time. This Highland Park troupe mounts outstanding musicals and you can add The Mistress Cycle to that list. This is a wonderful, serene chamber piece filled with lush voices from the five players—Charissa Armons (Tess), Carol Angeli Feiger (Ching), Angela Ingersoll (Anais Nin), Susie McMonagle (Diane de Pontiers) and Karen Marie Richardson (Lulu).

This is a song cycle, not a book musical. It is a collection of themed songs depicting the torments, desires and pleasures of ‘mistresses'—the number two women in a man's life. What is it like to be that ‘other' women? The Mistress Cycle is “a musical tale of sacrifice, lust and renewal that explores the lives and loves of five mistresses through history. The musical reveals the fascinating lives of several lovers-minus the holy matrimony.” This melodious show is sung from the heart and features each of the five actors in their personal moments supported by richly haunting harmonies. Diana Lawrence's musical arrangements and fine piano work lifts each song.

The shows begins as each of the five decide to be a mistress (director Kurt John's definition “A woman who illicitly occupies the place of wife' (Illicit being “contrary to accepted morality”) or not. Tess Walker (Charissa Armon) is a contemporary, hip and independent professional photographer who chooses to be a mistress while Ching (Carol Angeli Feiger) is a 12th Century 14 year old girl who must be a concubine to Chinese Emperor. She will bear a child and come to the Emperor as his fifth women. Anais Nin (Angela Ingersoll) the 20th Century writer of sexy novels and Lulu (Karen Marie Richardson) is the madam of a New Orleans whorehouse. Diane de Pontiers (Susie McMongale) the mistress to a 16th Century French king. These mistress' share their struggles, hopes and acceptance of their roles in life. The wonderful score by Jenny Giering sits nicely on Beth Blatt's storytelling lyrics. The music reflects the era of each character with a hint of blues in Lulu's songs and an Oriental flavor to Ching's numbers. There is a modern sophisticated tune as well as strong emotional ballads and anthems.

This is a captivating, lust and magical song cycle that creates a haunting mood as it hones into the heart of each character. We relate to what these women feel as they realize that, despite their loyalty and devotion, they are merely the secondary women in their men's lives. I enjoyed the fabulous singings by all five marvelous talents. Each had their solo moments and each blended their voices in beautiful harmonies. This is a special musical treat—the singing is outstanding!

Highly Recommended

Highlights from the Pioneer Press feature by Myrna Petlicki

Kurt Johns readily admits that he's "a big softie." Still, when you learn that the last two numbers in the Apple Tree Theatre production of "The Mistress Cycle" left the Rogers Park director in tears at rehearsal, you know that audiences are in for a powerful experience.

Johns had suggested that Apple Tree stage the show by Jenny Giering (music) and Beth Blatt (lyrics) after seeing a workshop production of a portion of it. "It seemed really interesting and compelling to me," he said. Then he received a copy of the script and discovered, "This is like nothing I've ever seen before."

It turned out that the show had started as a poem that Blatt wrote, which Giering set to music. The two women were so fascinated by the result that they kept working on the concept. "Jenny calls it a song cycle, but this is more like a 'revue savant,'" Johns said. "There is no book, per se, but there are lines, there are stories and there are fully drawn characters."

The show focuses on five women. Tess Walker, played by Charissa Armon of Andersonville, is a contemporary New York photographer.

To mistress or not

"She is faced with the question of whether she should enter into a mistress situation," Johns related. Four mistresses from the past show up in Walker's life to tell their stories: erotic diarist Anais Nin (Angela Ingersoll), New Orleans turn-of-the-last-century brothel owner Lulu White (Karen Marie Richardson), an ancient Chinese concubine named Ching (Carol Feiger) and Diane de Poitiers (Susie McMonagle), the mistress of King Henri II of 16th century France.

"These women have such pain in their lives, and they have such grace and nobility," Johns related. "They're trying to impart this to Tess. And all this happens in songs."

Armon described Tess as "an independent spirit. She is very successful, hip and modern, and she's also got a little bit of baggage -- as we all do -- that she is trying to get rid of and overcome. She is faced with a choice for her journey, that's what the show is about. Is she going to make The Choice?"

The actor described the work as "a very new kind of theater. There definitely is a story. It's not just a bunch of songs. It's not a cabaret. It's definitely a play, but it's all music so the story is in the words and the songs and the lyrics. My challenge is to make Tess' journey clear to the audience."

Finding her inner mistress

Armon's preparation has included extensive research on mistresses and speaking with people who have taken that role in real life "about when and how and what made them make the decision to do it." Also, she added, "I've been trying to find where it lives in my body and what I'd do in that situation."

Armon's favorite song is her last number, but talking about specifics would reveal the ending of the show. She did note, "There's such a sense of joy. It lifts you right off the floor as you're singing it. I think that's why I love this specific piece. And what it says -- which is the bit I can't tell you!"

Johns declared that the show "feels like a new genre. The very first thing you hear in the show is these women intoning, 'Every story has a beginning, middle and an end,' and each one of their little stories, through song, has a beginning, a middle and an end."

It turns out that Tess' problem is a universal one. "These questions don't really change that much from 13th century China to the present day," Johns said.

"I am very excited when there is a show about strong women," Armon said. "Whether or not you agree with the choices they make or the things they do, everybody can relate to people being human and these five women are so human."

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Highlights from the Chicago Sun-Times feature by Hedy Weiss

Is a mistress a free spirit with a heightened sense of independence, or just a sexy variation on the classic unliberated female, with a romantic-sounding label appended? And just what are the pros and cons of such an "arrangement" anyway, as seen from the woman's point of view?

These are among the questions pondered in "The Mistress Cycle," the dramatic song cycle -- with music by Jenny Giering and lyrics by Beth Blatt -- that will receive its Chicago debut Saturday night at Highland Park's Apple Tree Theatre. The show considers the attitudes of five women from different eras and different cultures, some drawn from history, others fictional, including Tess, a contemporary New York photographer; Anais Nin, diarist and consort of Henry Miller; Lulu, a Madame in a turn of the 20th century New Orleans bordello; Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henry II in 16th century France, and a 14-year-old concubine in 12th century China.

The show, which has been in the works (and in various forms of performance) since 1996, was developed when Giering and Blatt were part of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop in New York. It grew out of a single song.

"I was single at the time, and not too happy, and I wrote a poem titled 'Death by a Thousand Cuts," said Blatt, who grew up in Wilmette, graduated from New Trier High School, headed east to study languages and comparative literature at Dartmouth, and subsequently lived and worked for extended periods in Tokyo, Hong Kong and France. (She is now married to a Frenchman and the mother of an 8-year-old son.)

"That poem was a toast to all the wonderful men who made me the woman I am today," said Blatt, laughing. "I showed it to Jenny, and almost instantly she wrote a beautiful chorus. We picked it up from there when we heard about a competition for an art song cycle and decided to enter it."

For Giering, who grew up in the small town of Harvard, Mass., got hooked on musical theater when a teacher asked her to write incidental music and a song for a school play, and then went on to study music at Harvard University and composition at NYU's Tisch School for the Arts, the musical challenge was clear: "Avoid pastiche."

"The trick was to make the voice of each woman different, and to suggest the colors of their roots, while at the same time creating a cohesive score," said Giering, who is married and the mother of a 9-year-old stepdaughter and a 14-month-old son.

As she explained: "Tess sounds modern. Anais Nin is modeled a bit after Debussy and the French impressionists. There is a hint of blues in Lulu's songs, a touch of romanticized medieval music in Diane, and a bit of the pentatonic scale in Ching's music. But it's all filtered through me."

And do the mistresses of the cycle have anything in common?

"Though some of them have more choices than others, they all have to play the cards they're dealt," said Blatt.

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Highlights from the Daily Herald feature by Jack Helbig

Step into any conversation with a producer or theater owner about American music theater and eventually the topic gets around to the ongoing and catastrophic shortage of new work. They just aren't producing enough new musicals, on Broadway and off, they will tell you. And there aren't enough new musicals in the pipeline. Then, in the next breath, they will announce a season packed with all the same old shows, plus a few revivals of long-forgotten "classics."

Which is why it is so refreshing that the folks at Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park are producing a bona fide new work. The show is called "The Mistress Cycle," and it is receiving its world premiere.

"The show has only been done in workshops," director Kurt Johns says, "and was part of The Music Theater Festival in New York.

"We were looking for a small musical to do," he said. "I was looking at off-Broadway shows. Then I saw the title of this show, 'The Mistress Cycle,' and I thought 'Ohhh, what is that?' "

It didn't hurt that the show has a cast of only five. Or that, as it happened, Johns had worked with one of the women who was in the workshop production in New York. Johns contacted the writers of the show, Jenny Giering and Beth Blatt, and asked for a video.

"I watched the video, and I was really intrigued," Johns said. "They also sent me the CD of the music, and the music is just gorgeous. I said to (Apple Tree Executive/Artistic Director) Eileen (Boevers). 'Lets put it in the season!' And here we are a year later, and we are putting it up."

It was all very exciting, he said.

"We got a crack at being their regional (pre-Broadway and off-Broadway) premiere."

Johns said the play is not quite a book musical.

"It's kind of a review but with strong, specific characters and clear motivations. The show concerns five women who have all suffered at the hands of men they are involved with. There are five stories in all."

It is a very emotional show, he said.

"The show starts at a gallery exhibit of one of the woman's photographs. She meets a man. They hit it off. He makes an overture to her, and then she finds out he is married," he said.

"The other women come along. I think of it as the ghosts of his past mistresses coming to help her in her current situation. It is a very emotional show. We have not been able to get through the last two numbers in the show without everyone getting all teary and emotional. It's very beautiful."

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mistress rehearsing 1

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mistress rehearsing 4

mistress rehearsing 2


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Director's Notes

I have wanted to compose a simple statement of what this show is and what it’s about. I know that THE MISTRESS CYCLE began with a poem, which turned into a song, which in turn inspired this musical and theatrical exploration of what it’s like to come in second. As an entity, it is a song cycle, closer to revue than traditional book musical.To experience it, it feels like much more than either…a “song cycle savant”. When I asked Beth, the author, if she could distill it down she said,“It’s about grays, about how nothing is in black and white, how we should never judge anybody else until we’re in their shoes.How there are phases we have to live through in order to heal and move on.”

Then there are the mistresses themselves. Of course there are bookish definitions. The OED defines “mistress” as `A woman who illicitly occupies the place of wife’ (Illicit being “contrary to accepted morality”). It would be easy to label them as “scarlet women” and leave it at that.These extraordinary women will not be labeled nor left. I became convinced of this as I listened to every single auditioning actress pour their emotions into these mistresses’ songs.These women are relationship outlanders, complex, nuanced, sanguine, intelligent, elusive and ultimately unjudgeable. Perhaps “scarlet” is more than just some pejorative label, after all.Maybe these women are more about shades of red than shades of grey. After all red is the color of passion, danger, courage, love, lifeblood, and romance.

These women just kill me.Why would anyone choose a relationship that has no permanence, potential, or place? To understand, you must spend some time with these uncommon women; take a few steps in their shoes. So we invite you into the world of THE MISTRESS CYCLE, a mosaic of beautiful music and heart-stirring stories.

Kurt Johns, Director, The Mistress Cycle