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.
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??”
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.
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
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.
cast | press | photos | director's
Chicago Tribune Review
Chicago Sun Times Review
Lake County Journal Review
Pioneer Press 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
"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."
cast | press | photos | director's
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
"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
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
And do the mistresses of the cycle have anything
"Though some of them have more choices than
others, they all have to play the cards they're
dealt," said Blatt.
cast | press | photos | director's
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
"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."
cast | press | photos | director's
cast|press | photos | director's
notes | tickets
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