American Blues Theater, under the continued leadership of Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside,announces Valentunes, a benefit event as part of its ongoing music series, “The Garage.” The online event on Friday February 12 at 7pm Central will feature favorite love songs of the American Blues Ensemble and Artistic Affiliates, sung by Dawn Bach, Audrey Billings, Matthew Brumlow, Dara Cameron, Austin Cook, Ian Paul Custer, Cisco Lopez, Michael Mahler, Camille Robinson, Editha Rosario, Zachary Stevenson, Denzel Tsopnang, Adrienne Walker, and Wandachristine
Celebrate Valentine’s with us – a little romantic, a little vengeful, and a whole lotta laughs. Hear songs from our American Blues artists’ first love or first heartbreak. The one night only event, hosted by Cupid Ed Kross, is live and interactive with audience participation.
Tickets to the benefit performance are $50 and may be purchased at AmericanBluesTheater.com or (773) 654-3103. Space is limited and the production is expected to sell out.
“Nothing imprints on a young, impressionable mind quite like first love and first heartbreak. Songs surrounding this emotional rite of passage become a salve. The tune is kept on repeat in ecstasy and agony until it becomes an anthem to mark the time,” comments Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “During this special event in The Garage series, our artists will share the songs associated with their first Big Loves. Their incredible talent broadcasting live from their homes into yours is our Valentine’s gift to you.”
About the Artists
Dawn Bach has been a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater since 1993. She has acted in numerous American Blues productions over the years, including Catch-22, A Stone Carver, On the Waterfront and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. She served as musical director/composer for Blues’ production of Medea and wrote original music for Toys in the Attic, for which she received the After Dark Award for outstanding original music. She has been seen in numerous industrial films as well as on the stages of Lifeline, Northlight (Cowgirls, Smoke on the Mountain), and Goodman (A Christmas Carol), among others.
Audrey Billings is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She recently made her Blues debut in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Before that she was most recently seen as Christmas Eve in the long-running production of Avenue Q at the Mercury Theater. Other favorite roles include Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Antonia in Man of la Mancha, and Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. She has worked at the Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Theatre at the Center, Lookingglass Theatre Company and is a proud member of Actor’s Equity. Grateful to be spending the holidays with this beautiful show, and looking to the day when we’re all in a room together again. Much love to Nick and Murphy.
Matthew Brumlow is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He has been an Ensemble member since 2001 and has 15 American Blues production credits including Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Oklahoma, A View from the Bridge, Catch 22, Tobacco Road, True West, and The Hairy Ape. Other Chicago credits include work with Goodman, Court, Chicago Shakespeare, Writers, Lookingglass, Northlight, Timeline, Chicago Dramatists, and others including Poetry Onstage with Bernie Sahlins. Regional credits include work with Long Wharf Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Indiana Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, Kansas City Repertory, Montana Repertory, Peninsula Players, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, Door Shakespeare, and American Heartland Theatre (KC). Matthew has also performed at the American Studio of Russia’s Moscow Art Theatre. Matthew recently directed Summer and Smoke for the Tennessee Williams Festival in Clarksdale, MS. A three-time Equity Joseph Jefferson Award nominee and Broadway World Chicago nominee as an actor, Matthew is the recipient of the 2014 Equity Joseph Jefferson Award (Principal Actor) for his portrayal of Hank Williams Sr. in Lost Highway. Matthew recently won Best Actor honors at the Reel East Texas Film Festival, ReelheART Film Festival, and the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival. A proud member of Actors Equity since 2003 and a Northwestern University alum, Matthew now resides in Los Angeles with his wife and Tony Award nominated actor Cora Vander Broek.
Dara Cameron is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. She just finished the run of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago with American Blues and is so happy to be back on Zoom with everyone! She is a proud member of Actors’ Equity. She’s keeping busy by teaching virtual voice lessons, directing kids in Zoomsicals and chasing after her crazy almost 3-year-old son, Ezra, with her husband, actor Michael Mahler. She’s so grateful to have American Blues as her artistic home!
Austin Cook is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. Before the COVID-19 shutdown, he served as a sub-conductor of Hamilton on Broadway, where previously, he held the position of Music Associate. Before that he served as music director of the Dear Evan Hansen Tour. Austin’s most recently produced album Broadway Lullabies features lullaby arrangements of Broadway hits sung by Broadway stars. Currently, Austin and his wife, Adrienne, are producing a YouTube series and podcast entitled 32 Bar Cut where they interview Broadway and regional theatre stars to discuss all aspects of life in the crazy world of theatre.
Ian Paul Custer is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He’s a Chicago actor and musician. Chicago credits: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Jeff Award – Best Ensemble, Best Musical – Midsize), The Columnist, Little Shop of Horrors, and It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! (American Blues Theater); Bad Jews (Theatre Wit); 33 Variations (Jeff Award– Best Production, Midsize), To Master The Art (TimeLine Theatre); Annie Bosh is Missing (Steppenwolf); High Holidays (Goodman); Fiddler on the Roof (Paramount). Regional credits: Hero: The Musical (Asolo Rep Theatre), Cymbeline (Notre Dame Shakespeare), Romeo and Juliet (Cardinal Stage), Peter Pan (360 Entertainment – London, England). Television credits: APB, Empire, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD. Ian received his BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Ed Kross is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater of 23 years. Some of his favorite credits include Shear Madness (Mercury Theater); West Side Story (Lyric Opera of Chicago); Hazel (Drury Lane Oakbrook); The Jungle Book, Animal Crackers (The Goodman); I Love Lucy: Live Onstage (Broadway Playhouse); as well as productions at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Second City, Royal George, and Peninsula Players. On the small screen he’s appeared in over 75 commercials and had guest roles on Chicago Med, Fargo, Patriot, Chicago Fire, Sirens, and Boss. On the big screen he shares one-on-one scenes with Tom Hanks in Road To Perdition and George Clooney in Ocean’s 12. He is a proud union member of Actor’s Equity Association, SAG-AFTRA, and AGMA. Feel free to stalk him at www.edkross.com.
Cisco Lopez is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues and returns to the stage after appearing in Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Other Chicago credits include Merrily We Roll Along, Woman of the Year, New Faces Sing Broadway 2001, In the Heights (Porchlight Music Theatre); Bonnie & Clyde (Kokandy); In To America, Letters Home (Griffin Theatre);Planted (Rogue Elephant Productions); Dead Man Walking (Piven Theatre); Mutt (Stage Left & Red Tape Theatre); Macbeth (Midsommer Flight); Take Me Out (Eclectic Theatre); Fiddler on the Roof, and Damn Yankees (Music Theatre Works). Film: Boystown, Closet Memories. He holds a BFA in Theatre PWerformance from Baylor University and is represented by Shirley Hamilton.
Michael Mahler is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues, most recently seen as the Announcer/Pianist/ Music Director in Blues’ streaming production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Past Blues productions: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (Jeff Award – Best Music Direction), Little Shop of Horrors, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, and Side Man. Other recent roles include The Baker in Into the Woods (Writers); Jim Hardy in Holiday Inn, and Jack Singer in Honeymoon in Vegas (Marriott Theatre). Michael contributed additional lyrics to Cameron Mackintosh’s most recent Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Other works as a composer/lyricist include The Secret of My Success, Miracle (Jeff Award – Best New Work), Diary of a Wimpy Kid, October Sky, The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Jeff Award – Best New Work), and Hero (Jeff Award – Best New Work). Michael is married to fellow company member Dara Cameron and proud father to their son Ezra.
Camille Robinson is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. She has been with the company since 2016, after making her debut in the critically acclaimed production of Little Shop of Horrors. She has also appeared in four productions of Blues’ smash holiday tradition, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! In the eight years that Camille has been a professional actor, she has been on many stages in the greater Chicagoland area. Some of her favorites include: Firebrand Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Drury Lane Theatre and American Blues Theater, of course! Camille can also be seen as Nurse Tanya on NBC’s Chicago Med. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity Association and represented by Gray Talent Group. camille-robinson.com
Editha Rosario is a proud Ensemble Member of American Blues Theater. She has been an Ensemble Member since 2001. She recently appeared as Rosa in Summer in Smoke for the virtual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival. She also wrote a short play for Blues’ 2020 Ripped Festival called, Neutral Ground.
Zachary Stevenson is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He is an award-winning actor, musician and writer. Originally from Vancouver Island, Canada, Zachary has been coined a “dead ringer for dead singers” by the Victoria Times Colonist for his portrayals of Buddy Holly, Hank Williams, Phil Ochs and roles based on Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 2018, Zachary won the Jeff Award in Chicago for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Musical) for Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, a role he’s honed in more than a dozen productions across Canada and the United States. Other acting highlights include Million Dollar Quartet, Hair, Urinetown, Assassins, and Company. Zachary has produced and recorded five independent albums and tours frequently as a musician. He is also active as a music director on productions such as Ring of Fire and Million Dollar Quartet, American Idiot (upcoming). He is currently writing an American Blues commissioned solo show based on the life of folksinger Phil Ochs.
Denzel Tsopnang is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. Hailing from Batavia, IL, Denzel holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Millikin University and is represented by Gray Talent Group. At Blues he has been seen in the Jeff Award winning production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story and Five Presidents. Some of his favorite Chicago credits include South Pacific (Drury Lane Theatre), Five Guys Named Moe (Court), Ragtime (Griffin Theatre), The Scottsboro Boys (Porchlight Music Theatre), Annie Warbucks (Theatre at the Center), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (Drury Lane Theatre), Velveteen Rabbit (Marriott Theatre), Heathers: The Musical (Kokandy Productions), and Northanger Abbey (Lifeline).
Adrienne Walker is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She is most known for her roles as Nala in Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway and Hattie in Roundabout Theatre’s revival of Kiss Me Kate, and is a southern girl at heart. She got her BA in music at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA and a masters of the same at Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL. Adrienne started her musical theatre career by chance after booking a small role in Court Theatre’s production of Porgy and Bess. Regional credits: Rent, Hair, Dreamgirls, Agamemnon, Iphigenia in Aulis, and The Color Purple, where she received a Jeff nomination for her portrayal of Shug Avery. Adrienne also enjoys voiceover work, an active pursuit of TV and film and most notably her new business venture with her husband Austin Cook, 32 Bar Cut – an audition advice series and podcast.
Wandachristine is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. She has starred on many stages throughout the country in notable productions as the touring company of Fences, The Vagina Monologues, Gee’s Bend, and Thyestes. For her work in Old Settler, she received a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for Supporting Actress and a Best Actress nomination for the noted Ruby Dee/Black Theater Alliance Award. For her work in American Blues Theater’s production of Beauty’s Daughter, she won the Ruby Dee/Black Theater Alliance Award for her solo performance. She’s toured regionally in Danai Gurira’s (Black Panther and Walking Dead) production of Familiar as well as the San Diego’s Old Globe production. Other recent productions include A Wonder in My Soul at Baltimore Center Stage and Incendiary at Goodman Theater. In film she’s worked alongside Whoopie Goldberg in Clara’s Heart and starred in the hit comedy as Mrs. Jones in Me and Mrs. Jones with Kym Fields. She’s appeared in the television series Chicago PD, numerous commercials, and voiced the animated characters in The PJ’s, The Justice League, and Scarface the video game. She’s written a fiction novel, I Love You More…Than Shoes! about four actresses over 50 years old still trying to make it in Hollywood. She is working on a Zoom production of the popular novel. As a playwright, she’s written for American Blues Theater’s Ripped Festival for 3 years. Her newest play, Yes, My Name is…Lucy! was commissioned by Ensemble member Chuck Smith.
Cara Parrish (stage manager) is an Ensemble member of American Blues Theater where she is also the Office Manager / Human Resources. Chicago credits: Gem of the Ocean, Electra, Hard Problem, Photograph 51, Five Guys Named Moe, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, & Lady From the Sea (Court Theatre); WITCH, Port Authority, Yellow Moon, The Letters, The Caretaker, Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf, & The Blond, The Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead (Writers Theatre); Too Heavy for Your Pocket & The Vibrator Play (TimeLine Theatre Company); James and the Giant Peach (Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook); Jabari Dreams of Freedom (Chicago Children’s Theatre); Romeo and Juliet, Emma, (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Beauty’s Daughter, & Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (American Blues Theater). Cara is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association.
About American Blues Theater
Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home. American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.
The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago. As of 2020, the theater and artists received 221 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and 40 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.
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