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Wildcats in the Spotlight

Northwestern alumni shine in Chicago theater scene

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August 16, 2012 | by Matt Paolelli
You don’t have to look hard to find a Northwestern connection in the world of Chicago theater. Open the playbill of almost any local production and you’re bound to spot a Wildcat or two.

That especially holds true for the new production of “Hero” at the Marriott Lincolnshire. Running through Aug. 19, the musical has Northwestern School of Communication connections in nearly every aspect of the show -- including composer, director, music director and cast members.

Northwestern’s close proximity to the city and the theater department’s vast network of faculty and alumni have been giving Northwestern a good name in the theater community for decades.

“To be able to work with people who know exactly what you’re talking about -- had the same instructors, honed their craft in the same building that you did -- that's so thrilling and fun,” said Heidi Kettenring (Communication ’95), who plays the lead role of “Jane” in the show. “With this one, it’s sort of at every turn. There are a lot of us here.”

The songs were composed by Michael Mahler (Communication ’04), and the show was directed by School of Communication Professor David Bell. School of Communication music director Ryan T. Nelson served as music director, and the cast includes Kettenring, Dara Cameron (Communication ’06), Kelley Abell (Communication ’12) and Alex Goldklang (Communication ’12). Even the pit orchestra bleeds purple, with Northwestern alumni Matt Deitchman on keyboard and guitars and Jed Feder (Communication '11) on drums.

The show itself was fine-tuned through the School of Communication’s American Music Theatre Project, which seeks to bring new material to the stage through an intensive workshop program. Northwestern students and faculty worked with Mahler and show writer Aaron Thielen last fall to perfect “Hero,” which led to its summer run at the Marriott.

The high quality of the show has not gone unnoticed. "Hero" was recently nominated for a 2012 Chicago Equity Jeff Award in the "New Work - Play or Musical" category and Cameron is nominated for her acting in the category of "Actress in a Supporting Role - Musical."

Mahler said he benefited tremendously from faculty and alumni who helped launch his career after graduation, and he is happy to continue the tradition with recent alumni involved in "Hero," some who graduated as recently as June.

“It’s great to be able to pass the torch and not just be the young guy getting helped, but now I get to turn around and help people up,” he said. “You get to be part of a long line that stretches forwards and backwards.”