Seasons of MTI

Seasons of MTI

This time of year beckons us to reflect on and celebrate what we have accomplished. For theatre artists and educators, this can include thunderous applause, memorable rehearsals, offstage hijinks, and creative discoveries. Before we ring in 2024, we invited Music Theater Works, who programmed their whole 2023 season with MTI titles, to look back on the past year.

Located in Skokie, IL, Music Theater Works was founded in 1980 with the following mission: "To present works for the musical stage, creating a bridge for all audiences from classic works to the present day; to develop the next generation of theater professionals and patrons; and to engage the community in music, theater, and the arts."

The last few years have been difficult for regional theatre, as many US theatres layoff staff, reduce programming, or close their doors. Producing Artistic Director Kyle Dougan was keenly aware of the stakes facing Music Theater Works. 

"Our challenge has been to continue to provide work for the multitude of artists in the Chicago Area," reflected Dougan. "As theaters continue to struggle with season cancellations and closures, we are looking at how to best support artists so that our fantastic community can thrive."

From Brigadoon to Shrek, Music Theater Works gave their community a befittingly fantastic  season full of romance, laughs, schemes, ogres, and plenty of "magic to do".

Avenue Q

Music Theater Works began their season with the hysterical and irreverent Avenue Q.

With two spaces, the North and Center Theatres, they must consider which show is the right fit for either venue, Dougan. "[Aveune Q] fit perfectly in an intimate space and allowed us to really have fun with the audience interaction portion of the show."

production photo of Avenue Q

The cast of Avenue Q from Music Theater Works (Brett Beiner)

Avenue Q proved to be an opportunity not only for flexing comedy muscles, but also for pursuing new avenues in production design.

"Learning the puppetry was a blast," said Dougan. "This show was our first foray into integrated media design. The design team had such fun using the TV’s as part of the show. When not used for a specific moment, they were designed into LinkNYC-style stanchions."

It was also a departure from typical programming at Music Theater Works. "Our audience is so used to traditional, Golden Age musicals that we were nervous the humor might alienate our audience," admitted Dougan. "It couldn’t have been further from the truth. Our traditional audience had a blast, and we loved seeing new faces joining them."


There were "parts to perform and hearts to warm" in their next production, Pippin.  After Avenue Q, Music Theatre Works wanted to shift their focus to older audience memebers. "We wanted to begin to think about how we would program for them," explained Dougan. "Our artistic director did Pippin in High School so he wanted to relive the show he loved as a kid."

A soul-searching journey from Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson, Pippin is a blank canvas for artistic interpretation. The 2013 Broadway revival's circus-centric reimagining is a prime example. Music Theater Works followed suit with their own vision.

Production photo of Pippin

Sonia Goldberg as “Leading Player” and the cast of Pippin from Music Theater Works (Brett Beiner)

The design concept revolved around 90's nostalgia, including filling the lobby with Nintendo gaming stations and playing 90's commercials. "We loved honoring the script while still creating a fresh production. Musical Theater is a creative art, and Pippin allows that."

The Producers

For its 150th production, Music Theater Works chose a both critically and commercially lauded comedy: The Producers"The Producers is such a huge hit,"  said Dougan. "Whether you know the movie…or the musical… or the musical movie." 

"We loved doing the show with such a full orchestration," continued Dougan. "With 19 pieces in the orchestra and a cast of 30, [the production] really showcased that big Broadway feel."

Production photo from The Producers

The cast of The Producers from Music Theater Works (Brett Beiner)

That big Broadway feel certainly appealed to audiences across all ages. "Many generations came to see the show. We saw a lot of grandparents with their children and teenage grandchildren at the show."

But Music Theater Works picked The Producers for more than comic relief.

"Because of our location in Skokie, IL, we really wanted to highlight a Jewish artist's work for our large Jewish population," explained Dougan. Post-show talk backs discussed the legacy of Jewish American comedians and their influence on Mel Brooks and The Producers.


Up next, Music Theater Works went to the Scottish Highlands with Lerner and Loewe's enchanting romance Brigadoon. Whether as a Golden Age musical or classic MGM film, this soaring musical has had audiences swooning for decades.

"There is nothing like a Broadway classic," declared Dougan. "The beautiful music, the comedy, the romance… our audience left humming every night."

Production photo from Brigadoon

Sarah Obert and Conor Jordan in Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon from Music Theater Works (Brett Beiner)

Staging the show in their smaller space, Music Theater Works chose a more intimate production - something different from what people usually expect of Brigadoon.

"You wouldn’t think a show like Brigadoon would play well in a small, thrust theater," explained Dougan. "People loved seeing the beautiful love story told so close to them. We used a unit set for the production. It was so beautiful and modest."

Shrek The Musical

Music Theatre Works is currently letting their Freak Flag fly by finishing their season with the crowd pleaser Shrek The Musical. (Shrek celebrated its 15th Broadway anniversary earlier this month!) But why did they decide to put on this show to bring in the holiday season? "The fart jokes!" 

"But really…a perfect holiday show for both the adults and kids with a message of accepting oneself for who they are," said Dougan.

Production photo of Shrek the Musical

Dani Pike (Fiona), Eustace J. Williams (Donkey) and Jordan DeBose (Shrek) in Shrek The Musical from Music Theater Works (Brett Beiner)

Before the curtain went up on December 21st, Dougan reported that they couldn't be more excited to start performances. "We are in rehearsals right now, and the actors are just having a blast with dialects and character choices. We hope our audiences will celebrate the holidays with our show!"

As the new year approaches, Dougan is determined and hopeful for their 2024 season, which includes 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Shop of Horrors, and Legally Blonde:

"We have a goal to continue to build back our audiences. We are encouraged by the uptick in theater goers to our shows from 2022 and into 2023. 2024 is going to be the year of Musical Theater!"

Thank you to Kyle Dougan and Music Theater Works for sharing their season with us! And to all our customers: We wish you another year of standing ovations, sharing backstage rituals, inspiring artists, enriching lives, and all the other magical moments that making a musical creates for a community. Happy New Year from MTI!