‘Montauciel Takes Flight’ Makes Science Soar at Lifeline Theatre

Montauciel Takes Flight at Lifeline celebrates science and the spirit of invention. You know a children’s show is successful if the kids are singing the songs on the car ride home. The charming original musical Montauciel Takes Flight, by James E. Grote (book) and Russell J. Coutinho (music and lyrics), directed by Aileen McGroddy, is based on the true story of the first living creatures to ride in a hot air balloon. The play tells the story of the Montgolfier brothers, paper manufacturers in 1783 France who launched a balloon containing a duck, a rooster and a sheep named Montauciel, a name that means “climb-to-the-sky.” The balloon and its animal occupants landed safely after traveling over two miles, ushering in a new era of manned flight.

The heroine of the musical Montauciel (Kirra Silver), is a curious young sheep who loves science. Silver communicates a youthful enthusiasm for science and learning that immediately draws children into the narrative. Her genuineness makes her character relatable to kids. She never plays down to them, rather she invites them to share in her excitement. Silver is well supported by the cheery ensemble playing her human and animal compatriots: Jordan Arrendondo (Joseph Montgolfier), Carisa Gonzales (Bessie), Scott Ray Merchant (Etienne Montgolfier) and Jennifer Vance (Rooster).

There’s a strong opening number about “the age of enlightenment” during which Montauciel muses that some folks fall in love with science and learning, while others seem afraid of science, preferring the old ways. Embracing the wonders of science is part of the show’s message. When Montauciel hears intriguing explosions coming from the Montgolfier paper mill she leaves home in hopes of meeting a fellow science enthusiast. When she arrives she discovers the sounds were coming from Joseph’s lab. He’d rather do science than make paper and so he hires her to work in his place so he can spend his time experimenting. She’s disappointed but soon learns making paper involves science too. After a quick lesson in how old rags are turned into paper pulp it’s her turn to instruct her new employers (some human and some animal) about “the six simple machines” in the show’s most memorable number. The song admirably manages to turn this unwieldy list into a catchy tune. Indeed, my children were singing about “the wheel and the axle, the lever and the pulley, the inclined plane and the screw (and the wedge)” the rest of the afternoon.

Montauciel also covers the scientific method, teaching her friends to formulate and test a hypothesis. She gently coaxes Joseph Montgolfier toward understanding science is more than just setting off cool explosions and he invites to join him in his work. Soon their experiments attract royal attention and the inventors go on an adventure to meet King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, played by a talking portrait with mouth holes, much to the delighted squeals of the children in the audience.

Lifeline’s signature aesthetic features costumes and design elements that elevate everyday things with a little theater magic. I appreciate this because it shows children how simple it is to take the objects around them and transform them into elements of a story. It’s thrilling when the characters create their wondrous balloon from found objects. The blue sheet backdrop representing the sky starts to billow when the animals start their journey and suddenly we are all  flying. After the show my children were excitedly discussing the types of paper and fabric the Montgolfiers used to make their balloons and speculating how they might conduct their own hot air experiments. Montauciel Takes Flight makes both science and theater accessible to kids.

Most children’s productions at Lifeline are adaptations of well-known books making Montauciel  a slight departure, though a well-executed one. As a parent I celebrated that this play links science to everyday problem solving and brings to life an exciting but oft overlooked historical event, the invention of the hot air balloon. Parents may well find themselves just as inspired by the show’s spirit as their kids.

 

BIAS ALERT: My children are close friends with Lifeline House Manager, Susan Tecktiel, a beloved babysitter to them since they were toddlers.

Performances: Saturday and Sundays at 11am & 1pm Through Feb 18, 2018

* This show is recommended for kids 5 and up. Children under 2 are not permitted.

Photos by Suzanne Plunkett

Book by James E. Grote
Music & Lyrics by Russell J. Coutinho
Directed by Aileen McGroddy

CAST AND CREW
Jordan Arredondo (Joseph & ensemble)
Carisa Gonzalez (Bessie & ensemble)
Scott Ray Merchant (Étienne & ensemble)
Kirra Silver (Montauciel)
Jennifer Vance (Rooster & ensemble)
Ty Carter (Understudy)
Whitney Dottery (Understudy)
Suzanna Ziko (Understudy)
Russell J. Coutinho (Music & Lyrics)
Aileen McGroddy (Director)
Jacqueline Marschke (Stage Manager)
Megan Elk (Music Director)
Amanda Herrmann (Properties Designer)
Eleanor Kahn (Scenic Designer)
Jeffrey Levin Jeffrey Levin (Sound Designer)
Emily Swanson (Costume Designer)
Eric Watkins (Lighting Designer)

‘The Light’ At the New Colony Is Rallying Cry for Radical Love

In one of the most dramatically effective moments of Loy Webb’s, The Light, Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) describes to her fiancé, Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr.), how black women have been socialized to believe they have just two options in the wake of trauma: be strong or fall apart. In response, Rashad suggests he can carry some of that burden and offers his love as “option three.” With this Webb embarks on illuminating not only a series of important emotional truths but also some serious political ones. But, as the play’s title would suggest, for all its weighty content, at its heart this play is an uplifting character driven romance.

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Rescripted Recognized: 2017 in Review

This has been an incredible year for the team at Rescripted. As we embark on 2018, we’d like to take some time to revisit not only some theatre highlights of the year, but accomplishments we have made as an organization in our first six months! The plays mentioned below are honored as Rescripted Recognized, productions that were memorable for their cultural standouts, for their artistic achievements, for their strong performances, and in some cases even for their controversies. 

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Aziza Barnes’ ‘BLKS’ Gets Up Close and Personal

This review is written by Logan McCullom, an alumni of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program.

Stumbling through the seemingly unending crowds and stairs that make up Steppenwolf’s theatre, I was frazzled and bewildered by how many folks I saw waiting to be seated for the opening night of BLKS. At first glance I found the title to be easy and not very enticing at all, but it was quickly redeemed as I saw the set. Like the title would prove to be, it was comprised of… well… everything. There was no shortage of couches, there were even couches on the walls! Set designer Sibyl Wickersheimer draped long blue curtains on the stage, making distinct isolations that served as different rooms within the same stage. It was messy, chaotic, a perfect representation of life on your own, and I loved it. Continue reading “Aziza Barnes’ ‘BLKS’ Gets Up Close and Personal”

Key Reviews: ‘The Heavens Are Hung in Black’ and ‘Two Mile Hollow’

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program brings students to various productions around Chicago, teaching them about arts criticism as they try their hand at writing reviews. The opinions of the students are their own; we workshop the pieces in seminar every other week, and then they edit their reviews before publication. This week we are sharing their second round of reviews on The Heavens Are Hung in Black at Shattered Globe Theatre, which closed Oct. 21st, and Two Mile Hollow at First Floor Theater which closed Nov 4thWorkshopped and Edited by co-facilitators Regina Victor and Oliver Sava. 

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Football and White Supremacy Take a Spooky Turn in ‘Welcome to Jesus’

Regina Victor

Welcome to Jesus at American Theater Company is best described as a cross between “The Blind Side” and “Get Out”. I went to see it the day before Halloween and enjoyed quite a few jump scares. Will Davis’ direction is astounding as usual. When his directing style is at its peak, as I feel it is in this production, actors are comfortable enough to play and create within the seemingly choreographed production. As in a dance piece, Davis’ productions work well when you can sense the ensemble and they share an awareness of each other.  Continue reading “Football and White Supremacy Take a Spooky Turn in ‘Welcome to Jesus’”

Money and the Power It Wields Guide the Riveting ‘Invisible Hand’


Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand opens with a disarming juxtaposition. Nick (Joel Reitsma), an American banker, is being held for ransom under grim conditions in a cell somewhere in Pakistan. Surveying the scene, we brace for the worst, but instead we are party to an unexpectedly friendly conversation between Nick and Dar (Anand Bhatt), the guard charged with watching him. Nick has been trading his professional expertise for better treatment. Moments later, Dar’s superior, Bashir (Owais Ahmed) bursts in abruptly upending the power dynamic, setting the tone for a play full of danger and disquieting reversals.

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Steppenwolf’s ‘The Crucible’ Is a Classic That Still Has Something to Say

When does a truth become a lie? 

That is the question posed by Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ 17/18 season, a question that we are invited to grapple with in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, directed by Jonathan Berry. Brimming with talent, Steppenwolf’s production offers a heart-pounding and potent take on a familiar piece of theatre, whose themes comment sharply on many aspects of our current political climate.

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‘Meet Juan(ito) Doe’: Brown and Down in Chi-Town

Ricardo Gamboa’s Meet Juan(ito) Doe at Free Street Theater, co-directed by Gamboa and Ana Velazquez, is a success as one of the most innovative community engaged theatre pieces we will see this season. Gamboa received a Joyce award of $50,000 “to produce community-based programming, procure a performance space within the community, and provide equitable pay to the artists involved in the collaboration.”

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A Smart and Touching Journey in Jessica Dickey’s The Rembrandt

Hallie Palladino

In a gallery at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Henry (Francis Guinan) guards Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer. If it really depicts Aristotle at all. Henry is partial to the argument Rembrandt may have substituted the Greek painter Apelles in the philosopher’s place as an affront to the wealthy Italian who commissioned it. Were artists the true philosophers in Rembrandt’s opinion? For Henry, a scholarly man who has spent his life studying paintings and loving a poet, this seems about right. So begins Jessica Dickey’s funny and touching play, The Rembrandt, now enjoying its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre in an elegantly designed production directed by Hallie Gordon.

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