World Premiere

It’s 1922 and the young women of Chicago’s Radium Dial Company are living a dream – earning good wages and beaming with new-found independence. After years of hand painting watch dials, the so-called “harmless” radium leads to devastating results. Four courageous women upend their lives with a determination to change the future in this compelling new musical, the transcendent tale of heroic lives that glowed with promise.

at Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL 60077


Glowing music commemorates Ottawa’s ‘Radium Girls’


May 17, 2015


Shining Lives is a new Chicago musical well worth seeing; it has some beautiful scenes and a clutch of excellent musical performances. In one of the most interesting and haunting motifs, Thebus and her collaborators pick up on the cruel irony that the women were creating timepieces even as they shortened their own time on this planet with every lick of paint. Of course, we’re all running out of time every day. Better, perhaps, to seek a glow. Not involving radium.


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Northlight’s Shining Lives a luminescent new chamber musical


May 17, 2015


Shining Lives: A Musical, the fervent yet poetic chamber work now receiving an aptly radiant world premiere at Northlight Theatre, is, above all, a story of courage and determination in the face of profound betrayal.

It is a true story – about a group of women who fall in love with their jobs, and the freedom those jobs provide – and about what happens when those women gradually come to realize that the very thing they have loved was, in fact, killing them.

Workplace issues have been a crucial part of the theater for decades, from the cabdrivers in Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty to the newspaper boys in Newsies and the coal miners in Billy Elliot. But in Shining Lives, based on a play by Melanie Marnich – with a book, lyrics and direction by Jessica Thebus, and music by Andre Pluess and Amanda Dehnert – working women are the focus. And the tone and temper of their story is notably different and ideally captured in this lovely, economical chamber musical.


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Northlight’s Shining Lives a triumph of music and storytelling

May 18, 2015


Northlight Theatre’s shattering and enthralling world premiere of Shining Lives: A Musical should come with a trigger warning. It’s a true story where rich men get away with mass murder and poor women are disposable trash. If you feel like stabbing somebody in the eye after the 90 minute piece, it’s understandable. That said, it would be a grave error to take only rage away from the new musical by Jessica Thebus (book and lyrics), Amanda Dehnert (score) and Andre Pluess (score.)


There is an enduring, inspiring beauty to Thebus’ (who also directs) and Dehnert and Pluess’ musical adaptation of These Shining Lives, playwright Melanie Marnich’s drama delving the tragedy of the Radium Dial Company, an Ottawa-based company whose owners knew it was far cheaper to replace dead workers than practice safety in the work place. Through the 1920s and the ’30s, dozens of female factory workers died painful, gruesome deaths from radium poisoning after ingesting the poison while painting glow-in-the-dark numbers on watches and clocks.


Despite its harrowing material, Shining Lives is instilled with a triumphant beauty. It shines through in the friendships among the women of the Radium Dial Company, the giddy independence they briefly found before chronic bleeding and debilitating pain destroys them and in the steely strength they show in facing death and injustice head-on


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Northlight’s Shining Lives a moving tribute to courageous women


May 21, 2015


“Work that pays you well, costs something,” warns a character in Shining Lives: A Musical.

For some young women working at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois, during the 1920s and 1930s, the price was their lives.


The elegiac Shining Lives: A Musical is their memorial, evoked in part by the poppies present in the opening number. It’s a testament not just to the women’s suffering, but to their courage and determination to hold accountable the company officials who deceived and disparaged them.

What a moving testament it is.


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Shining Lives at Northlight Theatre: Theater review

This lovely chamber musical about an ugly chapter in Illinois labor history shines by focusing on radiant friendships.


May 26, 2015

The beauty of Marnich’s play [These Shining Lives], and of its gorgeous new chamber-musical adaptation at Northlight (which commissioned the original play), is that it spends more time on the four women chosen to represent the whole than it does on legal proceedings. Catherine Donohue (Johanna McKenzie Miller), the eventual plaintiff, loves her work, both for the senses of accomplishment and independence it gives her and for the rich friendships she develops with the other girls at her table (each sharply outlined and beautifully sung by Jess Goodwin, Tiffany Topol and Bri Sudia).

Pluess and Dehnert’s absorbing acoustic score is played to the side of the mostly bare stage by pianist Chuck Larkin and the show’s male cast members, Alex Goodrich, Erik Hellman and Matt Mueller, who alternate between their onstage scenes and accompanying on guitar, banjo and mandolin. The songs take advantage of the four leads’ rich vocals to give voice to the women’s dreams of autonomy; even the courtroom sequence is more about the quartet’s supporting, and eventually succumbing to, the fight. It’s a small but, indeed, radiant story.


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Jess Godwin


Alex Goodrich


Alex is happy to be back at Northlight where previous credits include Shining Lives, Civil War Christmas and She Stoops to Conquer. Other Chicago credits: Hero: The Musical (Jeff Award, Best Supporting Actor – Musical), ELF the musical;  On The Town; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; For The Boys; How Can You Run … (Marriott); Old Jews Telling Jokes (Royal George); The Comedy of Errors, One Man Two Guvnors (Court); Everything Is Illuminated (Next); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Indiana Repertory); The Emperor’s New Clothes, Taming of the Shrew, Aladdin (Chicago Shakespeare); Goodnight Moon, and Harold and the Purple Crayon (Chicago Children’s Theater). He loves his wife and two kids very much.

Erik Hellman

Dr. Rowntree/Dr. Dalitsch/Ensemble

Erik is happy to be returning to Northlight after The Commons of Pensacola and Lost in Yonkers. Select Chicago credits: Luna Gale (Goodman and Center Theatre Group, LA); The Good BookTartuffe, The Misanthrope,  Proof (Jeff Nomination – Supporting Actor), The Comedy of Errors, The Mystery of Irma Vep (Jeff Nomination – Lead Actor), Titus Andronicus and Arcadia (Court); Eastland (Lookingglass); Hesperia (Writers); The Madness of King George III, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth and Edward II (Chicago Shakespeare); Honest, The Elephant Man and Huck Finn (Steppenwolf). He is a company member of Strawdog. Select regional credits: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory. Film/TV: The Dark KnightThe Chicago Code, Boss, Betrayal, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD.

Johanna McKenzie Miller


Johanna is making her Northlight debut with this beautiful show. Other Chicago credits include Claire in On The Town, Mary Poppins, Cats, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Changeand Marian Paroo in The Music Man (Marriott); Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein (Drury Lane); Dyanne inMillion Dollar Quartet (Apollo); and work at Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman, Ravinia and Court.  Johanna is the co-founder of Lombard Children’s Theater Workshop and a member of Actors Equity Association.

Matt Mueller

Mr. Reed/Leonard Grossman/Ensemble

Matt is delighted to make his Northlight debut. He recently released a new cast recording of Woody Guthrie’s American Song at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, California. Regional credits include productions at Chicago Shakespeare, Capital Repertory, Asolo Repertory, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Theatreworks (Colorado Springs), Marin Theatre Company, Palm Beach Dramaworks, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Arvada Center, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Bri Sudia


Bri is thrilled to return to Northlight after playing Charlotte in Shining Lives. Other Chicago credits include Ruth in Wonderful Town (Goodman); Road Show, Pericles, Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits, The Tempest u/s and Tug of War: Foreign Fire u/s (Chicago Shakespeare); Far From Heaven (Porchlight) and regionally at the Milwaukee Rep, Utah, Arkansas and Texas Shakespeare Festivals. Bri received her MFA in Acting from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and holds a degree in Sign Language Interpreting.

Tiffany Topol


Tiffany makes her Northlight debut. Select credits: Once the Musical (1st National Tour), Xanadu (1st National Tour), Sweet Charity (Writers), Eastland (world premiere, Lookingglass), Cabaret (Milwaukee Repertory). When in Chicago, Tiffany often performs with The Back Room Shakespeare Project. She is a singer/songwriter/ukulele player in several projects, including her band Glad Fanny ( and gypsy-folk outfit Youth in a Roman Field (

Production Team

Jessica Thebus

Director/Book & Lyrics

Jessica is a director of theater and an educator based in Chicago. Past Northlight credits include Into the Breeches!, The Book of Will, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Shining Lives: A Musical, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Inherit the Wind and Red Herring. At Steppenwolf, she has directed Sex with Strangers, Intimate Apparel, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, No Place Like Home, When the Messenger is Hot (also at 59 E 59th in NYC) and Sonia Flew. Other favorite projects: Richard III (Gift), In the Garden by Sarah Gmitter (Lookingglass), Buzzer by Tracy Scott Wilson (Goodman), Welcome Home Jenny Sutter (Next), As You Like It (Oregon Shakespeare), The Feast: an intimate Tempest (Chicago Shakespeare with Redmoon). She is Director of the Graduate Directing Program at Northwestern University.

Andre Pluess


Andre has designed the Broadway productions of Metamorphoses, I Am My Own Wife and 33 Variations (Drama Desk Award nomination) as well as the world premiere of The Clean House at Yale Repertory and Lincoln Center. Based in Chicago, his work has appeared on most of the city’s stages including Northlight (Shining Lives with Amanda Dehnert), Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, and Lookingglass where he is an associate artist. He has composed music and designed sound for theaters around the U.S., most frequently at the Oregon and California Shakespeare Festivals, Berkeley Repertory, Arena Stage, American Conservatory Theater, Seattle Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse and Center Theater Group. Choral works include: Winesburg, Ohio,Eastland, Whitman, Undone (with Ben Sussman), and Paris By Night (with Amy Warren).

Amanda Dehnert


Recent productions include: Into the Woods and My Fair Lady (Oregon Shakespeare),Eastland: A New Musical (Lookingglass, world premiere, direction and orchestration), Richard III (Public Theatre Mobile Shakespeare Unit, director/composer), Julius Caesar (Oregon Shakespeare, director and adaptor), The Verona Project (California Shakespeare, world premiere, words and music), Peter Pan (A Play) (Lookingglass, author), Death of a Salesman (Dallas Theatre Center, director and composer), Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chicago Shakespeare, director, adaptor and composer). She is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Northwestern University.

Chuck Larkin

Music Director/Piano

Chuck Larkin is thrilled to return to Northlight after Shining Lives, A Civil War Christmas, and At Wit’s End. Chuck served as associate conductor for Jersey Boys from May 2007 to January 2010 (Chicago) and for the National Tour from November 2011 to March 2014. He served as musical director for the 2014 Fall season and the 2010 and 2011 Summer seasons of American Folklore Theatre in Door County, Wisconsin, and has toured extensively with local and cabaret artists. Composing credits include Hen Lake and Sophie’s Masterpiece (Lifeline) and the award-winning River’s End with playwright/lyricist Cheryl Coons (Marin Theatre Company, O’Neill Conference, NAMT, NYMF and ASCAP Workshop).

Scott Davis

Scenic Design

Linda Roethke

Costume Design

Northlight productions include Away directed by David Petracha, and How I Learned to Drivedirected by Susan V. Booth.  Recent productions include The Good Book, Orlando, Arcadia, The Romance Cycle, James Joyce’s “The Dead,” The Little Foxes, Hay Fever, An Ideal Husband (Joseph Jefferson Award – Court); Into the Woods, King Lear, As You Like It,Julius Caesar, All’s Well That Ends Well (Oregon Shakespeare); The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Intimate Apparel, I Never Sang for My Father (Steppenwolf); Stage Kiss, The Clean House (Goodman); The Public, Los Angles Performing Arts Center, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Alliance, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Chicago Shakespeare, Utah Shakespeare, Connecticut Repertory, Arden Theatre Company, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, Drury Lane and American Players. Linda is the director of the MFA Design Program at Northwestern University.

JR Lederle

Lighting Design

Northlight credits include The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Relativity, By the WaterCharmShining LivesOutside MullingarWhite Guy on the Bus,  Detroit ’67The Odd CoupleTen ChimneysSeason’s GreetingsA LifeGrey GardensThe Retreat From MoscowLadyStella & Lou, The Outgoing TideBetter Late and Chapatti (the last four also at the Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland). Other work has been seen at Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, About Face, Remy Bumppo, Writers, Steppenwolf and Walkabout. JR designed lighting for seven years of the Steppenwolf TRAFFIC Series, and five Steppenwolf performances in Chicago’s Millennium Park. He has served as head of the Lighting Department at Steppenwolf since 1995.

Ray Nardelli

Sound Design

Previous Northlight credits include Shining Lives: A MusicalGee’s BendAt Wit’s EndThe Last Five Years. Off Broadway credits include Lookingglass Alice at The New Victory Theatre. Regional theatres include Goodman, Steppenwolf, McCarter, Long Wharf, Milwaukee Rep, Court, Hartford Stage, Congo Square, The Alley, American Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare, Drury Lane, Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, Meadow Brooke, Northwestern, Notre Dame Summer Shakespeare, Shakespeare On The Green,  Oak Park Festival,  American Girl Theatre (New York, Chicago),  Skylight Opera and Wright State University Theatre. He has recorded, mixed and produced cast albums for eight musicals and over 400 film, TV, DVD and computer game credits worldwide. He has been nominated nine times for a Jeff Award and won four times. His memberships include USA #829, ASCAP and IATSE #2.

Stephan Mazurek

Projection Design

Vanessa Stalling


Vanessa is a director and choreographer located in Chicago. Most recently she directed Circuscope at the Actor’s Gymnasium, and this spring she directs The America Play at Oracle. She is most known for her work with Redmoon, where she served as Associate Artistic Director. She enjoyed collaboratively directing & choreographing several Redmoon productions including a remount of The Cabinet, Last of My Species, Winter Pageant, Princess Club and The Great Chicago Fire Festival. Vanessa is also an instructor at Columbia College and University of Chicago.

Rita Vreeland

Production Stage Manager

Rita Vreeland has been a frequent stage manager at Northlight since 2007, with Birthday Candles marking her 42nd production here. Other favorite recent projects include Ernest Shackleton Loves Me at Porchlight Music Theatre, A Christmas Carol at Drury Lane, The Luckiest at Raven Theatre, three years of The Polar Express Train Ride, and productions at Mercury Theatre, Victory Gardens, Route 66 Theatre Company, Theatre at the Center, and The Galway International Arts Festival in Galway, Ireland. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to ten-year-old Charlie, and this year she celebrated her 22nd anniversary as a member of Actors’ Equity Association. Thank you for supporting live theatre!