Lansing native brings her new original musical to Chicago in March

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Lansing native Christine Rea, along with her husband Rick Briskin, are bringing their original musical “Hit Her with the Skates” to Chicago. (Photo courtesy Timothy Hiatt Photography.)

Hit Her with the Skates opens March 10 at the Royal George Theatre

by Jamilyn Hiskes

CHICAGO, Ill. (February 26, 2020) – It’s no secret than most plays and musicals on and off Broadway today are reboots and sequels. An entirely new production that builds an entirely new world with new characters for audiences to fall in love with is something to be cherished.

Christine Rea, a successful actor and Lansing native with deep roots in Chicago’s theater scene, knows this full well. That’s one of the reasons she’s so excited to bring the original musical she co-created with her husband, seasoned musician and producer Rick Briskin, to Chicago’s Royal George Theatre (1641 N. Halsted St.) on March 10.

The musical is called Hit Her with the Skates, and in Rea’s own words, it’s “Grease meets Hairspray with a dash of Xanadu.”

The story

Set in 1994, the musical follows the story of rock star Jacqueline Miller, played by American Idol sensation Diana DeGarmo. Jacqueline’s career has hit a decent high note: on top of headlining her first national tour and celebrating a hit album, she’s also agreed to perform at a gala celebrating the re-opening of her childhood roller rink, Windy City Skates. However, when her professional and personal life takes a fast downward spiral, she’s sent back to her childhood in 1977 to spend some time with the people who’ve made her who she is—including her 12-year-old self. 

Hit Her with the Skates stars American Idol power couple Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo. (Photo courtesy Timothy Hiatt Photography)

“At the core of the show is the following question: If you could go back and talk to your 12-year-old self, what would the 12-year-old think about the choices you’ve made as an adult?” Rea said at a Feb. 19 press conference.

The story behind the story

“I grew up going to Lynwood Roller Rink,” Rea said. “I went to TF South High School and did theater there, and we did a lot of original adaptations of [radio personality and Hammond, Ind., native] Jean Shepherd’s short stories, which were very character-driven ensembles. So both my fond, wonderful childhood memories of growing up in Lansing and my experience as an actor doing ensemble work in Chicago are what informed how I wrote Hit Her with the Skates.”

The show has been in development since 2011, according to Rea. The first industry reading was in 2014, the second in 2016, and 2017 saw the first full developmental production in New Jersey.

“A handful of people from Lansing came out to see it in New Jersey,” Rea said. “And afterwards, people said, ‘Is that character based on anyone in particular?’ …That’s the thing about the show. There’s universal appeal to it, and it’s highly relatable because there’s this relatable messaging going on, but Chicagoans are going to relate to it on a different level. There’s this whole Chicago-paced humor, characters, stuff like that. It’s thrilling for me to be able to launch it in Chicago.”

Local flavor

Lansing natives will most likely be able to relate to Hit Her with the Skates on an even deeper level. The roller rink in the musical is based on Lynwood Roller Rink, according to the show’s website, and Henry Hertz—the namesake of TF South’s auditorium and Rea’s former drama director—is one of the show’s producers.

“He’s amazing,” Rea said, getting emotional. “I’ve learned so much from him. …I’ve worked professionally as an actor for years, and I can count the number of great directors I’ve had on one hand, and my hand isn’t full. He’s on that hand. He saw the show [in 2017] and was like, ‘I have to be a part of this,’ which is huge for me. He’s immensely proud, and I feel incredibly blessed to have been mentored by him and have him support my work moving forward.”

Working together

While DeGarmo and Amy Toporek, who plays DeGarmo’s 12-year-old counterpart Jackie, could be considered the leads of Hit Her with the Skates, the show is very much the work of an ensemble cast.

“My whole thing as an actor is I always want to be doing original work and working in an ensemble,” Rea said. “I wrote this show to be ensemble-driven. Diana is the lead, along with Amy, but they’re only as strong as the rest of this cast, and they are amazing. Having Chicago actors say my words and munch down on those scenes is amazing.”

The script, written by Rea, is only part of the show. Briskin’s dynamic music is also a huge driving force behind the pacing and energy of the production, and it was carefully crafted with no details left unconsidered.

“Rick wrote character-driven songs,” Rea said. “Each character has a different musical signature. For instance, Jacqueline’s father and mother grew up in the 50s. The father is inspired by doo-wop, so he has a doo-wop song and a croony 1950s-inspired song that he sings in 1994. The tough girl, Tonya Carson, is sort of inspired by Billy Squier. …We have a huge range of songs.”

During the Feb. 19 press conference, the cast performed a short scene and one of the show’s original songs, “Forward Motion.” Not only do their singing voices blend well together, but their energies and comedic timing work together seamlessly. According to Rea, having this particular cast bring this musical to life has been thrilling.

“We’ve been developing this since 2011, and we’ve had amazing, talented people work on it,” Rea said. “But to be in Chicago, with Chicago actors, with members of this team who’ve been a part of this thing for a long time is soaring.… It has that Chicago edge.”

From Lansing to Chicago

Rea said she thinks all of Lansing would benefit from coming to see Hit Her with the Skates.

“Their minds are going to be blown,” Rea said. “It’s so much fun, yet it’s also moving and nostalgic.”

As a former TF South drama student, Rea does have some advice for current students looking to break into the exciting world of live theater.

“Always follow your dreams,” Rea said. “Envision what it is you want, and hold tight to that vision.” 

Hit Her with the Skates will run Tuesdays–Sundays at the Royal George Theater starting March 10. Tickets can be purchased by visiting hitherwiththeskates.com or Ticketmaster.com, or by calling the Royal George Theatre’s box office at 312-988-9000. For group tickets, call 312-423-6612. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Royal George Theatre’s box office, ranging in price from $40–$79 with a select number of $99 premium seats available.

More about Hit Her with the Skates

Along with DeGarmo and Toporek, Hit Her with the Skates stars DeGarmo’s husband, also of American Idol fame, Ace Young (Blake Conrad/Russ Reiner); Chris Walker (Jack/Danny Myers); Nik Kmiecik (Brad Miller); Marvin Malone II (Scotty Watkins); Norrell Moore (Rebecca Miller); Karl Hamilton (Hank Miller); Kelly Felthous (Meghan Behnke); Madeline Fansler (Tonya Carson); Adia Bell (Female Swing); and Adam Fane (Male Swing). The show’s creative team includes Mary Beidler Gearen (Producer), Brenda Didier (Director), Christopher Chase Carter (Choreographer), and Daniel A. Weiss (Music Director).