Header Image
  • About the Play
  • Calendar
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Artists
  • Photo Gallery
  • Video
  • Reviews
  • Audience Guide

Shining Lives: A Musical
book & lyrics by Jessica Thebus
music by Andre Pluess & Amanda Dehnert
directed by Jessica Thebus
based on the play These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich

MAY 8, 2015 - JUNE 14, 2015



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. 

Open Captioning June 7


Running Time: approximately 90 minutes, no intermission.


This production is made possible in part by Individual Production Sponsors Carol and Steve Mullins, Bob and Lisa Silverman, and Jill and Leif Soderberg;


By Corporate and Foundation Production Sponsors:


NorhShore Kellogg


The Farny R. Wurlitzer Foundation


By Opening Night Sponsors:

American Family InsuranceThe Autobarn EvanstonFirst Bank & TrustJameson Sotheby'sKirkland & Ellis LLPNorth Shore Community BankPlante MoranQuarles & BradyRatio ArchitectsSage ProductsSweety Pies     Whole Foods


And by Media Sponsor:



Calendar // May 2015   [previous]   [next]
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8
Shining Lives

Shining Lives

Shining Lives


11 12
Shining Lives

Shining Lives


Shining Lives

Shining Lives (Opening)

Shining Lives


Shining Lives

18 19 20
Shining Lives


Shining Lives

Shining Lives

Shining Lives


Shining Lives

25 26 27
Shining Lives

Shining Lives

Shining Lives

Shining Lives


Shining Lives



For additional information, read the program online (click here).

To view our Behind the Scenes photo gallery, click here.

Also, consider attending the free engagement events around this production (download schedule).


Take a closer look at some of the real-life players who inspired Shining Lives.


The Players

Catherine DonohueCatherine Donohue


Catherine Donahue was 19 when she began working at the Radium Dial Company in 1922. She continued to work there until 1931. In her last year, though, she could no longer paint the watches and was a stockroom clerk 


After only two years, Catherine began having symptoms of radium poisoning. Chronic pain in her ankle developed and eventually spread all the way to her hip. This pain caused her to limp, which became part of the reason she was let go from her job at the Radium Dial Company in 1931. She also developed pain in her jaw, which later fell out in pieces in 1934.


While the doctors in Ottawa could not confirm that Catherine did indeed have radium poisoning, and although the Radium Dial Company excluded Catherine from radium medical examinations, doctors in Chicago eventually diagnosed her with malignancy of the hip, necrosis (cell death) of the jaw and radium poisoning. Catherine filed a claim against the Radium Dial Company in 1935 with the Illinois Industrial Commission and her hearing took place in Ottawa in February 1938.  Leonard Grossman, Catherine's lawyer, charged the company with negligence in informing their employees of the dangers of radium and even sited that the company let the women eat where they painted. The company's defense was that radium was not a poison. (This is contradictory, as they used to claim that radium was a poison when Illinois' occupational disease act did not cover injuries from poison. The change in this law changed the company's stance on whether or not radium is a poison.)


At Catherine's hearing she weighed only 71 pounds, and was so sick that part of the trial had to take place in her home because she could not get off of her couch. After many trials and many appeals (most of which occurred after Catherine's death in July 1938) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Catherine's favor. Catherine's estate received around $6000 and the $10,000 bond was given to the other dial painters who were suing for compensation. Catherine was 35 when she died, but the month before she passed away she wrote a letter to Reverend James Keane which said: 


Charlotte Purcell"The doctors tell me I will die, but I mustn't. I have too much to live for - a husband who loves me and two children I adore. But, the doctors say, radium poisoning is eating away my bones and shrinking my flesh to the point where medical science has given me up as 'one of the living dead.' They say nothing can save me - nothing but a miracle. And that's what I want - a miracle ... But if that is not God's will, perhaps your prayers will obtain for me the blessing of a happy death."


Charlotte Purcell


Charlotte was sixteen when she began working at the Radium Dial Company in 1922. She worked there for 13 months (until 1923) and was married at 22 in 1928. She had three children, but when cancer was discovered in her arm, it had to be amputated in April 1934.  Charlotte's emphatic and commanding attitude was apparent from how she convinced some of the women workers at the Radium Dial Company to let their supervisor, Rufus Reed, know that the women would be seeking compensation and medical restitution for their illnesses. Reed apparently did not think there was anything wrong with the women. Charlotte did end up receiving $300 in compensation. She is pictured to the right. 


Leonard Grossman


Leonard Grossman's son, also named Leonard Grossman, remembers his father always with a cigar and a fedora (but never in the house). In the photo to the right, Leonard Grossman has a cigar in his mouth true to his son's word. Leonard Grossman was a Southern gentleman from Atlanta who moved to Chicago and practiced law from his home. His son never saw him out of a suit unless he was in his pajamas. 


Leonard GrossmanBefore Leonard Grossman became the lawyer for the "Society of the Living Dead" or the Radium Dial Factory workers, he had been more than just a successful workmen's compensation lawyer. Alderman of the fifth ward, chair of the welcoming committee for Amelia Earhart, assistant corporation counsel for the City of Chicago, and a lawyer who took on quite a few workmen's comp cases, Leonard Grossman was recommended to take on the women's case by Clarence Darrow in July 1937. The women initially contacted Darrow, who said he could not take the case because he was too old, but recommended Grossman because he specialized in workmen's compensation cases. When Grossman took the case, it was a relief to the women who had been rejected by many Ottawa lawyers because the town's residents thought the women were giving Ottawa a bad name. On top of the bad press for Ottawa, Grossman would be working on the case for charity since the Radium Dial Company only left a $10,000 bond when it closed the factory. Grossman took Catherine Donohue's case, the test case, all the way to the Supreme Court and set the precedent for the other dial factory workers.



Mrs. Leonard Grossman, wife of the lawyer who represented the Radium Dial workers, documented her husband's case against the Radium Dial Company by collecting hundreds of newspaper clippings from Chicago and around the country. When their son Leonard Grossman first heard of the play These Shining Lives in 2009, he painstakingly scanned in his mother's scrapbooks in order to share them with the public. See a sampling of those newspaper clippings here.

Shining Lives is inspired by the women who fought the Radium Dial Company, and those women are still making news. Read more about them in this recent story from National Public Radio.

Radium Dial Factory

Mae Keane, One of the Last 'Radium Girls,' Dies at 107

National Public Radio

By: Rebecca Hersher

Aired: December 28, 2014


In the early 1920s, the hot new gadget was a wristwatch with a glow-in-the-dark dial.

"Made possible by the magic of radium!" bragged one advertisement.

And it did seem magical. Radium was the latest miracle substance - an element that glowed and fizzed, which salesmen promised could extend people's lives, pump up their sex drive and make women more beautiful. Doctors used it to treat everything from colds to cancer.

In the 1920s, a young working-class woman could land a job working with the miracle substance. Radium wristwatches were manufactured right here in America, and the U.S. Radium Corp. was hiring dial people to paint the tiny numbers onto watch faces for about 5 cents a watch.

They became known as the radium girls.

To get the numbers small enough, new hires were taught to do something called "lip pointing." After painting each number, they were to put the tip of the paintbrush between their lips to sharpen it.

Twelve numbers per watch, upwards of 200 watches per day - and with every digit, the girls swallowed a little bit of radium.

"Of course, no one thought it was dangerous in these first couple of years," explains Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook.

In 1924, a woman named Mae Keane was hired at a factory in Waterbury, Conn. Her first day, she remembers, she didn't like the taste of the radium paint. It was gritty.

"I wouldn't put the brush in my mouth," she recalled many years later.

After just a few days at the factory, the boss asked her if she'd like to quit, since she clearly didn't like the work. She gratefully agreed.

"I often wish I had met him after to thank him," Keane said, "because I would have been like the rest of them."

Other women weren't so lucky. By the mid-1920s, dial painters were falling ill by the dozens, afflicted with horrific diseases. The radium they had swallowed was eating their bones from the inside.

"There was one woman who the dentist went to pull a tooth and he pulled her entire jaw out when he did it," says Blum. "Their legs broke underneath them. Their spines collapsed."

Dozens of women died. At a factory in New Jersey, the women sued the U.S. Radium Corp. for poisoning and won. Many of them ended up using the money to pay for their own funerals.

In all, by 1927, more than 50 women had died as a direct result of radium paint poisoning.

But Keane was among the hundreds who survived. Over the years, she had some health problems - bad teeth, migraines, two bouts with cancer.

There's no way to know if her time in the factory contributed.

"I was left with different things, but I lived through them. You just don't know what to blame," she said.

Keane died this year. At 107 years old, she was one of the last of the radium girls.

Blum says the radium girls had a profound impact on workplace regulations. By the time World War II came around, the federal government had set basic safety limits for handling radiation.

And, she says, there are still lessons to be learned about how we protect people who work with new, untested substances.

"We really don't want our factory workers to be the guinea pigs for discovery. 'Oops' is never good occupational health policy."


Shining Lives is based on the play These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich. Read more about the play's history below.


Production History of These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich

Melanie Marnich's These Shining Lives initially began as a commission for Northlight Theatre. After reading a newspaper article that mentioned the radium case, Marnich was inspired. The play was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and the Weissberger Award in 2005. In the end, Northlight did not end up producing the piece; it premiered in April 2008 at Baltimore Center Stage. The play was also produced at the Raven Theatre in Chicago in 2009 and the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago in 2010. Below is an excerpt from an article titled "Out of the Shadows, a 'Shining' Moment" by Celia Wren from the Washington Post:


'"It's easy to look in the past - at the 1910s, '20s, '30s, the Depression era - and say, 'Oh my gosh, this is when big business did the little person wrong,' " Marnich says. But "we're still facing these same issues over and over: David versus Goliath."


For Marnich, who grew up in the 1960s in Duluth, Minn., in what she describes as a blue-collar household (her father worked in a cement plant), the dial painters' story speaks broadly of "how difficult it is for people of a certain class to really stand up and say, 'No, I am entitled to justice.'"


That socially conscious subtext was what attracted Center Stage Artistic Director Irene Lewis to These Shining Lives. "I started in political theater myself, many, many moons ago," says Lewis, who sees the piece as a musing on "individual versus corporate responsibility."


(Marnich's work is not the only drama about the dial painters controversy. Radium Girls, by D.W. Gregory, a former Washington Post theater critic, related the plight of New Jersey workers. The play debuted at the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey in 2000.)


With its political awareness and solid grounding in time and place, These Shining Lives is a departure for Marnich.


Jess Godwin

JESS GODWIN (Frances) likes to make things. She wants the things that she makes to mean something. She was previously seen on stage with Northlight as Susan in Snapshots. In addition to Shining Lives, she is proud to be working on the development of Exposure this summer. To find out more about her 12-part music video dedication series, check out godwinanthology.com. Love to her family! 

Alex Goodrich

ALEX GOODRICH (Tom/Ensemble) is happy to be back at Northlight where previous credits include A Civil War Christmas and She Stoops to Conquer. Other Chicago credits: Hero: The Musical (Jeff Award, Best Supporting Actor - 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); 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, Harold and the Purple Crayon (Chicago Children's Theater); The Comedy of Errors (Court); The Front Page (TimeLine); and several productions with Provision. He loves his wife, their son and their new baby due in August!


Erik Hellman

ERIK HELLMAN (Dr. Rowntree/Dr. Dalitsch/Ensemble) 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); All My Sons (TimeLine); and as a company member of Strawdog. Select regional credits: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory and Off-Broadway at Mirror Repertory. Film/TV: The Dark KnightThe Chicago Code, Boss, Betrayal, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD. 


Johanna McKenzie Miller

JOHANNA MCKENZIE MILLER (Catherine) 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 Change and Marian Paroo in The Music Man (Marriott); Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein (Drury Lane); Dyanne in Million 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

MATT MUELLER (Mr. Reed/Leonard Grossman/Ensemble) 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 SUDIA (Charlotte) is thrilled to make her Northlight debut. Other Chicago credits include Pericles and Road Show at Chicago Shakespeare and understudying Tribes at Steppenwolf. Regional credits include A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Music Man, Into the Woods, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice (Utah Shakespeare Festival); Camelot, The Winter's Tale (Texas Shakespeare); Richard III, Big River (Arkansas Shakespeare). Bri received her MFA in Acting from The University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign and holds a degree in Sign Language Interpreting.




 Tiffany Topol


TIFFANY TOPOL (Pearl) 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 (gladfanny.com) and gypsy-folk outfit Youth in a Roman Field (youthinaromanfield.com). Love to her dear Chicagoland family and friends. 


JESSICA THEBUS (Director/Book & Lyrics) is a director of theater and an educator based in Chicago. Past Northlight credits include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Inherit the Wind and Red Herring. At Steppenwolf, she has directed Sex with StrangersIntimate ApparelDead Man's Cell PhoneNo Place Like HomeWhen the Messenger is Hot (also at 59 E 59th in NYC) and Sonia Flew. Recent credits: 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 (Co-Composer) 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 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 and Undone (with Ben Sussman) and Paris By Night (with Amy Warren).  Shining Lives marks his third project with Amanda Dehnert.  He is thrilled to return to Northlight with frequent collaborator Jessica Thebus.


AMANDA DEHNERT (Co-Composer) 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.


MELANIE MARNICH (Playwright, These Shining Lives) Plays include Quake, Blur, Tallgrass Gothic, Calling All, Beautiful Again, These Shining Lives and The Storm Coming. She has been a resident playwright at New Dramatists since 2005. Her play These Shining Lives was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Weissberger Award. Her awards include two McKnight Advancement Grants and two Jerome Fellowships from The Playwrights' Center, the Mickey Kaplan New American Play Prize, the 2007 Carbonell Award for Best New Work of the Year, the Samuel Goldwyn Award, an Ohio Arts Council Grant, the Otis Guernsey New Voices Playwriting Award and the Melvoin Award from Northlight. She is a Core Member of The Playwrights' Center and a writer on the Showtime series The Affair.


CHUCK LARKIN (Music Director/Piano/Conductor) is thrilled to return to Northlight after 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 toured extensively with Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway and cabaret artist Lee Lessack. Other local credits include hundreds of cabaret and club performances and, as a composer and lyricist, Chuck's 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) Chicago credits include productions with: Northlight, Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Court, Paramount, Victory Gardens, Drury Lane, American Theater Company, Griffin and Northwestern University. International credits include productions with: Shakespeare's Globe, Unicorn Theater (London) The Market Theater (South Africa), The Neuss (Germany), Gdansk Shakespeare Theater (Poland), The Cultch (Vancouver), DUCTAC Theater (Dubai), Brice Mason Center (New Zealand) and The Edinburgh Festival (Scotland). Regional credits include productions with: Milwaukee Repertory, Asolo, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Rep Stage and Dallas Theatre Center. Mr. Davis serves as adjunct faculty at Columbia College having received degrees from the University of Maryland College Park and Northwestern University. www.scottadamdavis.com


LINDA ROETHKE (Costume Design) Northlight productions include Away directed by David Petracha, and How I Learned to Drive directed 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 Outside Mullingar, White Guy on the Bus, Detroit '67, The Odd Couple, Ten Chimneys, Season's Greetings, A Life, Grey Gardens, The Retreat From Moscow, Lady, Stella & Lou, The Outgoing Tide, Better 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 Gee's Bend, At Wit's End, The 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) is an image maker, documentarian and story teller.  Stephan's Projection Design was last seen at Northlight for Better Late which was also part of the Galway International Arts Festival.  Stephan has designed projections with Jessica Thebus for Steppenwolf's Sonja Flew and Piven's Late, A Cowboy Song. stephanmazurek.com


VANESSA STALLING (Choreographer) 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) Shining Lives: A Musical marks the end of Rita's eighth season at Northlight, where she has been fortunate to be the stage manager for 21 productions as well as two trips to Galway. Recent credits elsewhere in the Chicagoland area include the annual Christmas Schooner (Mercury); Little Shop of Horrors and many other productions at Theatre at the Center; and the world premieres of A Twist of Water (Route 66), El Nogalar (Goodman) and We Are Proud to Present... (Victory Gardens). In addition to stage management, Rita was the set designer at Harold Washington College from 2001-2012, and is a member of the Route 66 Theatre Company in Chicago. She is the proud wife of actor Tom Hickey and mom to two-year-old Charlie. Thank you for supporting live theatre.

Production photos by Michael Brosilow below, or view rehearsal and set construction photos.

Photo Gallery

Click on any image to start the slideshow  Click on images to start slideshow

(L-r) Matt Mueller, Bri Sudia, Tiffany Topol, Jess Godwin and Erik Hellman(L-r) Bri Sudia, Jess Godwin, Tiffany Topol, Matt Mueller, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Erik Hellman and Alex Goodrich(L-r) Bri Sudia, Jess Godwin, Matt Mueller and Tiffany Topol(L-r) Jess Godwin, Bri Sudia, Tiffany Topol and Johanna McKenzie Miller(L-r) Bri Sudia and Johanna McKenzie MillerJohanna McKenzie Miller and Alex GoodrichJohanna McKenzie MillerJohanna McKenzie Miller and Alex Goodrich(L-r) Jess Godwin, Tiffany Topol, Bri Sudia and Johanna McKenzie MillerJohanna McKenzie Miller and Erik Hellman
(L-r) Bri Sudia, Jess Godwin, Tiffany Topol, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Matt Mueller, Alex Goodrich and Erik Hellman(L-r) Bri Sudia, Jess Godwin, Tiffany Topol and Johanna McKenzie MillerMatt Mueller and Johanna McKenzie Miller(L-r) Johanna McKenzie Miller, Jess Godwin, Matt Mueller, Tiffany Topol and Bri Sudia(L-r) Jess Godwin, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Bri Sudia and Tiffany Topol(L-r) Bri Sudia, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Jess Godwin, Tiffany Topol, Alex Goodrich, Erik Hellman and Matt Mueller(L-r) Johanna McKenzie Miller, Jess Godwin, Tiffany Topol and Bri Sudia(L-r) Bri Sudia, Alex Goodrich, Matt Mueller and Johanna McKenzie MillerJohanna McKenzie Miller and Alex GoodrichJohanna McKenzie Miller
(L-r) Tiffany Topol, Jess Godwin, Johanna McKenzie Miller and Bri Sudia(L-r) Tiffany Topol, Jess Godwin, Johanna McKenzie Miller and Bri SudiaJohanna McKenzie Miller

Shining Lives: A Musical

Shining Lives: A Musical
Shining Lives: A Musical scene 2


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. 


Read the entire review online >


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. 


Read the entire review online  >


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 


Read the entire review online >


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.


Read the entire review online >


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.


Read the entire review online >

Audience GuideShining Lives Audience Guide

This guide is suitable for audience members of all ages. Included in the Shining Lives guide:


- Background information on the musical's origin and context
- A detailed synopsis
- Character descriptions
- A look at the history of women in the workplace and workers' rights
- Facts about radium's discovery and effects
- Discussion questions
- A list of the women of the Radium Dial Company


View it online OR download a PDF.