A Crystal Lake woman will take on the roles of Greta Garbo and Hedda Hopper in two one-woman musicals opening in Chicago.
Jillan Gabrielle’s “Hedda! A Musical Conversation” and “The Garbo the Musical” will be performed in a rotating repertory beginning Feb. 15 at Athenaeum Theatre Studio II in Chicago. The musicals will run through March 17 at the theater.
“This is the culmination of a lifetime of work in the entertainment business,” Gabrielle said. “Now that I’m writing my own shows, it seems to be the magic piece that was missing.”
Gabrielle has performed the shows throughout the Midwest. She eventually hopes to see them performed on or off Broadway.
The shows are the latest in Gabrielle’s extensive theatrical career. She and her husband, Phil Barrile, a musician, composer and producer for the “all-new” band Eden Rock, recently moved from Oak Park to Crystal Lake, where they now both teach. Barrile coaches guitar students, while Gabrielle offers voice, acting and cabaret lessons.
In “Hedda! A Musical Conversation,” Gabrielle tells the life story of Hedda Hopper, a legendary gossip columnist and political pundit of Hollywood’s Golden Age likely best known for wearing outrageous hats. The musical takes place in Hopper’s living room, where a series of phone conversations, 13 songs and chats with the audience take pace.
A former actress with roles in film and television shows, such as “I Love Lucy” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Hopper was powerful from the late 1930s until her death in 1966, Gabrielle said.
“She had a lot of connections, and she had a good personality, even though she was devious and back-stabby, but she was still fun,” she said. “I portray her with all the back-stabby stuff, but in a very fun way because she did have that side to her personality.”
It’s a time when women didn’t have that much power, she said.
“It’s really a testament to early strong women making it despite the odds,” she said.
As for “The Garbo,” Gabrielle takes on Greta Garbo, the first superstar of both silent and talking films. Set in the mid-1970s, the musical finds Garbo in the middle of a nightmare with two of her obsessed long-term lovers – a Spanish-American poet, playwright, screenwriter and adamant lesbian of her day, Mercedes de Acosta and the witty, gay British theatrical designer and photographer to the stars, Cecil Beaton.
In “Victor/Victoria” style, Gabrielle performs all three roles.
“You have a triangle played out by me telling the true story not only of the love affair, but how the love affair exposed what was really going on with garbo at the time,” Gabrielle said.
“She was always very skittish and secretive and mysterious and her sexuality was part of that,” she said. “She was a confused bisexual, and, back then, you really couldn’t be that and be at peace with yourself, especially if you’re of staunch conservative stock.”
The musical includes 13 songs, along with humorous monologues making it “insightful, fun and compelling,” she said.
The musicals will rotate Thursdays through Sundays at the theater with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets to the musicals cost $32 for adults, $27 for students and seniors and $17 for children age 10 and younger. For tickets and information on the productions, visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org or call 773-935-6875.