The Crusader Newspaper Group

Two Broadway in Chicago plays set to feature Black female actresses

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen

As a child I grew up with the Sound of Music, and younger folks have recently grown up with SpongeBob. Now the two iconic theater offerings are coming to Chicago under the Broadway in Chicago umbrella as musicals, with both featuring female Black actresses in prominent roles.

Lilli Cooper
Lilli Cooper

Lilli Cooper will play Sandy Cheeks in “The SpongeBob Musical,” which runs from June 7 until July 10 at the Oriental Theatre, located at 24 W. Randolph St. Cooper has performed on Broadway in “Spring Awakening” (Original Broadway Cast), “Wicked” (Elphaba: Broadway, Australia & 2nd National Tour). New York and regional: “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” (American Repertory Theater), “Noir” (New York Stage and Film & NAMT), “The Threepenny Opera” (Atlantic Theater), “LMNOP” (Goodspeed), and “Independents” (NY Times’ Critic’s Pick). Lilli is the creator of’s web-series “It’s Not Okay, Cupid.” She is a proud LaGuardia Arts High School Graduate and Vassar alum.

About “The SpongeBob Musical”

A legendary roster of Grammy Award winners. A visionary director and Tony Award®-winning design team. One of the world’s most beloved and unforgettable characters. Turn them all loose on Broadway and what do you get? “The SpongeBob Musical!”

Acclaimed Steppenwolf director Tina Landau and the groundbreaking designers behind “Fun Home,” “Hedwig,” and “Spring Awakening” have brilliantly reimagined Bikini Bottom for the Broadway stage, bringing the spirit of SpongeBob to life with humanity, heart, and pure theatricality. With an original score from some of the biggest names in pop and rock, “The SpongeBob Musical” explodes with energy.

Stakes are higher than ever before as SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation of their undersea world. Chaos erupts. Lives hang in the balance. And just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes center stage.

Get ready to dive to all-new depths of theatrical innovation at “The SpongeBob Musical,” where the power of optimism really can save the world!

“The SpongeBob Musical” is co-conceived and directed by Tina Landau, book by Kyle Jarrow, orchestrations, arrangements & music supervision by Tom Kitt, with choreography by Christopher Gattelli. It will be a one-of-a-kind musical event with original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Dirty Projectors, Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants, T.I., and a song by David Bowie.

Since premiering on Nickelodeon in July 1999, “SpongeBob Square- Pants” has emerged as a pop culture phenomenon. The series has been the most-watched animated program with kids for more than 13 consecutive years, and over the past several years, it has averaged more than 1 million total viewers every quarter across all Nickelodeon networks. As the most widely distributed property in Viacom history, SpongeBob is seen in more than 185 countries and translated in more than 50 languages. The Paramount Pictures feature film “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” premiered Feb. 6, 2015, landing at No. 1 opening weekend and going on to be a major hit globally. The character-driven cartoon chronicles the nautical and sometimes nonsensical adventures of SpongeBob, an incurable optimist and earnest sea sponge, and his undersea friends.

For more information on  “The SpongeBob Musical,” visit

“The Sound of Music”

“The Sound of Music” enjoyed extraordinary success as the first live television production of a musical in more than 50 years when “The Sound of Music Live!” aired on NBC in December, 2013; 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the film version, which continues to be the most successful movie musical in history. The spirited, romantic and beloved musical story of Maria and the Von Trapp Family will once again thrill audiences with such songs as “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Edelweiss” and the title song.

Betts_Melody[1]Melody Betts will play The Mother Abbess, and she was last seen as the Rain Lady in Second Stage’s production of “Invisible Thread.” Regional Credits include “Hairspray,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Color Purple,” “Ragtime,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “The Boys from Syracuse,” “Seussical the Musical,” “Once on this Island,” “Nunsense,” “Cinderella” (TYA), “All Shook Up,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Comedy of Errors,” “Pinocchio,” “Motherhood the Musical,” “The Nativity,” and “Smokey Joe’s Café.” TV credits include “Chicago Code” (FOX) and “Chicago PD” (NBC).

“The Sound of Music” will play the Cadillac Palace Theatre, located at 151 W. Randolph St., for a limited two-week engagement, June 7 through June 19.

According to director Jack O’Brien: “The Sound of Music has been in our ears for decades, as it deserves to be. But it might be time to look once more, and more closely, at this remarkable work, which I feel, begins to reveal itself as deeper, richer, and more powerful than ever. It’s no longer ‘your mother’s’ familiar Sound of Music. We are tearing off the varnish of the past from one of the great glories of our theatergoing experience and making it fresh! This is an opportunity we’ve all longed to create!”

Producer Beth Williams (Grove Entertainment) said: “It’s a great privilege to bring this beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical to theaters across North America. We hope that people of all ages will continue to fall in love with it for the first time, or all over again, and that it will truly become one of their ‘favorite things.’ From our distinguished team led by the creative master Jack O’Brien, audiences can expect a truly magnificent production of The Sound of Music.”

For more information about The Sound of Music, visit www.TheSoundOfMusicOn-

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