Fox Valley Rep and its Youth Academy unite for “Cheaper by the Dozen”


Fox Valley Repertory’s spring production will be a memorable one, as this American memoir comedy will bring together its adult acting company with a full kids cast.  Nearly a dozen of the youth cast will be making their professional debut with this show — and better yet, they are from Fox Valley Rep’s very own award-winning FVR Performing Arts Academy!

Cheaper by the Dozen, playing March 27 through May 18, is one of the best-loved American memoirs recounted from the book by siblings Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. This 1920s coming-of-age comedy, adapted by Christopher Sergel, is directed by Vance Smith and involves nearly two dozen actors!

“With 13 cast members and 10 understudies, Cheaper by the Dozen marks the largest acting company in Fox Valley Repertory’s history of professional productions,” says Artistic Director John Gawlik.  “Eleven of these actors reign from Fox Valley Rep’s own award-winning Performing Arts Academy and blew us away with their outstanding auditions. This will be a great professional experience for them.”

Cheaper by the Dozen actor and Academy student Nathan Castagna (12) of Geneva has been involved with Fox Valley Rep’s youth programs for three years and is thrilled with making his professional debut, says parents Brenna and Dan Castagna.

“Fox Valley Repertory has become a second home to Nathan. FVR has provided an encouraging and educational place for him to develop his performance skills while cultivating a talented and confident individual,” says Brenna.

“Fox Valley Rep has allowed me to make good friends and I keep coming back to the Academy to take classes with the people I know,” says Nathan.  “I have had great theater training and experiences here.  FVR has inspired me to be the person I am today.”

Real-life siblings Erika (12) and Keira (10) Denker of St. Charles are excited to play stage-siblings in this family comedy. And because of their training with the Academy, they felt incredibly prepared for their professional audition.

“I have learned so much from the academy instructors and professional directors, so I was prepared,” remarked Erika.

“I have done so many auditions with the Academy that I knew exactly what to do,” adds younger sister, Keira. “The Academy is so much fun. I always get to make new friends and expand my knowledge of acting!”

“Everyone single person involved with FVR is just so kind,” says mom Julie Denker.  “And I know that they genuinely care that my kids are learning and have a fun experience in whatever class or show they are doing.”

Kaia Ebel (12) of Geneva also believes that her Academy training taught her to make bold choices when auditioning, which helped her land a role in this production, while Cooper Chavez (13) of West Chicago adds that all of FVR’s training in singing, dancing and acting surely played a part in getting him ready for this role.

About Cheaper by the Dozen

"Cheaper by the Dozen" cast members pose for a picture, family-style.

As the father of twelve, Frank Gilbreth used to joke: “You know, they come cheaper by the dozen!” One of the best-loved American memoirs captures the trials, tribulations and sheer amusement recounted by the children of efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth during the 1920’s. You’ll laugh the night away with this humor-filled look into the life of a family who often served as the subjects of their fathers’ motion studies. The results are terribly embarrassing, funny and — extremely effective! It is a coming-of-age story about rebellion and reconciliation, love and laughter, selfishness and sacrifice that has delighted audiences all over the world.

The cast of Cheaper by the Dozen features (in alphabetical order): Matthew Bausone (Des Plaines), Rachel Becker (15, Naperville), Nathan Castagna (12, Geneva), Micheal Daily (Chicago), Erika & Keira Denker (12, 10, St. Charles), Grace Etzkorn (17, Lisle), Josh Greiveldinger (Chicago), Keaton Jens (13, St. Charles), Ewan Parker Eaton (12, Deer Park), Laura Sturm (Chicago), and Stephanie Sullivan (Evanston). Understudies include: Natalie Antonik (15, Palatine), Caden Bohmer (10, Batavia), Cooper Chavez (13, West Chicago), Kaia Ebel (11, Geneva), Glynis Gilio (18, Batavia), Eric Leonard (Chicago), Mary Nigosian (Batavia), Matthew Petersen (15, Lombard), Kelsey Sante (Naperville native), Hayley Troyan (9, Hanover Park), and Timothy Vogel (Naperville).

For more information on Cheaper by the Dozen, visit

For more information on the FVR Performing Arts Academy, visit

Continue Reading

How Disney’s Puppeteer Training & “Up” Cartoon inspired this “Nunsense” Actor


While actor Monica Szaflik has graced several Chicago theater stages with productions ranging from Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty to The Passion of Dracula and Avenue Q, this musical of Nunsense marks the first Fox Valley Rep production for Monica.

Szaflik shares her thoughts on this popular Fox Valley area hit, and how the “UP” movie and her time at Walt Disney World gave her inspiration for playing the innocent, child-like nun named Sister Mary Amnesia:


What is your character, Sister Amnesia, like? 

She is sweet and joyful.  Amnesia just wants to be helpful and strives for approval from her fellow sisters.  Although she may be forgetful and distracted at times and have a slight hearing problem, she is no dummy.  I based the character 5% on my 1st grade teacher and nun Sister Carolita, 10% on my mother, and 85% on the dog from “UP”….”I just met you, and I love you….SQUIRREL!”


Do you have to be Catholic to enjoy this musical?

Not at all!  The humor is universal.  It’s a light-hearted show that can be enjoyed by all – however, being raised as a catholic DOES allow me to giggle at a few extra parts of the show.  :)

But really, this is the perfect show for any occasion – date night, class reunion (of a catholic school!), Girls night out, etc.  This show is hilarious and a good time will be had by all.


The show is centered around a benefit variety show, and each nun gets a chance to be in the spotlight displaying a special talent of theirs.  What is Sister Amnesia’s talent, and is this something you had to learn specifically for this show?

Sister Amnesia’s talent is Puppeteering!  I was fortunate enough to be trained by the Puppet Master at Walt Disney World over 10 years ago so luckily I already knew how to operate a puppet.  However, being 2 different characters in the same scene, with 2 different voices, while remembering the blocking, comedic beats, lyrics and all while singing opera is definitely a new challenge.  I never dreamed 10 years ago that puppeteering would become such an important part of my life or that it would help me to pay the bills, but the Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.


What was it like working with Fox Valley Rep for the first time? 

I absolutely LOVE this company and I hope to work with them again very soon.  Everyone is very professional, talented and kind.

Fox Valley Rep’s hit habit-forming musical, “Nunsense!” is playing on Pheasant Run’s Mainstage January 16 through March 9, 2014.  Visit for more information.


Pictured above: Monica Szaflik (right) with Patti Roeder and Missy Aguilar. Photo by Trademan Photography.

Posted in: Nunsense

Continue Reading

Fox Valley Rep turns up the Spotlight on “Nunsense” veteran, Patti Roeder


While Nunsense marks the first Fox Valley Rep show for Patti Roeder, she is thrilled to return to the Nunsense saga, having played the ever so sweet and innocent Sister Mary Leo nearly 15 years ago at another theater.  More recently, she portrayed Sister Mary Regina in the Nunsense saga, Meshuganuns – and now, she reprises her role as the former-circus-performer-turned-strict-nun, Sister Mary Regina.


Patti Roeder (center) with Monica Szaflik (left), Jane Brewer, Missly Aguilar and Kristine Burdi.

How would you describe your character, Sister Mary Regina?

Sister Mary Regina is an “old school” sister, very mindful of the proper way of behaving as a nun in the church.  But she has a “past” that allows her to let her inner craziness get out, briefly, every now and then.  As Mother Superior she is very conscious of her position as a role model for the younger members of the order.  She struggles with being proper and having a good time.

There are numerous songs and dance numbers in this musical. What was it like learning them with Director/Choreographer Brigitte Ditmars?

Obviously, real nuns don’t sing and dance!  But actresses love it!  I did Nunsense about 15 years ago as Sister Mary Leo, and what I remember about that show is doubly present now – we have such a good time with the songs and dances in Nunsense.  The lyrics are very clever and engaging, and Brigitte’s choreography is perfectly suited to a group of star-struck nuns putting on a show.  It was a real challenge to get the show together in a very short rehearsal period – but I think we pulled it off!

What will Fox Valley Rep patrons enjoy the most about this fun show?

Fox Valley Rep audiences will enjoy a goofy, fun-filled musical with lots of humor and joy, with a solid heart underneath.  There are lots of fun, escapist elements in the show, but each of the sisters has moments of honest, heartfelt emotions that keep the show from being just a silly take off on nuns singing and dancing!


Fox Valley Rep’s hit habit-forming musical, “Nunsense!” is playing on Pheasant Run’s Mainstage January 16 through March 9, 2014.  Visit for more information.

Posted in: Nunsense

Continue Reading

Actor Jane Brewer unwraps the humor found in “Nunsense!”


After the starring role of Gina Oswald in the 2006 holiday hit Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Wants You! and her ensemble performance in Mid-Life: The Crisis Musical in 2009, West Chicago resident Jane Brewer is back as the tough streetwise nun with a heart of gold named Sister Robert Anne in the musical comedy, Nunsense! After a successful opening night performance, Jane shared her thoughts with us on the show and being back at Fox Valley Rep.

Q. How would you describe your character, Sister Robert Anne, and how does she fit in with the other four nuns?

Jane Brewer as Sister Robert Anne (right) with Patti Roeder and Monica Szaflik.

Robert Anne brings a more realistic persona from a street urchin background.  She provides the comic relief the other nuns embrace and the audience appreciates.  Even though she doesn’t fit in with the other nuns, no one can resist her comic humor found in the worst case scenarios. Her creative thinking and entertainment driven appeal makes her loved on a universal level for every audience.

A. There is a sense of nostalgia in this show.  Can you talk a little about this?

Robert Anne enjoys interjecting nostalgic moments and characters to soften the serious side of the convent and all its troubles. Her imitation of famous people from the past, allows everyone to relate.  And that is important to Robert Anne.  No one gets left out, because everyone is “worth something”.  Even her!

Q.  If you had to describe this show in one word, what would it be?

A. “Nunsensical” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Q. Having worked with Fox Valley Rep before, what do you enjoy most about this Theater Company?

Singing "The Drive In" in the sweet style of the Andrews Sisters are Kristine Burdi, Monica Szaflik, and Jane Brewer (right).

A. Their commitment to telling the story through the eyes of the writer, director, and Artistic Director.   The world of Theater has become so visually dynamic in all of its new age technology of lights, sets, and costumes…. that we can easily lose sight of what is still the most important aspect:  “telling the story”.  John Gawlik and his team of professionals always strive to succeed in telling the story.  Without that, the glamour on stage means nothing.



Q. What will Fox Valley Rep patrons enjoy the most about this musical?

A. Unwrapping humor found in the serious nature of the catholic religious order……and therefore, any serious side of life that deserves a good laugh.

Q. Why put on a show like “Nunsense” in this area?

A. The story has universal appeal.  Not all of us are catholic, but all of us have some belief that has order, direction and commitment.  Sometimes we strive so hard in succeeding, that we forget to embrace the fact that we are all a “work in progress”, ”we are not perfect” and life goes on.  Let’s enjoy not only our successes, but also our faults and catastrophes ….with a laugh, a smile, a song, and dance.  Thank God for Entertainment!


Fox Valley Rep’s hit habit-forming musical, “Nunsense!” is playing on Pheasant Run’s Mainstage January 16 through March 9, 2014.  Visit for more information.

Posted in: Nunsense

Continue Reading

The Little Mermaid Cast is ready to Sweep the Stage


From Sea Creatures to Tapping Gulls, everyone is working hard to deliver a spectacular December performance.  Rehearsals are going wonderfully…lots of singing, dancing, director tips and laughter to be heard.  This was the first week off book!  As a parent, it is so neat to see and hear it all coming together.  Standing in the pick-up line, listening outside the studio doors, we hear voices booming and actors coming to life.  Director, Amy Malcolm, has some great advice for the kids.  She can be heard rewarding them for bigger than life drama.  She has often told the young actors that if they think they are over doing it or being cheesy, it is probably perfect.  Every rehearsal gets them closer to opening night!  They are harmonizing, memorizing and best of all, having FUN!  

Continue Reading