Mr. Popper’s Penguins

EXTENDED through December 13th!
Saturdays & Sundays at 11am & 1pm

“Charming and funny… Under the crisp direction of Paul S. Holmquist, Kauzlaric’s witty script and Howe’s bouncy score is well delivered by Jonathan Schwart and Heather Currie as the Poppers and Josh Bernaski and Amanda Roeder in a variety of supporting roles.”  –Chicago Reader

“[A] warm new production… a beautifully vintage world… the cast of four, under the tight direction of Paul S. Holmquist, does a fantastic job of zipping the action along.”  –Chicago Parent

Money is tight and times are tough in the town of Stillwater. With no houses to paint till next spring, Mr. Popper is stuck at home daydreaming of adventures in far-off lands, while Mrs. Popper must scrimp and save just to put beans on the table. But with the unexpected arrival of a spirited penguin named Captain Cook, a new horizon opens before them. As a quiet partnership expands into a boisterous flock, the Poppers learn that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with steady determination, lots of love, and a dash of unconventionality. Join this offbeat family on an unforgettable adventure in a world premiere musical based on the 1938 classic by Richard and Florence Atwater.

Recommended for kids 5 and up. Children under 2 are not permitted.

Based on the novel by Richard and Florence Atwater 
Script by Robert Kauzlaric 
Music & Lyrics by George Howe 
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist

Special Performances
Audio Description and Touch Tour
Saturday, November 7
   Touch tour: 10:00am
   Performance: 11:00am

Open Captioning
Saturday, November 14 at 1:00pm

Autism-Friendly Performance
Saturday, November 21 at 3:00pm
   Social Narrative
   Parent Guide

Visit our Accessibility page for more information.

Special thanks to Theatre Development Fund‘s Autism Theatre Initiative for service as an advisor.

Join us any Saturday or Sunday at noon during the run of Mr. Popper’s Penguins (following the 11am show, or before the 1pm show) for our Stories Come Alive! Hour.An interactive storytelling session with on-your-feet theatre games exploring the book behind the play — all designed to make positive connections between your children and literature that will last a lifetime.Only $5 per child for the workshop! Reservations are recommended (though not required).
Contact the box office at 773-761-4477 for more information.
  • Josh Bernaski (Admiral Drake, Reporter & Others)

    Josh is very excited to be making both his Lifeline and Chicago debut with Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Originally from the Philadelphia area and a proud graduate of Temple University (BA), Josh has since performed across the country at Playhouse on the Square, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, and others. Josh recently toured throughout South America and the Middle East performing an original musical for students learning English with ArtSpot Educational Theatre, based in Argentina. Many thanks to the incredible Lifeline team, as well as my ever-supportive family and friends.

  • Heather Currie (Mrs. Popper)

    Heather is a proud Lifeline ensemble member, where she was most recently seen as Ma and Mrs. Garrow in One Came Home and Mrs. Fairfax in Jane Eyre. This spring she will direct Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters for the Lifeline KidSeries. Other Lifeline Theatre credits include: Click Clack Boo! A Tricky TreatClick, Clack, Moo: Cows That TypeDooby Dooby MooDuck for President (2008 and 2012); and How To Survive a Fairy Tale. Heather is known for her role as The Wicked Witch in WOZ: A Rock Cabaret at Stage 773 and Victory Gardens Theatre. Heather holds an MFA in Acting from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and currently teaches in the department of Cinema Art + Science at Columbia College Chicago as well as the Motion Picture and Television department at College of DuPage.

  • Amanda Roeder (Artie Greenbaum, Mrs. Callahan & Others)

    Amanda is thrilled to return to Lifeline Theatre! Her last appearance at Lifeline was as the prosecuting pig Julia in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. She also appeared in Lifeline’s production of The Emperor’s New Threads. Amanda has worked with Factory Theatre, Interrobang Theatre Project, Rivendell Theatre, the Plagiarists, City Lit, Nothing Special Productions, Hubris Productions, Infamous Commonwealth Theatre and Circle Theatre. Amanda received her BA in acting from Illinois State University and has completed Studio training at Black Box Acting Studio.

  • Jonathan Schwart (Mr. Popper)

    Jonathan is making his Lifeline debut. Recent credits include the Paragon Play Festival (Otherworld Theatre) and John Adams in a staged concert reading of 1776 (MCL Chicago). He performs regularly for children as a music improviser with Storytown, and has performed with the Greatest Story Never Told and MINT. Jonathan is a graduate of the ACADEMY at Black Box Acting, the Second City Music Program, and the iO Theater. He holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (BBA, BA) and the University of Chicago (MPP). Jonathan dedicates his performance to his nieces and nephews, and especially to his mom.

  • Nate Buursma (Understudy)

    Nate is a newcomer to Lifeline Theatre and is overjoyed to be working with such an amazing group of artists. Other recent credits include Tomato QueenReturn of Neverland (Quest Theatre Ensemble), The Titus Andronicus Project (The Home for Wayward Artists), Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged with Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in upstate NY, and Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz with Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre in VA.

  • Michelle Jasso (Understudy)

    Michelle is thrilled to be making her Lifeline debut! A California native, Michelle recently relocated from San Francisco, where she kept very active within the theatre and opera communities. Favorite roles include Angelica (Suor Angelica), Sally Bowles (Cabaret), The Witch (Into the Woods), The Beggar Woman (Sweeney Todd, Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award), and Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. Most recently, Michelle played the role of Gigi in Miss Saigon with JPAC. Nationally she has appeared with Portland Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, and The Industry in Los Angeles.

  • Anthony Kayer (Understudy)

    Anthony is absolutely giddy to be returning to Lifeline! Other Lifeline credits include Jane EyreLyle Finds His MotherThe Emperor’s New Threads, and Arnie the Doughnut. Chicago credits include: R&J: a techno ballet (inappropriate theatre), SITA RAM (Chicago Children’s Choir/Lookingglass), Iphigenia 2.0 (Next Theatre), The March(Steppenwolf), and Elizabeth Rex (Chicago Shakes). Anthony is an alumnus of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

  • Sierra Nibbe (Understudy)

    Sierra is very happy to be making her Lifeline debut! Recent Chicago credits include: Sweeney Todd (Porchlight), Seussical (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), A Cole Porter Songbook (Theo Ubique, Theatre on the Lake); Kennedy: The Musical (Proscenium Productions – Broadway Workshop), and two seasons with Northbrook Theatre for Young Audiences. Regional credits include: Les Misérables (Sierra Repertory Theatre); Parade (Music Theatre of Madison); Les MisérablesSouth Pacific, and Sweeney Todd (Four Seasons Theatre). When she’s not on the stage, Sierra works behind the scenes as the costume designer for Spartan Theatre Company. She received her BFA in musical theatre from the Chicago College of Performing Arts.

  • Robert Kauzlaric (Adaptor)

    Robert is a proud member of Lifeline’s artistic ensemble. He has written over a dozen theatrical adaptations which have been produced all across the U.S., as well as in England, Ireland, and Canada. For Lifeline, he wrote the MainStage adaptations of The Island of Dr. Moreau (Non-Equity Jeff Awards: Best Production-Play and New Adaptation), The Picture of Dorian GrayNeverwhere (Non-Equity Jeff Award: New Adaptation), The MoonstoneThe Woman in White, and The Three Musketeers; and the KidSeries adaptations of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!Flight of the DodoThe 13 ClocksNaked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, and Lions in Illyria.

  • George Howe (Composer, Lyricist, Music Director)

    George is an award-winning composer/lyricist and a familiar face at Lifeline Theatre. He has written the songs for many Kidseries shows, including the five musicals in the Click, Clack, Moo series; Lyle, Lyle, CrocodileSomebody Loves You, Mr. HatchThe Emperor’s New Threads; and 2011’s hit Arnie the Doughnut, which went on to be performed at the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF). His musical Queen Lucia premiered at Lifeline and received a Non-Equity Jeff Award for Best New Musical 2006. George can be heard belting out showtunes and pop songs at Davenport’s Piano Bar and Cabaret.

  • Paul S. Holmquist (Director)

    Paul joined the ensemble in 2006. He has previously staged the Lifeline KidSeries shows Rikki Tikki TaviFlight of the DodoNaked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, and The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost and the MainStage productions of The Island of Dr. MoreauBusman’s HoneymoonNeverwhereThe MoonstoneThe Count of Monte Cristo, and Soon I Will Be Invincible. Paul holds a BFA in Acting from the Theatre School at DePaul University and a Graduate Laban Certificate in Movement Analysis from Columbia College Chicago. This one is for Gus Carlson Holmquist.

  • Kate Reed (Stage Manager)

    Kate is thrilled to be working with Lifeline Theatre again after serving as assistant stage manager for Soon I Will Be InvincibleOne Came HomeJane Eyre, and Monstrous Regiment. Her previous stage management credits include The Duchess of MalfiBye Bye Birdie, and Amadeus(Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center) and The Xylophone West (Fine Print Theatre Co). She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Performance Studies.

  • Elyse Balogh (Properties Designer)

    Mr. Popper’s Penguins is Elyse’s first production with Lifeline. Elyse is a Chicago-based designer of scenery, props and scenic art. Her most recent work is prop design for Emerald City Theatre’s The Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans. Other design credits include scenic design for Fury Theatre’s Nobody’s Wench, and Borderlands with Underscore. As a charge artist Elyse has worked with Theater Wit on their production of Bad Jews at the Royal Geroge and Windy City Playhouse’s Stick Fly. Elyse graduated from DePaul University with a BFA in Scenic Design

  • Sarah Espinoza (Sound Designer)

    Sarah is an alumnus of Loyola University Chicago. She is currently co-sound designing The Last Defender (The House) and Deathscribe 2015(WildClaw), and sound designing Midnight Cowboy (Lifeline). She has recently co-sound designed The Revel (The House), sound designed Motel 666 (Wildclaw), Midsummer Night’s Dream (Two Pence), fml: How Carson McCullers saved my life (Loyola University Chicago), The Arsonists (Strawdog), and Deathscribe 2014 (Wildclaw). She is also a company member of WildClaw.

  • Noah Ginex (Puppet Designer)

    This is Noah’s first production with Lifeline Theatre. In addition to producing his own shows, Noah’s other Chicago theatre credits include puppet design work for WNEP Theater, Defiant, Piccolo in Evanston, and numerous others. Noah’s non-Chicago work has taken him around the country designing puppets for stage and screen, working for such luminaries as Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies, the USNA Glee Club in Annapolis, the Florida State University Masters Film program, and many more.

  • Izumi Inaba (Costume Designer)

    Izumi is delighted to work on one of Rob Kauzlaric’s plays once again after designing Lions in Illyria last season. Other Lifeline credits include The City & The City and most recently, Miss Buncle’s Book. Her work has also appeared in productions with theatre companies such as Griffin, Steep, Strawdog, The Hypocrites, American Blues, Chicago Dramatists, 16th Street, The House, Redtwist, Raven, Northlight, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakes, and many more. She is a resident designer at Albany Park Theatre Project, and a company member at Red Tape Theatre. She earned her MFA in Stage Design at Northwestern University.

  • Jordan Kardasz (Lighting Designer)

    Jordan is so thrilled to be back at Lifeline, having last designed Lions in Illyria and assistant designed Jane Eyre. She has worked with lots of companies around Chicago over the years but is most proud to be an ensemble member with Strawdog and and artistic associate with Sideshow. Despite the many shows Jordan has worked on, this is her first one involving penguins. She hopes you love this show as much as she does!

  • Joe Schermoly (Scenic Designer)

    Joe has been the Technical Director at Lifeline for four seasons, during which time he has designed sets for The Mystery of the Pirate GhostA Tale of Two CitiesThe City & The CityThe Count of Monte CristoLions In Illyria, and The One and Only Ivan. Joe is also an ensemble member with the Griffin Theatre, where he has designed and built many sets including TitanicSpelling BeeFlare PathPunk RockPort, and Constant Wife. His other design work includes productions with Theatre Wit (Seven Homeless MammothsCompleteness), Sideshow (Stupid F***ing BirdIdomeneusThe Ugly One) and Irish Theatre of Chicago (The SeafarerLay Me Down Softly). Joe studied set design at Northwestern University and has received two After Dark Awards and two Jeff Nominations.

From the Chicago Reader

October 28, 2015
By Albert Williams


Richard and Florence Atwater’s 1938 children’s tale—adapted for the stage by playwright Robert Kauzlaric and songwriter George Howe—is the endearing and enduring tale of a housepainter whose fascination with faraway places leads him to write a fan letter to an antarctic explorer, who responds by sending Popper a penguin from the South Pole. Soon enough the bird has found a mate and fathered a feathered family, putting a strain on the Popper household’s limited financial resources—until Mr. Popper decides to turn the avians into a touring vaudeville act, Popper’s Performing Penguins. This charming and funny hour-long family show, which uses life-size puppets to represent the birds, emphasizes the loving partnership of Mr. Popper and his improbably patient and supportive wife, whose participation in the action has been expanded from the original book. Under the crisp direction of Paul S. Holmquist, Kauzlaric’s witty script and Howe’s bouncy score is well delivered by Jonathan Schwart and Heather Currie as the Poppers and Josh Bernaski and Amanda Roeder in a variety of supporting roles.

From Chicago Parent

Chase dreams of grand adventures with ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’
November 20, 2015
By Keely Flynn

Who hasn’t had a dream of grand adventures? Who hasn’t had their head in the clouds once too often? And who among us can honestly state that they’ve never–not even once–hoped to meet a real, live penguin? Lifeline Theatre’s warm new production of Mr. Popper’s Penguins (adapted by Robert Kauzlaric from Richard and Florence Atwater’s novel) tells the tale of a guy for whom all three statements ring true. A house painter by trade, Mr Popper and his wife fret about money in already lean times as he approaches his “off” season. This, of course, doesn’t stop him from eagerly tuning into radio news of his favorite polar explorer–or just as eagerly awaiting a polar surprise via U.S. Mail.

The cast of four, under the tight direction of Paul S. Holmquist, does a fantastic job of zipping the action (and scenery and beautiful puppets) along. Josh Bernaski and Amanda Roeder are terrific (and wear many hats) as the characters who populate the Poppers’ town of Stillwater and beyond. Heather Currie’s Mrs. Popper is great as the supportive, long-suffering and ultimately (and unequivocally) devoted wife. Mr. Popper, played earnestly and affably by Jonathan Schwart, is an entirely root-able protagonist, and the kind of pal any penguin would be honored to have.

Mr. Popper, his penguins and their predicament are a throwback to a bygone era; a nod to a gentler time when radio ruled the land and the news of the day was spread over the back fence. That said, the story more than resonated with my 6- and 4-year-olds. They didn’t need Google to translate what an icebox was, nor did they question why folks would choose to sit around in the evening and wait for a show to begin. (One you had to listen to, at that!) Maybe they were able to immerse themselves in this beautifully vintage world because of Lifeline’s thoughtful curating of the Poppers’ cozy home. Perhaps it was due to the charming and funny songs (composed by Music Director George Howe) and timeless Vaudevillian humor. Or it might just be because, if you suspend your disbelief enough, there’s a good chance someone will mail you your very own penguin from the North Pole.

In which case I’ll eagerly join those ranks.

From Spotlight on Lake

November 9, 2015
By Carol Moore


During the winters, Mr. Popper (Jonathan Schwart), a house painter, dreams about adventures he might have in far-away lands. Mrs. Potter (Heather Currie), who has saved every penny she could from Mr. P’s summer of house painting, is stretching those pennies just to keep food on the table.

Mr. Popper was so excited about the expedition exploring the Antarctic he wrote an enthusiastic letter to the Admiral. One night, as they’re listening to a radio broadcast about the expedition, the Admiral promises Mr. Popper a surprise.

When the surprise arrives, it turns out to be a penguin, whom Mr. Popper names Captain Cook. The Poppers clean out the icebox so Captain Cook will have a cool place to stay. When Captain Cook grows lethargic, Mr. Popper writes to an aquarium for help. Since Greta, their female penguin, has the same problem, they send her to the Poppers.

The two penguins are happy, so the Poppers are happy, but then Greta lays an egg, and then another and another until she has 10 eggs. Suddenly the Poppers have 12 penguins! They still don’t have any money coming in, so Mr. Popper decides to train the penguins as a circus act. Mr. & Mrs. Popper and their 12 penguins go on the road.

Josh Bernaski and Amanda Roeder played all of the other characters in the story. All four members of this hardworking cast were puppeteers, too. Molly thought all of the puppets were cool. Captain Cook and Greta were very large, kind of lumpy puppets which sat on the ground while the babies were in groups of five per puppeteer.

Although the story was written during the Depression, when times were really tough, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” concentrates on the positive. This adaptation set a lot of the dialogue to music, which Molly thought was one of the best parts of the show.