Montauciel Takes Flight

Jan 13 – Feb 18, 2018 
Saturdays & Sundays at 11am & 1pm

“This entertaining little musical by James E. Grote and Russell J. Coutinho, aimed at ages five and up, will enchant audiences of all ages… Lifeline Theatre once again demonstrates that they’re one of Chicago’s finest theatre companies, providing delightful and inspiring plays and musicals for young audiences.”  –Chicago Theatre Review

“You know a children’s show is successful if the kids are singing the songs on the car ride home… As a parent I celebrated that this play links science to everyday problem solving and brings to life an exciting but oft overlooked historical event, the invention of the hot air balloon. Parents may well find themselves just as inspired by the show’s spirit as their kids.”  –Rescripted

Montauciel’s name may mean “climb-to-the-sky,” but for all her life the young ewe has been stuck on the ground. Then one day, her adventurous spirit carries her to the town of Annonay, where she teams up with the legendary Montgolfier brothers. Bringing her ingenuity and love of science to bear, Montauciel helps the two scientists invent the hot air balloon, and she soon finds herself captaining the first “manned” test flight, with a duck and a rooster as trusty co-pilots. Take a leap into the unknown and realize your full potential with this world premiere musical inspired by the story of the first living creatures to take to the skies in a human-made flying machine.

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

A world premiere musical inspired by true events 
Book by James E. Grote 
Music & Lyrics by Russell J. Coutinho 
Directed by Aileen McGroddy

Special Performances
Audio Description and Touch Tour
Saturday, January 27
   Touch tour: 10am
   Performance: 11am

Open Captioning
Sunday, January 28 at 11am and 1pm

Autism/Sensory-Friendly Performance
Sunday, February 4 at 3pm
Social Narrative | Parent Guide

Visit our Accessibility page for more information.

Selection from Montauciel Takes Flight. Music & Lyrics by Russell J. Coutinho

  • Jordan Arredondo (Joseph & ensemble)

    Jordan is thrilled to be making his Lifeline Theatre debut! His previous Chicago credits include Waiting For Godot (Lucky) at Tympanic Theatre, and The Party House (Jake) at The Runaways Lab Theater. Academic Credits (UIC): Life’s A Dream (Astolfo), The Piano Lesson (Lymon), The Secret in the Wings (First Prince, Papa, Suitor, 568), and A Matter of Life and Death (The Boy). Jordan recently graduated with his B.F.A in Acting from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Jordan would like to thank his family and Sabrina for all the endless love and support.

  • Carisa Gonzalez (Bessie & ensemble)

    Carisa is beyond stoked to be making her Lifeline debut in Montauciel Takes Flight! A suburban Chi-town native, Carisa has been active in city theater for the past two years, being involved with companies such as Bohemian Theatre Ensemble (Dogfight), Underscore (Carrie 2:The Rage) and Porchlight (New Faces). She also has had the pleasure of working with other education-based children’s companies in the surrounding area, such as BAM!Theatre and The Actor’s Garden. Many thanks to everyone involved for going above and beyond for this show!

  • Scott Ray Merchant (Étienne & ensemble)

    A graduate of the Theatre Conservatory of Roosevelt University, Scott has had the privilege to perform at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Scooty & Jojo Show, Abraham Werewolf, New Leaf Theatre, Dog & Pony, Red Twist, First Floor Theatre, the former Les Enfants Terribles, and he is a proud company member of Collaboraction Theatre. Scott was most recently onstage dancing in the Fly Honey Show with the Inconvenience and with Rough House Theater in their production of Ubu the King.

  • Kirra Silver (Montauciel)

    Kirra is excited to be in her very first show with Lifeline! She was most recently seen in Ken Ludwig’s ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas (Emerald City Theater), Time Stands Still (AstonRep), and The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats (Emerald City Theater). She’s also been involved with the Williamstown Theater Festival (MA), New Victory Theater (NYC), and Rosie’s Theater Kids (NYC). Kirra hails from NYC and graduated from Northwestern University in 2016 with a BA in Theater.

  • Jennifer Vance (Rooster & ensemble)

    Jennifer is so glad to be making her Lifeline Theatre debut alongside these lovely, funny, and super talented folks. She was last seen in Teatro Vista’s Romeo and Juliet; catch her next in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s The Madwoman of Chaillot, or by streaming endless reruns of In An Instant: Buried by Bonfire on

  • Ty Carter (Understudy)

    Ty is an actor from Kansas City, working with Lifeline Theatre for his first time. Trained at Stephens College, he returned to KC to work for the Coterie Theatre on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (puppeteer), then the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival on Merchant of Venice (Prince of Morocco). Returning to work for Stephens, he did Fiddler on the Roof(Fyedka), and To Kill a Mockingbird (Rev. Sykes). In Chicago, he’s worked with Fury Theatre on Richard III (Clarence) and rediscover theatre on Fifty Shades of Shakespeare. Ty would like to thank his loved ones for their invaluable love and support.

  • Whitney Dottery (Understudy)

    Whitney is happy to be working on her third show at Lifeline. She has previously worked on the last KidSeries production, Arnie the Doughnut, and prior to that she worked on last season’s MainStage production of A Wrinkle in Time. Past credits in the Chicago area include Johanna Faustusand American Idiot, both with The Hypocrites. Whitney would like to thank her partner, family and friends for all of their love and support and hopes you enjoy the show!

  • Suzanna Ziko (Understudy)

    Suzanna is excited to work with Lifeline for the first time! In addition, she is so happy to reunite with Aileen McGroddy after four productions with the Forks & Hope Ensemble and one with Theatre Hikes. Suzanna has also been seen in The Art of Losing (Aunt Peg) at the Den and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Rona) at the pH Comedy Theater. Suzanna hails from North Carolina, where she earned a B.F.A. in Acting and Minor in Voice from UNC Greensboro.

  • James E. Grote (Book)

    Jim joined the Lifeline artistic ensemble in 1999. This is his second original work, following How to Survive a Fairy Tale. His adaptions of five of the books in the Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type series have been produced at theatres all across the country. He has also adapted Katherine Applegate’s Newbery Award-winning The One and Only Ivan, Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner, and C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair for Lifeline. As an actor, Jim has appeared at Lifeline in Lyle, Lyle, CrocodileAround the World in 80 Days; and The Killer Angels (2004), among other shows.

  • Russell J. Coutinho (Music & Lyrics)

    Russell studied music composition at the University of Lowell, MA. His music and lyrics have been performed in cabarets in Boston and Chicago and he has also had works performed by the choruses of Windy City Performing Arts. He is the composer for the children’s musical, A Whooper’s Tale (Theatre Building Chicago). His song “Just a Box” was featured in the opening session of the CSCMP’s global conference in Philadelphia. Russell is an alumnus of TBC’s Music Theatre Writers Workshop and a member of the Dramatists Guild and ASCAP.

  • Aileen McGroddy (Director)

    Aileen is thrilled to return to Lifeline after assistant directing Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch in 2011. She is the Artistic Director of The Forks & Hope Ensemble, currently creating a new adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels. She is also a company member of TUTA, and most recently movement and assistant directing Gentle. As a founder of The Whiskey Rebellion, Aileen curates and directs The Whiskey Radio Hour. She has also directed for Emerald City Theatre, Theatre-Hikes, The Plagiarists, The Ruckus Theatre, The Dictionary Project, Mudlark Theatre, and The Chicago Fringe Festival. She has assistant directed at The Hypocrites, The House Theatre, Court Theatre, The Actors’ Gymnasium, and Theatre Y. Aileen is a current Trellis Residency Fellow at The Greenhouse Theatre Center and the Director of Programs for DirectorsLabChicago.

  • Jacqueline Marschke (Stage Manager)

    Jacqueline is so excited to be returning to Lifeline KidSeries! She served as Stage Manager for Giggle, Giggle, Quack (2017) and Northanger Abbey in past Lifeline seasons. Other Chicago credits include stage management for The Citizens Anthology (The Inconvenience); and assistant stage management for Pirandello’s Henry IV and The Life of Galileo (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company), No Wake (Route 66 Theatre Company), and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theatre Project). Jacqueline is an alumna of Hope College (Holland, MI), where she received her B.A. in Theatre with a concentration in Stage Management.

  • Megan Elk (Music Director)

    Megan is a performer, composer, director, and vocal coach. Following studies at The University of Akron, Megan joined the acclaimed New World Performance Laboratory. As ensemble member/resident composer, she toured performances, teaching workshops throughout Europe and the US. Currently, Megan serves as guest artist/director at Northern Illinois University (The Yellow WallpaperTrojan Women). Megan is also a regular performer of musical theatre and cabaret. Her original album, Miss Alexandra Huntingdon: LIVE at Survival Kit, earned her the title Best Musician 2015 (Cleveland Scene Magazine). In 2016, Lyric Opera of Chicago commissioned her to write the the musical FREEDOM: Out of Order for Chicago Voices. She also co-produced the album, Voices for Lyric in 2017. Megan holds numerous awards, including the Kennedy Center ACTF Award for music. More at

  • Amanda Herrmann (Properties Designer)

    Amanda is pleased be working with Lifeline Theatre again. Other credits include Mr. and Mrs. PennyworthLife SucksMoby Dick (Lookingglass Theater); The HollowThe Tin Woman (Peninsula Players Theatre); Pirandello’s Henry IVFallen Angels (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company); Miss Bennet (Northlight Theater); Balm in Gilead (Griffin Theatre); and The Sweeter Option (Strawdog Theatre Company). Amanda is a graduate of Ripon College with a BA in Theater and Art.

  • Eleanor Kahn (Scenic Designer)

    Eleanor is a freelance designer in Chicago. She most recently designed LIZZIE: The Musical (Firebrand Theatre); Breath, Boom (Eclipse Theatre); and Swell in the Ground and Open Season at The Gift Theatre. Other scenic work includes: Machinal (Greenhouse Theatre); Her Majesty’s Will (Lifeline Theatre); Into the Empty Sky (Trap Door); What of the Night (Stage Left and Cor Theatre); Bobbie Clearly (Steep Theatre); Hairy ApeThe MotherThe Jungle, and Waiting for Lefty (Oracle Productions); Deer and the Lovers and World Builders (First Floor Theatre); The Way She Spoke (Greenhouse Solo Celebration); The Van Gogh CafeFog IslandMonster in the Hall, and Lifeboat (Filament Theatre). She also works extensively with The House Theatre as a props designer. Eleanor received her MFA in Scenic Design from Boston University. Her full resume and portfolio can be seen at

  • Jeffrey Levin (Sound Designer)

    Jeffrey is a composer, sound designer, and musician based in Chicago, IL. Past Lifeline work includes sound design and original music for Her Majesty’s Will. Outside of Lifeline, Jeffrey has contributed original music and sound designs for nearly 100 productions for dozens of theatre companies in and outside of Chicago. Awards and recognitions include five Jeff Award nominations for Sound Design and Original Music and one win (The Hairy Ape, Oracle), Edes Award for Emerging Artists, the Michael Philippi prize (2016), two Broadway World nominations, and a Wilde Award nomination. Masters of Music DePaul University, Bachelors of Music, Columbia College Chicago.

  • Emily Swanson (Costume Designer)

    Emily is thrilled to be making her Lifeline debut! She is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago, and recently has designed with Red Theatre, Actors Gymnasium, Something Marvelous, and Assitant Designed at Victory Gardens. When not Costume Designing she often Wardrobe Supervises at the House Theatre of Chicago and Dresses at Steppenwolf. You can see more of her work at Enjoy the show.

  • Eric Watkins (Lighting Designer)

    Eric is a lighting designer for theatre, opera, and dance, based in Chicago. Recent Chicago designs include Machinal (Greenhouse Theater); Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery (Pegasus Theatre); A Swell in the Ground (The Gift Theatre); Punk (New Colony); 42 Stories and Psmith, Journalist (City Lit); Porcelain and Tea (Prologue Theatre); Deer and the Lovers (First Floor Theater); Fisheye (Dandelion Theatre); Fallen (Mozawa), and The Property (Lyric Unlimited). Past designs outside of Chicago include: Show Boat (The Dallas Opera), Cenerentola (Merola Opera in San Francisco), Alcina (Boston Conservatory), A Streetcar Named Desire (Opera Santa Barbara and Kentucky Opera), Marriage of Figaro (Merola Opera), and Barber of Seville (Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre). He received his M.F.A. in Lighting Design from Boston University and is a proud member of USA 829, the theatrical design union.

From Chicago Theatre Review

Up, Up and Away 
January 16, 2018 
By Colin Douglas


Early in the summer of 1783 two brothers performed an exciting experiment to prove to themselves, and the citizens of Annonay, France, that they had invented a means for flight. Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier were running the family paper-making business when young Joseph, described as a maverick and a dreamer, devised the prototype for what would become the hot air balloon. Made of taffeta and paper and coated with alum to make it fireproof, the “envelope” would rise from the ground when the globe-shaped device was filled with hot air, or Montgolfier gas, as they called it. To demonstrate to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette how this fantastic invention might be used to transport people, the brothers built a basket to hang beneath the globe-shaped envelope. They placed a sheep named Montauciel (which translates as “climb to the sky), a duck and a rooster in it for the first successful voyage aloft.

Lifeline Theatre ensemble member James E. Grote creatively dramatizes this historical event, but he cleverly does so from the point of view of the three animals. Partnered with Russell J. Coutinho with his catchy musical score, this 60-minute children’s play for the theatre’s KidSeries is not only entertaining but educational, as well.

The play depicts the 18th century event with whimsy and humor, but it also explains how six simple machines help to make our work easier. Grote centers his story around the plucky little French sheep, creating in Montauciel a character filled with joie de vivre and an insatiable curiosity about science. She leaves home, becomes an employee at the Montgolfier Paper Factory and partners with Joseph in his laboratory. In Grote’s story, Montauciel is the real brains behind the invention of the hot air balloon, along with a handful of other helpful inventions that all employ simple machines.

Although the beginning of this production could use a little more energy and fewer dramatic pauses, director Aileen McGroddy guides her cast in telling this story with flair and humor. Lifeline newcomer Kirra Silver is personable as Montauciel, and she becomes a whirling dervish in her delightfully choreographed song that introduces the six simple machines. Kudos, too, to Properties Designer Amanda Herrmann for her oversized picture book that offers great visuals for the young audience.

The other ensemble members, all of whom play multiple roles, include the magnificent Carisa Gonzalez, a gifted singer and comic actor, as a very funny Bessie the Duck. Jennifer Vance makes a very good, no-nonsense Rooster; Scott Ray Merchant is properly authoritative as Etienne; and Jordan Arredondo makes a marvelously energetic Joseph. He’s particularly funny mouthing both King Louis and his Queen behind their animated portrait.

This entertaining little musical by James E. Grote and Russell J. Countinho, aimed at ages five and up, will enchant audiences of all ages. The bonus in this little fantasy is the inclusion of both historical and scientific facts that parents and teachers can later discuss and build upon. Lifeline Theatre once again demonstrates that they’re one of Chicago’s finest theatre companies, providing delightful and inspiring plays and musicals for young audiences.

From Rescripted

‘Montauciel Takes Flight’ Makes Science Soar at Lifeline Theatre 
January 17, 2018 
By Hallie Palladino

Montauciel Takes Flight at Lifeline celebrates science and the spirit of invention. You know a children’s show is successful if the kids are singing the songs on the car ride home. The charming original musical Montauciel Takes Flight, by James E. Grote (book) and Russell J. Coutinho (music and lyrics), directed by Aileen McGroddy, is based on the true story of the first living creatures to ride in a hot air balloon. The play tells the story of the Montgolfier brothers, paper manufacturers in 1783 France who launched a balloon containing a duck, a rooster and a sheep named Montauciel, a name that means “climb-to-the-sky.” The balloon and its animal occupants landed safely after traveling over two miles, ushering in a new era of manned flight.

The heroine of the musical Montauciel (Kirra Silver), is a curious young sheep who loves science. Silver communicates a youthful enthusiasm for science and learning that immediately draws children into the narrative. Her genuineness makes her character relatable to kids. She never plays down to them, rather she invites them to share in her excitement. Silver is well supported by the cheery ensemble playing her human and animal compatriots: Jordan Arrendondo (Joseph Montgolfier), Carisa Gonzales (Bessie), Scott Ray Merchant (Etienne Montgolfier) and Jennifer Vance (Rooster).

There’s a strong opening number about “the age of enlightenment” during which Montauciel muses that some folks fall in love with science and learning, while others seem afraid of science, preferring the old ways. Embracing the wonders of science is part of the show’s message. When Montauciel hears intriguing explosions coming from the Montgolfier paper mill she leaves home in hopes of meeting a fellow science enthusiast. When she arrives she discovers the sounds were coming from Joseph’s lab. He’d rather do science than make paper and so he hires her to work in his place so he can spend his time experimenting. She’s disappointed but soon learns making paper involves science too. After a quick lesson in how old rags are turned into paper pulp it’s her turn to instruct her new employers (some human and some animal) about “the six simple machines” in the show’s most memorable number. The song admirably manages to turn this unwieldy list into a catchy tune. Indeed, my children were singing about “the wheel and the axle, the lever and the pulley, the inclined plane and the screw (and the wedge)” the rest of the afternoon.

Montauciel also covers the scientific method, teaching her friends to formulate and test a hypothesis. She gently coaxes Joseph Montgolfier toward understanding science is more than just setting off cool explosions and he invites to join him in his work. Soon their experiments attract royal attention and the inventors go on an adventure to meet King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, played by a talking portrait with mouth holes, much to the delighted squeals of the children in the audience.

Lifeline’s signature aesthetic features costumes and design elements that elevate everyday things with a little theater magic. I appreciate this because it shows children how simple it is to take the objects around them and transform them into elements of a story. It’s thrilling when the characters create their wondrous balloon from found objects. The blue sheet backdrop representing the sky starts to billow when the animals start their journey and suddenly we are all flying. After the show my children were excitedly discussing the types of paper and fabric the Montgolfiers used to make their balloons and speculating how they might conduct their own hot air experiments. Montauciel Takes Flight makes both science and theater accessible to kids.

Most children’s productions at Lifeline are adaptations of well-known books making Montauciel a slight departure, though a well-executed one. As a parent I celebrated that this play links science to everyday problem solving and brings to life an exciting but oft overlooked historical event, the invention of the hot air balloon. Parents may well find themselves just as inspired by the show’s spirit as their kids.

From the Chicago Reader

January 18, 2018 
By Dan Jakes


Given that this world-premiere musical is about the scientific process, it’s fitting that Lifeline Theatre’s new children’s show utilizes so much lo-fi ingenuity and clever visual trickery to tell its story. Book writer James E. Grote reimagines the Montgolfier brothers’ real-life invention of the hot air balloon from the perspective of its animal test pilots: an ewe, a duck, and a rooster. (Positive spoiler: they fare better than most four-legged aeronauts mankind has launched toward the sky.) Russell J. Coutinho’s original music and lyrics include a handful of earwormy educational School House Rock-style toe tappers, and director Aileen McGroddy’s cast is universally warm and engaging. And maybe the biggest treat for parents and children alike: it clocks in at a tight hour.