New Works In Progress: HERO

An interview with Terry James, Executive Producer of The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, about their upcoming world premiere of Hero by Aaron Thielen (’10–The Bowery Boys) and Michael Mahler (’09–How Can You Run With a Shell On Your Back?), playing June 20-August 19. For more information, visit

Hero is a quirky and poignant new musical that explores those extraordinary moments in ordinary life. It’s the story of Hero Batowski, a 28-year-old struggling comic book artist, living anything but a superhero life. After a life-changing event his senior year in high school, Hero still finds himself living at home with his dad, Al, who runs the family comic book shop in Milwaukee. Things start to change for him when he bumps into an old girlfriend, and with the encouragement of his dad and his best friend and cousin, Kirk, Hero finally has a chance to realize his own dream. Hero features a contemporary pop/rock score that is fresh and exciting.

Why is Hero a good fit for your season? 
For more than thirty years our subscribers have enthusiastically embraced new works. Heroprovided an opportunity to give them something unique. From a business point of view it makes sense—a small cast size and a 5-member pop-rock band is certainly appealing! When long-time Marriott director David H. Bell agreed to come on board, I knew we had a formidable and exciting team in place. Hero has also given us a chance to explore the new world of online marketing by collaborating with website and comic book designer and illustrator Charles Riffenburg of Grab Bag Media. For the comic book aficionado that wants more, Charles and Aaron have created a really exciting website,, which accompanies the show. It offers audiences an in-depth look into the creation of the show and the world through Hero’s eye, following the entire creative process of bringing this new work to the stage, complete with audio, videos and a blog.

What was the genesis of Hero

Aaron’s inspiration started with a visit to one of his favorite shops in his hometown of Milwaukee. Aaron said, “there is this great old store across the street from the Allen Bradley building on 1st Street. I’ve always had a love for comics and superheroes, so I started creating this story and placing it in this shop. I thought, ‘what a great set for a show’—the store, the little yard and the family home—their whole world in one block.”

How was this team pulled together?
A longtime advocate of new works, Aaron most recently adapted the Twentieth Century Fox film For The Boys for Marriott. Michael is an acclaimed Chicago-based composer, lyricist and actor. Both are comic book lovers! Aaron told me that from the very beginning, he had always heard Michael’s music in his head as he wrote Hero. We invited Michael to the first reading of Heroand the two joined forces. The second reading, featuring Michael’s music, was presented for 600 subscribers at Marriott. The response was so positive, we decided to put it in our next season.

The show had a workshop at the American Musical Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University. What did you learn about the show while it was at AMTP? 
Obviously through multiple drafts and readings, the show evolved with changing storylines and sub-characters. But it was Heather Schmucker and Dominic Missimi’s championing of the show and bringing it to AMTP that gave the piece the chance to find its heart. It is a unique gift for a new work to be given such a talented group of young actors and the opportunity to try material on them, perform it and then go back into rehearsals to make adjustments based on that experience.

Why should everyone make the trip out to Lincolnshire this summer to catch Hero
With a cast of 9 (optional ensemble) and a pop-rock score, it is a unique piece whose wide appeal has been an exciting surprise. We are always searching for something new—always searching for a great small show—this one happens to wear both hats. Plus, I can get you a discounted hotel room! What’s not to love? 

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