-Courtesy of Aversa PR & Events
photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
Philadelphia Theatre Company is excited to bring the theatre season alive with a world premiere rock musical about the radical history of the tattooed ladies. The Tattooed Lady is a new musical by Obie Award-winning playwright Erin Courtney (Map of Virtue), Lortel-winner Max Vernon (KPOP on Broadway, The View Upstairs), developed and directed by Drama League-winner Ellie Heyman (Space Dogs) and choreographed by Mayte Natalio (How to Dance in Ohio). Emmy-nominee and Obie Award-winner Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray, Feud, and Only Murders in the Building) stars as the fictional sideshow luminary Ida Gibson. The Tattooed Lady runs October 29 to November 20, 2022, with opening night set to coincide with the Philadelphia Theatre Company Gala on Friday, November 4th at 8:00pm.
During the show run, look for special events, the Ink Industry Night, tattoo-themed art experiences, talk-backs with local experts, themed cocktails and much more. All shows are performed at PTC’s home at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146. Tickets are on sale now and start at $25 and up. Tickets are available at www.philatheatreco.org, by calling 215-985-0420, or by visiting the box office.
The Tattooed Lady was developed with support from the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals, the Kimmel Center, National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) and Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater. Major support for The Tattooed Lady has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Frank Young Fund for New Musicals.
The story of The Tattooed Lady highlights one of sideshow’s biggest stars, the fictional Ida Gibson, in a moving, fantastical tale that reveals the generational chasms and connections between Ida and her granddaughter Joy. A parade of beguiling characters appear, on a mission to liberate Ida from her self-imposed exile and help Joy find freedom through forgiveness. The musical celebrates the resilience of women whose choices have the power to liberate them.
For the show’s Creative Producer Paige Price (the former PTC Producing Artistic Director who commissioned the work), The Tattooed Lady represents a new path forward for theatre in Philly.
Price said, “In this day and age, theatres can no longer afford to play it safe.”
For PTC’s new Co-Artistic Directors Taibi Mager and Tyler Dobrowksy, the show exemplifies the kind of work they want to see developed in the future. “We are incredibly excited to open our first season as PTC’s new artistic directors with this vibrant, thrilling new musical from some of the best theater-makers in the country,” said Magar. “The Tattooed Lady is the perfect bridge from Paige Price’s successful tenure at PTC to what we hope will be a bold new future.”
For the creators, the show debuting on stage is a very personal experience with a script that takes pages from their own lives. Vernon was bullied growing up and spent a good deal of time internalizing a lot of hate from strangers and feeling out of place. They used discoveries from their youth to create this story.
“For my own survival, I sought out stories of those who similarly didn’t fit in, who fought to live their truth and changed the world in doing so,” said Vernon. “I have some very formative early memories of making my dad take me to the Coney Island freak show. I loved the wild stories, the sense of danger, the disruption of ‘normality.’”
They added, “I became most interested in The Tattooed Lady, because it was an act that was all about self-actualization. Unlike other freaks who were essentially exploited for deformities or medical conditions, the Tattooed Ladies intentionally chose their otherness—by tattooing themselves they renounced respectable society, but gained a new kind of autonomy. I think a lot about the physical dangers of visibility vs. emotional harm of invisibility. I wanted to tell a story about the freak show that wasn’t sanitized or Disneyfied for a musical theatre audience.”
Co-writer Erin Courtney, who herself is covered in over a dozen tattoos, also felt a soul connection to the material. “As a great fan of tattoos and female centered narratives, I immediately said yes to imagining a musical about these courageous, creative women who changed the American cultural landscape by refusing to accept the traditional path. Some of the characters in the musical are very loosely based on actual women, Nora Hildebrandt and Maud Wagner. Our main character, Ida (Imagena) Gibson is a fictional creation. Through the years of imagining, writing, revising, we found one theme essential to the narrative: ‘It’s better to be odd than ordinary.’”
While there are important take-aways the artists want audiences to leave with, they also want theatre-goers to come ready for a wild ride. “The Tattooed Lady is a full course meal,” said Vernon. “The show is wild, provocative, hilarious, and entertaining in the way any trip to the freakshow should be. Underneath our tattooed surface, this is truly a musical about liberation and loving yourself even when it’s really really hard.”
For casting, PTC has assembled an all-star line-up of New York stage and screen veterans including Jackie Hoffman as the fictional famed Tattooed Lady Ida Gibson, Kim Blanck (Octet), James Dybas (Pacific Overtures), Ashley Pérez Flanagan (The Great Comet of 1812), Anastacia McCleskey (Caroline, or Change), Jessie Shelton (Hadestown), Katie Thompson (Oklahoma!), Grace Slear (Jagged Little Pill), Sophia Ramos (Party People), and introducing Maya Lagerstam.
Heyman is the Director and Co-Creator. Natalio is the Choreographer. Rodney Bush is the Music Director (Eva Noblezada, Carmen Cusak and Jay Armstrong Johnson). Lex Liang (Principal of LDC Design Associates, over 100 Int’l/Nat’l Tours/NYC/Off-B’way productions) is the Scenic and Costume Designer. Mary Ellen Stebbins (Space Dogs) is the Lighting Designer. Nevin Steinberg (Hadestown (TONY Award), Hamilton, and PTC’s Nerds) is the Sound Designer. Jason Hayes (Spring Awakening, Blithe Spirit, 13 The Musical, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular) is the Wig and Hair Designer. Trey Lyford (rainpan 43 and The Civilians) is the Magic Consultant. Chelsea Pace (A Strange Loop and Leopoldstadt) is the Intimacy Coordinator. Adam John Hunter (Mrs. Doubtfire) is the Stage Manager. Sarah Lunnie (What The Constitution Means to Me and Grand Horizons) is the Dramaturg. Former PTC Producing Artistic Director Paige Price is the Creative Producer.
While the cast and crew have been hard at work on stage, Philadelphia Theatre Company has been working on a larger immersive experience for audiences. When the curtains are closed, the story still continues. On November 2, there will be a special Ink Industry Night featuring Kristel Oreto. Oreto is the owner of Now and Forever Tattoo Collective, a Philly-based tattoo collective curated for women, non-binary and trans artists. She will curate activities that include temporary tattoos as well as showcase tattoo-themed art inside the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. There will also be Tattoo Lady-themed cocktails and snacks available. The night aims to bring together younger theatre and arts patrons, social media influencers and members of the tri-state tattoo community. Additionally, Oreto will join PTC’s new Artistic Directors Taibi Magar and Tyler Dobrowsky for talk-backs on November 6th and November 13th.
The Tattooed Lady runs October 29 to November 20, 2022. Tickets cost $25 to $40 during previews and $35 to $74 after opening. Tickets and more information are available online at www.philatheatreco.org, on the phone at 215-985-0420, or in person during box office hours. Connect with Philadelphia Theatre Company for the latest updates on social at @philatheatreco on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and @philatheatre on TikTok.
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Erin Courtney (Book) is a New York based playwright. Her play, A Map of Virtue, was awarded an Obie and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding New York Theater. Her play I Will Be Gone, premiered at the Humana Festival, Actors Theater of Louisville. She has written two operas with Elizabeth Swados: The Nomad and Kaspar Hauser, both commissioned and produced by The Flea Theater. Her other plays, produced by Clubbed Thumb, include Alice the Magnet, directed by Pam MacKinnon, and Demon Baby, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. She is an affiliated artist with Clubbed Thumb, a member of the Obie Award winning playwrights collective, 13P, as well as the co-founder of the Brooklyn Writers Space.
Max Vernon (Book, Music, Lyrics & Orchestrations) is a musical theatre writer, whose works include The View Upstairs, KPOP (opening on Broadway this November!), The Tattooed Lady, and Show & Tell. They are a three-time Drama Desk nominee, Out100 Honoree, two-time MacDowell Fellow, Dramatist Guild Fellow, and recipient of the Lucille Lortel Award, Richard Rodgers Award, Jonathan Larson Grant, Pew Arts and Culture Grant, and New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship, among others. They have also written work for Audible, Disney, Virgin Group, and Tyra Banks. Notable concerts include Joe’s Pub, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. They earned an MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. www.maxvernon.com IG: @frauleinsallybowels
Ellie Heyman (Director) is a director of theatre and film. She won the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production in 2021 and has been nominated for Drama Desk, Lortel, Bessie and PGA Awards. Her piece, The Great Work Begins, featuring Glenn Close, Laura Linney, and Brian Tyree Henry, was named “Best of 2020” in The New York Times and New York Magazine.
Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC) is a leading regional theater company that produces, develops, and presents entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience. Founded in 1974, Philadelphia Theatre Company has presented 203 World and Philadelphia premieres. More than 50 percent of PTC’s world premieres have moved on to New York and other major cities, helping to earn Philadelphia a national reputation as a hub for new play development. In 2007, PTC was instrumental in expanding Philadelphia’s thriving cultural corridor by opening the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on the Avenue of the Arts. PTC recently announced Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters as the winner of its 2022 Terrence McNally Award. She joins prior recipient Donja R. Love as the second playwright to receive the Award that PTC revived in 2021 to focus on Philadelphia writers.