BIOGRAPHIES

JOHN CARTER BROWN (George H. W. Bush) is happy to be returning to American Blues Theater in Five Presidents where he was first seen as “Guy” in “Groovy Town” for the initial production of Monsters. He was last seen in Chicago as “Thomas Cromwell” in A Man for All Seasons with TimeLine Theatre. Other credits include work with Steppenwolf Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Zebra Crossing Theatre, Open Eye, Griffin, Mary Archie Theatre, Edinburg Festival Fringe, several others, and Boxer Rebellion Theatre, which he helped found in the late 90s. Film and Television credits include Boss, Detroit 1-8-7, ER, Under the City, Surviving Christmas, In the Company of Darkness, and numerous commercials.  Two eye blink.

JAMES LEAMING (Ronald Reagan) is a proud founding Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. On-Going projects: national tours of Defamation and Botanic Garden with Canamac Productions; This Wonderful Life (solo version of It’s a Wonderful Life featuring 47 characters) at American Blues Theater, North Coast Repertory Theatre (CA), Laguna Playhouse (CA), Cleveland Play House (OH), Syracuse Stage (NY), and Asolo Repertory Theatre (FL), directed by Peter Amster & Carmen Roman. Regional theater: Indiana Repertory Theatre, Kitchen Theatre (NY), Geva Theatre (NY), North Coast Repertory Theatre (CA), Alliance Theatre (GA), Peninsula Players (WI), and Asolo Repertory Theatre (FL). Chicago: Steppenwolf Theatre, First Folio Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Next Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Goodman Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre, Fox Theatricals, Second City, and Body Politic. Training: American Conservatory Theatre (San Francisco) and Second City (Chicago). Awards: 2000 After Dark Award (Chicago) – Best Actor; 2009 Sarasota Magazine Awards – Best Actor and Best Show; 2012 Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago) – Scenic Design; 2014 Craig Noel Award nomination (San Diego) – Solo Performance; 2018 Joseph Jefferson Award nomination (Chicago) – Solo Performance. Film/TV: Chicago Fire, Mind Games, Prison Break, Early Edition, Running Scared, and Code of Silence.

MARTIN L’HERAULT (Jimmy Carter) is excited to be making his American Blues Theater debut and to be in the cast of this fascinating play. Recent credits include: Five Presidents (Old Log Theatre), Once (Theater Latte Da), Guys and Dolls (Old Log Theatre), The Country House (Morningside Players), Bonus Army (The Gym at Judson), and Playboy of the Western World (Pacific Art Center). TV/Film credits include: A Crime to Remember: Judge, Jury, Executioner (Investigation Discovery Channel). More about Martin at: martinlherault.com

TOM MCELROY (Gerald Ford) makes his American Blues Theater debut. He was last on stage in Provision Theater’s Redeemed: The Fall and Rise of Chuck Colson playing multiple roles. Some favorite roles have been “Doc” in West Side Story (Paramount Theatre), “Henry” in the world premiere of The Art of Disappearing (16th Street Theater), “Torlief” in Old Glory (Writers Theatre), and “Frank” in Weekend Comedy (The New Theater Restaurant). Film work: The Dark Knight, What If…, Southside With You, The Law of Moises, and recently finished filming The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlin, For Prophet, and Pardoned by Grace, allcoming soon. Television credits: Early Edition, Prison Break, The Secret Santa, Chicago Code, Chicago Fire, and Chicago Med. Tom voiced “Rayford Steele” in the Left Behind Dramatic Audio Series (144 episodes) and multiple characters in The Twilight Zone, The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and Unshackled! radio dramas. Tom is a company member of Provision Theater.

STEPHEN SPENCER (Bill Clinton) is honored to be performing with American Blues Theater, a company he has long admired. Chicago: Queen (Victory Gardens Theater); Blizzard ’67 (16th Street Theater/Chicago Dramatists); The Life of Galileo, Our Class, Night and Day (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company); Body + Blood, Ten (Gift Theatre); The Quality of Life (The Den Theatre & Theater on the Lake); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Wait Until Dark (Court Theatre); Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Congo Square Theatre/Goodman Theatre); Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost (Oak Park Festival Theatre). Regional: Blackbird (Riverside Theatre); Romeo & Juliet, The Winter’s Tale (Illinois Shakespeare); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare Rep); and Heroes (Nebraska Repertory Theatre). Also: Utah Shakespeare and Asolo Repertory Theatre. Overseas: Medeamaterial (Moscow’s Leninsky Komsomol Theatre) and Battery (Edinburgh Festival Fringe). He’s a proud Associate Artist at Chicago Dramatists and a Founding Member of The Chicago Shakespeare Project. TV/Film: Empire, Public Enemies, Henry, Mr. Lonely, Greg’s Leg, and Morning Due (Cannes). Steve is represented by Shirley Hamilton Talent. Love to B & K.

DENZEL TSOPNANG (Agent Kirby) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. Hailing from Batavia, IL, Denzel holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Millikin University and is represented by Gray Talent Group. After joining last year’s Jeff Award winning production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, he is thrilled to be returning to American Blues Theater with this amazing team and cast! Some of his favorite Chicago credits include: South Pacific (Drury Lane Theatre), Five Guys Named Moe (Court Theatre), Ragtime (Griffin Theatre), The Scottsboro Boys (Porchlight Music Theatre), Annie Warbucks (Theatre at the Center), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (Drury Lane Theatre), Velveteen Rabbit (Marriott Theatre), Heathers: The Musical (Kokandy Productions), and Northanger Abbey (Lifeline Theatre). 

RICK CLEVELAND (Playwright) is a proud founding Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. Rick is a playwright and an Emmy winning writer/producer whose television credits include The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Nurse Jackie, House of Cards, Archer, Legit, and Man In The High Castle. Rick performed his one man show My Buddy Bill at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, and won the Best Solo Performance Award at the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen in 2006.  He also performed the piece at the 92nd Street Y in New York City for a one hour Comedy Central special in 2007. As a playwright, Rick has earned playwriting grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays. Rick was invited to the National Playwrights’ Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center twice, and he is a Founding Member of the Ojai Playwrights Conference. Rick was a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and he received his MFA from the University of Iowa’s Playwrights’ Workshop.

MARTY HIGGINBOTHAM (Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. American Blues acting credits include: Desire Under the Elms, Monsters, On the Waterfront, Tom and Jerry, The Homage that Follows, Stalag 17, Bus Stop, The Three Penny Opera, Working, The Trip to Bountiful, American Dead, and Oklahoma; American Blues sound design/original score credits: Monsters, Monsters II, Monsters III, Food from Trash, The Homage That Follows, The Million Bells of Ocean, and A Lie of the Mind.  Marty has also worked on and off stage at The Old Globe, The Prince Music Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Circle Theatre, and Organic Theater Company. Marty directed the original full production of It’s a Wonderful: A Live Radio Play in 2004 and continued to helm the production up to 2008, moving with the Ensemble in 2009 to the Biograph, and remounting at the Greenhouse.  Marty is also Founder and President of The Stage Channel, a video production company serving the Arts in Chicago and across the country since 2001.

GRANT SABIN (Scenic Design) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. A native of rural Illinois, Grant blends his rural roots with urban art. He’s a recipient of the 2015 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award. He’s a graduate of Columbia College with a BFA in theatre design where he was awarded the 2005 Michael Merritt student scholarship for collaboration in theatre design. He is known throughout Chicago for his keen eye in capturing atmospheric detail and his ability to design “impressively executed sets” on a storefront-theater budget. His designs have been seen at Northlight Theatre,  Victory Gardens Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre, Next Theatre, The Royal George, Overture Center WI,  Theater Wit, Gallagher Bluedorn IA, American Blues Theater,  American Theater Company, Christina Isabelle Dance, The Seldoms Dance, and  A Red Orchid. He was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for his design of American Blues’ production of Yankee Tavern, A Red Orchid’s production of The Sea Horse, and Dog & Pony’s production of Mr. Marmalade.  He was recently named one of the Top 50 Players in Chicago Theatre by Newcity Magazine. Grant is currently a part-time faculty member at Columbia College

ALEXANDER RIDGERS (Lighting Design) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater and is very excited to be working on Five Presidents! Other notable design credits include working with House Theatre of Chicago, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Writers Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Kokandy Productions, Next Act Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Lucky Plush Productions, Hedwig Dances, Flint Repertory Theatre, and UIC School of Theatre & Music. Assistant lighting design credits include working with Marcus Doshi Design LLC, Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, and National Theatre, London. Alexander has an MFA from Northwestern University and teaches lighting design at University of Illinois at Chicago. More information at: alexanderridgers.com


MICHAEL ALAN STEIN (Costume Design) is a costume designer and the chief fashion designer of the eponymous Michael Alan Stein Collection; a prestige, ready-to-wear women’s apparel line launched in spring 2012. A career spanning more than two decades, Stein’s costume designs have graced many stages across the United States including: the Guthrie Theatre (Minneapolis, MN); Steppenwolf Theatre and Goodman Theatre (Chicago, IL); Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, DC); and the Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, CT). On stage, screen and personal appearance, his designs have been worn by such celebrated artists as: Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Jane Seymour, Erykah Badu, Jennifer Holiday, and Elizabeth Berkley. Stein is the recipient of many awards and honors including, a fellowship from The National Endowment for the Arts and he was recently listed by Fashion-Schools.org as number seventy on the top 100 Most Influential Fashion Designers of 2012. In addition to his stage and film work, he has also designed special projects for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, NYC and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Co.

WARREN LEVON (Sound Design) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He is ecstatic to sound design for this wonderful production! His previous Blues credits (as an actor) include Dutchman/Transit, Waiting for Lefty, and Ripped. Warren has been a sound designer and engineer for 7 years working with various theatre companies throughout the city. He welcomes you to the American Blues experience. Enjoy the play!

MARY O’DOWD (Properties Design) is honored to return to American Blues, having designed props for The Spitfire Grill, On Clover Road, Six Corners, This Wonderful Life, and Beauty’s Daughter. She has created props/set dressing for dozens of shows and received several Jeff nominations. Most recent design: Into the Breeches! (Northlight Theatre); favorite projects ever: Rock ‘N’ Roll (Artistic Home) and Bakersfield Mist (TimeLine Theatre).  Mary is a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY. As a plebe, she marched in Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural parade.

SHANDEE VAUGHAN (Production Stage Manager/Production Manager) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She is excited to be working with such a stellar team for Five Presidents!Blues credits: The Spitfire Grill, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard PelkeyOn Clover RoadIt’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago (2016 & 2018), Flyin’ WestBuddy – The Buddy Holly StoryThe Columnist, and Little Shop of Horrors. Other recent Chicago credits include: Time is on Our Side (About Face Theatre), Deathscribe X (WildClaw Theatre), Night in Alachua County (WildClaw Theatre), and The Woman in Black (WildClaw Theatre). Shandee is a freelance stage manager and production manager from Arizona. shandeevaughan.com  

MANUEL ORTIZ (Technical Director) is a Chicago native actor, carpenter, designer and photographer. He received his BFA in Acting at DePaul University. When he is not building and/or performing on stage, you can find him at home joyfully playing with all 15 of his animal friends (yes, he has pictures). As an artist, he has devoted himself to many artistic mediums such as puppeteering, makeup, lighting, and more. Working in such a prodigiously diverse community of captivating artists, Manny has grown and hopes to continue to collaborate and cultivate communities of inclusion and equity filled with ardent passion for theater.

MANNY BUCKLEY (Artistic Specialist) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He is an actor, writer, director, performance, and dialect coach. He is a BFA graduate of William Carey University with a degree in speech communication in theater.

GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE (Artistic Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Artistic Director since 2010. Under her leadership, American Blues has nearly doubled the size of its Ensemble, added Artistic Affiliates, and diversified its base of artists. She created the nationally-recognized annual Blue Ink Playwriting AwardBlueprint Development for new work, implemented community service into the company’s mission, and adapted the arts education program The Lincoln Project for Chicago Public Schools serving nearly 3,000 students annually. Whiteside served numerous panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and sat on the Board of Directors for Network of Ensemble Theaters and League of Chicago Theatres. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University (cum laude), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Nonprofit management (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University). She’s been named in Newcity’s annual Players list numerous times. In 8 years, 9 American Blues Theater shows were nominated or won Joseph Jefferson Awards. She’s received 14 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations as an actress and Artistic Director. Her favorite performances include On Clover RoadGrounded (Jeff Award for Solo Performance), The K of D (Jeff Award for Solo Performance), Collected Stories (Best Actress Broadway World Chicago Award), and 8 years as “Mary Bailey” (It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!). She’s the recipient of two (2) After Dark Awards, and numerous Broadway World Chicago Awards and nominations. She directs the Chicago holiday tradition It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

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