Staff & Leadership
Michael Weber | Artistic Director
Michael previously served as artistic director for the inaugural season of Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place (now The Broadway Playhouse) and at Theatre at the Center (1998-2004). His productions of Sweeney Todd, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Pal Joey, Assassins and Side Show at Porchlight Music Theatre, Grand Hotel at Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place and She Loves Me at Theatre at the Center were each nominated for the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Production-Musical. Directing credits include Living the History-125 Years of The Auditorium Theatre starring Patti LuPone and John Mahoney, Fifth of July and Talley’s Folly at the Oak Park Festival Theatre,The Petrified Forest at Theatre at the Center, Beauty and the Beast at Marriott Theatre, Over the River and Through the Woods at The Mercury Theater, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Pheasant Run Theatre, and Cirque du Symphony at Sears Center Arena. The recipient of two Joseph Jefferson Awards, he has written and directed the past nine Joseph Jefferson Awards ceremonies. Weber’s regional acting credits include Annie Get Your Gun and Gypsy (both starring Patti LuPone) at Ravinia, Disney’s My Son Pinocchio at First Stage Milwaukee, Around the World in 80 Days at Cleveland Playhouse, The Winter’s Tale and Henry V at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, It Had To Be You (starring Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka) at Little Theatre on the Square, Angel Street at First Folio Shakespeare, and The Gifts of the Magi at Indiana Repertory. Weber is proud to serve as a pledge host on WTTW, Channel 11, and is author of the play, WAR of the WELLeS.
Jeannie Lukow | Executive Director
Jeannie is a founding member of Porchlight’s board of directors and was an integral member of the company since its inception, serving as marketing director, grant writer and managing director in the early all-volunteer-staff years. She led Porchlight from a unique combination of both the staff and board sides of the company for 19 years, and as its board president from 2008 to 2014. In September 2014, Jeannie was thrilled to be named the Porchlight’s first Executive Director, continuing to drive the growth and development of this amazing company. Prior to joining the staff Porchlight, Jeannie co-founded Bespoke Cuisine, one of Chicago’s leading cooking party venues, which she co-owned for 12 years before selling the business in 2014. Prior to Bespoke, Jeannie built a 15-year career in marketing communications, much of it spent in association management. Her most recent position in that field was as Managing Director of Marketing Communications for the National Association of Realtors, with over 1 million members. Jeannie is a Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional through FMA. She is a native Michigander and graduate of Michigan State University, as well as an extensive world traveler, avid foodie and dog lover – mostly her own pooch, Simon, who joins her regularly at the Porchlight office.
Artistic & Administrative
Christopher Pazdernik | Casting & Company Manager
A director/choreographer with “a near encyclopedic knowledge of musicals” (NewCity Stage), Christopher is best known for his critically acclaimed production of High Fidelity (Jeff Awards, Best Director & Best Production of a Musical) with Refuge Theatre Project, where he serves as Artistic Director. Recent credits also include Merrily We Roll Along (Porchlight Music Theatre); Carrie (Ohio Northern University); The Rink, Anyone Can Whistle, City of Angels & Applause (Porchlight Revisits), Wicked City (Chicago Theatre Workshop); & Story of A Story (The Untold Story) (Underscore Theater Co.). Also at Porchlight, he has directed Miracle on 34th Street; assistant directed Candide, A Catered Affair, Dreamgirls & End of the Rainbow, as well as directing numerous New Faces Sing Broadway cabarets. His management credits include Associate Producer on The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier (World Permiere) and The Rosencranz Mysteries as well as Company Manager on First Date (Chicago Premiere) and A Splintered Soul. An openly HIV+ artist, Christopher was also a 2016 Windy City Times 30-Under-30 honoree for his contributions to Chicago’s LGBTQ community and currently serves on the Ambassador Committee for the AIDS Run/Walk Chicago and as Chairperson on the Community Advisory Board for Howard Brown Health, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ organizations. Proud Artistic Associate of Porchlight Music Theatre since 2010!
Alex Rhyan | Production & Operations Director
Originally from Arlington Heights, the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, Alex Rhyan is an outgoing, adventurous person that has a deep passion to create entertaining and motivating theater through collaboration. Alex received a B.A in Theater with a concentration in Stage Management from Columbia College Chicago. After graduating, he freelanced as a Technical Director and Production Manager for more than a dozen production at Chicago theaters including; American Theater Company, About Face Theater, Steep Theater, Porchlight Music Theatre and more. Alex greatest accomplishment to date was working alongside the leadership team as the Production Manager at Windy City Playhouse where helped bring to life 11 productions including the Playhouses most acclaimed immersive production SOUTHERN GOTHIC which is still running and celebrating over 500 performances.
August Compton | Audiences Services Manager
August moved to Chicago from Atlanta, Georgia nearly two years ago. While in Atlanta, she completed a Playwriting Apprenticeship with Horizon Theatre Company, joined their Front of House team, and immersed herself in a community full of up-and-coming theatre artists. She holds a BFA in Dramatic Writing with a Minor in Creative Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she graduated in 2015. While she’s always been a storyteller, it wasn’t until her first year of college that she really dove into the world of theatre, though she’s never looked back since. August is a cat lover, avid reader, frequent movie-goer, and thrilled to be part of the Porchlight team as it continues to grow in new and exciting ways.
Lisa Torgerson | Development Director
Lisa has 25 years of fundraising experience and a lifelong love of the arts. She began her development career at the Art Institute of Chicago and was a founding member helping to launch the Loyola University Museum of Art, leading the LUMA development efforts. She managed the successful $12 million endowment campaign for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, and was also Director of Development at the Joffrey Ballet. Lisa also serves on the Advisory Board of the Chicago Youth Centers Fellowship House and Madonna Mission, a nonprofit serving refugee families in Rogers Park. Lisa is a rabid Cubs fan and lives in Evanston, where she can often be found parking cars at Northwestern football games to raise money for Kingsley School.
Don Sprague | Institutional Advancement Director
From July 2006 to October 2009, Don served as Operations Manager at PMT, coordinating Porchlight’s office operations and subscriber relations as well as development, grants, communications, community outreach programs, and marketing efforts. Don previously served as administrator for the 2004–2005 season, since which time he had been coordinating grants. After many years as a high school teacher and administrator with experience in budgeting, communications, public relations, and development activities, he was a professor at Kennedy-King College for eleven years. He also serves as an editor for Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. Don served as president of the Chicago Classical Club for four years and as treasurer of the lllinois Classical Conference for fourteen.
Merril Prager | Senior Finance Manager
Fifteen years ago Merril founded a consulting practice to help organizations improve financial performance. Projects have included serving as interim CFO for organizations such as the Donors Forum, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Solomon Schechter Day School, as well as scenario-building for strategic planning, improving accuracy and efficiency in procedures and internal controls, capacity building and training for non-financial professionals. Merril currently serves on the advisory board at Northlight Theatre, the board at Acts of Kindness Cabaret and the Joseph Jefferson Committee (where she must excuse herself from all Porchlight voting!).
Dan Thomas | Finance Manager
Dan has a varied 10+ year career in arts education, finance and small business management. He holds bachelor’s degrees in both Music/Jazz Studies and American Studies & Religion, and holds an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management with majors in entrepreneurship and marketing. After school, Dan started at Chicago’s Merit School of Music as a Program Associate, working his way up to Director of the school’s Alice P. Pfaelzer Conservatory. Following work with Chicago Public Schools and Settlement Music School (Philadelphia), Dan turned his expertise to small business with roles at both Presence Inc and Field retailers in Chicago. Dan has been on the Porchlight staff for about a year.
Michelle Lauto | Education Manager
Michelle Lauto is a Jeff Award-winning actor, passionate teaching artist who has taught at Emerald City Children’s Theatre here in Chicago and The Broadway Workshop in New York City. Performance credits include Oklahoma! and Ragtime
SHOUT! Marketing & Media Relations
Our marketing and PR representative specializes in individualized client campaigns for theatre, restaurant and other leisure activities. The partners, Jill Evans La Penna and James Juliano, excel in partnering with each client to identify their specific needs to make each project a success. SHOUT! works hard to use the most up-to-date communications approaches including social, online and grassroots campaigns as well as unique strategic advertising plans to drive results.
Austin Packard | Marketing Manager
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Austin holds a BAC in Theatre Technology and Design from Bowling Green State University, and joined Porchlight Music Theatre after finishing three years in Live Entertainment at Cedar Point. In addition to Porchlight, Austin is a freelance graphic designer and theatrical technician, with a longstanding passion for music, theatre, Stephen King, and his one-toothed cat Margot. Austin is proud to be a part of the Porchlight team and the Chicago theatre community.
Irina Goldman | Marketing Associate
Irina earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts with concentrations in Dance Performance and Choreography from the University of Iowa with Highest Honors. Upon graduation, Irina moved to Chicago where she had the opportunity to dance for Chicago Repertory Ballet and Inaside Chicago Dance. She is currently dancing with South Chicago Dance Theatre for her first season, Dance in the Parks for her third, and Still Inspired(?) for her fifth. Irina acts as Youth Partner Performance Coordinator for Dance in the Parks, as well as Co-Producer of Future Artists and Director of Marketing and PR for Still Inspired(?). She recently launched her own freelance graphic design business, Glimpse. Irina feels so fortunate to be involved in the many dimensions of the art world and loves to bring all her experiences to her work.
Front of House
Jordan Fleming | House Manager
Before moving into house management, Jordan was a freelance stage manager throughout Chicago. Credits include Boy from Oz (Pride Films and Plays); The Light in the Piazza (SLATE); Jersey Shore: The Musical (4 Days Late); Copperhead (City Lit); Nutcracker (Carolina Ballet); Hairspray, Cabaret (Interlakes Summer Theater), Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot (STMV); Peter Pan (Blowing Rock Stage Company).
Dalton Brown | Box Office Manager
Dalton is a recent graduate of Kent State University with a degree in Theatre Performance. He has worked in the front of house for several theatres, including Porthouse Theatre and the School of Theatre and Dance at KSU. In addition to working in Arts Administration, Dalton is a playwright and an actor.
Elana is a recent graduate of Brandeis University, where she earned a BA in Music with a concentration in Musical Theatre Performance. She went on to spend a year working at Walt Disney World on the Disney College Program, before returning home to Chicago. She has spent several summers supervising the drama program at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, where she dabbles in direction, stage management, and design. When she isn’t singing her favorite showtunes or cheering for the Cubs, Elana can usually be found petting the nearest dog, going out for a run, or devouring a good book.
Michelle Freeman Cucchiaro / Chicago, IL
For as long as she can remember, Michelle has had a passion for musicals. At a young age, listening to – and singing along with (albeit not well!) – Broadway cast albums. And in Chicago, the very best place for musicals is Porchlight. In addition to musical theatre, film plays a major role in Michelle’s life. She serves on the Gene Siskel Film Center’s advisory board, and has been a member of the Chicago International Film Festival/Cinema Chicago for many years. During the late 1970s, when Chicago/Off Loop theatre was in its infancy, Michelle (along with her husband Steven) served on the audience development board at Victory Gardens Theatre, and later on the board of directors at VG. A lifelong Chicagoan, she takes great pride in the current theatre scene, subscribing to and supporting many of the local theatres. She is also a member at the Arts Club of Chicago, and proud to be an advocate for Porchlight Music Theatre.
Brenda Didier / Libertyville, IL
Director-Choreographer / Owner, Lincolnshire Academy of Dance
Brenda is a freelance choreographer/director based in Chicago and owns and directs the Lincolnshire Academy of Dance, which she founded nearly 20 years ago. She received the Equity Jeff Award for Best Director of a Revue for Porchlight’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ (2014), and she has received Non-Equity Jeff Awards for both direction and choreography, After Dark Awards for choreography, the National Youth Theatre Award for choreography and the 2010 Broadway World Chicago fan favorite award for choreography/non-equity. Brenda has collaborated with Porchlight on more than a dozen productions including, most recently, In The Heights, Dreamgirls, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and the smash-hit Ain’t Misbehavin’. She has served as a guest instructor/choreographer for Northwestern University, Columbia College, the University of Illinois- Champaign/Urbana, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Carthage College. She has choreographed musicals, industrials, special events as well as productions for Second City’s mainstage and five installments of Cirque Shanghai at Navy Pier’s Skyline Stage. These productions toured and played in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Cirque Shanghai Extreme Off-Broadway. Brenda directed Porchlight’s 2019 hit A Chorus Line!
Rhona Frazin / Chicago, IL
Rhona recently retired after a non-profit leadership career spanning more than five decades. Boxes of well-worn 33 1/3 rpm Broadway original cast recordings from the 60s, and 70s attest to her long love for musical theater and the great American song book. Her earliest work experience focused on public relations and marketing for Goodman Theatre and Goodman School of Drama, Wisdom Bridge Theater, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana, and Drury Lane Theater McCormick Place. Executive Leadership roles followed with The Nature Conservancy and The John Marshall Law School. For 18 years she led all institutional advancement efforts, including two highly successful capital campaigns, for Metropolitan Family Services (formerly United Charities of Chicago), the region’s oldest largest non-sectarian human service organization. In 1994, she was named President and CEO of the Chicago Public Library Foundation. Throughout her career, she actively gave back to the non-profit sector as a speaker for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Publicity Club of Chicago, Family Service America, Women in Philanthropy and the Urban and American Library Associations. She has served on a number of non-profit boards, including Girls in the Game, Wisdom Bridge Theater, Acorn Center for the Performing Arts in Three Oaks Michigan, and as a member of the Joseph Jefferson Committee. A BMI lyricist, she and her husband, retired Judge Julian Frazin, have written scores of parodies and song lyrics together, including “The Voice Above the Crowd” a tribute to the great radio voices of baseball,which was performed at the 1993 Major League All-Star Game by STYX lead singer Dennis DeYoung.
Tony Gibson (Chair) / Chicago, IL
Choreographer-Director and Secondary Education Specialist
Tony is a nationally recognized choreographer/director who’s been working with young people for over 25 years. He has choreographed over 35 musicals and numerous award-winning choral ensembles for high schools across the country. He was a guest educator for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Europe, and was invited to participate in the Kennedy Center’s Artist as Educators Workshop in Washington, D.C. Tony served as Education Director for Northlight Theatre in Skokie, managing Northlight’s education and outreach programs as well as developing and directing Northlight’s musical theatre summer camp. Tony is excited to be part of the Porchlight family and to take part in supporting and shaping the future growth of this wonderful theatre.
William Gilmer / Chicago, IL
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
Bill is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Currently a part-time academician and research consultant, he maintains a clinical practice in Chicago specializing in mood disorders. Bill also serves as an executive board member and scientific advisory board member of the National Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), an advocacy and educational organization with a national network of peer support groups and online services for people living with mood disorders and their families. A lifelong enthusiast of theater in Chicago, New York and elsewhere, he was drawn to Porchlight’s commitment to meaningful, dramatic narrative in music theater. As an admirer of Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bill subscribes to the words of Sondheim’s Franklin Shephard, “Musicals are popular. They’re a great way to state important ideas. Ideas that could make a difference.” Bill is delighted to be a supporter and board member of Porchlight Music Theatre, a company whose artistry embodies those words.
James Jensen / Chicago, IL
Concert Producer & Manager of Special Projects, Drury Lane Theatre
Jim has been working professionally in theatre as a producer and general manager for over 30 years. During that time he has been responsible for the production and management of over 100 productions and concert attractions. Recently he was co-producer and general manager of the Drury Lane Water Tower, and currently produces concerts and oversees all talent hiring for Drury Lane Oakbrook. Prior to that he was general manager of the Royal George Theatre, where he co-produced the long-running Forever Plaid. He also general managed Angels in America and many other Chicago productions, co-produced the first Chicago production of Forbidden Broadway, and was company manager for the first national tours of Aspects of Love and Evita. He was a founding member, former board member and past vice-president of the League of Chicago Theatres. He is on the advisory board of the Chicago Cabaret Professionals and is a member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers. A Northwestern graduate, he also teaches in the Theatre Management Program at the Theatre School at DePaul University.
Jonathan Klein (Secretary) / Park Ridge, IL
Professor & Executive Department Head, UIC Department of Pediatrics
Jon is a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine and in health services research. He is a graduate of New Jersey Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. After residency and fellowship in Boston and North Carolina, Jon served on the faculty of the University of Rochester in New York for many years before moving to Chicago to work for the American Academy of Pediatrics as Associate Executive Director in 2009. In 2017, he moved to the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Medicine as Professor of Pediatrics and Executive Vice Head of the Department, where he helps develop people and programs serving the south and west side of Chicago. Jon spent most of his adolescence as a theater techie, first with the New Players Company in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and then at Brandeis University, as a stage manager and lighting designer, before drifting into health policy and medicine. He and his wife, Susan Cohn, have two adult children, and are active members of Chicago’s lindy hop/swing dance community. They both love musical theater, and are delighted to have the chance to support Porchlight’s mission.
Charles Laff / Chicago, IL
Partner, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Chuck Laff is an attorney specializing in intellectual property and served many years as an Adjunct Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Loyola University of Chicago Law School. Chuck earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Purdue University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. During his career, he has had the opportunity to work with the owners of valuable intellectual property, including merchandising rights and copyrights for popular film characters and musical works. Chuck also serves on the Board of Managers of a fast-growing highly-innovative material science company. Growing up in Chicago, Chuck had the opportunity to watch live entertainment in intimate theaters and night clubs and learned to appreciate the wonderful experience of watching live performances up close. As lovers of theater, Chuck and his wife, Diane, regularly attend and are particularly fond of musical theater. Chuck and Diane are firm believers that the theater is an essential part of our culture, serving as a wonderful vehicle for educating audiences and encouraging people to open their minds and hearts. With his background and beliefs, it was natural for Chuck to join the Porchlight family and participate in the exciting growth of Porchlight and musical theater in Chicago.
Steve McDonagh / Highland Park, IL
Co-Owner, Hearty Boys
Along with spouse Dan Smith, Steve makes up one half of the cooking duo known as The Hearty Boys. They are trend setting Chicago caterers, authors of Talk with Your Mouth Full, original winners of Search For The Next Food Network Star and hosts of Food Network’s Party Line With the Hearty Boys. Their most recent book is an everyman’s guide to the current cocktail movement titled The New Old Bar. Dan and Steve have had 3 Michelin recommended Chicago restaurants, but at the moment are happily focusing on catering and their son, Nate. Steve has recently returned to acting full time, has appeared with Porchlight Revisits, The Goodman Theatre, Chicago Med and numerous productions at Theatre at the Center under Michael Weber’s direction. Steve has been a member of Actors’ Equity for 30 years.
Sara Siegall / Palatine, IL
Partner, Chapman & Spingola LLP
Sara hails from Miami, Florida, having moved to Chicago in 2005 to begin her legal career. Her passion for musical theatre began with the downward plunge of a chandelier, when she was taken to a production of Phantom of the Opera at age 13. Since then she has developed a special affection for the works of Stephen Sondheim, and will travel unreasonable distances to see the latest production of her favorite Sondheim show. Sara is a commercial litigator at the Chicago-based law firm Chapman Spingola, LLP, where she concentrates her practice in the areas of business and intellectual property disputes, securities, professional liability, and appeals. She loves the law (almost) as much as the theatre, and is excited to come to work each morning to help her clients solve their problems, defeat their adversaries, and advance their business interests. Prior to law school, Sara was a high school English teacher (and drama club sponsor) at Chelsea High School in New York, New York. She lives in Palatine with her husband and two young daughters.
Tamara Sims / Chicago, IL
Owner/Director Sales & Marketing, Something 2 Dance 2 DJ Entertainment
Tamara is beyond elated to be part of the Porchlight family. An avid Sondheim lover, Tamara’s first Porchlight production was Merrily We Roll Along and she has been a devoted fan ever since. Tamara and her husband own the award-winning companies Something 2 Dance 2 DJ Entertainment and Elegant Event Lighting in Schaumburg. Tamara will always greet you with a warm smile and she can also let you know where to find the best desserts! Her passion for theater is only exceeded by the passion she has for her business and life partner, Jay. Tamara is a graduate of Loyola University.
Brian Troy (Vice Chair) / Chicago, IL
Owner, Leopard Adventures: Custom African Safaris
Bio Coming Soon
Gretchen Upholt (Treasurer) / Chicago, IL
Lead Consultant, Fiscal Management Associates
Gretchen is a Lead Consultant with FMA, a consulting firm focused on building nonprofit organizations’ capacity in finance and operations. In that role Gretchen is responsible for the business development and growth strategy of FMA’s Midwest region, while also playing an active role as trainer, coach, and consultant to nonprofit clients across the country. Prior to FMA, Gretchen spent 5 years in international development, first as a Community Development Consultant for the Peace Corps in Ukraine, then as head of the Volunteer Department at the Thabyay Education Network in Thailand. Gretchen’s diverse experience includes working in corporate citizenship, housing and homelessness and the arts. She holds an MPA from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and her BA and MA in Arts and Cultural Management from American University in Washington, DC. Gretchen is also a board member for the National Peace Corps Association and maintains her love of the arts not only as board member with Porchlight but also a singer with Allegrezza Singers, a Chicago-based SATB choir.
Jeannie Lukow / Chicago, IL
Michael Weber / Chicago, IL
Mary Kay Conley / Orland Park, IL
Rhoda Reeling / Chicago, IL
Wm. Eric Bramlett / Naperville, IL
Creative Arts Director, Community Christian Church
Former Porchlight Artistic Director
John Bucchino / New York, NY
Award-Winning Broadway & Film Composer/Lyricist
E. Faye Butler / Chicago, IL
Cheri Coons / Chicago, IL
Kevin Depinet / Chicago, IL
Award-Winning Set Designer
William Finn / New York, NY
Tony Award-Winning Composer/Lyricist
Larry Grossman / West Hollywood, CA
Peabody and Multi-Emmy Award-Winning Composer
Linda Kline / New York, NY
Tony Award-Nominated Author
Jesse Klug / Chicago, IL
Award-Winning Lighting Designer
Sean Allan Krill / New York, NY
Chicago Theatre & Broadway Actor
Dominic Missimi / Northfield, IL
Award-Winning Artistic Director, Director & Teacher
Jill Moore / Phoenix, AZ
Porchlight’s Founding Artistic Director
Lonny Price / New York, NY
Emmy Award-Winning Actor, Director & Author
Hollis Resnik / Chicago, IL
Bill Russell / New York, NY
Tony Award-Nominated Author & Lyricist
Chuck Smith / Chicago, IL
Resident Director, The Goodman Theatre
Walter Stearns / Chicago, IL
Executive Director, Mercury Theater Chicago
Former Porchlight Artistic Director
Bob Walton / New York, NY
Author, Composer/Lyricist & Triple-Threat Broadway Actor
Jim Walton / New York, NY
Author, Composer/Lyricist & Triple-Threat Broadway Actor
Maury Yeston / New York, NY
Tony Award-Winning Composer/Lyricist