REVIEW: Cougars! The Musical

She is cougar, hear her roar!



Fireworx Productions presents
Cougars! The Musical
by Gillian Bellinger and Chuck Malone
directed by
Corey Rittmaster
The Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22nd  |  tickets: $15  more info   

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Gillian Bellinger and Chuck Malone both have long, august (if that is the word) careers in comedy. Their collaboration on their latest creation, Cougars! The Musical has bourn the strangest, wildest, funniest fruit. By all indications, Cougar-fever has hit the Chicago comedy scene with a vengeance. Who needs critical accolades when your second night’s performance is packed to the rafters?

aaa-cougarsposter Three elderly gal pals, Kate (Gillian Bellinger), Lana (Rebecca Montalvo), and Bette (Madeline Wager) are on the prowl for fresh young meat. They even rename their favorite young bartender Meat (Justin Schumann), even though his real name is Kevin. (Hey, it’s good for the meat to know their place.) Meanwhile, Bette’s ex-husband, Frank (Brian Finley), who she divorced 40 years ago over his trysts with a geisha in Nam, still carries a torch for Bette and wants her forgiveness. Can Frank save Bette from Michael (Paul Barrett Ford), Bette’s hot, new, young beau, who has a dark and sinister agenda?

Director Corey Rittmaster’s remarks in the program say it all about Bellinger’s book and lyrics: “ . . . never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that out of that sweet, fresh-faced Texas girl’s imagination would come this incredible homage to depravity and vulgarity.” What must also be acknowledged is the sophistication of Malone’s compositions for this raucous, in-your-face farce. While most comedy reviews content themselves with slap-dash and simple-minded arrangements for tunes, Cougars’ songs sound like they come from, well, a composer. Plus, choreography for the smaller tunes seems on the usual sloppy side of schlock comedy, while in bigger numbers the whole cast pulls together with sharper, more impressive performances.

Here’s where the picky theater reviewer comes in with her annoying critique – but Bellinger and Malone have brought it on themselves. By setting the bar higher in writing and composition, they’ve introduced greater demands upon the cast than might usually be expected from lesser fare. I have no idea how much time was taken in rehearsal, but if any remount of Cougars! The Musical is planned for the future—and why not—then greater care should be taken in more accurate, fully formed characterizations for each role. There’s still more juice to be squeezed from this juicy fruit and there’s no reason to think the current cast couldn’t take it all the way.

Cougars the Musical Cougars the Musical Cougars the Musical

Finally, the slow start to the show on its second night was noticeable—and low energy is always death to comedy review. Ford, as the swindler Michael, picked up the pace considerably with his rocked-out, rotten plans for Bette–“Off That Cougar Whore.” From there, the rest of the cast picked up and took flight. In particular, the cast brought down the house with Frank and Michael’s testosterone sparing match, “Dick to Dick.” Now top that off with acting that echoes the meticulous inflections with the script that Alaina Hoffman shows as Jennifer, Bette’s daughter, and you’ve got sex-crazed comedy that practically passes for ART. OMG! That could be a sign of the Apocalypse—a happy, joyful, cougar-y sign!

Rating: ★★★

Cougars! The Musical performs every Saturday, April 3rd-May 22nd (Saturday April 17th moved to Friday April 16th)


Cast and Crew


PictureAlaina Hoffman (Jennifer), a Pacific Northwest native, grew tired of mild weather, strapped on her crazy hat, and moved to the Midwest for college. After receiving her BA in Theatre Arts from Bethel University and performing with MILETE Women’s Art Collective, The Minnesota Fringe Festival, and Comedy Sportz Minneapolis, Alaina left the angry winters of Minnesota for the angry winters of Chicago. A conservatory graduate of the Second City Training Center, Alaina has had the honor of performing improvisational comedy with pH Productions, ComedySportz Battleprov, and independent teams Makeshift Robot and The Thunder Thieves in addition to numerous sketch comedy credits and playing the role of Catherine in Red Ink Productions’ Proof. She can currently be seen making things up at Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg. 


Brian Finlay (Frank) is thrilled to be playing the role of Frank in Cougars! The Musical. Brian moved to Chicago in 2004 and has been "loving it" ever since. Brian has studied and performed improv at various theaters around Chicago including iO, Second City, and Annoyance Theatre. Brian is appearing in the role of ‘the Jock’ in "The Breakfast Club- Totally 80’s Musical’ at iO this February and March. Brian’s true love is music improv and he can currently be seen every Sunday night performing with Infinite Sundaes the Second City Training Center’s Music House Ensemble.

PictureChuck Malone (Composer, Producer) has traveled all over the world as a Music Director with Second City’s Touring Company and with Second City on the Norwegian cruise ship The Spirit. This is Chuck’s second full length musical, Bucket of Blood at The Annoyance Theater being his first. When in Chicago Chuck can be seen accompanying for Co-Ed Prison Sluts at the Annoyance Theater and Second City. He would like to thank Gillian for ridiculously long writing sessions over Skype, and his parents for paying for piano lessons.

PictureCorey Rittmaster (Director) is originally from Overland Park, KS, attended the University of Kansas and is making his directorial debut with Cougars! The Musical. He began performing improv and sketch comedy in the early 90’s first in Kansas City and now here in Chicago, as well as for hire throughout the country. Corey is an ensemble member of Laugh Out Loud Theater where he also tours, teaches, and writes corporate comedy. He is one half of the sketch comedy duo The Union, who has performed at Second City’s Donny’s Skybox, The Annoyance Theater and most recently at the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival.

PictureGillian Bellinger (Kate, Script and Lyric Writer, Producer) is an experienced SAG actor and improviser. She currently performs with Laugh Out Loud Theater, Twisty: The Second TC House Ensemble, Infinite Sundaes: The Second City TC Musical House Ensemble, at Zanies and various stand-up showcases, and at Improv Acadia in Maine. She is a principal actor in commercials for Harris Bank, Time Warner, NorthShore Healthcare, and Unitrin Auto Insurance. So if you’re watching TV late at night and think, "Was that…?" Probably. Check out!


Jim Vozella (Stage Manager, Set Designer) is a graduate of Elmhurst College where he studied History and Theatre with a concentration in acting and directing. Jim was a member of Wasteful Thinking Improv for five years, and currently is a member of Argyle Gargoyle improv troupe. Jim is currently training at Laugh Out Loud and the Annoyance. Other credits include Archibald Proops in Jekyll and Hyde, George Deever in All My Sons, Jean in Miss Julie, and others from independent film to directing stage.

PictureJustin Schumann (Meat) is thrilled to reprise his role of “Meat” in “Cougars! The Musical”. He is a graduate of both the Second City Conservatory and the Music Improv Conservatory. He was last seen in Family Poortraits at Donny’s Skybox and naked in a martini glass in the Cougars! poster.  He performs all over the city with his independent sketch groups, Scuzznick Productions and Vampeero Productions.

PictureMadeline Wager (Bette) moved to Chicago 5 years ago from Oklahoma City to attend The Theatre School of DePaul University. After receiving her BFA in Theatre Arts, Maddy completed the i.O. training center and will soon graduate from The Annoyance. You can see her improvise with pH Productions and Laugh Out Loud Theater as well as perform standup at various venues. Maddy wants to give a shout out to all the older ladies getting young action out there…because, someday, she will be a real live cougar.

PictureMichael "Monty" Montgomery (Stage Manager) studied Theatre at Illinois State University where he gained experience in stage management, acting, and box office/house management. Since leaving ISU he has worked with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, ComedySportz Chicago, Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, JAM Theatricals, Chicago International Sketch Fest, The Northern California Innocence Project, the Chicago International Film Festival, and MTV Entertainment.

PicturePaul Ford (Michael, Choreography) makes his Chicago debut with this production of Cougars. A native of Seattle, Paul recently arrived from Los Angeles where he worked as a jazz pianist, illustrator, & photographer. In addition to his theatre work, some of his film credits include small roles in Erin Brokovich, Love & Diane, and Junebug. He is a graduate of Colgate University.

PictureRebecca Montalvo (Lana) is a Texas transplant who is living it up int he Windy City. Most recently Rebecca was seen in the musical "The Timeless Tale of New Portsmouth" at Second City’s Donny’s Skybox. She has worked with Chicago Dramatists, Hip Pocket Theater, Teatro De La Rose, Theatre Arlington, and Northeast Playhouse. She has trained at Second City, I.O., and with Jimmy Carrane.

PictureTony Lentino (Technical Director) is a graduate of Elmhurst College where he studied music business and theater with a focus on Improv comedy.  Tony was a member of the college’s Wasteful Thinking Improv Troupe for four years where he spent his last two years as student director.  Tony has spent much time on stage in Schaumburg as well, where he has had lead roles in several musicals. Tony has studied with Second City, Laugh Out Loud, and The Annoyance and has led several workshops at the Illinois High School Theater Festival. 

One Response

  1. […] of comedy here based on women doing their animal thang. First, there was Cougars! The Musical (our review ★★★), a whacked-out review about women acting on animal urges well past menopause. Now on the […]

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