For Christine Rea, ’91 LAS, the roller-skating rink was a fixture of her childhood in Lansing, Ill. She loved every aspect of her weekly Saturday skates with her best friend: the music, the food, but especially the freedom. “I wasn’t this awkward kid,” Rea says. “Out there on that rink floor, I felt like I was a star.”
After 20 years as an actor, with starring roles in the national and European tours of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show, Rea decided it was time to write her own musical. She found inspiration from—where else?—the roller rink. Her show, titled Hit Her with the Skates, opened at Chicago’s Royal George Theatre on March 10.
Billed as a mix of Grease, Hairspray and Xanadu, the musical coming-of-age story opens in 1994. It tells the tale of pop star Jacqueline Miller, who takes a break from her first national tour to kick off the re-opening of her beloved childhood roller rink. Knocked off her center by some poor choices, Jacqueline takes a retrospective journey back to 1977, where she meets up with her 12-year-old self and the people who’ve made her who she is. “She reclaims her authentic self,” Rea says.
Although Rea earned a history degree from U of I, she rediscovered her true self when she started auditioning for shows at Champaign’s Armory Free Theater during her junior year. “The Armory shows were a huge influence on me. They were all original, all ensemble—exactly how I wrote Hit Her with the Skates,” she says.
The show’s nine-year gestation included a Kickstarter campaign, a reading at the prestigious Feinstein’s/54th Below in New York City and a two-week development run in New Jersey. Rea cowrote lyrics over FaceTime with her husband, Rick Briskin, an accomplished songwriter and musician. “Songwriting is a solitary pursuit for Rick,” Rea says. “After we finished one song lyric over FaceTime, we just decided we’re not even going to try to be in the same room. It worked.”
Briskin created a signature song style for each character: punk for the bully, classic rock for the rink’s bad girl, etc. His tunes find great voice through the show’s stars, former American Idol finalists Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young (who now are married).
Having Diana and Ace on board has legitimized the project on a certain level. “People are definitely paying attention,” Rea says.