Ask any member of the artistic team behind “The Forgiving and The Forgetting”, a new musical about one family’s struggle to embrace and accept Alzheimer’s disease, why they chose to get involved, and they will point not to a reason, but a person. Director Karen Fort remembers her mother in law who struggled with Alzheimer’s for a decade, and author/lyricist Jade Angelica has based her musical’s matriarch on her own mother (the production draws form Angelica’s memoir, “Where Two Worlds Touch: A Spiritual Journey Through Alzheimer’s Disease”). The story of Alzheimer’s and dementia is such a shared legacy that I couldn’t help but think of my own family’s stricken matriarch, no longer able to conjure our names from memory, but always pleased to hear our stories of her exploits.

 “The Forgiving and The Forgetting” by Jade Angelica (book and lyrics), and Gail Gallagher (music and lyrics) follows Lizzie (Lorraine Freund), her estranged daughter Eva (Janet Sussman) and her son, Tom (Justin Hauke) a priest, as they all learn of Lizzy’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. The siblings work to manage their mother’s illness despite years of bad blood and vastly different ideas of what sort of help Lizzie will need.  They are aided in their treatment by a troupe of medical professionals, Alzheimer’s patients and the occasional game show host. Together, they learn to embrace that their lives and family roles may never return to normal, but they are more capable of coping and understanding than anyone of them realizes. 

What sets “The Forgiving and The Forgetting” apart from a traditional musical is the focus the authors have placed in making the experience not just an entertainment, but an opportunity to educate and raise awareness for their audience. Providing the best treatment for those persons with Alzheimer’s closest to us means reaching out and joining them in their world, Jade Angelica and countless medical experts posit. For example, when Lizzie mistakenly claims the flowers her son brought her were picked from her garden, we see the stress she experiences when her son negates her strong recollection, and no amount of reason can bring Lizzie around, however, and she lashes out at her children in song. Stark in contrast, Lizzie mistakes her daughter for a beloved cousin, and Eva plays along, diffusing her mother’s tension instantly.  

 I asked each of the show creators what they hoped audiences would glean from their fictional Alzheimer’s family, and each came back with a thought tinged with the knowledge that Alzheimer’s can be treated for years, but not cured. “Hope is possible,” says Jade Angelica, “deep meaningful relationships are possible. All is not lost.” Director Karen Fort advised to “give them as many happy moments as possible; they can’t come to you.” Composer/lyricist Gail Gallagher chimed in with, “they may not remember who you are, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

Angelica and Gallagher have extensive plans for the musical, a work they consider to be perpetually evolving with each performance. They are currently filming the production and will be touring the show to California in the near future. Chicagoans can take in a performance of “The Forgiving and The Forgetting” for free this coming weekend and as part of a larger Alzheimer’s focused event in the next week, The Wingspread Conference, details are below: 

Performances of “The Forgiving and The Forgetting” are:

  • Sunday, March 22nd at 2pm at the Second Unitarian Church, 656 West Barry Ave. Chicago, IL 60657 (Free performance, donations accepted)
  • Wednesday, March 25th at 6:45pm at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 East Chestnut St. Chicago, IL 60611 (Part of the Wingspread Conference, $20)

For more information, visit:

“The Forgiving and The Forgetting” Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1573834286208101/

 The Wingspread Conference: http://tinyurl.com/Wingspread2015

 Healing Moments Alzheimer’s Ministry:http://healingmomentswebsite.webs.com/

 Sean Margaret is a Chicago playwright, musical bookwriter/lyricist and storyteller. You can find her on Twitter: @SMargaretWagner

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