Musical takes on breast cancer with wit, humor


October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the local Siteman Cancer Center participated in an unusual awareness effort this year: giving away tickets to cancer survivors to a musical…about breast cancer.

The Siteman Cancer Center is one of several organizations partnering with the producers of the new musical Unbeatable to invite breast cancer survivors from all over the region to see the show for free during the week before the show opened for a five-week run on Oct. 15 at the Westport Playhouse.


Unbeatable features local actress Stellie Siteman and zooms in on a very critical topic: the importance of getting tested and breast cancer awareness. The musical raises another important side to the issue: the importance of humor in recovery.

Breast cancer is a health threat to all women, and even men, but it poses a special threat to some members of the Jewish community. Jews of Ashkenazi descent face an increased risk of breast cancer due to genes that have been linked to the disease.

Although breast cancer gets the most attention, it is not the only cancer associated with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations found in families of Ashkenazi descent. Ovarian, prostate and colon cancers also run in families with these mutations.

While Unbeatable is not really a comedy, there is plenty of humor in the play about an unsinkable lead character, a businesswoman named Tracy Boyd who is faced with a diagnosis of stage-three breast cancer. Boyd, played by Kristy Cates, who has appeared here at the Muny and was part of the Broadway touring cast of Wicked, is a woman whose typical response to adversity is a wisecrack.

In the play, Siteman plays the lead character’s mother, who is supportive but plainspoken towards her daughter. In Unbeatable, independent, efficient Tracy enters a perhaps chemo-induced dream, where she finds herself in a courtroom, on trial for putting off getting a mammogram, and also for failing to fully appreciate her friends and family who are trying to help her.

Siteman is, of course, the daughter of Alvin J. Siteman, for whom the Siteman Cancer Center was named. The Siteman Center also plays a role in the play, with the name of the cancer treatment center a prominent part of the set, the location where much of Tracy’s battle with, and jokes in the face of, cancer take place.

The story behind this show is based on the experiences of writer Laurie Frey, who in 2002, amidst the daily pressures of producing David Copperfield’s world tour, was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer. Her colleagues at the time worked at Emery Entertainment, a St. Louis-based production company and the same team behind the production of Unbeatable. So the show became a “labor of love” for their friend and colleague. “It is a musical about a breast cancer journey,” said Frey, co-creator of Unbeatable.

She noted that since people do not expect to see the words “cancer” and “musical” in the same sentence, some people might worry how appropriate it might be. So the partnership with the Siteman Cancer Center was crucial to helping spread a serious message — awareness about the importance of early detection.

Frey said that the reason she chose to make this piece a musical is because plays she had seen about any kind of sickness or disease are really difficult to watch. With musical numbers, it is easier to bring in some humor with the difficult subject matter.

“I am a person who laughed a lot. I am an optimistic realist,” Frey said. “I realize things in life are not always going to be great, but I laugh my way through them and find interesting ways to view them. And that is basically the take we took on the show.”


WHEN: Through Nov. 22; Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m. ; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.

WHERE: The Playhouse at Westport Plaza

HOW MUCH: $39.50

MORE INFO: 314-469-7529,