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A funny musical about cancer? 'Unbeatable' shows even serious illness can be a laughing matter

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 12, 2009 - When entertainment manager Laurie Frey was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer in 2002, she cried, raged and questioned as she fought back against the disease. But somewhere amid the diagnosis, the radiation therapy and the hair loss, there emerged another feeling: amusement.

After becoming friends with two other women also engaged in the battle against cancer, Frey realized how much time the trio spent laughing at the little absurdities of navigating the medical maze. Harnessing that humor, Frey envisioned a musical production that would capture both the horror and the hilarity of a life turned upside down by sudden illness.

With the help of a small creative team, the musical became a reality. Test runs in New York City boded well for its future.

"The very first time we got a standing ovation with nothing, no props, no set, just people reading with scripts in their hand," Frey said.

With original songs such as "Miss Chemo" and "Pricked, Poked and Prodded," "Unbeatable" is an honest, refreshing romp through the world of oncology. Embodying Frey is the character of Tracy Boyd, a business woman who takes multitasking to a new level. But after cancer becomes the extra ball in the air that Tracy just can't juggle, her friends and family put her on trial, grilling her about her life choices.

While "Unbeatable" has played to limited audiences, the five-week run at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza beginning October 15 marks its official nationwide debut. Joining New Yorkers Kristy Cates as Tracy and Charity Dawson as her friend Ally, are St. Louisans Michele Burdette Elmore, John Flack, Mark Kelley, Pamela Reckamp, Landon Shaw and Stellie Siteman.

Not everyone will appreciate the frequent religious references that leave no question that Tracy is a committed Christian. But according to Frey, most survivors embrace their individual faith, and the religious message is universal. Regardless of their beliefs, no one will walk away unmoved by "Unbeatable," Frey said: "If you've had anything devastating happen to you, or life has thrown you a curveball, you'll relate to it -- and that's everybody."

Nancy Larson is a freelance writer who includes theater coverage among her topics. 

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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