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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for April 23rd, 2014

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for April 23rd, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

As it did with the BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominations last fall, the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, aka BoHo Theatre, leads the way in the non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Awards, with 12 nominations for its efforts among those announced Monday evening. The Jeff Awards, Chicago's answer to the Tony Awards (though not really an industry-voted honor), has two divisions, and this one is for the lower-budget, non-union type of productions that abound throughout our area. But the level of artistic work is certainly high, as witness the number of theater artists who continuously step up the ladder to the union houses and beyond (some in quick succession). Companies like Oracle Productions (with 11 nominations), Raven Theatre (with 9), the three companies with 8 nominations and the four companies with 7--well, they all have a lot to be proud of. The winners will be announced at a gala event at Chicago's Park West on Monday, June 2, 2014, honoring productions which opened between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014.

Among musical theater productions, the leader among the nominees is the recently-shuttered production of "Dessa Rose" by Bailiwick Chicago, honored with 8 nominations including Production - Musical, and nods for both its leading ladies, Sydney Charles and Harmony France. The about-to-close production of "Passion" at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre received 6 nominations, including Danni Smith for Actress in a Principal Role -Musical and Colette Todd for Actress in a Supporting Role -Musical. BoHo's "Kiss Of The Spider Woman" (from last summer) also received 6 nominations, including mentions for both its leading men (Nathan Carroll and Evan Tyrone Martin). These shows were also nominated in the Production category, as were the other highest musical nominees, "Sweet Smell Of Success" from Kokandy Productions (with 6 mentions overall) and "Spamalot" from NightBlue Performing Arts Company (with 5).

Other noteworthy showtune nominations include the four awarded to Pride Films And Plays' late entry "Songs From An Unmade Bed" (including both its cast members, Jordan Phelps and Kevin Webb, as leading actors), the four awarded to "Pink Milk" from Oracle Productions and White Elephant (including a coveted Ensemble nom), and the two leading performer nominations awarded the entire cast of "The Last Five Years" (Kokandy Productions), Jim DeSelm and Allison Hendrix. Also, Griffin Theatre Company picked up three nominations for supporting performers in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (Daniel Desmarais as Leaf Coneybear, Charlotte Mae Ellison as Olive Ostrovsky and Laura McClain as Rona Lisa Peretti).

Though 128 nominations were announced in 24 categories, it seems unusual that there are no separate categories for revues this year. However, eight categories included six or more nominees, rather than the usual five. And the scores of two musicals were nominated in the catch-all category of Artistic Specialization, though the shows in question were not nominated as the best New Work or New Adaptation. They were John Fournier's score for "The Life And Death Of Madam Barker" [Red Tape Theatre] and Scott C. Lamps' and Andrew Park's score for "The People's A Christmas Wish" [Quest Theatre Ensemble]).


In current production news, it's all about classic works from the Golden Age this week, as great interest has arisen in the announced casting for the newly revised 1947 Lerner and Loewe musical, "Brigadoon," to be mounted at the Goodman Theatre in June, July, and August, directed by Rachel Rockwell. (Ask and ye shall receive [right?], as I was just asking the gods of musical theater for news about this!) Alan Jay Lerner's daughter, Liza Lerner, asked Rockwell to rejuvenate the work (which of course could be licensed or produced elsewhere if all goes well) and Brian Hill (Broadway's "The Story Of My Life") has been asked to revise the book. There will be new orchestrations and, presumably, new (non-Agnes de Mille) choreography as well. Starring will be Kevin Earley ("The Pirates Of Penzance" at the Marriott Theatre) as Tommy, Jennie Sophia as Fiona and Maggie Portman as Meg (interestingly, both of these ladies played these very same roles in the Light Opera Works production of the show in 2011, albeit using the original Lerner script). There are a lot of familiar Chicago names in the 28-person cast, including Larry Adams, Joseph Foronda, George Keating, Michael Aaron Lindner, Roger Mueller, Emily Rohm, Katie Spelman, Richard Strimer, Rod Thomas and more. This very important production begins previews June 27, and opens on July 7.


And of course, all those taxicab ads will finally have a purpose this coming weekend, as "The Sound Of Music" opens at Lyric Opera Of Chicago, onstage from April 25-May 25 at the Civic Opera House. Directed by Marc Bruni (he did the honors for the Broadway production of "Beautiful," starring Jessie Mueller, daughter of Roger), the Tony-winning musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein 2nd (book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) is Lyric's second musical in its five-post-season traversal of the R&H canon. Film star Billy Zane headlines as Captain Georg Von Trapp, with Jenn Gambatese as Maria (she's no stranger to Chicago audiences, as we've seen her in "All Shook Up" and "Wicked"). Opera stars Christine Brewer and Elizabeth Futral are the Mother Abbess and Elsa Schraeder, and TV star Edward Hibbert will be Max Detweiler. It's a big cast and orchestra (conducted by Encores' Rob Fisher), no doubt instructed to replace any memory of December's televised TSOM (Carrie Underwood, remember?) that may linger in the audience's minds.


While we're on the subject of musicals in the Loop, a certain national tour of a certain hit Broadway musical began its first-ever performances last night, and just two days ago announced an additional four weeks of performances! I'm talking of course about "Motown," co-produced by and with book by Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, telling the tale of the early days of the legendary Detroit record company, and of his relationship/affair with the biggest female star to emerge from his stable of singers, Diana Ross ("The Wiz," "Lady Sings The Blues"). The show will now run April 22-August 9, 16 weeks in all. (Sixteen!) Not bad for a show that didn't win any major awards in New York, though it continues to sell well there. And I expect it will do very well here, and elsewhere on the road. It's directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, with choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams. It's at the Oriental Theatre, folks.


Two weeks ago I reported on the announcement by the American Theater Company that it would stage "Little Shop Of Horrors" in the late spring of 2015. But last week, the company announced it is scrapping that plan, and much of its announced plans, and is instead forming a partnership with the New York-based Araca Group, in order to develop new American plays and musicals, here and for production elsewhere (it would seem). The organizations will produce a weekend of world premiere readings August 7-9, 2014, called AracaWorks: Chicago, and in that "Little Shop" slot next year will come a new musical, not yet announced. You hardly ever see such a quick turnaround, peeps. Not for a topic that clearly took a long time to put into place. Wonder why they didn't think they could announce this in early April, but they could on the 16th? Ah, well, it's announced now. I hope it pays off, for all of us!


Speaking of new musicals, Writers Theatre has one coming up, a show which will be the last one produced at the theater's Tudor Court space in downtown Glencoe. (Don't worry: Jeanne Gang designed their new digs, in case you missed this major architectural news.) The new show is called "Days Like Today," and it runs May 6-July 13, directed by artistic director Michael Halberstam, musical directed by Doug Peck and choreographed by Tommy Rapley. Book and lyrics are by the actor-singer-writer Alan Schmuckler, and the book is by Laura Eason, former artistic director of the Lookingglass Theatre on Michigan Avenue and currently a story editor for the series "House Of Cards" on Netflix. The cast of this romantic musical consists of Emily Berman, Susie McMonagle, Will Mobley, Jeff Parker, Stephen Schellhardt, Jonathan Weir and Jarrod Zimmerman. There's a good buzz about this one.


A new show called "Boogie Stomp" began its pre-New York tryout run in Chicago yesterday, though I'm not sure yet exactly how theatrical the self-described "theatrical evening" is. But you better act fast if you want to find out, as it only has one more performance to go--tonight! It has a four-week New York engagement (at the Chain Theatre in Long Island City) set to begin May 15. And I'm sure it's some sort of great, I just think it looks like a concert, albeit with theater trappings instead of concert trappings. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Guess we'll find out! Anyway, it's about American piano music. Nothing wrong with that, either! Its Chicago home is the PianoForte Studios at 13th and Michigan. Bob Baldori and Arthur Migliazza star. Piano!!


A much better-known title has a short run coming up, also--three weekends, to be exact. It's "Nunsense," at the James Downing Theatre on the northwest side, directed by Corey L. Mills. Genevieve Thiers, Robin Bousel, Manuel Ortiz, Mara Stewart and Catherine Reyes McNamara star as the Little Sisters Of Hoboken. Andy Hodson is musical director, with tap choreography by Ashley Howard.

I don't think it's been officially announced as a production, but the casting notice is up and everybody's talking about it! It's the Michael John LaChiusa version of "The Wild Party" (there were two different musicals by the same name in New York at the same time), and it will be produced by Bailiwick Chicago in the fall (October 2-November 1, 2014, to be exact). And since the company just got eight Jeff Award nominations for "Dessa Rose," you can be sure that folks will turn out in droves to be in this one. Brenda Didier will direct, with music direction by Aaron Benham. And I think this will be the Chicago professional premiere. Is that right?

And lastly, a Public Service Announcement that's also a fundraising campaign, that's also a web series, that's also being done by Chicago musical theater actors. Got that? Actor Shaun Baer has let me know about a web series he's writing and starring in, with help from folks like Hillary Marren, Jess Godwin and Khaki Pixley, names familiar to Mosh Pit readers. His team is planning a seven-part web series set in a humane shelter. They're raising funds now to complete the series, and of course there are opportunities along the way for donors, viewers and the public at large to help cats and dogs in need of rescue and humane treatment. They've got some interesting information online now. Just goes to show you that theater folk are among the most empathetic, creative and engaged folk on the planet. Check it out, won't you? "Humane Resources: A Web Series." Coming to a screen or hand-held device near you, with your help. It's a pretty unique idea, if you ask me! Very well done, you guys.

So that's it for this week! Sooo much going on. Sooo much! When I started this column four years and eight months ago, I wondered if there was enough to write about each and every week. Boy, is there! I'll continue to write it as long as you'll read it, peeps! But before the next issue hits the interwebs, I'll see you under the video screens.....-PWT

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Paul W. Thompson Paul W. Thompson, a contributor to since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as a performer, teacher and writer is centered at Paul W. Thompson Music, located in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building, where he teaches the great songs of Broadway to the next generation of musical theater performers. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Paul was raised in a family of professional musicians and teachers, steeped in classical, gospel, country, pop, sacred and show music. Dubbed a “thin, winsome lad” at the age of 13 by a critic for the Nashville Banner, he earned two degrees in musical theater (a B.F.A. with Honors from Baylor University and an M.M. from the University of Miami, Florida), plus an M.B.A. with Distinction from DePaul University. Paul’s memberships include Actors’ Equity Association, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (proud voter for the Grammy Awards!), the National Association of Teachers of Singing and New York’s Drama League.

Moving easily between the worlds of classical music, religious music, classic pop and musical theater, Paul has appeared onstage or in the orchestra pit in concerts, musicals, operettas and operas in 30 states and in Europe, in a career spanning more than 35 years. His Chicagoland stage credits include “Forever Plaid” at the Royal George Theater and twenty mainstage productions at Light Opera Works. Paul joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus in 1995 (he was Tenor I Section Leader for four years and sings on two Grammy-winning recordings), and is one of Chicago’s foremost liturgical singers, marking 20 years as a member of the choir at St. James Cathedral (Episcopal) in 2011.He has composed and arranged a number of anthems, hymns and songs for worship and concert use, and collaborates on the creation of new works of musical theater. Paul can be found on Monday nights watching showtune videos at the world-famous Sidetrack nightclub, the inspiration for his weekly column, “The Showtune Mosh Pit.” His proudest achievement is that he has seen the original Broadway production of every Tony Award-winning Best Musical since “Cats.” No, really. Since “Cats!”

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