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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for April 30th, 2014

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for April 30th, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Two of the most popular musical films ever made (and popular because they appeal to children as well as to adults) are in the Chicago Loop right now, in their stage versions. You've got to be living under a rock if you haven't seen advertisements for Lyric Opera Of Chicago's "The Sound Of Music," which had a dual opening of sorts over the weekend at the Civic Opera House. The gala opening night party, and the live simulcast of the production on WFMT-FM radio, took place on Saturday night, while theater critics were invited to attend the Sunday matinee. I was there, and I trust you've already sought out my review in these, er, pages. Even though I had a few reservations about the storytelling, my review is still quite positive. But everybody else seems to be unabashedly raving about Marc Bruni's staging of Billy Zane, Jenn Gambatese, Christine Brewer et al. in Richard Rodgers's and Oscar Hammerstein II's final stage work together. And it really is thrilling. You have four more weeks to catch this production, one that will hard to forget for a very long time. Here are some critics' quotes, with two from yours truly mixed in there:

And the North American tour of "The Wizard Of Oz," in a version expanded by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (a hit in the UK and Canada), lands like Dorothy's house at the Cadillac Palace Theatre tonight, for a two-week stand through May 11, 2014. Danielle Wade stars as Dorothy (and I bet she doesn't breathe in between syllables). No, peeps, this show is not a sequel to "Wicked." But this production may, finally, give the world a more-or-less definitive stage version of the beloved story and film. Jeremy Sams ("Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") directs, and Arlene Phillips ('Starlight Express") choreographs.

Also closing on May 11 after a run of three weekends will be Stacey Flaster's staging of Ahrens' and Flaherty's "Ragtime," which has become more or less immortal itself in not quite twenty years of live performances (and, regrettably, no film version). You will find the show at the Prairie Lakes Community Center in northwest suburban Des Plaines, produced by the Big Noise Theatre Company. Robert Deason music directs, and Michael Goldman leads the pit orchestra and the big cast. Amanda Horvath and Sydney Charles star as Mother and Sarah (that's reason enough to go, right there), with David Simmons as Coalhouse, David Lundholm as Tateh, Ryan Dooley as Younger Brother, Kevin Kirkpatrick as Father and Marian Kaderbek as Emma Goldman. Maddy LaRoche is Evelyn Nesbitt, Kris Hyland is Harry Houdini, and Randolph Johnson is Booker T. Washington. The imposing-looking set is the work of David Geinosky. And the one review I saw was a rave!

Also popular with the younger set are versions of "Sleeping Beauty," and the one by Marc Robin is playing mornings through June 7 at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. Directed by Tammy Mader, Megan Long stars as Princess Amber, with Will Skrip as Prince Hunter. Also in the cast are Michael Ehlers, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Lisa Estridge, Lillian Castillo, Kelsey Andres and Lara Filip.


Though it really shouldn't be popular with the younger set, "Avenue Q" comes from the same aesthetic of storytelling that created "Sesame Street," though with a decidedly grown-up and post-modern sensibility attached. The Tony-winning show (it bested "Wicked," remember?), written in part by the "Let It Go" guy (Robert Lopez) is finally receiving its local Equity premiere at the hands of Mercury Theater Chicago. (A commercial production was once announced for the Royal George Theatre, but didn't get off the drawing board.) L. Walter Stearns directs, with choreography by Kevin Bellie and music direction by Eugene Dizon. And it's raking in very positive notices! The show runs all the way through June 29th, starring Jackson Evans, Adam Fane, Leah Morrow, Stephanie Herman, Christine Bunuan, Sean Fawcett, Donterrio Johnson, Dan Smeriglio and Thom Van Ermen.

The belated Chicago premiere (and it's Equity, to boot) of the 1959 Broadway musical "Juno" has played a week of previews, and will officially open tomorrow night (through July 27) at the TimeLine Theatre Company in East Lakeview. Director Nick Bowling has assembled an impressive cast, headed by Marya Grandy and Ron Rains. Also appearing are Kelli Harrington, Peter Oyloe, James Houton, Matthew Keffer, Anne Sheridan Smith, Michael Reckling and more. Doug Peck and Elizabeth Moran share the music duties, and Katie Spelman choreographs. "Juno" has a score by the highly-regarded Marc Blitzstein ("The Cradle Will Rock," "Regina"). It's about time we heard it here!

Now playing is a remount of a show that premiered in 2012 and was seen last year in New York at the Barrow Street Theatre. It's "Hit The Wall," which will run until June 29, the anniversary of the events depicted. It's about that fateful night in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village gay bar, which sparked the Gay Liberation Movement in the view of many. Or did it? Visit the Greenhouse Theater to see this show, produced by The Inconvenience and the Chicago Commercial Collective. This play-with-rock-band, written by Ike Holter, is again directed by Eric Hoff.

There's a world premiere musical afoot, playing at the Signal Ensemble Theatre in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood. It's "The Next Thing," with music and lyrics by Chicagoan Jon Steinhagen and book by artistic director Ronan Marra. The run begins tomorrow night, May 1, and goes until June 7. Elizabeth Bagby, Courtney Jones, Eleanor Katz, Vincent Lonergan, Taylor Okey, Christopher Selefski, Joseph Stearns and Stephanie Wohar appear in what sounds like a romantic musical comedy about the contemporary Hollywood film industry. That's cool.

This weekend and next is this year's installment of Northwestern University's "Waa-Mu Show," which dates to the late 1920s and boasts an impressive roster of alumni as past performers and writers. An update of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," set in 1930s Hollywood and with a cast of 42 student performers, "Double Feature At Hollywood And Vine" runs May 2-11 at Cahn Auditorium on the Evanston campus. It's all very deco. Michael Goldberg directs. Betsy Stewart and Kyle Sherman star.


Chicago Children's Theatre announced its upcoming season last week, and, just to keep our ball in the Mosh Pit rolling here, it will include two world premiere musicals! "Frederick," based on the children's book by Leo Lionni, will place the titular mouse onstage in an adaptation by Suzanne Miller, directed by Stuart Carden and with songs by Sarah Durkee and Paul Jacobs (October 15-November 16). And "Wonderland, Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure," based on the books by Lewis Carroll, is written by Rachel Rockwell and Michael Mahler, with direction by her and music direction by him (April 22-May 24, 2015). In between these premieres, CCT will bring back its 2008 hit, "The Selfish Giant," created by Blair Thomas and Michael Smith (January 23-February 23, 2015). Thomas co-founded Redmoon Theater, and Smith wrote the score for Steppenwolf's Tony-winning production of "The Grapes Of Wrath," among other works. All of these performances will take place at the Ruth Page Center For The Arts on Dearborn Street.


And lastly for this week, I wanted to keep you updated on the finals of the third annual Illinois High School Musical Theater Awards (our semi-final for the "Jimmy Awards" in New York). 24 Illinois high school students were hosted by Broadway In Chicago last weekend for workshops and performances at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. The two winners were Julia Lindsay Whitcomb of Belvidere, Illinois (Belvidere North High School) and Jonah Rawitz of Buffalo Grove, Illinois (Stevenson High School). They'll be competing at the Jimmys on June 24th. Congratulations to both of them! Mosh Pit peeps may be familiar with Rawitz, as the young man has quite an array of professional credits under his belt, including Michael Mahler's "Hero" at the Marriott Theatre, "Sweeney Todd" (as Toby) at the Drury Lane Theatre, "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theatre, and, in 2008, both "Turn Of The Century" at the Goodman and "Les Miserables" at the Marriott. And he still has two more years of high school to go....


So that's it for now! I'll be back next week and every week with the latest in what's cooking on Chicagoland musical stages. And before then, I hope to 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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