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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for April 9th, 2014

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for April 9th, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Ask and ye shall receive! Just last week in this very column, I wondered who on earth was in the cast of "Avenue Q" at the Mercury Theater Chicago, running April 24-June 29. Now, I'm not implying a cause and effect relationship here, but the very next day, the cast was announced! You know I don't have THAT much power. But I try....

And the answer is: Jackson Evans stars as Princeton, with BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner Adam Fane as Rod, Thom Van Ermen as Trekkie Monster and Daniel Smeriglin as Nicky. Holding up the ladies' side of the puppetry equation will be Leah Morrow as Kate and Stephanie Herman as Lucy. As the humans, Christine Bunuan will be Christmas Eve, Sean Fawcett will appear as her husband, Brian, and Donterrio Johnson will be Gary Coleman. L. Walter Stearns directs, with choreography by Kevin Bellie. Eugene Dizon is musical director, and the custom-built puppets are by Russ Walko. Coolio.


The week after Easter is shaping up to be a great time for new theater openings in Chicagoland. The day after "Avenue Q" begins, a production of the local favorite "Ragtime" opens in northwest suburban Des Plaines. The Big Noise Theatre Company is producing the award-winning show (sometimes called "the last great musical of the 20th century") at the Prarie Lakes Theatre there. Performances are scheduled April 25-May 11. Stacey Flaster directs, with music direction by Robert Deason. David Simmons ("Chicago's Golden Soul") and Sydney Charles ("Dessa Rose") star as Coalhouse and Sarah, with Amanda Horvath as Mother and David Lundblom as Tateh. With 37 actors in all, this is an impressive undertaking!


Beginning previews on April 23, and running through July 27, is an even more impressive achievement--the Chicago premiere of the 1959 Broadway musical "Juno," with a book by Joseph Stein ("Fiddler On The Roof") and music and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein ("The Cradle Will Rock," "Regina" and the off-Broadway adaptation of Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera"). A barely remembered work with a two-week Main Stem run, by a composer in danger of being completely forgotten, "Juno" is based on the play "Juno And The Paycock," and is set in 1922, during the Irish Civil War. Though it has only mounted one other musical in its history (the very well-received "Fiorello!"), Chicago's TimeLine Theatre has assembled an impressive creative team for this laudable effort, headed by director Nick Bowling, choreographer Katie Spelman and music directors Doug Peck and Elizabeth Doran. Though Rebecca Finnegan was announced a year ago as the star of this production, the cast is now headed by Marya Grandy and Ron Rains, in the roles originally assayed by Shirley Booth and Melvyn Douglas. The cast also includes Emily Glick, Jordan Brown, Caron Buinis, Jim Deselm, Kathleen Gibson, Kelli Harrington, James Houton, Matthew Keffer, Peter Oyloe, Michael Reckling, Andy Robinson, Peter Sipla, Anne Sheridan and Jonathan Stein. That's a lot of eye and ear candy! I have a feeling that after this show ends, Mosh Pit peeps will be all like, "Did that just happen?" Amazing.


And, because this is Chicago, there will be a new musical beginning that week as well! "Hey! Dancin'! Hey! Musical!" (yes, that's four exclamation points and one apostrophe) will run April 25-May 31 at the Factory Theater on Elston Avenue. Based on a 2010 play that Factory produced, about a 1980s public access TV dance show, the musical version has a book by Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer, with music and lyrics by Laura McKenzie (she also musical directs) and additional lyrics by Pynchon. Matthew Gunnels directs, with choreography by Brigitte Ditmars. The cast of fourteen is headed by Mary-Margaret Roberts and Amanda Roeder. Groovin'!


A new show now in open run, and receiving very positive notices to boot, is the 102nd mainstage revue from The Second City, "Depraved New World," directed by Mick Napier with musical direction and music by Jesse Case. The world-famous sketch comedy incubator has apparently done it again, as Tawny Newsome, Steve Waltien and standout newcomer John Hartman reportedly strut their comedic/sketch/improv stuff in fine form (according to most reviews I've seen, anyway). Catch it, won't you? You've got eight chances, every week....

Since I have (may have?) great powers over theater companies, prompting them to announce their casts, I will go out on a limb and beg the Goodman Theatre to disclose more details about the show I'm most eager to see this summer, their re-written (?), re-imagined (?), streamlined (?), re-orchestrated (?) version of the Lerner and Loewe classic "Brigadoon," beginning performances on June 27 and running "in the Albert" through August 3 (extensions notwithstanding). Directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell, making her Goodman debut, this show is, I believe, being undertaken with the encouragement of the authors' estates, hoping to breathe life into a title that is perhaps falling a bit to the wayside, needing its stagecraft and arrangements re-enlivened (?) for the 21st century. Though the fictional town of Brigadoon appears for one day each century, sightings of the musical that bears its name may be rare indeed in this century. 1947 was a while back! But who, pray tell, will be Tommy and Fiona? Who Meg Brockie and Charlie Dalrymple? I want to write about it, you guys! We need details. I can't wait three more months!

Two days after "Brigadoon" begins, Chicago will be hit with a whirlwind of activity! June 29, 2014 is the date, folks. And no, I'm not talking about that day's Pride Parade. I'm talking about the North American arena tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar," announced internationally last weekend in a barrage of publicity that was hard to ignore. And some peeps are confused. I think they forget that this show, extremely popular and well-known (especially with money-laden Baby Boomers with money in their pockets) began life as a record album, and has always had at least one foot in the world of late-60s British Rock. And arena tours of the UK and Australia have already occurred recently. So, a tour starring Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd, NSYNC member JC Chasez, Destiny's Child and Chicago resident Michelle Williams, Sex Pistols front man Johnny Rotten (John Rotten Lydon) and British reality TV star Ben Forster is not that hard to imagine. The crazy thing is that Chicago gets it for one day only, on June 29 at the United Center. Now, it's a summer tour of more than fifty cities. However, we are Chicago. However, many folks will be otherwise engaged on June 29th. Maybe it's smart programming, after all.


Looking even further into the future, several media outlets announced last week that the American Theater Company would be mounting "Little Shop Of Horrors" more than a year from now, in May and June of 2015. It would star Tyler Ravelson, currently preparing the role of J. Pierrepont Finch in Porchlight Music Theatre's "How To Suceed In Business Without Really Trying," which is itself opening April 26, 2014 at Stage 773. As for ATC, the company is currently preparing a reworked version of "Hair," in conjunction with co-author and original co-star James Rado (performances begin April 25, and run through June 29). Sky Seals is Berger and Zach Kenney is Claude, with a cast directed by PJ Paparelli that also includes Aaron Holland, Christian Libonati, Liz Bollar, Travis Portia and more. Now, see what I did there? By mentioning ATC's 2015 "Little Shop," I got in two other shows opening the weekend after Easter! Streamlining, folks....



A little production of "The Sound Of Music" also opens around the end of this month, as we've discussed before, running April 25-May 25 at Lyric Opera Of Chicago, starring Jenn Gambatese, Billy Zane and Christine Brewer. But, across the Loop, the powers that be at Broadway In Chicago will be endeavoring to make you forget about that and all of these locally grown, late-April shows, as the national tour of the hit Broadway musical "Motown" (aka, "Motown: The Musical") takes its first company bow anywhere on Tuesday, April 22nd! It's for a run to last through July 13 at the Oriental Theatre. Clifton Oliver and Allison Semmes will star as Berry Gordy and Diana Ross in a show which, despite lukewarm critical reception, was a hit with Broadway audiences when it opened last season (it's still running there). Featuring a script by Gordy (it's also co-produced by him), the show includes more than fifty hit songs from the Motown Records catalog of legendary song hits, telling the story of how they were made and more. It's not even opening in Motown, folks. It's opening here. Detroit gets a four week run in the fall. Get your tickets now.


Broadway In Chicago will also be bringing us the national tour (prior to Broadway, methinks) of "Jesus Christ Superstar" writers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's 2011 London version of "The Wizard Of Oz" (by way of a Toronto staging that occurred in 2013). We will get Dorothy, the witches, the trio of helpful friends and Toto, expanded from their Harold Arlen-Herbert Stothart music, from April 30-May 11, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Will Dorothy breathe between "O" and "ver"? ("Too soon, Pink fans?) Will a stage version of this show ever please fans of the legendary 1939 MGM film? Will fans of "Wicked" please stop thinking that that now-legendary stage show came before "The Wizard Of Oz"? Will this stage version become the "accepted" stage adaptation, of the several that have been tried (RSC, eat your heart out)? Stay tuned, faithful readers.

And last, but not least, for this week, Broadway In Chicago has announced that "The Book Of Mormon" will indeed return to our shores as promised, from February 24-May 17, 2015. Once again at the Bank Of America Theatre, as it was for 43 weeks last year, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone's multi-award-winning original musical will bring those Mormon missionaries to Uganda, to rib-tickling, propriety-shocking, thought-provoking effect. Musical theater conventions will be skewed. Minds may be altered. Get your nametags ready. Hello!


So that's the view from here! It's a bright and busy one, I assure you. Surely I'll see you somewhere! Like, 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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