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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for December 11th, 2013




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Beginning last Thursday, and indeed for most of the time since then, life in America has been extraordinary. If you are a Mosh Pit peep, you know that, for the first time in a very long time, there was a national conversation about a work of musical theater. And I do mean national! NBC's live telecast of a soundstage production of "The Sound Of Music," one of the best-known and beloved of all the titles from Broadway's Golden Age, pulled in a HUGE viewership (reported at more than 18 million), and set off a flurry and a firestorm of comments on social media and news outlets, in classrooms and office break rooms nationwide. The telecast, starring Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer, was NBC's highest rated non-sports night in half a decade, and its biggest non-sports Thursday in a whole decade. People watched!

And they argued. What makes a good musical production? What makes a good video adaptation? Did co-stars (and Broadway veterans) Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle steal the spotlight from the TVQ stars? Whose singing was better, and why? Whose singing was better than their acting, and what does that mean? Is attracting new fans for musical theater with stars taking unexpected career moves wise or unwise? Is non-traditional casting accepted now, or not, and by whom? Were the costumes appropriate for the period? Was Mary Martin or Julie Andrews the "Maria to beat?" What's the best spot in the plot for "My Favorite Things," and is it a Christmas song? If not Carrie Underwood as Maria Von Trapp, then who? Did you hear these exact conversations, over and over again? I did. And just wait. Rumor has it that the show will be broadcast again this very Saturday night! There will be a DVD out shortly (the companion compact disc is already out). And of course, NBC is reported to have green-lighted future live television presentations like this one, perhaps annually. Will we finally get Bette Midler as "Mame" and Lea Michele in "Funny Girl?" Dustin Hoffman and Adele in "Oliver?" Why, or why not?

If there's no such thing as bad publicity, then there's no such thing as bad national conversation about musical theater. Yes, I know that most people know the property from the legendary Hollywood treatment of the story. But now, they know there's more to TSOM than one film. They know there's something out there that informed that film, and now they know there's something that was informed by that film. The work of art is having a conversation with itself. Pretty much in front of the whole country. A bell is no bell till you ring it, right? Well, that bell has been rung. Next up? Lyric Opera Of Chicago is producing the very same show, for a run from April 25-May 11, 2014. That's just over four months away. And we don't yet know who will play Maria. You can bet there will be talk. Oh, yes.

Speaking of movies which starred Julie Andrews, there's always "Mary Poppins" to contend with (and how does the film stack up against its stage adaptation, hm?). And you know, of course, that the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire isn't wrapping up its regional premiere production of the very well-known title for another four weeks (it closes January 5, 2014). As a companion piece to that title, the studio that just recently brought you "Frozen" and all its showtune glory is opening "Saving Mr. Banks," a film starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. The Hollywood-based flick dramatizes how Walt Disney Studios founder and Chicago native Walt Disney convinced P.L. Travers (she was a woman, you know, with the first name "Pamela") to let him make the movie we all now know out of her beloved series of children's books. Directed by John Lee Hancock, the film opens on a limited basis in Chicago this Friday, December 13, and more widely here a week later. It does have a lot of music, and the legendary musical Sherman brothers (as reenacted by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) are major characters. Sounds intriguing.

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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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