'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for December 19th, 2012
THE LATEST IN UNAUTHORIZED GOSSIP AND BUZZ
FROM THE HEART OF CHICAGO'S SHOWTUNE VIDEO BARS,
AND MUSICAL THEATER NEWS FROM CHICAGO TO BROADWAY
by Paul W. Thompson
Overheard last weekend under the showtune
video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:
Musical theater in Chicago sure is booming these days! And the Showtune Mosh Pit is booming right along with it. We've got new readers by the hundreds joining the peeps every single week this month, and more shows and items of interest than we've got column inches for! It's a great time to be a Chicago showtune fan. So let's get right to it, shall we?
I don't know if they are musicals or what, but we've got these dueling radio play productions of "It's A Wonderful Life" every year, and there's music in them somehow! I think that other cities have similar productions, but the city of Chicago has got two, with both claiming their right to perform a theatrical adaptation of the script of the classic Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed film, set in a radio studio in the 1940s: "It's A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play" at the American Theater Company, and "It's A Wonderful Life: Live At The Biograph" at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, presented by the American Blues Theater. The "Radio Play" one has the legendary Mike Nussbaum as both Clarence and Mr. Potter, and the "Live" one has Michael Mahler and Dara Cameron leading Christmas carols and singing commercial jingles, with John Mohrlein as Clarence and Mr. Potter. Both productions run through December 30. It's an abundance of riches! And the plays are about that, too...
Not to be outdone, but on a smaller scale, there's "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" at the Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview through the 29th. I'm not sure if there's music, but why quibble?
There are two very similar-looking shows in the far western suburbs right now--so similar that I'm pretty sure it's the same show. But I think there are two different casts. It's the "Dysfunctional Holiday Revue," courtesy of The Second City, Chicago's famous comedy school and performance venue and acting troupe of sketch comedy whizzes. Both the Paramount Theatre in Aurora and the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles are offering this show, as side offerings to their current mainstage shows, "Annie" and "The Winter Wonderettes," respectively. Paramount's revue runs December 13-23 in the Copley Theatre, and St. Charles' version has been on Friday nights this month (including this weekend) and will return on New Year's Eve. It's nice to know that Kane County is receiving some improve and sketch comedy love from Old Town, isn't it? Touring companies are a brilliant invention.
Speaking of touring shows, a certain New York holiday tradition has opened once again in a touring incarnation in northwest suburban Rosemont, hard up against Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. It's racking up really good reviews, too--a well-reviewed revue. I'm talking about "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular -- starring The Rockettes," at least that's what I think the show is officially called. No, they aren't the same Rockettes that are currently performing at their namesake venue on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, nor is this exactly the same show, reportedly. But our critics are loving it. The leggy ladies and all the holiday cheer they and their sister dancers have dispensed for 85 years are at the Akoo Theatre (formerly known as the Rosemont) until December 30. I'm not even sure that what they do is a musical revue, because it might be a dance concert. But it's in a theater and it's all popular and all, and there's holiday music, and why not! Again, why quibble? And there's nothing else like it. Just go....
If I were to ask you who was the unquestioned star of the short-lived Broadway musical "Wonderland," and who was scheduled to send her megawatt talent out over the Main Stem this fall in the disintegrating musical "Rebecca," many Mosh Pit peeps would undoubtedly know I was talking about Karen Mason. But did you know that she calls Chicago home, and performs here quite frequently? The lady has a large following here, indeed. And she's holding court for that following once again at Davenport's in a cabaret show called, "Christmas, Christmas, Christmas." And boy, this must be something! But there are only three more times to catch her: tonight (the 19th), and the 22nd and 23rd. The show isn't cheap, but I hear it's definitely worth it. And another New York diva will be at Davenport's next week, when Sharon McNight performs on December 28 and 29. She certainly mixes the sass and the sauce, doesn't she?
In a show with the distinctive stamp of Chicago's African-American theater, music and dance communities, the Congo Square Theatre is in the midst of once again presenting "The Nativity," a gospel retelling of the Christmas story, with book by McKinley Johnson and music and lyrics by Jaret Landon. It's directed by Ilesa Duncan and choreographed by Kevin Iaga Jeff. The show runs December 13-23 at the Kennedy-King College Theatre on 63rd Street. The Congo Square website has some video links:
Another Chicago distinctive is the Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue. And the home of classic, art, independent and foreign films hosts a holiday special each year that grows in popularity. This year, the 29th annual "Music Box Christmas Show" includes a double-feature of the classic Irving Berlin movie musical "White Christmas" and the aforementioned movie with music "It's A Wonderful Life," with singing of carols in between the films, accompanied by the theater's historic organ. The fun began last weekend, and continues this Thursday through Monday, the 20th through the 24th. Advance double-feature tickets are only $17!
Speaking of popular musical films, there is "The Sound Of Music," in some ways the biggest movie musical of them all. And three weeks ago, it was announced that a certain country music star (who just performed at Chicago's United Center, by the way) would be starring in a live television broadcast of some version or other of this beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein property during the holiday season in 2013. That star is...Carrie Underwood. What say you, Mosh Pit peeps? Live TV. Acting. Singing. I don't know what to think. What do YOU think? Craig Zadon and Neil Meron ("Smash," the Oscar-winning "Chicago," the second film called "Hairspray" and the Bette Midler "Gypsy") are producing. What do you think?
Because of its family-friendly qualities (Nazis, scared children and May-December romance...what?), "The Sound Of Music" has for many years been a staple of holiday television, at several times of year. In case you haven't noticed, many Chicago theaters have December holiday traditions, which they repeat as long as audiences turn out and budgets smile on set and costume storage fees. One of the latest of these traditions (though the show has nary a holiday theme in it) is The Hypocrites' version of "The Pirates Of Penzance," now in its third December. But there's a twist this year! Well, this production has always had more than its fair share of twists--it's not your grandmother's Gilbert and Sullivan, by any means. But this year, director Sean Graney's version/vision of this much-revived 133-year-old English piece (adapted with Kevin O'Donnell) is running (through January 13) in repertory with its slightly more recent sister, "The Mikado." Small casts, actors playing unexpected instruments, dialogue trims and unexpected environmental happenings are the norm in these productions. Both productions have garnered excellent notices. The company is ensconced at the Chopin Theatre on Division Street. Apparently, you should be, too.
Lastly, a somber note. It seems like death, dying and moving on have been on the minds of Chicago's musical theater community a lot this month. Just over a week ago, there was a memorial for the late composer Julie Shannon held at the Mercury Theatre, on the set of her most popular stage work, "The Christmas Schooner." And the community, especially those close to Highland Park's The Music Theatre Company, were sent reeling with news of the unexpected death of busy 29-year-old actress Elana Ernst Silverstein, one of those present at the founding of that company and by all accounts a well-loved colleague and a shining light as a performer. Then came the news of the school shooting in Connecticut. I think we are all holding those dear to us a little bit closer now, and cherishing the time we have together. We in the Mosh Pit, in Chicago's remarkable theater community, and in the arts world as a whole do indeed try to see the transcendent in the everyday, to see the spark in every soul and to see the connections that bind us to those nearby, and to those who've gone before. I hope that this holiday season brings you peace, love and at least a little bit of joy. And maybe a hug or two as well. Be good to yourselves, and to each other.
I'll see you under those video screens, ok?.....-PWT
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