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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 22nd, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

It’s the Chicago premiere of “A Catered Affair!” Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino’s 2008 Broadway musical, winner of the Drama League award for Distinguished Production of a Musical and originally starring Faith Prince and Tom Wopat, has opened to a great degree of interest at Stage 773, for its Chicago premiere production. Brought to us by Porchlight Music Theatre, under new artistic director Michael Weber, it’s been directed by TimeLine Theatre’s Nick Bowling, with musical direction by bon vivant Doug Peck and a crack design team led by Brian Sidney Bembridge and Bill Morey. After a weekend of previews, the official opening night was yesterday, with the regular run scheduled for weekends from now until April 1, 2012.

The show, based on a Paddy Chayefsky short story and set in The Bronx in 1953, depicts the choices a family must make in celebrating the wedding of their beloved daughter during trying economic circumstances. Multi-Jeff Award-winning musical star Rebecca Finnegan and respected Chicago actor and teacher Craig Spidle star, supported by Kelly Davis Wilson (“The Original Grease”), Jim DeSelm (“Pump Boys And Dinettes”) and, in Fierstein’s role as Uncle Winston, Jerry O’Boyle, who played Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray” over 1,000 times in a four-year period. You won’t want to miss this show, as Porchlight really does live into its slogan with this one (“American Musicals. Chicago Style.) Awesome. 

A CATERED AFFAIR at Porchlight

And Porchlight isn’t even done with opening shows for this month! “Best Musical!,” called “a completely improvised musical comedy,” will play for five Wednesdays, beginning on Leap Day, February 29, also at Stage 773, conceived by Matthew Loren Cohen and directed by Amanda Blake Davis. The cast of six will improvise songs (with audience input, of course) and then create a musical which includes those songs. Now, Chicago is home to several troupes specializing in exactly this sort of thing, but the roots of this particular production are in New York, I am told. Dangerous to bring an art form back to its hometown, but it’s a mild winter, so the Mosh Pit peeps may be ready for anything. And with Chicago actors/improvisers in the cast, I’m sure we’re in good hands.


Something that sounds a little unusual is going on at St. Gregory the Great Church in Andersonville, courtesy of the Quest Theatre Ensemble. Already two weeks into their performances, which end March 18, the company is presenting what I think is the rarely-seen-anymore musical “Barnum,” though it is billed here as “The People’s Barnum.” Quest is “The People’s Theatre,” so this might just be semantics, but it makes me worried that the show has been overly adapted or something. Still, authors Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble are listed in the credits, and the production photos include P.T. Barnum, Charity, Tom Thumb, Jenny Lind and a chorus of acrobats and sideshow attractions, so perhaps all is well. And the tickets are free! How does that happen, exactly? Let’s ask founding artistic director Andrew Park. Jason Bowen stars. 


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Paul W. Thompson Paul W. Thompson, a contributor to BroadwayWorld.com 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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