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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 6th, 2013

The other very-well-reviewed new show in town at the moment is also a songbook review, although not an original one. It's "A Grand Night For Singing," the first subscription offering from the Mercury Theater. As directed by Kevin Bellie, this Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway revue utilizes a cast of five (Marya Grandy, Robert Hunt, Leah Morrow, Stephen Schellhardt and Heather Townsend) to cast the essential mid-century writing team's songs in a new light, and our critics loved the result. Love is in the air, apparently! It runs through March 10, over on Southport Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood.

Also in Lakeview, at Stage 773, is another show that's just opening this week. It's sort of a revue, but not really, and it's sort of a one-woman show, but not really. It may not even be a musical! Maybe it's a play with music. I don't know! It's "Lady Day At Emerson's Bar And Grill," from Porchlight Music Theatre, bringing the life and music of Billie Holiday front and center once again. Alexis J. Rogers, one of Chicago's most important African-American singing actresses of the new generation, stars as Billie, through March 10. Rob Lindley directs.

Just opened last week, in the northern suburb of Glencoe, is an intimate staging of a big musical with a little of the same jazz club vibe as "Lady Day." It's Michael Halberstam's staging of Cy Coleman's "Sweet Charity," with new jazz combo arrangements by Doug Peck and featuring Tiffany Topol as the innocent and hopeful title character. And apparently there's a lot of dance (choreography by Jessica Redish) in the Writers' Theatre production. Hey, big spender! If I could see you now, you'd be buying a ticket for this show....

Writers' Theatre's SWEET CHARITY

Redish's company, The Music Theater Company (she's the Founding Artistic Director), has one more weekend left in its concert staging of "The Baker's Wife," the Stephen Schwartz musical that gave the world "Meadowlark," and all those stories about how much original producer David Merrick hated the song. You can judge for yourself this weekend in Highland Park. Dominic Missimi, Redish's teacher when she was at Northwestern University, directed the show while she was down Green Bay Road in Glencoe. But there's more on the front burner at TMTC than just "The Baker's Wife." On Monday night, February 11th, Chicago leading lady Heidi Kettenring ("Wicked," "Hero," "My Fair Lady") will appear in concert there, with the aforementioned Doug Peck on piano. It's the first in a string of cabaret appearances in the Highland Park theater that continues with Jess Godwin on Saturday, February 23rd and Christine Mild on Friday, March 1st.

A-way out west in Oakbrook Terrace is a show that has people talking for sure. It's "Sunset Boulevard," the major but tricky Andrew Lloyd Webber star tuner that isn't as good as the movie that inspired it, and isn't as good as many of his earlier shows, though it's probably better than everything he's written since. Apparently William Osetek's production at his Drury Lane Theatre (through March 24, 2013) features a set (by Scott Davis) that takes the show in a new direction from the floating mansion of the West End original, and Christine Sherrill as a youngish Norma Desmond belts the hit tunes out of the park, as one would certainly hope. It sounds like most people like most of it well enough, but wish they liked it more. But they feel that way for different reasons! This show is hard to pull off, and if you are of a mind to see it, I think you'd better.

Lastly, let's touch upon a show that hasn't opened yet, but will be the next offering from a major northside theater company. It's "From Doo Wop To Hip Hop," the world premiere of a new version of their previous hit, "Doo Wop Shoo Bop." I'm talking about Black Ensemble Theater, of course, on Clark Street in west Uptown, serving up the hits to its loyal audiences for nearly four decades now. Jackie Taylor and Rueben Echoles have fashioned a story (they also direct and choreograph) about whites and blacks, young and old, living in the same neighborhood where a racial tragedy begins to unfold. Against this backdrop, songs from groups like The Platters and The Chiffons, and from artists like Ludacris and Jay-Z, will be performed by a cast of sixteen, including the remarkable Kevin Roston, Jr. As always, BroadwayWorld Award-winning musical director Robert Reddrick will be at the helm of what I'm sure will be a smoking orchestra. The show is slated from February 15-April 14.

So that's the Mosh Pit! You have no excuse for me to find you wandering the streets of the city, wondering whether the Groundhog was right or wrong. Get thee to the theater! I bet I see you there very soon, and of course, I'll 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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