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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 29th, 2014

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 29th, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Last week's Mosh Pit description of Chicago's unofficial spring Sondheim festival left out a very obvious entry. My bad! The Hypocrites will present "Into The Woods" at Mercury Theater Chicago from February 6-March 30, 2014, and I think rehearsals have already begun. Directed by Geoff Button and choreographed by Katie Spelman, the production promises the "heightened and playful sense of theatricality" that The Hypocrites have brought to their celebrated versions of Gilbert and Sullivan's best-known works. And the show will feature a cast of only ten performers! Thanks to doubling up on roles (all except for the Baker and his Wife), we will see Sarah Bockel, Michael Brown, Hannah Dawe, Joel Ewing, Kate Harris, Allison Hendrix, Hillary Marren, Aubrey McGrath, Blake Montgomery and Will Skrip bring those fairy tales to life.


And there's an official festival on the horizon too! The new Chicago Musical Theater Festival, sponsored by Underscore Theatre Company, will launch its first event at the Athenaeum Theatre (June 12-22). A festival of new works and works in development, CMTF is accepting submissions now, through March 1. Eight shows will be selected for presentation in two categories, Independent Submissions and Mentored Submissions. Sounds like it could be a great new event!


First Folio Theatre is presenting a new musical of sorts, running January 30-March 3 at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in west suburban Oakbrook. It's Tom Stoppard's 1984 London play "Rough Crossing," directed by Alison C. Vesely. When originally presented, the show had three songs with lyrics by Stoppard and music by Andre Previn. But for this production, Jeff Award winner and BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner Christopher Kriz has composed new music for Stoppard's lyrics for those three songs. The jazz age shipboard story stars Kevin McKillip, Rene Ruelas, Christian Gray, David Rice, Gail Rastorfer and Alex Weisman. And pictures have been released!


There was big news from Lyric Opera Of Chicago this week about the company's 2014-15 plans. We already knew that the company would be presenting "Carousel" in late spring, as part of its five-year Rodgers and Hammerstein survey. Well, we now know that that new production will be directed by Broadway's Rob Ashford ("Thoroughly Modern Millie" and the recent revival of "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying", as well as the Carrie Underwood televised "The Sound Of Music"). Furthermore, it will star Chicagoan Denyce Graves (best known for her appearances as Bizet's Carmen) as Nettie Fowler, singing "You'll Never Walk Alone"). Rob Fisher will conduct. And if that's not enough for Mosh Pit peeps, the company will be bringing back its production of "Porgy And Bess," directed by Francesca Zambello, a big hit during the 2008-09 season. Yay, classic Broadway!


Speaking of Chicago opera companies mounting productions featuring African-American characters, Chicago Opera Theater will be presenting the Chicago premiere of Duke Ellington's "Queenie Pie" in just two weeks' time, from February 15-March 5, 2014, at the Harris Theater on Randolph Street. Presented in collaboration with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Ellington's only opera, left unfinished at his death in 1974, will be directed and choreographed by Ken Roht. Starring as the real-life Madam C. J. Walker, the first female African-American self-made millionaire, will be Karen Marie Richardson, along with Anna Bowen, Keithon Gipson and Jeffrey Polk.


Another Chicago premiere will play pretty much concurrent with that production, the off-Broadway musical "Love Story," inspired by the Erich Segal novel and its popular film adaptation. Directed by Melanie Lamoureux, with music direction by John Warren, the production will play February 14-March 1 at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center in Cicero. Starring as Oliver and Jenny are Maxwell DeTogne and Carisa Gonzalez-Sambolin. You'll never have to say you're sorry.


Jason Robert Brown is flying high these days, as the composer-lyricist has a film adaptation of his "The Last Five Years" in post-production, as well as two new stage musicals readying for Broadway, "The Bridges Of Madison County" and "Honeymoon In Vegas." His first off-Broadway show, "Songs For A New World," will be presented by NightBlue Performing Arts Company from March 1-30 at Stage 773. But no cast or creative team has been announced. Anybody know?


The Broadway musical version of "Shrek" is halfway through its run at Cahn Auditorium, on the campus of Northwestern University (January 24-February 1). It's NU's annual Dolphin Show, the 72-year-old tradition of student-produced musicals. Marlee Rose Rich is directing the Jeanine Tesori show, with choreography by Kendall Beeman. Alex Christ stars as Shrek, with Lauren Lenke as Fiona, Chanse McCrary as Donkey as Zachary Freier-Harrison as Lord Farquaad. Ahhhh!


So the Grammy Awards were handed out on Sunday night. And the Best Musical Theater Album was deemed to be the original Broadway cast recording of "Kinky Boots," which tried out here in Chicago in 2012 and won big at last season's Tony Awards in New York. Many observers seemed genuinely shocked that the "Matilda" album didn't win, though to me the real competition came from the recording industry-friendly cast album of "Motown" (that show opens its national tour here on April 22). KB composer-lyricist Cyndi Lauper is of course a recording industry legend, but the statistical truth is that Tony-winning Best Musicals win the next Grammy Award in this category just about half the time, whether or not there is a recording industry "tie-in." So, it is certainly understandable, if not a given. Congratulations to the KB recording team!


And then there's the upcoming Oscar telecast, and the song that everybody has fallen in love with, "Let It Go" from the Walt Disney animated smash hit, "Frozen." The film-clip video is a big hit at Sidetrack and The Call, online and beyond. Cover versions are cropping up, based on Idina Menzel's original version and Demi Lovato's end credits version. There's a sing-along version coming out. Folks are listening to it in multiple languages (how do they make them all sound so good?). This is the biggest new show tune since Idina's "Defying Gravity," bigger even! Odd in that it isn't sung by the movie's protagonist, and odder still in that the song's title has multiple, somewhat contradictory, meanings, it's a song that had BETTER win in Oscar's Original Song category, or a great big segment of the populace will be highly disappointed. And Idina had better sing on that broadcast, that's what!


Speaking of "Frozen," yes, indeed, it's cold. Well, it's not TOO cold, but it is indeed cold. And snowy! We have a ways to go yet. Our amazing summer will come, but not just yet. Until then, why not stop by the theater of your choice, and catch an amazing live show? Or stop by a video bar, where I'll see you under the video screens.....-PWT

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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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