'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 4th, 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:
And here we are again, with your favorite bi-annual Showtune Mosh Pit feature: the Mosh Pit “Top Ten Hot Topics!” With your indulgence for what may be the very last theater entry in the “look back sweepstakes” for last year, let’s take a gander at the items of interest that I (and that means you) have been talking about from July through December of 2011. Of the 190 different topics that have graced these pages (screens?), here is the countdown of the 10 hottest.
10. “West Side Story.” The 1957 musical by four of our greatest talents (Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurents) appeared in two guises for Chicago audiences this half-year. First it took the form of a lengthy summer stop at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre for its national tour cast, and then came a Thanksgiving weekend screening of its galvanic movie incarnation at Orchestra Hall, accompanied live by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The touring stage show was the last directorial work by Laurents before his death on May 5, 2011, and the movie screening marked the Natalie Wood/Robert Wise landmark’s fiftieth anniversary. Not a generation has gone by that hasn’t fallen in love with this work, one way or the other. There must be something for everyone!
9. “A Christmas Story” at the Chicago Theatre. The last half of December saw a tremendous amount of theatrical activity in the Loop, as is usually the case. This year, however, a new musical (not a world premiere, but one on the cusp of Broadway itself) landed at the landmark Chicago Theatre for almost three full theater weeks, full of Chicago talent that had rehearsed here before heading off for a tryout tour. Their return was hailed by critics and audiences alike. Directed by John Rando, choreographed by Warren Carlyle, and written by a very lucky playwright (Joseph Robinette) and a very young composer-lyricist team (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), this show may well become a staple everywhere, and we were an audience they really, really wanted to win over. I think they did. “Ralphie To The Rescue” of the family-friendly holiday musical comedy!
8. “Follies” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. An almost universal cry of acclaim from critics and audiences alike welcomed Gary Griffin’s production of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s 1971 musical about the mid-century decay of American theater and the American marriage when it opened this fall. A cast headed by Broadway veterans, supported by local theater legends, rode directorical, choreographic and theatrical inspiration to dizzying heights. National, even international attention came to the production, too, due to the timing of its arrival even as a Kennedy Center production of the same show transferred to Broadway. Those who saw both seemed to take Chicago’s side, at least in the view of those who scrutinized every online word and media tidbit for such an apples and oranges comparison. But “bravo” toChicago. And weren’t we lucky to have been here for this extraordinary stage happening?
7. “Pinkalicious” at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. Children’s theater, or “Theater For Young Audiences,” as it is more commonly called in the industry, is really on the upswing in Chicago. And there’s no bigger proof of that than this modest off-Broadway musical, produced by Emerald City Theatre last year during the day at its regular home at the Apollo Theater (“Million Dollar Quartet” was, and is, playing there at night). Director and choreographer Ernie Nolan seemed to find something special in the music and lyrics by John Gregor and book by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, for audiences and critics took note. So did Broadway In Chicago, which was looking for something to do with its newly renovated Broadway Playhouse, the former Drury Lane venue on Michigan Avenue that was home to “Working” last spring. In July, the show about the little girl who eats too many cupcakes reopened for the tourist audience, and it keeps extending. The show is announced through Memorial Day weekend, for a run of almost a full year. Unheard of. Absurd! Bravo.
6. “Maestro” and “The Doyle And Debbie Show” at the Royal George Theatre. The commercial, multi-performance rental theater located across the street from the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company has sat empty far too much in recent years (those late night comedies featuring nuns notwithstanding). A new show called “The Mommies” was announced for late summer, and then cancelled. So, wasn’t it great when not one but two shows opened there just before the holidays, and got fantastic reviews? “Maestro: The Art Of Leonard Bernstein” was a one-man show with and about music, starring Hershey Felder as the first gentlemen of American music, complete with examples. And “The Doyle And Debbie Show” is a spoof of country/western duos that has had Nashville itself in stitches for five years and choseChicago in order to spread its fledgling wings. Boy, did it! It’s nice to see good shows come to town to enlighten and entertain us, right?
5. The BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards. Our very own awards for excellence in Chicagoland theater really seemed to take off in the fall of 2011. In its second year of being Chicago’s only theater award decided by average fans, industry insiders and anyone else who cares to cast a vote, the 25 categories of resident Equity and non-Equity productions, plus touring shows, gave everyone someone to root for and ask their friends to join in on. Submissions of possible nominees came in stronger than before, and interest in the six weeks of online voting through BroadwayWorld’s international proprietary voting system was strong, and yielded both expected and surprising results. “Follies” was the big winner, with four awards, but Hell In A Handbag Productions won four awards, too, three for its recent satire, “Pussy On The House.” Both productions sent proud representatives to The Call Bar in Andersonville on December 28th to collect their certificates, as did “Alien Queen,” the Scooty And Jojo Show’s rock concert retelling of the “Alien” movies. “Violet” star Harmony France and “Cats” and “Putting It Together” powerhouse Brenda Didier were among those who gave impassioned and grateful acceptance speeches. And you might be interested to know that StarKid Productions did indeed send a representative to quietly receive the certificates for the writers of “Starship,” which included composer Darren Criss. I was proud to host the event, along with The Call’s Ashley Morgan. And we are already talking about how to make next year’s awards even better. Thank you,Chicago!
4. The newly renovated Stage 773. The somewhat venerable Theatre Building Chicago, dating to the 1970s and looking it, was overhauled and reopened this year under the leadership of Brian Posen, and Lakeview and the City of Chicago are better off for it. And we in the Mosh Pit have noticed! Especially the cabaret offerings in the new cabaret space, where Hollis Resnik held forth for New Year’s Eve. We also noticed the new theater company formed by Stage 773 to present shows there, a change from the previous ownership. The first offering of the Street Tempo Theatre? “Let My People Come,” also dating from the 1970s and looking it! I think the show could have run longer, too. Which is always a good thing, to a point. At any rate, the shows mounted at 773 will continue to be important to us for a long time to come (for instance, the local premiere of “A Catered Affair” will take place there at the end of February, brought to us by Porchlight Music Theatre). So, let my people come to Stage 773. Oh, I get it!
3. The Paramount Theatre in Aurora. An architectural wonder dating from the early 1930s, and reigning over downtown Aurora and the Fox River Valley like a queen, the Paramount Theatre has embarked on a new venture this year, producing Equity musicals for a subscription audience with a large, live orchestra and the best theatrical talent Chicago has to offer. And we in the Mosh Pit sure have noticed! Under the artistic leadership of Jim Corti, the Paramount has already brought us critically acclaimed, large-scale productions of “My Fair Lady” and “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and we can’t wait for their January production of “A Chorus Line” to begin performances. A sense of happening pervades these productions right now, and let’s hope that excitement continues!
2. Light Opera Works in Evanston. This nearly thirty-year old company seems to have taken a jolt of adrenaline lately, perhaps bolstered by acquiring a permanent rehearsal space (in Wilmette) after years of peripatetic rentals, or by the excellence of its June production of “Brigadoon.” But acclaimed productions of “The Student Prince,” “Rodgers And Hart: A Celebration” and “The Secret Garden” more recently (the latter running just last week), have had a lot of people sitting up, taking notice and making the trip to the first suburb on the right. Taking the Midwest New Musicals writers’ workshop under its wing hasn’t hurt the company either. And its 2012 season will include a mini-festival of the 1960s, with “Camelot,” “Man Of La Mancha” and “Oliver!” on the docket. Yet another traditional proscenium venue with a large orchestra, too!
1. The Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. The nearly consistent high quality of productions the formerly stodgy theater is now presenting has us all wondering just how good the shows out west can get! Acclaimed and popular productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “The Sound Of Music” this fall have had theater folk of all types clamoring for tickets, and for the time to get to the western suburbs without incurring the wrath of the Hillside Strangler, the Congress Parkway bridge reconstruction or any member of the DeSantis family (they own the theater and adjoining restaurant). And we can’t wait for the theatre’s first production of 2012, “Gypsy,” starring the noted Ethel Merman interpreter Klea Blackhurst. Bravo to the Drury Lane and their chandelier-laden proscenium theater for making us truly sit up and take notice during the past six months. Appropriate stars, large numbers of local actors and surprisingly low ticket prices must be the right formula. Oh, and the willingness to spend money on sets, orchestras, and the like. Golden Age musicals as they were meant to be seen! It’s quite a concept, and brings in theDrury Lane as our number one Hot Topic for the latter half of 2011!
And, oh, yes, “Glee.” It’s in the Mosh Pit Hall Of Fame, for always making the Top Ten lists and knocking less obvious fare out of contention for a listing. So far, it’s in the Hall Of Fame by itself! Care to help me find another worthy entry? Well, then, you know where I’ll be when you need me. Whether you see me there or not, I'll see you under the video screens.....—PWT
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From This Author Paul W. Thompson