'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 5th, 2011
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:
Here we are again, with our twice yearly list of the Mosh Pit "Top Ten Hot Topics!" It's the biannual list of those subjects and shows that have kept our brains all occupied for the last six months (in this case, from July to December of 2010). As the holidays fade away, and the countdown begins to spring break, let's have our own little countdown, shall we?
With no further ado, here are the most commonly mentioned items, out of the 132 distinct topics the last 26 columns have included. Is your obsession on the list?
10. "Cats." Once so 1980s-bound that it usually sported the same spandex and hair-band aesthetic that brought us the Jane Fonda workout videos, this Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacle spawned a litter of recordings of "Memory," and brought environmental staging successfully to Broadway for the first time. It has now been reinvented as sort of an intimate children's story by emerging director-choreographer Brenda Didier and Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, at the No Exit Café in Rogers Park. It's been extended into February, too. The possibility of actually liking a show that most youngsters think is passé and most old folks have memorized has us all as fascinated as does catsup-flavored catnip!
9. Theaters Announce Their 2011 Seasons. We love to plan ahead, I guess. And fall is, of course, the traditional time for theater companies to tell us what to plan to see for the coming year. For instance, we learned that Bailiwick Chicago will produce "Violet" and "Passing Strange" this coming spring, and that Broadway In Chicago will finally be bringing us "Next To Normal." The suburban Equity theaters will bring us two productions of "Guys And Dolls," among other hits, and Light Opera Works will have "Brigadoon" and "The Secret Garden." And don't forget Court Theatre's take on "Porgy And Bess" or the new version of "Working" at the Broadway Playhouse. Get your calendars out! Here's a website to help with your scheduling needs:
8. Theatrical Real Estate. Speaking of the Broadway Playhouse, the newly renamed and renovated Drury Lane Theater at Water Tower Place is only one of several new or changed theatrical spaces in town right now. Whether as a result of changing economic conditions or just coincidence, several of the places we hang out are changing. Actors' Equity Association completed its move to new digs in the West Loop, the former Theatre Building Chicago (now Stage 773) completed its new signage and announced a major renovation, Theater Wit opened up its renovations to the old Bailwick building, and Noble Fool Theatricals is now called Fox Valley Theatricals. Here's a list of performance venues:
7. Fall Shows at the Marriott Theatre. Lincolnshire's enormous musical theater house, one of the country's most visible showtune venues outside of the biggest downtown areas, packed a one-two punch this fall with very well-received productions of "A Chorus Line" and "The Music Man." Not only are Terry James, Aaron Thielen and Andy Hite (and company) experts at putting proscenium musicals into the in-the-round format, they put classic musicals into your lap, and into the lap of about a thousand of your closest friends. And we like nothing more than a legendary show made fresh and exciting one more time.
6. Broadway In Chicago's Flagship Shows. Elton John's latest Tony-winning smash hit show was firmly ensconced in the Loop--until it wasn't. And then an old friend, torn from our grasp and the wound still fresh, returned and sold record numbers of holiday tickets! "Billy Elliot" ran for eight months at the Ford Center For The Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, which would have been fine. Fine, were it not being compared in everyone's mind to "Wicked," whose two and a half year run was extended by a surprise seven week return run that is still going strong at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (The show grossed $1.7 million worth of tickets last week.) A show about tap-dancing English boys isn't quite the same as one about American girl empowerment, I guess. Debating the merits of these shows, and the box office wisdom behind all the show shuffling, was a popular topic this fall for Mosh Pit types.
5. Late Summer National Tours Begin Here. Speaking of Broadway In Chicago, the Nederlander-owned local road presenter brought the world premieres of the touring versions of not one but two shows to our Loop in late summer. "Shrek" began in July (debuting a new dragon) and "Rock Of Ages" starring Constantine Maroulis (direct from Broadway in his Tony-nominated role) opened in September. While it's not quite the same cache as a pre-Broadway tryout, the opening of a national tour here shows New York producers that we are informed, active theatrical consumers, and that's always a good thing.
4. "Glee." Our favorite TV show wasn't too far from our minds, even though it fell from the number 2 spot it held on this list six months ago. But the storylines, the guest stars (Carol Burnett, Gwyneth Paltrow), the new recurring characters, the theme nights ("The Rocky Horror Show," "Singing In The Rain") and of course the recordings and the hilarious one-liners from Jane Lynch have us all talking about the FOX musical comedy with water cooler conviction. Oh, and the covers of Broadway and popular hits. Well, you know. You either love it or you don't. But you talk about it.
3. Super September. Musical theatergoers in Chicago had a wealth of riches to attend in September, not even counting "Shrek" and "Rock Of Ages." Homegrown productions were doing just fine, thank you. Leading the pack of our interest were new stagings of two shows which originally starred the legendary Barbara Cook: Mary Zimmerman's new version of "Candide" at the Goodman Theatre in the Loop and Writers' Theatre's take on "She Loves Me" up in Glencoe. We also had "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" in Munster, "Big River" in Lakeview, "Daddy Long Legs" in Skokie and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" in Arlington Heights. Makes you proud. Here was my rundown on the whole month's doing:
2. Stephen Sondheim. Two musicals by this legendary musical theater creative force were playing side by side at Stage 773 in September, "Sunday In The Park With George" and "Company." This is the way it has gone all year during this celebration of Sondheim's 80th birthday. We had a concert version of "Follies," a college production of "Sweeney Todd," and the DVD releases of the "Evening Primrose" broadcast and New York's "Sondheim: 80" concert to keep us buzzing, making Sondheim the second most popular Mosh Pit topic of the last six months. Then, to cap off the year, came the release of his book, "Finishing The Hat." The biggest Sondheim story of these months was the fiasco benefit concert thrown by the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, which charged a lot of money for a very short but top-notch concert on July 31st, may have scooted people off the lawn prematurely and didn't seem to notice that a LOT of people were offended by actions interpreted as rude, misleading or divisive. At any rate, the artists involved, Patti LuPone, George Hearn, Audra McDonald, Michael Cerveris, Paul Gemigniani and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, escaped unscathed. As did Sondheim.
1. Awards, Awards and More Awards! The number one topic of July through December of 2010 was awards! Who said that "awards season" was in the spring? Not around here! Our own BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards took us from their initial announcement on October 9th all the way through to our Celebration of the Awards on December 29th. Online readers of BroadwayWorld selected "Ragtime," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Chess" and "The Philadelphia Story" to take half of the 25 awards between them. The Equity Jeff Awards took place in October, with "Ragtime" leading the pack there as well. We also noted "Glee"'s involvement in both the Emmy and Grammy Awards this fall, and took pride in Jerry Herman's Kennedy Center Honor, presided over by Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing and Chita Rivera. And don't forget director David Cromer winning a "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation! Yes, awards are us, and we loved them a lot lately. Awards and their recipients were our number one Hot Topic, and the pride we show in our love of well done showtunes around here was well evident this fall.
So, there you have it. Or, them--the most popular discussion topics around the Mosh Pit lately. What will we be talking about during the next six months? Touring shows? Tryouts? Big budget local shows? Storefront experiments? College experiences? Awards shows or taped performances? Stay tuned to find out. Or better yet--take part in the discourse! For that, I'll see you very, very soon, and it will be under the video screens, won't it?.....--PWT