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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 4th, 2012




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

With a nod to Independence Day, and all that it means to you and yours, it’s once again time for our bi-annual Showtune Mosh Pit feature: the Mosh Pit’s “Top Ten Hot Topix!” It’s been a fascinating six months hereabouts, with 156 different subjects making these pages since the first of the year. Let’s take a look and see what the ten most popular, most talked about items of interest have been, in time-honored reverse order. And thanks for reading, and for talking about the following musical theater happenings:

10. “Show Boat” at Lyric Opera Of Chicago. For about a month in February and March, Chicago was the world’s center of the debate about what makes a musical a musical, and what makes an opera an opera. Before and after that time, the Broadway production known as “The Gershwins’ Porgy And Bess” was that center, but make no mistake, the issues burned even hotter and clearer here when the nation’s second largest opera company took on Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1927 music theater masterpiece, with a cast made up of international opera stars and local theater stars, singers, actors and dancers, headed up by director Francesca Zambello and conductor John DeMain. Nathan Gunn and Ashley Brown starred, and Lyric was stirred. Or stirred up, depending on who you talked to.

SHOW BOAT at Lyric Opera

9. Team StarKid. While we still don’t know for sure the implications of the success of this intrepid Chicago band of theater entrepreneurs, two years or so out of the University of Michigan, this spring was a sort of crucible point for the internet and merchandising superstars who spawned “A Very Potter Musical” and set Darren Criss on his road to “Glee” and Broadway stardom. The company’s latest original musical, “Holy Musical B@man!,” played just enough live, late winter performances at Chicago’s Hoover-Leppen Theater to get recorded for free release online, and by late spring, the company had embarked upon its second national concert tour this school year, the “Apocalyptour,” centered largely on House Of Blues venues (the Chicago HOB was the site of the tour’s premiere). Is this a new way of reaching and building theater audiences? I think so…..

8. “Pippin” at The Music Theatre Company. For two months this spring, Stephen Schwartz’s early Broadway success with the legendary Motown cast album came to vibrant musical life in Highland Park, where Jessica Redish directed and choreographed (in proper post-Fosse style) all the strutting and coup de theatre brilliance of this tricky Watergate-era work. Joey Stone and Jess Godwin showed they have unmatched vocal pipes where R&B-influenced Broadway pop-rock is concerned.


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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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