'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for November 30th, 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:
The Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” is open once again, and all’s right with the world. What “Messiah” is to classical music and “The Nutcracker” is to ballet, the many stage versions of Charles Dickens’ immortal short novel about Scrooge, Marley, Cratchit and the rest are to the legitimate stage. And the one at Chicago’s most established resident theater company has been popular for decades now. It opened again this week, and will run through December 31, adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Steve Scott. It once again, after a year off, stars Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge (Yando is perhaps best known outside of Chicago for his Scar in the national tour of “The Lion King”). Ron Rains is again Bob Cratchit, Ross Lehman is Fezziwig and Jarrod Zimmerman is the younger Scrooge. The women in their lives are Karen Woditsch, Ora Jones and Nora Fiffer. The music for the show was composed by Andrew Hansen, and there are three live onstage musicians. It is a musical? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it’s a toetapper, just the same.
Speaking of “The Nutcracker,” the E.T.A. Hoffmann story that spawned the famous Tschaikovsky ballet is also the source for another perennial holiday favorite in these here parts, also called “The Nutcracker” and staged since 2007 by the House Theatre of Chicago (November 3-December 30). With book by Phillip Klapperich and Jake Minton, lyrics by Minton and music by Kevin O’Donnell, Clara, Drosselmeyer, the Rat King and more come to life with actors and puppets in this musical at the Chopin Theatre (downstairs space) on Division Street. It sounds interesting, and has been very well received.
Not quite as well received, perhaps, but starring some formidable showtune talents (Hollis Resnik and Don Forston) is the Chicago premiere of “Another Night Before Christmas,” a two-hander holiday musical by Sean Grennan (book and lyrics) and Leah Okimoto (music), directed by the old pro himself, William Pullinsi. It’s on the boards at the Theatre At The Center in northwest Indiana until December 18, and has been Jeff-recommended. Resnik, you may remember, is now a ten-time Jeff Award winner, thanks to her recent win for playing The Old Lady in “Candide” at the Goodman. It’s always a joy to see her, as Mosh Pit peeps well know!
For the second year in a row, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble is presenting “Striking 12” for the holidays, opening this weekend and running through January 1, 2012. It’s at the Heartland Studio, the tiny theater in the Glenwood Avenue Arts District in Rogers Park. Directed by Lara Filip (fresh from her triumph as the Narrator in “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora), its book, music and lyrics are by Brendan Millburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda, and its cast of actor-musicians consists of Matt Deitchman, Jed Feder, Mallory Nees and Amy Steele. It’s about a grumpy bachelor and a lightbulb salesgirl. It’s The “Un-holiday” Holiday Musical! Their publicity materials say so…….
Yet another quasi-holiday musical hit town last weekend, with a quasi-original score and a mixture of new and old actors in vaguely familiar roles. But this one is a movie. I’m talking of course about “The Muppets,” the movie about….the Muppets. Starring a very human Amy Adams (“Enchanted”), Jason Segel (does he sing?) and Chris Cooper, plus those lovable Jim Henson creations singing their old hit songs plus some new ones. What do you say, Mosh Pit peeps? Will we be singing along with this movie in our public watering holes before too long? And does everybody love this movie?
Did you hear the roof blow off the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, that $19 million venue on Clark Street in Uptown that opened in the middle of November with “The Jackie Wilson Story?” Well, it didn’t really blow off. But it threatens to, six times a week, especially when Kelvin Roston, Jr., as Jackie sings “Lonely Teardrops” to end the first act of the biographical musical with both a bang and a whimper. This revival of the 2000 show by the theater’s founder and executive director, Jackie Taylor, runs throughJanuary 8, 2012, and if you see it, you’ll definitely be talking about it.
Another song-heavy non-holiday musical has just opened on the north side, “Pump Boys And Dinettes.” It’s at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, back in that Glenwood Avenue Arts District. Old timers will recall that a production of this 1982 Broadway stealth hit (Debra Monk is one of its authors and original cast members) ran for several years in Chicago, but it has been infrequently seen here since. Theo takes care of that, at least from November 26th through January 15th. Fred Anzevino directs, with choreography by James Beaudry. Musical direction is by Jim DeSelm, who’s also in the cast, along with Courtney Crouse, Christina Hall, Danni Smith, Cody Siragusa and Alex Stage. DeSelm and Crouse just finished up with Bailiwick Chicago’s “Violet,” btw. Quite a team.
Speaking of Bailwick Chicago, the company is partnering with Tom Mullen and Kevin Mayes to present the Chicago resident company premiere of the Tony Award-winning “Avenue Q” (it defeated a little show called “Wicked,” you may remember), and the announcement of this production has caused quite a stir hereabouts, one quite unlike any other production announcement in recent memory. It is highly unusual for a show to make a local debut while still running in New York, albeit in a transfer to the off-Broadway New World Stages, and the first round of auditions are this coming weekend, though all slots are filled. The production is taking online submissions, however, through YouTube. Stacey Flaster will direct and choreograph, assisted by Christopher Pazdernik. The production will run March 15-May 6, 2012 (no venue has been formally announced), and will be big, big news. It already is!
You may or may not have noticed that some of our more prominent musical theater luminaries are “out of town” at the moment. That’s because Frank Galati has directed a production of “My Fair Lady” at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida, musical directed by Doug Peck and starring Andrea Prestinario and Jeff Parker. Prestinario, you may know, played Eliza Doolittle earlier this fall at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, for which she is currently nominated for a BroadwayWorld Chicago Award. Parker is nominated as well, for “As You Like It” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier. Peck and Northwestern University graduate Ian Weinberger are playing a two-piano version of the show for its run (November 18-December 23), and BroadwayWorld Award double-nominee Mara Blumenfeld (“As You Like It” and “Candide”) is responsible for the costumes. Peggy Roeder, Penny Slusher, Rob Lindley, Joel Hatch, Carol Kuykendall and Sean Effinger-Dean are among the other Chicagoans in this production. And I want to see it!
And speaking of Aurora’s Paramount Theatre (see how this all works out?), that’s where this weekend a culmination of sorts will take place, when the Von Trapp Family Singers (four of Captain and Maria Von Trapp’s many great-grandchildren) will appear in concert on December 4th at 3 pm. Of course, “The Sound Of Music,” the fictionalized story of the Von Trapp family, continues to do bang-up business at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace right now. And you know, don’t you, that last weekend’s sing-along screenings of “The Sound Of Music” at the Music Box Theater were sellouts, and that the CSO-along screenings of “West Side Story” (directed by Robert Wise, who also directed “The Sound Of Music”) at Orchestra Hall were reported to be as equally popular? What’s going on here? Fifty-year old stage and screen musicals, and the people whose lives they were based on, continuing to be popular and relevant even now? Who’d have thunk it?
Well, you and I, that’s who! Musical theater is booming inChicago, and we are at the crux of it! You and I and those who think like we do. Ah, yes. And so, as we hit our stride toward year-end, and as winter finally begins to appear here, I look forward to seeing you in a theater lobby, or on a crowded street, or singing or shopping or doing some other such seasonal activity. And on some night or other, I’m sure I'll see you under the video screens.....—PWT
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