'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for October 12th, 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 2011 BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards are here! Well, almost. But it is time to submit names of shows, artists and theaters for possible nomination for the Broadies, the BWAs, or whatever other nickname you care to use. Last year was the first year for the awards, the only ones in the Chicago area determined by online fan voting for both Equity and Non-Equity productions. And it was a big hit! We're using the same 25 categories this year as well, and productions which opened from September 1, 2010 through October 31, 2011 (a 14-month window) are eligible to be nominated. Click here to submit your suggested nominations (through October 31st), and be sure to check back the week of November 1st to see the full slate of nominees. Voting will be mid-November through mid-December, and the winners will be announced before Christmas. On Wednesday, December 28, 2011, we'll have our second annual BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards Party at The Call nightclub in Andersonville. Everyone (over 21, that is) is invited!!
It's a fascinating time to be in the Chicago theater community. I say that every six months or so, I know, but I really mean it this time! Because three theaters are opening newly renovated facilities this fall, and coming out of a recession, this is simply amazing! The funding they have secured, and the futures they will have, are just staggering.
On Thursday, October 6, I was privileged to be part of a press "hard hat" tour of the new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, now entering the final phase of renovation and new construction on Clark Street, between Montrose and Wilson (4450 N. Clark, to be exact). On this corner site, a former two-story auto showroom and a large new connecting building are coming together to produce a truly impressive theater complex, the new home of the 35-year-old Black Ensemble Theater. BET has made a specialty of producing homemade scripts (most by founder and executive director Jackie Taylor) that celebrate the life and music of black entertainment icons like the Nicholas Brothers, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, blues singers, soul singers, you name it. And the company will do that in even more spectacular fashion in its new 299-seat, two-story mainstage theater (pictured above) that will open on Friday, November 18, 2011, with the return of "The Jackie Wilson Story," the musical that set Chester Gregory ("Sister Act," "Hairspray") on his way to Broadway from his native Gary, Indiana. The complex will also include a 150-seat experimental stage (not yet complete), educational and rehearsal space, full dressing room, company offices, a rooftop terrace and a spectacular lobby staircase. This facility will be the envy of almost every theater company in town, I promise you. It's a truly exciting project (57,800 square feet), nearly complete and (even with a few large donors still pending) is expected to cost some $19 million. It includes some indoor parking!
At 1225 W. Belmont Avenue, the former Theater Building Chicago, having been rechristened Stage 773, is ready for its renovation coming out party, this weekend, Sunday, October 16, at 7:00 pm. It's a benefit gala, celebrating the now four-theater complex, new bathrooms (!) and all. The building's website has been renovated as well. After a 35-year history of its own, the venerable facility will play host many Chicago theater companies, cabaret artists and special events, and along with the fairly-new Theater Wit space just next door and the 100-year-old Athenaeum Theatre within walking distance down Southport, it forms quite an anchor for the arts in Central Lakeview. Stage 773 will even produce works of its own. Like I said, it's an awesome time for theater in the Windy City.
Also let it be known that the thirty-plus-year-old Light Opera Works has moved its offices and rehearsals into a renovated space at 516 4th Street in Wilmette. Even though it will still perform in Evanston (its mainstage season is at Cahn Auditorium on the Northwestern University campus, with its Second Stage series at the McGaw YMCA Child Care Center), this is a big change for the north shore company. Chicago actors shouldn't be concerned, though. The new facility (with a column-free rehearsal space) is only one block from the Linden stop on the CTA Purple Line, and just two stops north of the company's former digs at the Noyes Cultural Center. You can still get there! Audiences won't notice a change, except maybe for more resources to go toward production expenses, and less toward space rental costs.
I hardly know how to begin this next topic. You see, from now until the end of the calendar year, musical theater on a grand scale is going to keep exploding all over Chicago's Loop theater district. And I do mean exploding. Ten showtune-worthy productions (most, but not all, Broadway tours courtesy of Broadway In Chicago) will play the Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre, Bank Of America Theatre, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago Theatre and Goodman Theatre. I mean, get your pocketbooks ready, and spend, spend, spend! Here's a quick annotated listing:
The tour of "Mary Poppins" hits town this week for the next three, playing October 13-November 6 at the Cadillac Palace. This tour started here (with original Broadway stars Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee) in March of 2009, and this is its first return visit. Not without its birthing pains, this show has become the cash cow everyone predicted it would be, once the legal wrangling and artistic positioning were over. Oddly perfect for the Halloween season, too, "Mary Poppins" should keep the little ones occupied and the grown-ups wishing for their own parrot-head umbrella. Rachel Wallace stars.
"Rock Of Ages," another Broadway national tour that started here with its original lead (Constantine Maroulis, in the fall of 2010), return for just one week, November 8-13. Only it won't be at the Bank Of America again, but at the Oriental, aka the Ford Center For The Performing Arts. I don't know who's in it, but it isn't Constantine Maroulis. And don't let "Glee" fool you. "Rock Of Ages" is the show that first made Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" a showtune.
The show that defeated ROA for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical, "Memphis," arrives here on November 22, at the Cadillac Palace for only two weeks. Measly! But, I understand the tour would want to play as many cities as possible while the show is still a fresh commodity. With a book by Joe DiPietro (author of the hit Chicago play, "Fucking Men") and a score by Bon Jovi band member David Bryan, the show is set in a similar environment as another Tony winner, "Hairspray," but about ten years sooner, and with adults. The tour will star Bryan Fenkart, Felicia Boswell and Quentin Earl Darrington (star of Drury Lane Theatre's "Ragtime"). Here's the show's official website:
A tour of "Fiddler On The Roof" also arrives on November 22, for a single week at the Auditorium Theater Of Roosevelt University. Apparently based on the 2004 Broadway revival, the tour stars John Preece as Tevye, Sholom Aleichem's legendary dairyman. If you haven't seen a "real" "Fiddler," go.
Beginning a few days earlier than these two shows (November 18), but extending all the way until New Year's Eve, is the annual production of "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theatre. Not a musical, but a play with a great deal of music, it nevertheless employs a great number of musical theater performers and entertains a great many theatergoers in the Goodman's Albert space. It's once again Tom Creamer's adaptation of Charles Dickens' short novel, starring Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge and directed by Steve Scott.
In the Goodman Theatre's Owen space, running December 2-31, is a return of the Congo Square theater company's production of "The Nativity," by McKinley Johnson and with music and lyrics by Johnson and Jaret Landon. It's a gospel- and dance-filled retelling of the journey of Jesus' mother Mary, directed by Ilesa Duncan and choreographed by Kevin Iega Jeff.
It's not a musical, but they have been Broadway musical stars ("Little Johnny Jones" and "The King And I," respectively), so I include "Donny and Marie--Christmas In Chicago" in this little list. From December 6-24 at the Oriental Theatre, the two Osmond siblings, fresh from their long engagement at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, will hold forth their special brand of music-making and their decades-long rapport with audiences. Will their talent with songs beginning with "P" ("Puppy Love," "Paper Roses") lead them to sing "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord" from "Godspell" or the title song from "Promises, Promises?" Only time will tell.
Yet a third show that has origins here will return to us this holiday season, only this time, we didn't original the tour, we hosted the pre-Broadway tryout. I'm talking of course about "The Addams Family," which had its world premiere at the Oriental Theatre two years ago, and will be playing down the street at the Cadillac Palace for three weeks, from December 13, 2011 through January 1, 2012. The show is a lot different than it was when it first started here, with some changes made during the 2009 run and others made (by show doctor Jerry Zaks) between the Chicago engagement and the show's spring 2010 bow at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York. So, whether you saw it here or not, you may want to go this time, though stars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth won't be on stage. The tour stars Douglas Sills and Sara Gettelfinger, with Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester.
A new musical will grace the Chicago Theatre from December 14-30. It's "A Christmas Story: The Musical!" That's the full title of this title, adapted from the cult 1983 film comedy about the Indiana childhood of humorist Jean Shepherd and the memorable Christmas he dreamed of a Red Ryder Air Rifle BB Gun. The leg lamp, the flagpole and a score by the team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are all brought to you by producer Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie in the film. Chicago is the final stop in a short tour for this company, who are rehearsing here before heading out on the road next month. Chicago faces dot the cast. It's "A Christmas Story." Be there.
The last of the Loop holiday musicals is the tour of "La Cage Aux Folles," which coincidentally is premiering this very week in Des Moines, Iowa. George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber headline The Road Company of the 2010 Tony winner for Best Revival of a Musical. Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's show is a proven critic- and crowd-pleaser, too. The whole entourage will stop at the Bank Of America Theatre for the two weeks surrounding Christmas, December 20-January 1. So then, "The Best Of Times" is when? Christmas in Chicago, that's when! There are plenty of entertainments to be had in these here parts between now and January 1, but of the showtune variety, "La Cage" and its similar delights are a smorgasbord, a plethora, a cornucopia of Mosh Pit madness. Bring it on!
Lastly, I should mention a video treat of a related sort. This Friday, October 14, WTTW Channel 11, our PBS affiliate, will air a performance of the Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis's 2011 summer production of "H.M.S. Pinafore," at 9:00 pm. The Gilbert and Sulllivan classic, the comic opera team's first hit, reportedly gets a modern twist in this production. Sondheim favorite Barbara Bryne appears as Queen Victoria, and former Marriott Theatre performer J. Tyler Whitmer is Bob Becket, with Robert O. Berdahl as Captain Corcoran and Heather Lindell as Josephine, all under Joe Dowling's direction. Bravo to the Guthrie!
OK, now I'm exhausted! That's a lot of musical theater we are expected to digest before the deep, dark winter snows set in. And that doesn't even count all our local productions on the lakefront, in the storefronts and in the suburbs. We've got a lot of shows to look forward to, peeps! Which is awesome. However, until those great opening days arrive, I'll see you (won't I?) under the video screens.....-PWT
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