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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for April 16th, 2014

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by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Happy Holy Week and Passover time, peeps! Spring festivals fill the air. I don't know if this means you have more free time or less, or more family time at home or out and about. But if you are of a mind to see some shows this week, that production of "Cats" at the Marriott Theatre got just about the best reviews of any Chicago production this year! It's at the top of Theatre In Chicago's list right now, and every critic I can think of gave it supremely high marks. For one thing, the "'Seinfeld' of Musical Theater" (you know, it's supposedly about "nothing"...) is actually about something!--aging, the generation gap, honoring your elders and that famous "Memory." Who knew? Director-choreographer Marc Robin, apparently. The kitties are in residence up in Lincolnshire through May 25, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Yes, spring is finally here!

The second highest rated new production is town (no surprise here) is that other monument of the 1980s British popera period, "Les Miserables," now at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through May 8, 2014. If every role isn't being done to perfection, it sounds as if each one is being done in an interesting way by a distinctive performer, almost all of them local talents. The two leads, Ivan Rutherford and Quentin Earl Darrington, are New Yorkers, but Darrington has been at the DLO before. And folks are loving the designs and the musical values. Well done, you guys!

The third-highest-rated new musical production is town is something of a surprise--it's Pride Films And Plays' Chicago premiere of "Songs From An Unmade Bed," directed by Derek Van Barham and musical directed by Robert Ollis. This show, originally a song cycle for a single performer, has been reconceived by PFF for two performers, exploring a gay relationship in an urban setting. In a small space at the Apollo Theater (also the home of the well-regarded and long-running "Million Dollar Quartet"), the show runs only through April 27. But I understand an extra matinee performance has been added! Cast members Jordan Phelps and Kevin Webb (pictured), and understudies Jonas Davidow and Tommy Thurston, should be quite proud of this accomplishment.

Speaking of Pride Films And Plays, the company's Gay Play Weekend is coming up, from May 9-11. And one of the five finalists from their 2014 Gay Play And Musical Contest is indeed a new musical, which will be presented in a staged reading at the Hoover-Leppen Theater in the Center On Halsted. It's called, "The View UpStairs," by New Yorker Max Vernon, concerning the tragic 1973 UpStairs Lounge fire in New Orleans, the worse massacre in U.S. LGBT history.

The closely-watched production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's "Road Show" runs until May 4, and is pretty much required viewing for those who take their showtunes seriously. When a company with the resource of Chicago Shakespeare Theater and a director with the stature of Gary Griffin take on a revitalization of what may be the master's last original full-scale stage musical, people notice. Michael Aaron Lindner has gotten the lion's share of the respectable reviews. It's not "Sweeney Todd" (what is?), but when will it be done like this again? We are lucky, peeps. Lucky.

Regarding our early spring festival of Sondheimiana, "Gypsy" and "Into The Woods" have closed, but "Passion" is still going strong at the No Exit Café through April 27, in a well-regarded production from Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. The women (Danni Smith and Colette Todd) seem to have come off better than the men here (Peter Oyloe, Peter Vamvakas and company), but the designs and that Theo intimacy are reported to be strong points. This 1994 work, one of the last of the works before Everything Changed on Broadway, is as challenging as "Road Show" to love, but seems to have settled into a niche in the permanent repertoire. Will RS do the same?

Theo Ubique has announced the cast of its next production, an original revue called "A Musical Tribute To The Andrews Sisters," beginning previews May 29 and running through July 27 at the No Exit. Directed and choreographed by David Heimann, who conceived it along with artistic director Fred Anzevino, the show will feature Sarah Larson, Will Lucas, Khaki Pixley and Jordan Yentz, with musical direction by Alex Newkirk and arrangements by company favorite Aaron Benham. From troops to TV, Patty, Maxene and Laverne were hugely popular with audiences, live, on screen and on recordings. But will the show include numbers from their 1974 Broadway musical "Over Here!"? Mosh Pit peeps be wanting to know.

After "Into The Woods" and before "Passion" came "Assassins," which Stephen Sondheim also wrote with "Road Show"'s John Weidman. And yes, there's a production of it on our horizon, from Kokandy Productions, playing at Theater Wit from June 13-July 20, 2014. Rachel Edwards Harvith directs, and Kory Danielson music directs, a cast including Neala Barron (Sara Jane Moore), Patrick Byrnes (Leon Czolgosz), Cole Doman (Balladeer), Greg Foster (Charles Guiteau), Nathan Gardner (Lee Harvey Oswald), Alex Heika (Giuseppe Zangara), Allison Hendrix (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme), Eric Lindahl (John Wilkes Booth), Jeff Meyer (Proprietor), Michael Potsic (John Hinckley, Jr.), and Jason Richards (Samuel Byck). Sold. Like "Passion," "Sweeney Todd" and "Into The Woods," this is a favorite Chicago title But can we have a local production of "Company," please? Please? (And, no, I'm not going to bold all the names of the real people in this script. This whole entry would be bolded!

Scot Kokandy has announced his next season as well, and for 2015 two shows we haven't seen in a while will return to Chicago stages (the ones at Theater Wit, to be specific). From March 2-April 12, 2015, Kokandy Productions will present "The Full Monty," the David Yazbek-Terrence McNally musical about blue collar guys who will go all the way for their loved ones. It hasn't been seen here since 2008. And from July 20-August 30 of next year, the Gertrude Stein musical "Loving Repeating," the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty score which Frank Galati steered to full production at the Museum Of Contemporary Art in 2006 (and whose cast album features prominent Chicago names like Christine Mild, Travis Turner and Bernie Yvon), will be directed by Allison Hendrix. A surprise and welcome addition back to us!

You've got to move quickly to catch two children's shows that have been well-received of late. The world premiere of "Lyle Finds His Mother" plays at Lifeline Theater in Rogers Park only through April 27. Lyle is the well-known Crocodile, of course, and this story of his origins has been adapted by Jessica Wright Buha, with music and lyrics by Michael James Brooks and direction by Dorothy Milne. Anthony Kayer stars in this sequel to the

And, back where we began this week, that old Chicago home-grown favorite, "Schoolhouse Rock Live!," based on the televised clips you may remember from your remote youth, has been wowing and educating the young ones at the Marriott Theatre since the end of February. It runs only through May 4, directed by one of its original creators, George Keating. Zachary L. Gray plays him, I mean, George, in the cast which also includes Brian Bohr, Jackson Evans, Brandi Wooten, Holly Stauder and Rose Le Tran. And yes, the Marriott has redesigned its website!

How's it going, you guys? Temperatures are heading up, shows are booming along? I'd say, all's right with the Mosh Pit! So, that means I'll see you, right? Under the video screens.....-PWT

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From This Author 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 (read more...)