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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 12th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

The pace of musical theater activity in this town right now is crazy busy! Showtunes are popping out everywhere, much to the delight of all my peeps. So let's get to it!

There's a one-two punch of showtune amazeballness coming to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park next weekend. On Sunday the 16th at 7:30 pm, Idina Menzel will make the Chicago stop of her 2015 World Tour there. Yes, that Idina Menzel. Yes, the singer of "Let It Go," "The Wizard And I," "Always Starting Over," "Take Me Or Leave Me" and so many others, coming off an unbelievable 2014 with the strength to tour. She's played Ravinia and RiverEdge, and now she's at the Pritzker. Can you handle the crowds? It's sort of like LollaIdina. That's it. LollaIdina.

And the very next evening, on Monday, August 17th at 6:15 pm, is the big Broadway In Chicago summer concert there, the fall preview advertisement disguised as warm weather light entertainment. Get there early, folks! As you will read from the link below, "If/Then," "Cabaret" and "Beautiful," along with our "Million Dollar Quartet" and many others, will be represented and featured. But I wonder if "Newsies" will be represented among the show excerpts. BIC just announced that the popular tour will be returning one year from now, running July 28-August 7 of 2016 at the Oriental Theatre. That's cool.


If you need an unusual musical theater fix while you wait for Sunday and Monday, you're in luck. A group of which I am an ensemble member, the Improvised Sondheim Project, has performances this Friday and Saturday, August 14 and 15. On Friday, I will be music director for our appearance at the first annual Chicago Musical Improv Festival, taking place at the new iO Chicago Theater, 1501 N. Kingsbury. The Festival runs Thursday through Sunday, and our slot is Friday at 8:30. It's just like Sondheim. Totally improvised. Chicago-style.


And on Saturday night the 15th, at Stage 773, will be the opening performance of our nine-week run of "Razors And Pies" (pictured), the Improvised Sondheim Project's riff on and homage to "Sweeney Todd." Oh, you'll love it! Yes, actually you will. My mind kind of got expanded at our last Monday night rehearsal. Come see us!

Sunday the 16th and Wednesday the 19th are the two dates for Fathom Events' presentation of a sing-along version of the movie "Grease," the highest-grossing movie musical ever made on a worldwide basis and one written and originally set here in Chicago. There are plenty of suburban theaters featuring this event, and two in Chicago proper, at the River East and City North multiplexes. "Grease" is the WORD! It's got groove, it's got meaning....etc.


Another show with its origins in Chicago is "Urinetown," and that post-modern satire on big business and big musical theater is playing downtown, in the DCA Storefront Theater on E. Randolph Street, this week! Actually, it opened last night, and plays only tonight and tomorrow night! And it's a high school production. Well, not exactly. It's an After School Matters production, as the summer's musical theater program winds to a close in (I have no doubt) spectacular fashion. A.J. Wester directs and James Morehead music directs, with designs by Jake Bray. Last summer's "Oklahoma!" was extraordinary. So yeah.

Another show commenting on big business, this time that of the "Mad Men" era, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying." And the Fremont Street Theater Company's summer production of the Frank Loesser tuner plays at Cutting Hall in Palatine for the three weekends in the middle of August, the 7th through the 16th. Madeline Franklin directs, with choreography by Dina DiCostanzo. Kevin Goss stars as Ponty Finch, with Jennie Goss as Rosemary and Stephen Pickering as Biggley.


Two very big titles in our field with themes of Asian-American conflict and romance will also have brief local runs on three weekends in August. So get your ticket fingers ready! The Jedlicka Performing Arts Center in west suburban Cicero is currently producing "Miss Saigon," which opened on July 31 and closes this weekend, August 15. Word of mouth has been very positive for this Dante Orfei-directed show, and at least one reviewer agrees with that:

Opening on that same August 15 and running through August 30 will be Light Opera Works' production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "South Pacific," which the company first produced just nine years ago, in 2006. That production, like this one, starred Larry Adams as Emile DeBecque, French planter extraordinaire. His hair was brown, and his Nellie Forbush was Angela Ingersoll. This time around the island, Nellie is played by Sarah Larson, with Yvonne Strumecki as Bloody Mary, Brian Zane as Luther Billis and face-to-watch Justin Adair as Joe Cable. Rudy Hogenmiller again directs and choreographs, at Evanston's Cahn Auditorium. Adams' hair this time? More DeBecque-like, I'm sure.


Speaking of important titles, our fair city will be host to two productions of "Spamalot" in due course. Well, not the city exactly, as one production will be in the northwest suburbs and the other will be in the southeast suburbs, aka Indiana. Arlington Heights's professional, non-Equity Metropolis Performing Arts Center will produce the Tony Award-winning musical comedy from September 10-October 25, directed by Robin Hughes and music directed by Micky York. Joe Bianco stars as King Arthur, with support from Timothy Sullivan, Kevin Lauerman, Ryan J. Duncan, Jameson Wentworth, Timothy Casey and Jack McFarlane, with Mackenzie Curran as The Lady Of The Lake.


Nearly concurrently with this run will be the production of the same show by the Equity Theater At The Center in Munster, running September 17-October 18 and directed by David Perkovich. The aforementioned (and apparently busy) Larry Adams stars as Arthur, with Colette Todd as the Lady of your question. The chief knights will be played by Larry Wyatt, Sean Fortunato, Greg Foster, Patrick Tierney, Jarrod Zimmerman and Jake Mahler. Linda Fortunato choreographs. Compare and contrast, anyone? The press releases of the two productions were both released yesterday. You could just compare and contrast those....


Last but not least, I'd like to report that yesterday, August 11, was the sixth anniversary of the very first "Showtune Mosh Pit" column! Six years of weekly columns, including something like 313 consecutive weeks without a break. My goodness! And it has been my pleasure. I'm not sure how many Mosh Pit peeps have been with me since the beginning, but thousands of you read this column each week, for which I am eternally grateful. We've got a great musical theater community here in Chicagoland, and proving that fact while giving the community a common point of conversation has been a reward I will never take for granted. If you see me hereabouts, say hello! And perhaps, on some fateful evening, I'll see you 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...)

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