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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 13th, 2014



by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Broadway In Chicago is gearing up for the fall! Next Monday evening, August 18, is for many showtune fans their favorite night of the year, as the annual free "Summer Concert At Millennium Park" takes place, showcasing 14 different musical productions our city will see during the upcoming season. Fourteen! Hosted as always by ABC7's Janet Davies, the show begins at 6:15 pm, with seating at 5:45. But I'd recommend getting there before that! On the docket are features from the world premieres of "Amazing Grace," "Hansel And Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat" and "Dee Snider's Rock And Roll Christmas Tale," the pre-Broadway tryout of "First Wives Club," the Chicago premieres of "Evil Dead," "Newsies," "Cinderella" and "The Illusionists," the first tour of the current production of "Pippin," a new production of "Annie," and return engagements of "Beauty And The Beast," "Jersey Boys" and "Kinky Boots," plus our long-running hit "Million Dollar Quartet." Whew! That's a lot of excerpts! Enjoy the feast, mosh pit peeps. Enjoy the feast.

Also, in recent days we've learned the names of the cast members of two shows set to play BIC's Broadway Playhouse this year. The Chicago premiere of "Evil Dead," though it's the third stop of this current national tour, features a cast of almost all Chicago actors. Playing for only three weeks (September 23-October 12) will be David Sajewich, Julie Baird, Callie Johnson, Ryan McBride, Creg Sclavi and Demi Zaino, joined by Toronto native Andrew Di Rosa. Though I've always been partial to mosh pits, this show features the infamous "Splatter Zone." Come see your friends having a blast and getting very, very bloody. In a comedic way, of course!


And the world premiere of "Dee Snider's Rock And Roll Christmas Tale," at the Broadway Playhouse November 4, 2014 through January 4, 2015, will also feature almost all Chicago performers, joining legendary Twisted Sister frontman Snider (in a narrator role) and Milwaukee theatrical rocker Tommy Hahn in a Faustian tale of rock and rollers, the devil and the Christmas spirit. Bill McGough, Adam Michaels, Christina Nieves, Dan Peters, Wilam Tarris, Keely Vasquez and Taylor Yacktman will be directed by Adam John Hunter and choregraphed by Robert Tatad, with music supervision and arrangements by Doug Katsaros. Snider has written the book and score.


Things are heating up up at the Marriott Theatre, as the first Chicago production of the seminal modern musical comedy "On The Town" in who knows how long (forever?) begins performances this very night, August 13th, with a run scheduled until October 12 up in Lincolnshire. They are getting a head start on Super September! The 1944 show, which introduced composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricists-bookwriters-actors Betty Comden and Adolph Green to Broadway audiences, features the well-known song "New York, New York (It's A Helluva Town)," plus so many more songs that were dropped from the somewhat disappointing MGM film version. David H. Bell directs, with choreography by BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winner Alex Sanchez and music direction by Ryan T. Nelson. It's a cast of 23.


And the Marriott announced its 2015 season this month. After "On The Town" and the previously announced "The King And I" (October 22, 2015-January 4, 2015), the theater will produce "La Cage Aux Folles" (January 28-March 29), "Anything Goes" (April 8-June 7), a rare local production of "City Of Angels" (June 10-August 9) and the world premiere of "October Sky" (August 19-October 18, 2015), with a score by Michael Mahler (writer of additional lyrics for the current West End revival of "Miss Saigon" and of the previous Marriott world premiere, "Hero"). The season will conclude with "Elf" (October 21-December 27, 2015).

Even though "Motown" has departed our shores after a financially successful launch of its national tour, you don't have to go without your fix of Motown stars and songs in a theatrical context. Our own Black Ensemble Theater's world premiere production of "The Marvelous Marvelettes" (through September 7) tells a somewhat darker version of the early days of the hit factory than does Berry Gordy's own theatrical endeavor. And with BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winner Robert Reddrick as music director, you know it delivers the musical goods.

Another, even earlier, star of popular music is represented on our boards these days, with the remount of American Blues Theater's 2013 production of "Hank Williams: Lost Highway" starring Matthew Brumlow (pictured). And the company announced an extension of the show, now playing at the Greenhouse Theater Center through September 28. It's one of four shows running in town right now that have received near-universal raves from critics (the others being Chicago Shakespeare Theater's TYA "Seussical," the Mercury Theater's long-running "Avenue Q" and Light Opera Works' short-lived "Fiddler On The Roof"). Oh, and the aforementioned Michael Mahler is one of the cast members in "Lost Highway." Busy guy.

Is any edition of the Mosh Pit complete without mentions of either Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber, or both? On the former front, the musical improv show (or is it a troupe? Ensemble?) calling itself The Improvised Sondheim Project has (finally) announced a permanent open run for itself. And the first night was last Saturday, August 9. Every Saturday night at 9:00 pm at MCL Chicago on Sheffield Avenue (formerly Studio BE), The Improvised Sondheim Project will do what it has done in three short runs at Stage 773, two years at the Chicago Improv Festival and two bookings at the New York Musical Improv Festival. They improvise a complete Sondheim musical, right before your eyes, somehow accompanied by musical directors Aaron Benham, Stephanie McCullough Vlcek and Brad Kemp. The ensemble includes Joey Bland, Jeff Bouthiette, Kate Cohen, Katie Dufresne, Michael Girts, Aaron Graham, Rebecca Hanson, Nicole C. Hastings, Sarah Hoffman, BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winner Amanda Murphy, Jason Stockdale, and Tiffani Swalley, under the direction of Tyler Dean Kempf. I do recommend it.


And Aurora's Paramount Theatre has announced the complete cast for its September 10-October 12 production of ALW's "Cats," directed and musical directed by Shawn Stengel and choreographed by Harrison McEldowney, with a top-notch design team led by Kevin Depinet, Theresa Ham and Jesse Klug. Lauren Villegas and Rhett Guter lead the cast as Grizabella and Munkustrap, with Andy Planck as Old Deuteronomy and George Keating as Gus/Bustopher. Sawyer Smith is Rum Tum Tugger, and Lizzie MacKenzie Pontarelli will be Victoria. The list of fantastic dancers continues. Jaclyn Burch, Ericka Mac, Amber Mak, Oliva Renteria, Laura Savage, Holly Stauder... Etc....


And dare I mention it? With this edition, "The Showtune Mosh Pit" begins its sixth year as a weekly column! My first column appeared on August 5th, 2009, and hasn't missed a week yet. Five years and counting to talk about the fastest moving, most diverse and most constantly evolving musical theater community in the world, ours right here in Chicago. We, that is to say, you, are incredible, and it has been my joy to cover all the goings-on for the last five years. I may be the Midwest's only musical theater columnist, but I can't imagine why. There's so much to talk about! From tours to storefronts, cabarets and college shows and world premieres and brief runs of repertory staples, I've tried to bring it all to you. I hope you continue to enjoy the Mosh Pit! Dive in, won't you? And pull in your friends!

So I'll see you when I see you! Same time, next week. And in the meantime, perhaps 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...)