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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 15th, 2012

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 15th, 2012


by Paul W. Thompson

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

Ask and ye shall receive! We’ve been dying for fall casting news, and finally, we got a lot! In the last week or so, a great deal became clear about what’s going on in Chicago musical theater for the fall. So, let’s get to all the latest news about Super September!

The greatly anticipated production of Stephen Sondheim and George Lapine’s “Sunday In The Park With George” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier has come through with a very exciting cast. Broadway star Jason Danieley (from the original casts of “The Fully Monty,” “Curtains” and the Hal Prince revival of “Candide”--plus he appeared in “Next To Normal” opposite his wife, Marin Mazzie) will star as Georges/George in the musical inspired by the painting “A Sunday On La Grand Jatte--1884” by Georges Seurat, the centerpiece of the Permanent Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. This production is the most significant Chicago mounting of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 musical in 25 years, since its 1987 Goodman Theatre production, starring John Herrera and Paula Scrofano, directed by Michael Maggio and conducted by Kevin Stites (in the old Goodman Theatre, essentially in the basement of the Art Institute!).

This time, Gary Griffin directs (no doubt hoping to repeat the magic of last season’s “Follies”at ChiShakes, which snapped up every award in sight, including at our own BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards). Brad Haak and Ryan Nelson will handle the music duties. Up and coming New York actress Carmen Cusack will co-star as Dot/Marie, and a whole bevy of top Chicago talent rounds out the cast, including Sean Fortunato, Kevin Gudahl, Heidi Kettenring, Ora Jones, Linda Stephens, McKinley Carter, Derek Hasenstab, Michael Aaron Lindner and William Travis Taylor. The show is currently announced for a limited five-week engagement, September 26-November 4, 2012. Go!!!


We all learned that week that the winner of the Best Musical Tony Award in 1980, “42nd Street” will be on the boards at Theatre At The Center in southeast suburban Munster, Indiana this fall, from September 13-October 21, directed by the legendary William Pullinsi and choreographed by Sean Fortunato’s wife, Linda Fortunato (talent runs in families!). Heading the cast will be two Chicago theater veterans, Larry Adams as Julian Marsh and the aforementioned Paula Scrofano as Dorothy Brock. Nicole Miller will play understudy-to-star Peggy Sawyer, assisted by Dale Benson, Nathan Mittleman, David Besky, Amy Brophy, Jenny Guse and more. William Underwood is musical director.


Also announced last week was the cast of “Grease” at the Paramount Theatre in far west suburban Aurora, Illinois. September 12-October 7 will bring this mounting of the revised Broadway version of the show, not the original Kingston Mines version from Chicago that was recreated by the American Theater Company last summer. However, the Danny of that production, Adrian Aguilar, will be on hand again, only this time as Kenickie, reunited with his Paramount “Hair” co-star, Skyler Adams as Danny. Their Sandy will be Emma Ritchie (who’s from New York, I think) and Rizzo will be Jessica Kingsdale. Others in the cast include Courtney Crouse, Sean Effinger-Dean, Tiffany Trainer, Cory Stonebrook, Jaclyn Burch, Jeffrey Max, Creg Sclavi, Katie Spelman and more. Former Chicagoan Michael Ungar directs, Dana Solimando choreographs, and Michael Keefe conducts.


Speaking of big theaters with big announcements, the Marriott Theatre announced its 2012-2013 season last week! It’s a fascinating one. The far north suburban behemoth will start the year with the world premiere presentation of what may be the first theatrical songbook revue featuring the hits of Andrew Lloyd Webber that is authorized by Lord Lloyd-Webber himself. From “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” to the sequel to “The Phantom Of The Opera,” “Love Never Dies,” all the hits of the biggest Brit hits from the 60s to now will be featured in “Now And Forever,” running January 16-March 24, 2012 in Lincolnshire. Will this be cast locally? Is this a pre-Broadway tryout? Who is directing? I have so many questions! And it’s undoubtedly an honor that the Marriott was chosen.

The last production of the newly announced season will be probably one of the first licensed productions of the West End and Broadway hit “Mary Poppins,” based on the film by Walt Disney and the books by P.L. Travers. The Marriott has a history of helping New York rights houses mount new shows regionally, and in the round, to boot. And this one will run October 23, 2013-January 5, 2014. And in between, we’ll have productions of “South Pacific” (April 3-June 2), “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” (June 5-August 11) and “9 To 5,” the Dolly Parton musical (August 14-October 20, 2013). Seems pretty balanced to me!


Belmont Avenue is hopping with musicals this fall. Already running is the Kokandy Productions production of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” running at Theater Wit through August 26 in a freewheeling display directed by John D. Glover. The show originated through the New York Musical Theater Festival, and this may be its Chicago area premiere. Reviews are pretty positive, too.

But things will really be heating up next door at Stage 773 next month. Jason Robert Brown’s popular “The Last Five Years” (which had its world premiere at Skokie’s Northlight Theatre in 2001) will play from September 6-October 5, mounted by Another Production Company (that’s all I know about it, so far!). But it’s joining a complex which is the new home to Chicago’s long-running sketch comedy group Cupid Players (and their “Cupid Has A Heart On- -A Musical Guide To Relationships”) and the spot where TimeLine Theatre Company is mounting the Chicago premiere of Moises Kaufman’s important play about Beethoven, parenthood and passion, “33 Variations” (August 24-October 21).

A company rumored to be down for the count last year has returned with a coup: the premiere within the City of Chicago of a local staging of Tony winner “Avenue Q!” NightBlue Performing Arts Company is presenting the puppet extravaganza-with-a-message at Stage 773 from September 14-October 14! I don’t know much, other than that they are in rehearsals now. We were hoping for a major mounting by other producers this past spring, but it didn’t happen. And now we can finally relax. Thank you, NightBlue!

A company which signed on to the Theater Wit complex when it opened two years ago is the Bohemian Theater Ensemble. Building on the bluegrass and folk stylings of their popular recent hits “Floyd Collins” and “Big River,” but returning to their former, smaller home in Rogers Park, BoHo is presenting “The Spitfire Grill” by James Valcq and Fred Alley in the tiny (30 seat) Heartland Studio. Anna Hammonds directs a cast of seven in this 2001 musical about the past and starting over. Laura Savage stars. (Like “Avenue Q,” the show runs September 14-October 14).

Just a little further into the future is a title that will make many Baby Boomer members of the Mosh Pit very happy: “Harold And The Purple Crayon.” The popular children’s book character, from the books by Crockett Johnson, will star in his own new musical from October 11-November 4, brought to us by the Chicago Children’s Theatre in its new home base, the Ruth Page Center For The Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Street. Sean Graney will direct, with choreography by Tommy Rapley and musical direction by Nick Davio. The script is by Don Darryl Rivera, with lyrics by Robert Burgess and music by Auston James. As an encore to the Ruth Page run, the company will tour the production to the Beverly Arts Center (November 7-11 and the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts (November 14-18). Awesome!


Last of all, there is a happening in the world of film musicals this week: the premiere of the remake of the 1976 film “Sparkle.” That film starred Irene Cara and Lonette McKee (“Fame” and the Hal PrinceShow Boat,” respectively) as a daughter and mother making it in show business in the 1960s. For 2012, in case you haven’t heard, those roles are being taken by Jordin Sparks (“American Idol”) and the late Whitney Houston (“The Bodyguard” and the third version of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” to name just two of her many incredible credits). The film opens Friday everywhere, and the soundtrack is already available. Yes, it sounds a little like the love child of “Dreamgirls” and “Gypsy,” but maybe that’s why we’ll like it….

So, the race to the fall is on! Take care this week, and water your lawn and your creative soul. Look forward to all the wonder we have in store, and I'll see you very soon, in a theater and under the video screens.....—PWT

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