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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 18th, 2009

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 18th, 2009THE LATEST IN UNAUTHORIZED GOSSIP AND BUZZ


by Paul W. Thompson


Overheard last weekend under the

Sidetrack and Cattle Call showtune video screens:

So much is being talked about! Who said that August was dull for theater? Not in Chicago, certainly...... So, let's get to it!

Two classic mid-century musicals began proscenium performances in suburban Chicago venues this past week, and everyone wants to check them out.  First to officially open was "My Fair Lady" at Light Opera Works in Evanston, starring local classical actor Nick Sandys as Henry Higgins. (Conflict of interest alert:  I am on the Board of Directors there.)

The second show, opening August 19th after a week of previews, is "Cabaret" at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, starring Northwestern University graduate and Broadway actor Jim Weitzer ("Little Women," "The Phantom of the Opera") as Clifford Bradshaw. (Conflict of interest alert number two:  He is a friend of mine. Hey, it happens.)

My friends at Lyric Opera of Chicago tell me that rehearsals for the 2009-2010 season have begun. The show of most interest to musical theater fans is Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow," one of the first Viennese operettas to have an impact not only on the popular music of the day "The Merry Widow Waltz") but on women's fashion.  The newly-mounted production, starring Elizabeth Futral and directed by Drury Lane Oakbrook golden boy Gary Griffin, plays December and January at the Civic Opera House.

One sign that Broadway buffs may really like this show: it's being done in English, though it was originally written in German ("Die Lustige Witwe"). Has Lyric ever done that before? Shocking! And appearing in smaller roles in the show are Chicago theater regulars Jeff Dumas, Susan Moniz, Larry Adams, Mary Ernster, James Rank, Ann McMann and Bernie Yvon. It's like a reunion of everyone we all know!

A Griffin production that readers and mosh pit denizens may already be familiar with, the national tour of the Oprah Winfrey-produced Broadway hit "The Color Purple," will return to Chicago for one week just before Labor Day, with Fantasia reprising the lead role of Celie. Those who saw it in New York's Broadway Theatre or at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre are interested to know how it will play in the Arie Crown Theatre at McCormick Place. And it may not return again.....

Showtune fans of cabaret (the performance genre, not the musical!) are thrilled about two new opportunities that arose this month. The swanky nightclub Martini Park in the River North neighborhood has been offering pianist-singers Ben Hartman and Kathryn Payne on an alternating basis on Monday nights from 5:00-9:00 pm (yes, Virginia, you can still make it to Sidetrack). And a group of serious-minded young performers calling themselves Chicago Cabaret Project have been playing alongside Honey West and other special guests Tuesday nights at 9:00 at Hydrate in East Lakeview. Both series are scheduled to end at the end of August, but are well worth checking out. We all hope these performers and venues get full opportunities to flourish. 

Speaking of the end of August, there are two benefit performance evenings in the showtune buzz this week. August 29th marks the 2009 date for the big-time fundraiser "Dance for Life," at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millenium Park. Hosted by WGN-TV's Dean Richards, the event benefits local charities helping those impacted by HIV/AIDS, and includes performances by the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and other major Chicago-area dance companies.

On a more modest scale, a performance benefitting the Chicago LGBT Youth Show Choir, spearheaded by our own Perry Simmons, takes place the very next night, August 30th, in the Hoover-Leppen Theater at East Lakeview's Center on Halsted. Support, support, support, in whatever way you can! 

And we do seem to be talking in twos this week. There are two new releases that get a great big reaction every time they appear on our showtune screens! The current Broadway revival cast of "Hair" is generating lots of excitement through their performances on the Tony Award broadcast, "The David Lettterman Show" and elsewhere (they've been everywhere!).  People love the cast album, whether CD or MP3. Congratulations to Gavin Creel, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy and all. And Adam Pascal's "'Chess' in Concert," with Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Kerry Ellis, is getting a growing response as well. Fans of the CD and the DVD can't decide which they like better. Should everybody just get both??? 

Wow, I'm exhausted from all the news and action this past weekend. Can't wait to find out what we're talking about next weekend. For all that and more, plus all the tunes you love to love, I'll see you under the video screens.....-PWT

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