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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 19th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

Monday night, August 17, was certainly one for the record books! Not that the third Monday in August is a day one would ordinarily associate with showtune greatness. But between the Broadway In Chicago fall preview concert in Millennium Park on East Randolph Street and the Porchlight Music Theatre gala, "Chicago Sings The Best Of Motown," at City Winery on West Randolph Street, lovers of musical theater songs and singers had their fill. Both events were reportedly sold out. And for an afterparty, the cast of Pride Films And Plays's "The Boy From Oz," running through August 30 only at Stage 773, performed two numbers at Sidetrack The Video Bar on Musical Monday, aka Showtunes. (Chris Logan is pictured as Peter Allen.) It was madness. Good times. Good stuff.



Coming as it did less than 24 hours after Idina Menzel's sold-out, well-received concert at the same Loop venue, the Broadway In Chicago fall preview event brought out thousands of picnicking showtune fans, under warm and humid summer skies. Many folks told me that the highlight for them was hearing Jackie Burns tear it up in her best post-Elphaba fashion as a preview of "If/Then," the Menzel vehicle from Broadway's 2013-14 season. (Does this mean that Burns will be starring in the show when it reaches Chicago next February? I don't think anything has been announced.)


The happening that made the most news coverage, however, was the announcement that "The Book Of Mormon" will be returning for a third run in Chicago (probably also sold out) at the Bank Of America Theatre. The boys will be here June 28-August 14, 2016, leaving almost exactly one year from today. Whatever will we do?


Well, we will undoubtedly enjoy other Broadway touring companies before then. Such as the ones bearing down on our environs now. "Dirty Dancing," which has played here for almost four months in 2008-9 but has not played Broadway, runs August 18-30 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.


But the show people are eager to see is the 2014 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, "A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder," which will play the Bank Of America Theatre from September 29-October 11, 2015. That's a mere two weeks, but heaven for fans of operetta-style farce with some old school, head voice singing. What's more, the Chicago run is being called the official opening of the entire tour, after a "preview" run in Schenectady, New York. John Rapson will play the character role of the eight D'Ysquith heirs, with Kevin Massey in the romantic comedy leading role of Monty Navarro, who attempts to kill the eight heirs and claim an English peerage in the end. Kristen Beth Williams will play Sibella, with Adrienne Eller as Phoebe. (Remember the number with the doors? That's this.)


Now that all that hoopla has subsided from the extended weekend, the big news in these here parts seems to be the world premiere of the possibly pre-Broadway production of "October Sky," which begins performances tonight, August 19th, at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. With music and lyrics by Chicagoan Michael Mahler (his additional lyrics to "Miss Saigon" [yes, that one] are playing in London's West End right now) and book by his "Hero" writing partner, Aaron Thielen, this is a show that rights holder Universal Stage Productions is watching closely (it's based on the 1999 film of the same name, starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal). Here, West Virginia teenager Homer Hickam is played by young Nate Lewellyn, with Alex Weisman, Patrick Rooney and Ben Barker as his Sputnik-obsessed friends, Johanna McKenzie Miller as his teacher, David Hess and Susan Moniz as his parents, and a cast also including Derek Hasenstab, Terry Hamilton, James Earl Jones II, David Lively, Jameson Cooper, Liam Quealy and more. Rachel Rockwell directs. You think you've seen publicity about this show? Just you wait till the reviews come in.


On Sunday, we said goodbye to the admittedly pre-Broadway production of "Beaches" at the Drury Lane Theatre, with its future as-yet unannounced. In its place will come the first locally produced edition of "Peter And The Starcatcher," the Peter Pan origin story by Rick Elice that won five Tony Awards in 2012. Though it's billed as a play, there are indeed songs (music by Wayne Barker), and the act two opener certainly feels like a musical. But, no matter what the genre, the Drury Lane's production sounds like a doozy, directed by William Osetek and beginning performances August 27 (through October 18). In the cast I see the names Jeff Dumas, Andrew Mueller, Matt Mueller, Rod Thomas, John Keating, Rhett Guter, Zach Colonna, Brandon Springman, Aaron Kirby and Jake Klinkhammer. That's an impressive list! Emma Rosenthal is Molly, with Caleb Donahoe making his Chicago debut as "Boy." Guter also choreographs, to the music direction of Ben Johnson.


Closing this coming weekend will be "Bette," live at Mary's Attic in the Hell In A Handbag Midler tribute and gay bathhouse retrospective, and "Fancy Nancy," not a gay musical but rather one for children, playing since the beginning of the year at the Emerald City Theatre Company and for the summer at the Broadway Playhouse. And the "Altar Boyz" will have their last boy band religious experience this weekend at Mayne Stage, as well.




In addition to the aforementioned "The Boy From Oz," next weekend (that is, the end of August) will see the final performances of Stephen Flaherty and Frank Galati's "Loving Repeating" from Kokandy Productions (at Theatre Wit), Black Ensemble Theater's well-received "Men Of Soul," "Stanley In The Name Of Love" (the absurdist gay porn dance pop musical from The New Colony at The Den Theatre) and Light Opera Works' "South Pacific, which has just now opened. Playing the same three weekends as "South Pacific" is The Cuckoo's Theater Project production of off-Broadway's well-loved musical "Bare," playing at Chicago Dramatists under the direction of Adam Walleser and music directed by Xavier Lagunas.



One show I didn't just mention is "Ring Of Fire," in the Theatre At The Center production remounted at the Mercury Theater Chicago. Because, wouldn't you know it, the show has been extended again, this time until November 1st. Much as with "Avenue Q" and "The Color Purple" before it, the Mercury doesn't like to close a hit! Two more months is fine, especially as I know they are auditioning for future cast and onstage band replacements. This is the Johnny Cash Story, of course, with wife June Carter very much in evidence as well. Country music royalty, indeed.


This Friday, August 21, the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park is offering a double header of sorts. At 6:00 pm in Bennett-Gordon Hall, veteran chanteuse Spider Saloff appears in "Spider Sings Sondheim," a concert of songs by you-know-who. And at 8:00 on the mainstage Pavilion, voice-over god Seth McFarlane will appear with the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, singing from the great American songbook with no-doubt some showtune favorites among his choices. SETH MCFARLANE, peeps. And next Tuesday, the 25th, pianist Richard Glazier performs songs "From Broadway To Hollywood," also in Bennett-Gordon Hall. So, more showtunes.


Another concert of showtunes in the northern suburbs is the concert on September 5th by Will & Anthony Nunziata at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights. "Broadway Showstoppers" is the name of the evening, performed by the popular social media twins. That's on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, you guys!


You know, it's natural for a lot of productions to close prior to Labor Day. Just as it's natural for a lot of them to open after it. I'll tell you all about many of those next week. Also, the Equity Jeff Award nominations are being announced this week, so I'll have news about that as well. As always, thanks for reading. And if I don't see you in a theater lobby, well, 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 BroadwayWorld.com since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as (read more...)