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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for August 6th, 2014


by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

We mentioned last time about the recent death of Dyanne Earley, one of the biggest names in Chicagoland musical theater during the 1980s and 90s. As artistic director of the large and influential Marriott Theatre (then called the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre) from 1980-2001, she extended the company's reputation nationally and shaped an entire generation of showtune performers, among them her son Kevin Earley (New York's "Death Takes A Holiday"), Stephen Buntrock ("A Little Night Music" with Bernadette Peters and the late Elaine Stritch) and the late Guy Adkins (the national tour of "Sweet Charity"). A celebration of her life will be held at the theater next Monday, August 11, from 6:30-10:00 pm, and at 7:30, her sons Kevin and Dave, along with Felicia P. Fields (Broadway's "The Color Purple") and Alene Robertson (both "Annie" and "Annie Warbucks" in New York) will perform, along with Broadway musical director Kevin Stites ("Titanic"). All have a host of Marriott credits to their names. It sounds like a very special evening.


Of course, you will have attended the special Market Days edition of "Option UP!" on the previous evening, Sunday, August 10. The Cab at Stage 773 will host Aaron Benham and Christopher Pazdernik, as their cabaret show returns to the site of its successes earlier this year. The boys will be ensconced there the second Sunday evening of each month, August through November, with special guests and their own unique form of showtune hilarity.


All in all, it will be a portentous weekend, and not because Northalsted Market Days will take over Lakeview with the midwest's largest two-day neighborhood street fair. But because three showtune productions open, even as four close down. The Chicago premiere of the off-Broadway musical "Coraline" begins performances on August 8 at City Lit Theater in Edgewater, running four days a week through September 6, 2014. Director Ed Rutherford and musical director Nick Sula have put together an exciting collection of Windy City talent to tell this spooky tale of a girl who finds an alternative world where adults have black buttons for eyes. You must know cast members Kevin Bishop, Jeff Bouthiette, Jennifer T. Grubb, Caitlin Jackson, Justin Kimrey, BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner Ryan Lanning, Sheridan Singleton and Kevin Webb! Well, if you don't, you should. And they've got all kinds of pianos. Be there!

Also, the popular off-Broadway title "Reefer Madness" begins performances August 8, returning to the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park. The additional performance dates are August 15, 17, 21 and 22, as directed and choreographed by Corey L. Mills. As the production warns, the show is "a highly stylized and satirical political commentary. It contains adult humor, religious parody, and drug use, as well as suggested violence and sexual explicitness." Got it!

And in Evanston, Light Opera Works' production of one of the top titles in the field, "Fiddler On The Roof," begins performances August 9 for three weekends at Cahn Auditorium. Alex Honzen is Tevye, with Jenny Lamb as Golde. Katelin Spencer will sing "Far From The Home I Love" and the Neil Stratman will sing "Miracle Of Miracles." What more do you need? Bottle dancers? A fiddler? Tradition? A full cast and orchestra? They're there!

And two very prominent productions are closing on August 9th. "Motown" will begin its national tour after opening here this spring and having a fine time in our midst. The Ford Oriental Theatre will launch Berry Gordy's version of his record company's rise to fame, as the company departs for San Fransisco, Cleveland, Detroit itself, St. Louis, Des Moines, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh. And that's all before New Years's! More cities follow in 2015. Oh, yes, they will miss their mild summer days in Chicago. And we enjoyed it, too.

Another production with a national profile closes on August 9, but alas, will not tour. It's the regional premiere production of "Big Fish," which attracted some national press attention for its production by the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center in Cicero. Large cast, too, for the Andrew Lippa musical originally staged by Susan Stroman at the Ford Oriental Theatre in April of last year. It's directed (and lit) by the always creative Dante J. Orfei. From pre-Broadway tryout to regional premiere in 15 months--that's a quick turnaround, actually!


There are two prominent suburban Equity productions closing on Sunday, August 10: the Marriott Theater's "Godspell" and the world premiere of "The Beverly Hillbillies" at Munster, Indiana's Theatre At The Center. Both got mostly positive reviews, and both were noteworthy: "Godspell" for introducing the recent Broadway musical arrangements and textual changes to local audiences (aka the inclusion of the film song "Beautiful City" and some updated topical references) and "Beverly Hillbillies" for trying out the commercial potential for a musical based on this once-popular but now somewhat overlooked television comedy. Who said summer theater in Chicago was boring? Who?

So hurry and see those if you have the inkling. You have one week more to catch three very well-received productions that close on Sunday, August 17: "Seussical" and "Brigadoon" downtown and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook. All three of them are among Theatre In Chicago's best-reviewed shows of the moment, by the way. Chicago Shakespeare Theater's TYA "Seussical" continues that theater's tradition of offering top family musical theater fare in the summertime ("Beauty And The Beast"). And "Brigadoon" continues the Goodman Theatre's habit of scheduling a challenging new look at beloved showtune material in late spring, high profile productions ("The Jungle Book"). Chicago. Not a bad place to be in the summer, I guess....

And yet, the production that had people really talking this past week won't come to us until winter--Christmas Day, in fact. It's Rob Marshall's movie version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's "Into The Woods," which released its first official still photos and live-action trailer this week. Is that Johnny Depp's Wolf wearing some sort of fedora? Is Disney likely to emphasize its heroines Cinderella, Rapunzel and the like at the expense of the stage musical's central characters, the Baker and his Wife? And we have yet to see Meryl Streep's transformation from ugly to beautiful witch. Wonder when that will come! Ah, well, peeps, patience. We've been in this spot before. And did you ever think you would live to see Johnny Depp star in two film adaptations of Sondheim musicals? At least Streep was in the world premiere of his "The Frogs" while a student at Yale, albeit in the chorus. And she starred in one of the most successful movie adaptations of a stage musical ever made, in "Mamma Mia!" So yeah, Streep. Sondheim. Christmas. Take a peek if you haven't already.



So get out there and have a blast! Super September is coming, but it's just now August, and it's a five-weekend month. I bet you can get into some sort of activity if you put your mind to it. Get that done, and then hie thee to a theater. I'll see you there, maybe! And later, 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...)