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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for December 24th, 2014

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by Paul W. Thompson

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

"Into The Woods!" Need I say more? After 27 years, the Broadway musical that beat out "The Phantom Of The Opera" for the Tony Awards for both Best Book and Best Score has finally made the leap from the stage to the screen, and our long, long wait is over. Filmed last year, and in post-production for what seems like a lifetime, Rob Marshall's screen version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's popular fairy tale re-do is finally here, and the publicity juggernaut of the Walt Disney Company has been working overtime for months and months now. Opening December 25th at a theater very near you will be Meryl Streep (as the Witch, the role first essayed on stage by Bernadette Peters), James Corden and Emily Blunt as the Bakers, Anna Kendrick (what a career she's having lately!) as Cinderella, Chris Pine as her Prince (charming, not sincere), two young actors we've already seen in other roles recently (Daniel Huttlestone from the screen "Les Miserables" and Broadway's most recent "Annie," Lilla Crawford), old hands at this sort of thing (Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman), plus stage stars Tammy Blanchard, Joanna Riding and Simon Russell Beale, screen stars Billy Magnuson and Mackenzie Mauzy, and a superstar in a small but pivotal role (Johnny Depp). See it this weekend and report back, won't you? Advance word is positive, if not scintillating. But you already know you're going to go, so go!

As if he needed any help, Stephen Sondheim will indeed get a shot in the arm in February, when Porchlight Music Theatre will present the Chicago area premiere of his 2010 Broadway musical "Sondheim On Sondheim," a career retrospective and rumination with a book by the aforementioned Mr. Lapine. Complete with audio-visuals, the production will feature a cast including Rebecca Finnegan, James Earl Jones II, Emily Berman, Matthew Keffer, Adrienne Walker, Stephen Rader, Amelia Hefferon and Yando Lopez, directed by Nick Bowling and with music direction by Austin Cook. That's a high-powered local cast, peeps! Performances will run February 6-March 15, 2015 at Stage 773. I rather think you will want to go to this.


Mr. Sondheim's early role model, a certain Oscar Hammerstein II, will see one of his more obscure works analyzed and dissected in January, when The Music Theatre Company puts the spotlight on the 1947 Hammerstein-Rodgers collaboration "Allegro" on January 31, 2015 at the Ravinia Festival's Bennett-Gordon Hall in Highland Park. Called "Oscar & Richard & Joe: An Evening About Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Allegro'," the evening will feature a cast including such folk as Kate Loprest, Michael Weber, Matthew Keffer (the guy gets around), Sarah Larson, Chris Logan and Patrick Martin. Jessica Beth Redish directs, with the evening scripted by Scotty Arnold.


And there's big news about the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage work that immediately preceeded "Allegro." 1945's "Carousel" is this spring's big musical at Lyric Opera Of Chicago, and last week Lyric announced that Tony nominee Laura Osnes (the first Broadway "Cinderella") will star as Julie Jordan in "Carousel" when the opera house presents the influential and popular show from April 11 through May 3. She joins the previously announced television and Broadway star Steven Pasquale as Billy Bigelow and opera star Denyce Graves as Nettie Fowler. Rob Ashford and David Chase, coming off NBC's "Peter Pan Live!," will direct and conduct, respectively.


Speaking of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," her first national tour is in town for the holidays, as is the tour of "Newsies," the Alan Menken musical about the 1899 newsboys strike. And the two companies from Disney Theatrical Group came together at Sidetrack this past Monday night for "Seize The Slipper," a holiday cabaret benefitting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the New York-based theater charity. I'm told it was great! And raised a lot of money! So that's cool. Apparently a lot of family members have joined the casts in town for some vacation time, as we are a longer tour stop for both companies. And who doesn't love Christmas in Chicago?

"Newsies" composer Alan Menken is one of the powers behind and is the composer for the ABC-TV mid-season replacement series "Galavant," a satirical musical comedy in the "Spamalot," "Peter Pan" and "Into The Woods" mode that hits the small screen on January 4, 2015 for an eight-episode run. Lyricist Glenn Slater (a frequent Menken collaborator) is on board as well. Written by Dan Fogelman, the series stars Joshua Sasse, Timothy Omundson, Vinnie Jones, Mallory Jansen, Karen David and Luke Youngblood, with a series of guest stars including Ricky Gervais, John Stamos and the just-announced Faith Prince. Are we awaiting this, Mosh Pit peeps?


A lot of peeps reportedly enjoyed the weirdly named "Cirque Dreams Holidaze" when it toured to the Chicago Theatre for a stand last week (December 17-21). Apparently this was a pre-New York run of some sort for the multi-year, multi-city holiday extravaganza, which incorporates circus artists, elements of Broadway, family fun and holiday music and enchantment all in one. It's probably more apt to call it a variety show than a musical per se, but hey, who's into labels? It's the holidaze!

There's more casting news about local 2015 musical theater productions. The Paramount Theatre, currently flying high with "Mary Poppins," will follow up that Disney-Mackintosh show with The Who's "Tommy," one of the seminal rock musicals and dating from both the 1960s and the 1990s. Jim Corti will direct, Tom Vendafreddo will music direct and Brock Clawson will choreograph, and their star will be Devin DeSantis in the role of the "deaf, dumb and blind kid," Tommy. David Schlumpf and Hillary Marren will be Captain and Mrs. Walker, with Jake Klinkhammer (Uncle Ernie), Liam Quealy (Cousin Kevin), Meghan Murphy (the Acid Queen) and Lillie Cummings (Sally Simpson). In addition, there will be 19 other adult performers in the company, plus Peyton Owen as 4-year-old Tommy and Ricky Falbo as 10-year-old Tommy. The show will be on the boards from January 14-February 15. I bet the roof blows clean off the theater.


The 2013 Broadway musical "First Date," about one of those, will receive its local premiere in a commercial production managed by Chicago Commercial Collective at the Royal George Cabaret Theater on Halsted Street, previewing February 5 and opening February 12. Charlie Lubeck (of "The Glee Project: Season 2") and Dana Parker head up a cast to be directed by J.R. Rose and musical directed by Elizabeth Doran. The rest of the acting company consists of Cassie Slater, Anne Litchfield Calderon, Shea Coffman, Adam Fane and John Keating. The show is written by Austin Winsberg (book) and Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (music and lyrics). The show ran for five months on Broadway last season.


And Kokandy Productions has announced its cast for David Yazbek and Terrence McNally's "The Full Monty," to run March 10-April 12 at Theater Wit. The 20-member company will be headed by Garrett Lutz, Scott Danielson, Eric Lindahl, George Toles, Randy Johnson and Greg Foster, with Marsha Harman, Laura McClain, Colette Todd and Caron Buinis as the ladies in their lives. It will be Chicago's first non-Equity production of the show, which ends with a song called "Let It Go" that's very different than the one you may be thinking of....I repeat. It's different. Though both of them repeat the title every time it comes up. Interesting. But I digress! John D. Glover directs and Danny Spagnuolo choreographs, with music direction by Kory Danielson. Cat Wilson designs the all-important lights.


And get your votes in! Voting for the fifth annual BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards ends one week from today, and some of the awards are a tight race! Others, not so much, but it's fun to see good work being recognized across the board. (Click HERE to see the live, unaudited vote percentages.) Speaking of seeing, I hope you're planning on seeing us at the Awards Celebration on Wednesday night, January 7, 2015, at The Call bar, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr in Chicago. Beginning at 8:00 and lasting until almost midnight, we'll be handing out certificates to the winners of our 36 categories. Speeches! Warm hugs! Camaraderie! The Call's regular video programming will be playing, including a new episode of "American Horror Story" from 9:00-10:00 pm, this one featuring guest star and Tony Award winner, Neil Patrick Harris. Showtune videos begin at 10:00. So, I hope to see you that night, and under the video screens before then. Happy holidays!.....-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...)