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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for December 30th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

It's the TOP TEN HOT TOPIX for the last half of 2015! Did your favorite showtune show, moment or trend make the list? This is a semi-annual tradition in the Mosh Pit. Let's see how it all played out, peeps!

10. "Ride The Cyclone" Upstairs At Chicago Shakespeare Theater. At the end of September, a show seen in Canada made its US debut in a stepping-stone production on Navy Pier, curated by Rick Boynton and directed and choreographed by our remarkable Rachel Rockwell. So far, so good. But the response of the in-crowd to this intimate and eerie, existential rock musical was nothing short of sensational. Out of town producers were reportedly lined up to take a peak at the unforgettable concoction on display. We haven't heard the last of this quirky title, folks. Not by a long shot.

9. "La Revolution Francaise" From FWD Theatre Project And The American Music Theatre Project. On September 28, a unique event took place at Thalia Hall in Pilsen--the English-language debut of the first musical by the writing team of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. You may have heard of their musicals "Les Miserables" and "Miss Saigon." Well, their 1980 rock opera "La Revolution Francaise," with new English text by Northwestern University graduate and polymath Michael Mahler, came to life with the writers in attendance, with Mahler at the piano keyboard and with two Chicago new musicals groups opening their resource pocketbooks. Neither Northwestern's AMTP nor the one-year-old FWD has yet produced a major title for the musical theater canon. Whether this one is one or not doesn't matter. It happened, it happened here, and our world is a better place for it.

8. "October Sky" At The Marriott Theatre. Speaking of Michael Mahler, his more traditional original musical "October Sky" (he wrote the music and lyrics, to a book by Aaron Thielen) opened at the Marriott in August and closed in its titular October. Audiences were enchanted by this Sputnik-era tale based on a Jake Gyllenhaal film. It was directed by Rachel Rockwell, of course. The Marriott has one of the longest track records of new musical development in town. Will this one rocket into a long, globe-circling life?

7. "Oklahoma!" At The Paramount Theatre. Opening in the middle of "Super September," this production from Paramount Theatre artistic director Jim Corti only played one month in downtown Aurora, but from the response around here, you'd think it was an open-ended run in downtown Chicago. It's possible that the theater's close proximity to actual plains may have had some role in the alchemy, but with fresh takes on the role of women in frontier life and the way choreography (by Katie Spelman) tells a story, this production certainly had peeps a-talkin.

6. "A Christmas Story" At The Paramount Theatre. Chicago does love its holiday musicals. And one that ran at the Chicago Theatre prior to Broadway, and takes place in Northwest Indiana to boot, is rapidly taking its place as a perennial audience favorite. The tale of Ralphie and his wacky 1940s holiday adventures (BB gun, leg lamp, flagpole tonguing, etc.) ran this year at the Paramount. And in a testament to the enormous success this suburban theater has had (its only been around in this decade, by the way), yet another of its productions was repeated touted as "better than Broadway." Nick Bowling helmed this one. But hurry--it closes on Sunday!

5. "Side Show" From Porchlight Music Theatre. That "better than Broadway" business isn't reserved for the Paramount, however! Another of our "P" theaters, Porchlight, produced the local premiere of the revised version of "Side Show" in September and October that also had critics esteeming it more favorably than they had its Main Stem incarnation. Still not a perfect show, but with a compelling real-life basis and two killer duets, "Side Show" is a show we want to love so badly.

4. "Spamalot" From Theatre At The Center and the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. One of the distinctives of Chicago's musical theater scene is our ability to produce, and witness, multiple versions of the same titles in fairly short spans of time. A show that held its pre-Broadway tryout here a decade ago and then won the big prize at the Tony Awards is the stage version of "Monty Python And The Holy Grail." And this fall, two theaters at opposite ends of our geography produced it simultaneously. In Arlington Heights, Metropolis has seen its fortunes turning around as of late, as word of mouth has been very positive about the last few shows there. And in Munster, TATC will also be one to watch in the future, as legendary artistic director Bill Pullinsi has announced his retirement from day-to-day management, handing the reins to "Spamalot" choreographer Linda Fortunato. Toast all around, peeps.

3. "American Idiot" From The Hypocrites, Up And Coming Theatre And Northwestern University. When a title with popular appeal becomes available to the regional market, watch out! And that's what happened this fall, when THREE productions of Green Day's Grammy-winning musical "American Idiot" were mounted in our area. In the absence of a big house picking it up ASAP, we saw a cutting-edge storefront, a suburban community theater and a prominent university each program this young-adult crowd-pleaser. I say again, this is great for audiences, for actors, for directors, for designers, for everybody. Name another city that has this capability. Go ahead.... - currentShow

2. "Gotta Dance" And Its Touring Sisters Make A Holiday Splash. Broadway In Chicago seems to have had a banner year, and the Christmas season from the Nederlander-owned touring powerhouse has been especially noteworthy. And we have taken note! Among competition that includes a record-breaking engagement of "The Lion King" at the Cadillac Palace Theatre and a very well-reviewed (and long) engagement of "Beautiful" at the Ford Oriental Theatre, the pre-Broadway tryout of "Gotta Dance" (pictured) at the Bank Of America Theatre (about a real-life senior adult NBA dance troupe) has gotten our attention, our admiration and our best wishes. The fact that all three of the still-running productions included Chicago natives as lead performers was, I'm pretty sure, sheer coincidence. Though it's possible that it might be an acknowledgement of two things: Chicago actors are great, and Chicago audiences remember our own. Take note for the future, BIC!

1. "The Wiz Live" Does What We All Hoped It Would. On December 3rd, NBC television gave us all what we were hoping for-- a live, made-for-TV musical event that was worthy of the hype, that honored its stage origins and that made musical theater relevant and exciting for fans of all ages. After less than stellar efforts in the previous two years, NBC's 40 anniversary production of "The Wiz" gave us a possible new star in Shanice Williams, plenty of current stars shown in a new light, and continued the pipeline for showtune education that started with "High School Musical," "Glee" and "Smash." Other networks are already planning their own live TV musicals, but we want to hear what NBC will bring us in 2016. "The Music Man?" "Oklahoma!?" "Oliver!?" "Hamilton?" Time will tell. I can't wait!

And don't forget about the BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards! Lots of you have done your duty (3,500 Facebook "likes"), but if you haven't, you've got until midnight on New Year's Eve to vote! We'll be announcing the winners at The Call nightclub on Sunday evening, January 10th. I hope to see you there. We've got some close races, too. Everybody vote!


And whether you're at The Call or not, 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...)