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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for December 5th, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

It’s finally here! Or HE is. Who? Yes, many whos. Not “The Who,” but, “The Whos.” Anywho, him! It! I’m talking about “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!,” or, I suppose its exact title is probably, “Dr. Seuss’ ‘How The Grinch Stole Chistmas!’: The Musical.” It’s here! But I hate that sort of thing. Not the show! But when they name a person before the title, and put the words “The Musical,” afterwards--that sort of thing. Like with “Shogun.” I hate that….

Anyway, I digress. This 2006 Broadway musical, which originated in Minneapolis as a children’s show in 1994 and was first staged by Jack O’Brien in San Diego in 1998, is making its LONG-awaited Chicago debut this week, running through December 16 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Based on the 1957 children’s book and the phenomenally popular 1966 animated television program, which featured songs with music by Albert Hague (“Plain And Fancy”) and lyrics by Dr. Seuss (along with his script), I hope it isn’t also based on the 2000 live action film. Anyway, with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin, and including those original television songs, the Broadway version was directed by Matt August, presumably based on O’Brien’s lead. It’s been seen somewhere every year since 2006. And now, with two New York-based national tours criss-crossing the northeastern quadrant of the country this holiday season, Chicago finally gets it. You’re going, aren’t you? Or are you a mean one, like the Grinch?

How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

Not to be outdone, another perennially popular 1960s animated Christmas television special is also on the boards here, “Rudoph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Well, sort of. It’s not an authorized version of the original stop-action program from 1964, but a parody of the same, and we’ve had it every year for the last 15 holiday seasons, courtesy of Hell In A Handbag Productions. Now open through December 29 at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville, the satirical musical, “Rudolph The Red-Hosed Reindeer,” with gender-bending and pan-orientation orientation, has book and lyrics by David Cerda, and music by Cerda, Scott Lamberty and Taylor E. Ross. AJ Wright directs a gala cast, starring 2011 BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winner Michael Hampton reprising his role as Santa, with Ed Jones as Ruth Claus, Alex Grelle as Rudolph, Chad Ingold as Herbie and Lori Lee as Yukon Cornelia. Chicago has had a long history with Rudolph, starting with the origin of the story in 1939 as a holiday offering by our Montgomery Ward company. Is it any wonder that we have embraced a contemporary retelling of the story so strongly?

Last week in the Mosh Pit, we talked about several local mountings of “A Christmas Carol,” the amazingly long-lived short novel by Charles Dickens. And there are more! Steel Beam Theatre in west suburban St. Charles is remounting their production of “Scrooge” (aka “Scrooge: The Musical”). Leslie Bricusse’s film version of the tale runs live on stage through December 23rd.

And we can’t forget the return of the musical, “A Klingon Christmas Carol.” Yes, that’s right. The Klingon people, planet, language or whatever it is from the world of Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” (and also a 1960s by-product, by the way), have become the theatrical means of delving into Dickens in a fresh way. It’s at the Raven Theatre on N. Ashland (or is it Clark?) through December 30, co-produced by Commedia Beauregard. And there’s a whole host of writers and translators, including Christopher Kidder-Mostrom, Sasha Walloch, Laura Thurston, Bill Hedrick, Chris Lipscombe, Jon Silpayamanant, Il Troubadore and Terrence Donnelly. I can only imagine! The show is in Klingon, with English supertitles.

There’s a “topsy-turvy” version of the story, called “Bah, Humbug!,” that’s playing at the Piccolo Theatre in Evanston, now through December 22, 2012. It’s inspired by the English “panto” tradition, and was written by Tina and Robert Burbidge, with music and lyrics by Rich Maisel. The company’s twelfth annual holiday panto, with a cast of 17, is directed by John Szostek and choreographed by Vanessa Hughes.

And a new movie adaptation of Dickens’ story is winding up a weeklong post-LA premiere engagement at the Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue, where it has received a lot of media attention and some celebrity sightings. It’s “Scrooge And Marley,” an independent film written with a modern-day gay and lesbian setting, and filmed entirely on location here in Chicago. And it’s chock-full of original music, much of which is performed onscreen, though often in excerpts from what must be full tracks on the soundtrack album that’s available (score by the Annoyance Theater’s Lisa McQueen). The film stars Skokie native and Los Angeles actor David Pevsner as Ben Scrooge, with Tim Kazurinsky as Marley, Bruce Vilanch as Fezziwig, David Moretti as Bob Cratchit, Ronnie Kroell, Megan Cavanagh and JoJo Baby as the Ghosts, and a whole host of Chicago film, television, theater and LGBT community names and faces that many Mosh Pit peeps will recognize (the afore-mentioned David Cerda and Ed Jones, to name just two). Really, it’s a film that everyone reading this is much closer to than they might realize. It’s playing at select screenings around the country this month, with two more screenings at the Music Box (tonight and tomorrow afternoon) and also on December 21, 22 and 27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street. You can already buy it to own as well. And who knows? Someday, it may be adapted as a stage musical! I can already see it happening, totally…. (Need any help with that script, you guys?)

Another popular holiday title that is usually performed in venues other than theaters is “The Nutcracker,” the ballet with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (pick your spelling) that inhabits ballet spaces and concert halls this time of year. But the House Theatre Of Chicago has hit upon a theatrical telling of the story of Clara and her Prince, her uncle and those rats, that has been getting really good reviews this year! Directed and choreographed by Tommy Rapley, with a book by Phillip Klapperich and Jake Minton, lyrics by Minton and music by Kevin O’Donnell, it’s at the Chopin Theatre through December 30. Johnny Arena, Brenda Barrie, Paige Collins and Benjamin Sprunger star.

Porchlight Music Theatre is presenting a twist on the holidays with “Best Musical!: Holiday Edition!” It’s a completely improvised musical comedy, different every time, starring Joey Bland, Lauren Dowden, Erica Elam, Colette Hawley, Kevin Sciretta and Tim Sniffen. James Beaudry directs. It’s at Stage 773 on Wednesdays through December 19.

Also at Stage 773 this month, though of a non-holiday theme, is “The Improvised Sondheim Project.” Running on Thursdays through December 20, this sounds hard! It stars Joey Bland (again), Jeff Bouthiette, Katie Dufresne, Erica Elam, Aaron Graham, Nicole Hastings, Matthew Van Colton and Mary Cait Walthall, with direction by John Hildreth and music direction by Amanda Murphy. Nothing like dueling singprov troupes!

And, for a little traditional Sondheim, you have one more weekend to catch “Company” in Naperville, courtesy of the BrightSide Theatre. Directed by Jeffrey Cass, it runs through December 9 only, in the Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall on the campus of North Central College. I believe Peter Sipla is Bobby, and I hope that Michelle McKenzie-Voight is Joanne.

So we’re in full swing with the whole December thing! And the weather is catching up, I’m afraid. But there’s a lot of theater out there, so I know you are running about town, catching as many shows as you can! I will see you next week, when we’ll have a big, new elephant in the Mosh Pit living room, er, theater community. And before then, I'll see you under the video screens.....—PWT

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