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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 11th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

Lyric Opera Of Chicago has been hitting the press release circuit hot and heavy this week! We've learned who will be joining Stephen Pasquale, Laura Osnes, Jenn Gambatese and Denyce Graves when they star as Billy, Julie, Carrie and Nettie in Rodgers and Hammerstein's landmark 1945 musical "Carousel," set for April 10 through May 3, 2015 at the Civic Opera House. They will be joined by young Matthew Hydzik as Enoch, Jarrod Emick as Jigger, Charlotte D'Amboise as Mrs. Mullin and Tony Roberts as the Starkeeper, all directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. I'm in! And next season, joining the previously announced "The King And I" on the Wacker Drive schedule will be Susan Stroman's production of "The Merry Widow," the one that graced the stage of New York's Metropolitan Opera this season, starring Renee Fleming. Sounds lovely!



Just prior to opening what sounds like a remarkable production of "Sondheim On Sondheim" this week, Porchlight Music Theatre announced its 2015-2016 mainstage season. The company will bring us "Side Show" (hopefully the revised version that just closed on Broadway), in September and October. The company will remount its Jeff Award and BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winning production of "Ain't Misbehavin'" in November and December, and bring us the Chicago premiere of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie's musical "Far From Heaven" next February and March. And in April and May of 2016, Porchlight will bring us "Dreamgirls." Sold. But interesting that both "Side Show" and "Dreamgirls have music by Henry Krieger. No "The Tap Dance Kid" for the Krieger hat-trick?


Composer-librettist Leo Schwartz's satire on satire, "The Book Of Merman," surprised all observers by announcing a transfer and extension of the three-person Ethel Merman-Mormon missionary mashup that opened January 17 at Mary's Attic. Following the announced closing date of February 15, the show will move from that decidedly off-storefront space (it's the back half of a second floor bar) to the studio space at the prominent Apollo Theater (otherwise the home of "Million Dollar Quartet") for a February 26-April 5 run. Pride Films And Plays produced the world premiere, directed by David Zak and music directed by Robert Ollis. Libby Lane, Sam Button-Harrison and Dan Gold star. Congrats, you guys! Who knew?


The show that show is spoofing, "The Book Of Mormon," is very nearly back in town for a 12-week re-engagement of the touring company that started here with 43 weeks in 2013 and 14. February 25th is the date, and the Bank Of America Theatre is the spot. Do you believe? Can you stand it at all until the boys in white say "Hello" once again? Oh, you've got it bad....

But first up is the world premiere of the pre-Broadway production "First Wives Club," playing at the Oriental Theatre February 17-March 29. There was a press even last week, and BroadwayWorld Chicago's M. William Panek was there with his video camera to catch the action. And the show will include "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)!" With a book by television legend and Clinton confidante Linda Bloodworth Thomason and starring Faith Prince, Christine Sherrill and Carmen Cusack (all three of whom work nationally and two of whom have previously been nominated for BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards), how can this show lose? I mean, you know the original film, right? Bette, Goldie and Diane? That dialogue! Oh, I hope they get this right....


Speaking of pre-Broadway tryouts, yet another one was announced earlier this week! Based on a 2008 documentary about a senior citizen dance team, "Gotta Dance" will run at the Bank Of America Theatre from December 13, 2015-January 17, 2016. The show has a lot of writers, due at least in part to the untimely death of composer Marvin Hamlisch ("A Chorus Line") in 2012. Composer Matthew Sklar ("Elf") was brought in to finish the show (both men worked with lyricist Nell Benjamin ["Legally Blonde"]). The book is by both Chad Beguelin ("Aladdin") and Bob Martin ("The Drowsy Chaperone"). Jerry Mitchell (who has amassed a significant body of work, including "Kinky Boots" and "Legally Blonde") directs and choreographs.


Speaking of new work, FWD Theatre Project's "Pride And Prejudice" staged reading has changed venues, and announced its cast. The date is next Monday, February 16, and the location will be St. Peter's Episcopal Church in the Lakeview neighborhood, not the previously announced First Methodist Church, Chicago Temple. Composer-librettist Lawrence Rush's show will be brought to life by a cast consisting of Summer Naomi Smart, Barbara Robertson, Iris Lieberman, Aaron Hunt, Brian Acker, Nate Lewellyn, Jodi Gage, Landree Fleming, Dominic Rescigno, Ted Kitterman, Missy Aguilar, Charlotte Ostrow and Jennifer Baker. That's a great cast!

Chicago's Quest Theatre Ensemble is mounting two original shows! "Tomato Queen" has book and lyrics by Christine Hodak and music by Scott C. Lamps, and is concerned with the journey of Camina and her learning the secret to growing the perfect tomato. With direction by Andrew Park, musical direction by Ellen Morris and choreography by Dennis J. Murphy, the cast of seven will perform in The Blue Theater in Andersonville from February 20-March 29. And there's large-scale puppetry! The second show, a Saturday night review for the five Saturdays between February 28 and March 29, inclusive, is called "By Special ReQuest." A cast of twelve will capture great moments from past Quest shows. And yes, there will also be puppets!

The hot young writing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ("A Christmas Story," "Dogfight") also created the children's musical "James And The Giant Peach." The show is being produced by Northwestern University from February 13-March 1, as part of the Imagine U series of the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center For The Performing Arts. Based on the book by Roald Dahl ("Matilda," "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory"), Rives Collins directs the show in the Evanston campus's Musseter-Struble Theater.

And there will be five performances only of Bailiwick Chicago's annual Chicago Casting Auction production, which this year is the Bernstein/Comden and Green musical "Wonderful Town" (book by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov). From February 25-28 at Stage 773, see the folks who bid on roles in the production as a fundraiser for the non-Equity company. Jill Renn, Leatrice Berman Sandler, Andy Lambros, Rusty Rector, Joshua Steinfels-Saenz and a great big cast of adults and children will perform under the direction of Varris Holmes, the music direction of Kyle Pollio and the choreographic tutelage of Jon Martinez. And what a show!


Johnny Oleksinski's article in last Friday's Chicago Tribune, "Musical Mondays, Making Magic Since 1983," led to an extra special night on Monday at Sidetrack: The Video Bar in Lakeview. (And yes, that's yours truly being quoted and showing up in some of the photographs.) There were a lot of folks at the Chicago institution (and the inspiration for "The Showtune Mosh Pit") who had read the article and decided to check out the night for the first time! "What? Showtune videos in a nightclub? What?" Mondays, making magic since 1983

Of course, a lot of regulars were there as usual, and some theater types were toasting Evanston native Jessie Mueller's win at the Grammy Awards Sunday night--her performance of Carole King's songs in "Beautiful" on Broadway won her and the album's producers a Grammy in the category of Best Musical Theater Album. The show that wins the Tony Award for Best Musical wins in that category about half the time, but the Tony category that next most closely matches the Grammy results is Best Actress in a Musical, and Mueller has both now. Can an EGOT be far behind? Apparently the folks at Chicago's Sarah Siddons Society don't think so, as it was announced Wednesday that they are bestowing on Mueller their 2015 Actor of the Year Award! The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire will host the April 27 gala event, "So Beautiful!"



And so, as with every good thing, this good thing must come to an end for this week. Thanks as always for reading, and I'll see you again next week. In the meantime, maybe 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...)

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