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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 12th, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Two shows by Stephen Sondheim have every Mosh Pit peep's attention this week, as they officially open after short preview periods. And the buzz is deafening! First of all, I'm talking of course about "Gypsy" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sondheim), directed by Gary Griffin and starring Louise Pitre as the famous (infamous?) "Momma" Rose Hovick. Running through March 23, with choreography by Mitzi ("Val") Hamilton and music direction by Rick Fox, the show features Keith Kupferer as Herbie and Rhett Guter as Tulsa, with Jessica Rush and Erin Burniston as Louise and June, and Caroline Heffernan and Emily Leahy as their younger counterparts. With old Chicago hands like John Reeger and Barbara E. Robertson on board, and young adult Chicago-area talents like Adam Fane and Landree Fleming strutting their stuff, how can the show that gave us "Some People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Sing out, Louise" go wrong?

And second of all, I'm talking of course about "Into The Woods" from The Hypcrites, playing at the Mercury Theater Chicago through March 30, directed by Geoff Button in the company's whimsical, playful and ensemble style of theater. Folks are being blown away by the photographs that have been released. Not looking like any other production of this Tony-winner for Best Score (music and lyrics both by Sondheim), it certainly looks as if the aesthetic of The Hypocrites (think of their recent forays into Gilbert and Sullivan and their award-winning 2010 production of "Cabaret") has been fully realized once again. Wonder if the reviews will show forth the promise that word of mouth has been stirring up? (Musical direction by Matt Deitchman and choreography by Katie Spelman)


Running through March 16 in Oakbrook Terrace's Drury Lane Theatre is "Young Frankenstein," which opened three weeks ago to reviews that, more than once, called it "better than the Broadway original." Now, nobody thinks that this show is as good as its Mel Brooks predecessor, "The Producers." But it has not one but two legendary films to try and evoke on stage (the 1931 James Whale masterpiece, "Frankenstein," and Brooks' 1974 satire of it). William Osetek's production here reported does well enough, and Jeff Dumas' Igor apparently stands out ("What hump?). Roberta Duchak and Tammy Mader handled the music direction and choreography assignments. I have a feeling that if you think you will like it, you better go now. It may not get any better than this, folks!

Appearing as Frau Blucher ("He Vas My Boyfriend") in this production is none other than Chicago leading lady legend Paula Scrofano, who's surely won umpteen Jeff Awards over the last three or four decades she's found steady work on our boards (and usually in musicals, too). Porchlight Music Theatre is well aware of her contributions to the artform and the community, and has announced that it will honor Scrofano with its 2014 Guy Adkins Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Music Theatre in Chicago, to be presented to Scrofano at the company's Icons Gala on Sunday morning, March 23, 2014. She's been in everything. She's worked all over. She's married to John Reeger. The Mosh Pit agrees with this honor! And if Porchlight's current production of "Ain't Misbehavin'" is any indication (judged by its publicity appearance at Sidetrack this past Monday night), the company is making very good decisions these days.

Speaking of leading ladies, there's one coming to Waukegan this Friday night for a Valentine's Day concert. It's none other than Bernadette Peters, the Broadway and entertainment legend who would have won four Grammy Awards if the rules had been different when her cast albums won the coveted gramophone-shaped trophy. She'll have to settle for her Tony Awards, for being reasonably immortal and for bringing her performance to the Genesee Theatre for us to enjoy. Tickets aren't cheap, but if you've never seen her live, I say, "Go!" Good Lord, it's Bernadette Peters! Talk about "Into The Woods," "Sunday In The Park With George," "Mack And Mabel," "Song And Dance," important revivals of "Gypsy," "Follies" and "Annie Get Your Gun," etc., etc., etc.! Yes, ma'am. Yes.

A new show of sorts will play from March 2-31 at the Neo-Futurist Theater on Ashland in Andersonville. It's "That's Weird, Grandma: Behind The [Monkey] Music," a retrospective all-musical revue of some of the work that Barrel Of Monkeys has performed with and for Chicago Public School students since 1997. Barrel Of Monkeys turns stories told by students into songs and sketches for both school and general audience viewing; this particular show will include live interviews with some of the composers who have worked with the company in this endeavor over the years. It sounds delightful! Molly Brennan and Erick Deshaun Dorris co-direct, with music direction by Gwen Tulin. What a cool idea!


A slightly more traditional musical was announced last week for a world premiere production in Chicago this fall, and this one's a very big deal. It's "Amazing Grace," to star Tony and BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominee Josh Young ("Jesus Christ Superstar," "Evita"), directed by Gabriel Barre and choreographed by Christopher Gatelli. At the Bank Of America Theatre from October 9 through November 2, this show most certainly has its eyes already on Broadway. It's a somewhat surprising show, in that it is the story of the man who wrote the famous hymn, "Amazing Grace," John Newton, an 18th-century Englishman who was involved in slave trading, shipwrecks and more, and wrote what may be the world's most recognized religious song. Written mostly by the mostly unknown Christopher Smith, it's being produced by Carolyn Rossi Copeland and presented by Broadway In Chicago, after developmental work at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. This one may be a dark horse, folks!


And there's big casting news from our local theaters to report. The Paramount Theater in Aurora, glad that the Jeff Awards committee has this week extended its geographical cut-off point far enough to include them, is also proud of its upcoming cast of "Rent," playing March 12-April 6. Evanston's Andrew M. Mueller, fresh off his appearance in the off-Broadway production of "Peter And The Starcatcher" and the brother of Broadway leading lady Jessie Mueller (the current "Beautiful") will star as Mark, alongside Chicago rocker-turned-musical-theater-actor Adam Michaels as Roger. Andrea Prestinario will be Maureen, Evan Tyrone Martin will be Tom, Meghan Murphy will be Joanne, Sawyer Smith will be Angel, Kelvin Roston, Jr. will be Benny, and (new to me) Adaeze' Kelley will star as Mimi. This is a high-powered cast, people! Jim Corti directs, with music direction by Shawn Stengel and choreography by the aforementioned Katie Spelman. And yes, the Paramount is on a roll. Can they keep up the high quality of their productions???


Not to be outdone, Lyric Opera Of Chicago announced further casting of its spring production of "The Sound Of Music" in two waves recently, which we already knew would feature Christine Brewer as the Mother Abbess and Elizabeth Futral as Elsa Schrader. Under the baton of Rob Fisher and the direction of Marc Bruni, Broadway's Jenn Gambatese will star as Maria, with renowned character actor Edward Hibbert as Max. Betsy Farrar and Zach Sorrow (she's in the Chicago Shakes "Gypsy" and he's a recent Northwestern grad) will be Liesl and Rolf, our own Cory Goodrich and Susan Moniz are two of the prominent nuns, and Mary Ernster and Dev Kennedy, Rob Hunt and Michael Weber are some of the local character actors in key roles, alongside an ensemble of 25 singers drawn in part from the ranks of the Lyric Opera Chorus (and partly from open auditions). It's a three-week run in April and May--get your tickets now!


And lastly in this week's Mosh Pit, Chicago's Sarah Siddons Society is throwing quite the bash on Monday night, March 3rd at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Director Dominic Missimi has assembled a revue called, "God, I Think I Blew It," and collected Chicago stage stars E. Faye Butler, Heidi Kettenring, Barbara E. Robertson, Rob Lehman, Gene Weygandt, Dale Benson, Bernie Yvon, Alene Robertson, Christine Mild, Alex Goodrich, Devin De Santis and Stephen Schellhardt to sing songs and tell stories about the audition process. Doug Peck will be at the keyboard. Sure, tickets are $50 (to benefit the Society's scholarships to Chicagoland college theater students). But what a lineup! Nobody but the legendary Missimi could put together a cast like this one. Trust me. What an amazing cast!

So, are you cold? I hear it may warm up by this time next week. Well, all the more reason to spend time indoors in some theaters checking out some of our great local shows. Maybe I'll see you at one of them! And I'm sure 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...)