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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 16th, 2011





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

"Working" is here! Stephen Schwartz's new version of the 1978 Broadway musical (based on Chicago raconteur Studs Terkel's book of the same name) begins performances on Tuesday, February 15, 2011, and is scheduled to run at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place through May 8th. While the show has not officially opened to the press yet, advance word from those lucky enough to be invited to the show's last dress rehearsal on Sunday is very positive. And clearly, this production is one that New York investors will be invited to see, so that the show (though perhaps not this cast) can be seen in New York in the foreseeable future. With two new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda ("In The Heights"), new orchestrations by Miranda/Schwartz associate Alex Lacamoire and a scene design by Broadway's Beowulf Borritt, Chicago is in for some work by top-notch professionals, including the local cast (six-time Jeff Award-winner E. Faye Butler, "Wicked"'s Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt, wunderkind Michael Mahler and newcomers Emjoy Gavino and Gabriel Ruiz). Direction is by Gordon Greenberg, and choreography is by Josh Rhodes, also New York talent. It's fascinating to know that Schwartz has chosen to devote his time and energy to this particular project in the wake of "Wicked"'s phenomenal success. We'll know soon enough if he was right to do so! And here is the production's phenomenal website: 

WORKING: A Musical Based on the Book by Studs Terkel 

Also on Sunday were the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, where Julie Andrews won a competitive award and an honorary one, Barbra Streisand won a special award and sang on the telecast, and "Glee" and Justin Bieber didn't win. A recording of the "Requiem" by Giuseppe Verdi featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus (members include yours truly and many, many other showtune-loving creatures--trust me) won two awards. And the award for Best Musical Show Album went to "American Idiot," featuring the original Broadway cast of the show, accompanied by the members of the band Green Day, upon whose albums the show is based. Not a surprise, in that the current Tony Award winner for Best Musical, "Memphis," was not even nominated, and that two recordings with scores by Stephen Sondheim may have split the vote for this 80-year-old Grammy favorite. What say you, Mosh Pit peeps? Is the Best Musical Grammy Award meaningless in the grand scheme of things? Many folks in New York think so. I think that we "west of the Hudson" types may think differently about recordings and other documentation of Broadway productions. Or am I wrong? 

GRAMMY.com | The Official Site of Music's Biggest Night 

The night before the Grammys, television took center stage for many folks once more, in that the special concert honoring the 25th anniversary of "Les Miserables" (taped in London's O2 Arena last fall) was broadcast on WTTW, Channel 11. Most folks seem to be debating the relative merits of Nick Jonas in the role of the reluctant student revolutionary, Marius. Lea Salonga as Fantine, Alfie Boe as Valjean and Norm Lewis as Javert also made a stir. As big events go, this one looms pretty big. 

Les Misérables in Concert | The 25th Anniversary - The Official Website 

Speaking of TV, we found out last week that Megan Hilty (best known for her role as Doralee in the stage musical "9 To 5") has been cast as one of the leads in the new Steven Spielberg NBC series "Smash," about folks working to put on a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. Debra Messing ("Will And Grace") will also star in the show's pilot episode, as the show's lyricist. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ("Hairspray" and the upcoming "Catch Me If You Can") will write the songs for the show, and Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Chicago") are also among the producers.  Now, it doesn't take a detective to figure out that without "Glee," and possibly the "High School Musical" franchise, that a show like this would never have seen the light of day. But two questions remain: Will it be good, and will the Showtune Mosh Pit go crazy for it! Both are certainly likely. 

NBC Musical Pilot "Smash" - Playbill.com 

Speaking of "Glee," the well-heeled among us can enjoy a local live performance by star Matthew Morrison soon. May 21st, to be exact. For that's the date that the "Hairspray," "The Light In The Piazza" and "South Pacific" alumnus will entertain at the annual black-tie gala for the Goodman Theatre's educational and community engagement programs. That's the good news. The bad news is the $500 cost of each ticket. Wow. 

The Goodman Theatre's Special Events 

But, never fear. Cheaper entertainment is in the air as well. Just last week, our leading cabaret room, Davenport's, featured Chicago native and Broadway star Karen Mason in a series of concerts, priced at $35 with a two-drink minimum. Mason (who famously "stood by" for star Glenn Close in "Sunset Boulevard") will star as the Queen of Hearts in the new musical "Wonderland," opening at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway this spring, and she included one of her songs from that Frank Wildhorn show in her Davenport's set (I was told that it was the best part of the evening!). One of the upcoming shows at Davenport's is called "Gleetastic: A Glee Tribute Show." No lie. It's this coming Sunday evening, $12 with a two-drink minimum, directed by GillIan Kelly

Davenport's Piano Bar 

The beautiful and talented (no lie there, either) Jess Godwin is taking the stage at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park on Saturday, February 26, as a kind of New York send-off for the singer-songwriter-actress (she recently appeared as Dot in Porchlight Music Theatre's production of "Sunday In The Park With George"). Tickets are $10 ($8 for students), and you will not be disappointed! Some people are just so freaking talented.... 

Mayne Stage - Jess Godwin 

Speaking of New York, a handful of Off-Broadway musicals are being mounted here. Columbia College Chicago has an interesting pair of musicals going on right now, by contemporary musical theater composers. Michael John LaChiusa's "Bernarda Alba" is playing in repertory with Tina Landau and Adam Guettel's "Floyd Collins" at the college's Getz Stage, at 11th and State.  The shows alternate between February 16 and March 5. Stephanie Shaw stars as Bernarda Alba, and Harter Clingman stars as Floyd Collins. What an awesome undertaking for these students and their teachers! 

Columbia College Chicago : Theater Center 

And the relatively infrequently performed "Ruthless!," by Joel Paley and Marvin Laird, is being presented the weekend of March 10-12 by Liberty Town Productions in far north suburban Libertyville. This 1992 musical, which originally starred the very young Laura Bell Bundy ("Legally Blonde") (and counted Natalie Portman and Britney Spears among its understudies) is being directed by actor and theater critic Colin Douglas, and stars Sophie Thatcher and Phoebe Ann Paslaski as the tiny show biz terror, Tina Denmark. Performances are at Austin's Fuel Room


And, several of us are quite taken aback by the passing last week of Betty Garrett, the 91-year-old star of stage ("Call Me Mister"), screen ("My Sister Eileen") and television ("Laverne And Shirley"). I was privileged to see her on Broadway in "Meet Me In St. Louis" in the late 1980s, and we are fortunate to have so much of her career preserved on film and records ("South America, Take It Away"). But how many others are left who were musical theater stars in the 1940s? Is Carol Channing, at 90, the only one left? (In my mind, Barbara Cook, Chita Rivera and Elaine Stritch date from the early 1950s.) Help me out. Who remains with us? And, more to the future, how will we continue the legacy of these wonderful performers? 

Betty Garrett, Comic Actress, Dies at 91 - NYTimes.com 

And wouldn't it be nice if some of us were around more than 60 years after first making a big professional splash! It would indeed. For now, though, I guess we have to be content to make our gardens grow where they are. Which reminds me- -spring is just around the corner! Maybe. Ah, well. I'm sure I'll see you before that great day arrives, under the video screens.....--PWT

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