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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 19th, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Last week's Mosh Pit mentioned the upcoming world premiere pre-Broadway tryout of "Amazing Grace," starring Josh Young, that will play at the Bank Of America Theatre this fall. But you do remember, don't you, that we have another one sailing in here in late spring? Tickets went on sale last Friday for "The Last Ship," the semi-autobiographical musical by Sting that will premiere at that same theatre (the BOAT, btw) from June 10-July 13. We now know that the show will star Michael Esper, Rachel Tucker and Aaron Lazar, with Jimmy Nail and Sally Ann Triplett, and that it will open on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on October 26, after a preview period beginning September 30. This Friday, PBS television will begin broadcasting a special about the show, featuring Sting's performances of many of the songs in New York last fall. And note that he will perform some of the songs in Chicago next Monday night, along with Jimmy Nail and Rob Mathes, at a pricy benefit for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Can you say, "Publicity?"


As the new production of "The Phantom Of The Opera" begins to wind down is long stand at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (through March 2nd), things begin to heat up for other productions brought to us by Broadway In Chicago. The last week of the run of POTO will be overlapped by the umpteenth visit of a tour of our namesake musical, "Chicago," to play at the BOAT from February 25-March 2. TV star John O'Hurley will once again play Billy Flynn here.

And what I believe is the U.S. premiere of the touring dance musical "Heartbeat Of Home" (from the producer and the director of the very popular "Riverdance" show, of late memory) will play at the Oriental Theatre for two weeks, March 4-16. It features Irish, Latin and Afro-Cuban dance and music, with projections and "an engaging narrative structure." Well, ok then. It's been playing in Toronto, and has a cool website.

I'm not sure that theaters actively promote February offerings as being inspired by Black History Month celebrations, but if you want to go looking for such productions in our rich and diverse city, you can find them. A show that's reportedly packing a big wallop is the revival of a Black Ensemble Theater original revue, "Chicago's Golden Soul," celebrating the city's largely unheralded history as a recording center of music in the sixties and seventies that rivaled the much better-known scene in Detroit. Now announced through March 30, in rep with the company's smash-hit fall offering, "It's Alright To Have A Good Time: The Story Of Curtis Mayfield," it only plays Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights. But from the accounts I've read, this production is really something, musically, dramatically, any which way you look at it. Just read these review excerpts if you don't believe me. Brava once again to Jackie Taylor!

The Porchlight Music Theatre production of "Ain't Misbehavin'" is squeezing in six additional performances of the show, which will close March 9. Demand for tickets for the Tony-winning Thomas "Fats" Waller revue prompted the theater to add additional times between now and then. The show is currently the best-reviewed musical in town. The joint must REALLY be jumpin'! Congrats to Michael Weber, Brenda Didier, Jaret Landon and all!


Duke Ellington, remembered in theater circles for the 1981 Broadway revue of his music, "Sophisticated Ladies," is also being remembered on a Chicago stage this month with "Queenie Pie," his unfinished opera being produced by Chicago Opera Theater now through March 5. It's a hybrid work, made more unique by the ways in which it has been finished and fleshed out in the years since Ellington's death in 1974. Part musical theater work, part jazz delight, part opera, part something else, it is reported that its better to enjoy the cast and the music on this one, and not get caught up in either dramatic analysis or score archaeology. But if you care about stage works with jazz in their DNA, you won't want to miss the chance to see such a rarely staged title from a major creative name. At the Harris Theater on East Randolph.


Missing the month at hand but important nonetheless is the first Chicago production of the off-Broadway musical "Dessa Rose" in over eight years. Bailiwick Chicago is producing the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty show (oh, they of "Ragtime") at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater from March 6-through April 5. Set in the antebellum South, it's being directed by Lili-Anne Brown, with music direction by James Morehead. Sydney Charles and Harmony France star, with Jayson "JC" Brooks. Also in the cast are Brigitte Ditmars, Gilbert Domally, Jasondra Johnson, Jaymes Osbourne, Steven Perkins, Pavi Proczko, David Schlumpf, Sasha Smith and Eunice Woods.


While I can't say I'm aware of any musicals having been staged for President's Day this year, February is also the home of Valentine's Day, and the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center remembered us by presenting the musical "Love Story," from now through March 1. Telling the same story as the never-having-to-say-you're-sorry movie of the same name, "Love Story" is directed by Melanie Lamoureux, with music direction by John Warren. The cast of nine is headed by Maxwell De Togne and Carisa Gonzalez-Sambolin.


Beginning performances this week is the Brown Paper Box Co. production of William Finn and James Lapine's "A New Brain," the semi-autobiographical show about brain surgery. Complications ensue. No, I jest. Not really. Running February 21-March 9 at the Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater, the show stars Jason Richards, Neala Barron, Johnny Kyle Cook, Billy Dawson, Martin J. Hughes, Paul G. Miller, Anna Schutz, Nick Shoda, Denise Tamburrino and Jillian Weingart. Music director T. J. Anderson is joined by Justin Harner in the Lily Pad Band. M. William Panek directs, with choreography by Danny Spagnuolo.


And Northwestern University's "The Waa-Mu Show" has announced its plans for 2014. The nation's best-known student-written-and-run musical tradition, in its 83rd year, will present "Double Feature At Hollywood And Vine" from May 2-11 at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston. It's about twins who head west. And yes, students produce it, write it, direct it, orchestrate it--everything. And then they graduate and run the world in various fields of endeavor, musical theater being just one of them. Catch them now, in their last moments of gestation.

So it got warmer! I told you it would. Who knows how long the warmup will last! Better get out and do some things, like go to a theater without falling in between heaping mounds of snow. Well, we'll probably have those around for a while, albeit with little rivulets of water leaking from them. Ah, well. Can summer be far behind? I'll see you then, and before then, 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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