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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 20th, 2013

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 20th, 2013




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

The national tours are about to descend upon us! And yes, the world learned just yesterday that "Wicked" would be returning to Chicago once again, for the 2013 holiday season (October 30-December 21). It will be at the scene of its three and half year triumphant run during the last decade (2005-09), the Oriental Theatre, which was not the case for the show's visit in 2010-11 (it was at the Cadillac Palace). So, diehard fans will be happy.


But there are so many tours to get through before the green girl and company return again. In fact, there are seven major touring productions opening and closing here in the next eleven weeks alone! Buckle your seat beats, and your wallets, Chicago, for the buses and trucks are arriving! Let's review the proceedings, shall we?

First up, and in a non-Broadway-In-Chicago venue, is the return of "Fela!," the musical based on the life and music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Nigerian musician and political figure of the 1970s and 80s. The show is this week, February 19-23, at the Arie Crown Theater, inside the easternmost building of the McCormick Place convention center complex. Chicago area resident Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child (you saw her during the Super Bowl halftime show, didn't you?) is headlining this tour. Bill T. Jones' Tony Award-winning choreography will be on display as well.


Next up on the touring docket (and back in the fold of Broadway In Chicago we go) is the pre-Broadway engagement of the first New York revival of "Jekyll And Hyde," the early 90s pop musical that introduced Broadway to an entire generation of Miss America contestants. We will have it for two weeks (March 12-24) at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. "Rock Of Ages" star Constantine Maroulis and former Broadway "Aida" Deborah Cox (both of them with significant Los Angeles television and recording industry credits, too) are headlining this outing, directed by Jeff Calhoun and including Frank Wildhorn's first complete score to reach the Main Stem (starring his then wife and muse, Linda Eder). It reaches Broadway this time on April 5, and their pre-Broadway engagements are few in number, so we are lucky to get it! Can being a guilty pleasure strike twice?

Overlapping the run of "Jekyll And Hyde" here (March 19-30) will be the first Chicago appearance of "Priscilla Queen Of The Desert," the musical with no appositive comma in its title. But it does have over 500 costumes, and a Tony Award for those, too (echoing the Oscar for costumes that the designers won for their work on the source film). This run will be at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, so I hope they give those costumes room to breathe up there! And don't forget the score, made up of all the great disco diva anthems of the 1970s and 80s ("I Will Survive," "It's Raining Men," etc.). This show is fun and meaningful. What's the matter with that?

And then? The highlight of early spring! At least for some. It's the only pre-Broadway tryout appearance (that we know of) for the new musical "Big Fish," with a score by Andrew Lippa ("The Addams Family") and direction by Susan Stroman ("The Producers"). So, yes, the major creatives behind this show have both had Chicago pre-Broadway tryouts before. This one will be at the Oriental Theatre from April 2 through May 5 (only, we are told), and will star three pretty big names, two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, along with two of the stars of the recent high-profile off-Broadway run of the new musical "Giant," Kate Baldwin and Bobby Steggert. As they were in the fall when "Kinky Boots" was here, the eyes of New York will be on Chicago during April. "Big Fish" is aiming to be a major player for Broadway's 2013-14 season. Will it make it to the mainstream?.... J

Ironically reaching Chicago the same day as "Big Fish" will be the national tour of the show for which Norbert Leo Butz won his second Tony Award, "Catch Me If You Can," the story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., the real-life teenager who ran away from home and embarked on a seemingly impossible series of cons, scans and impersonations. The show will only be here half as long as "Big Fish," however (April 2-14, at the Cadillac Palace), so schedule your theatergoing carefully! The score to "Catch Me" is by the "Smash" team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ("Hairspray"), with a book by Terrence McNally ("Ragtime"). Stephen Anthony stars, with Merritt David Janes in Butz' role as Carl Hanratty.

In just two months, Chicago will see the return of "American Idiot," the Grammy-winning Green Day musical which ran here previously exactly two years ago. This appearance will be for just one week at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (April 16-21), also during "Big Fish"'s tryout.

And the seventh musical in this touring cornucopia of riches for early spring (the only one for which tickets are not yet on sale) is "Anything Goes," based on the Tony-winning revival of the Cole Porter 1934 musical that gave the world "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and the tongue-twisting title tune. It will play at the Cadillac Palace from April 23 through May 5, wrapping the same day as "Big Fish." Kathleen Marshall directed and created the Tony-winning choreography.


Are you exhausted yet? That's what we have in store from external sources in the near future. But there are a few local shows on the horizon too, of course. Here's a sampling of those:

At the Paramount Theatre in west-by-southwest Aurora, the legendary "Fiddler On The Roof" is getting another chance to steady his shakiness from March 6-24, directed by artistic director Jim Corti. And he has assembled a pretty amazing cast of Chicago veterans and fresh faces, starting off with Peter Kevoian as Tevye and David Girolmo as Lazar Wolf. Iris Lieberman and Renee Matthews are Golde and Yente. The older daughters are Kelley Abell, Jazmin Gorsline and Brooke Singer, and their suitors are Skylar Adams, Jim DeSelm and Brandon Moorhead. Other prominent performers in this 34-person cast are Nicholas Foster, Jake Klinkhammer, Christine Mild, Harmony France, Christopher Logan and Todd Rhoades. On paper, this production is remarkable!


A much rarer regional title these days is "Barnum," the Cy Coleman musical which starred Jim Dale and Glenn Close as P. T. and Charity Barnum, accompanied by a whole host of circus-trained Broadway performers. And from March 27-June 16, the Mercury Theater will give us a long run of a full-fledged "Barnum" of our very own, starring Gene Weygandt ("Wicked") and Cory Goodrich (a Jeff and BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner for "Ragtime"). Summer Naomi Smart, who has two Jeff Awards, will co-star as Jenny Lind, "the Swedish nightingale," and Christian Libonati will be "General" Tom Thumb. I think the casting of Joice Heth, "the oldest woman in the world," is not yet final. But apparently it takes a slew of stagers to make this thing come to life! L. Walter Stearns is the director, with co-choreography by Brenda Didier and Andrew Waters and circus direction by Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (The Actors' Gymnasium). The cast is in good hands.

Here's a rare item that some will find of interest. The composer Ricky Ian Gordon, once heralded as similar to Jason Robert Brown and Michael John LaChiusa for dedication to composing new songs for intelligent and young musical theater performers (but also linked by their having three names), has tended more toward the classical world lately than other fellows. But he's not purely anything but himself. And this weekend will see the Chicago area premiere of his opera, "The Grapes Of Wrath," which has a libretto by Michael Korie, the lyricist of "Grey Gardens" and the upcoming musical "Far From Heaven." With four performances only (February 22, 24, 28 and March 2), the opera will take place at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, presented by the Northwestern University Bienen School Of Music and directed by Michael Ehrman. Robert Orth, who co-starred in the work's 2007 world premiere at the Minnesota Opera, repeats his role as Uncle John here. It's interesting that this work sites only the original John Steinbeck novel as its source, and not the Tony-winning play by Frank Galati, a long-time faculty member at Northwestern. But nevertheless, the music is said to echo the popular music of the 1920s and 30s, so there you go. Hal France will conduct.


And last but not least, yesterday was a really good day for the "first family of Chicago theater," the Muellers. Not one but two of Roger Mueller and Jill Shellabarger's offspring, Jessie and Andrew, were announced to be appearing in major productions in New York City on the same day. Now, that's not the most amazing thing ever, but it is EXTREMELY cool, and it's got to be pretty rare!

Jessie Mueller, whose New York career has exploded in the year or so since she moved there to star opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever," will soon be starring opposite Matthew Broderick in "Nice Work If You Can Get It." This after spending the winter in "The Mystery Of Edwin Drood" and last summer in Central Park in "Into The Woods." She will also appear as Carrie (the role she played at the Court Theatre here) in "Carousel" with the New York Philharmonic next week, alongside the Julie of Kelli O'Hara, the woman she is replacing in "Nice Work." Got that? Nice work, Jessie!


And her brother, Andrew Mueller, will be part of the cast of the play with music, "Peter And The Starcatcher," when that show re-opens off-Broadway at New World Stages on March 18 (he'll be in the role of Prentiss). The production closed on Broadway January 20th, but is being remounted by the same creative and design team responsible for the successful Broadway run. Not too bad, you Muellers. We are very proud of you all!


So that's just a few glimpses at the future to get you through these cold February nights and days! What say you, Mosh Pit peeps? Can we make it until spring creeps over our windowsills? I think we can! Until that happens, I would love to see you under the video screens.....-PWT

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