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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 27th, 2013

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 27th, 2013




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

February is going out like several lions, isn't it? March is a lonesome polecat compared to the pride of wild felines blowing its way through northern Illinois right now. OK, enough with the mixed "Carousel"/"Lion King" imagery...and on into the Mosh Pit!

In case you're living under that proverbial rock, or you're hunkering down without internet access (gotta love that word "hunkering," btw), you are no doubt aware of a little thing called "the Oscars" that took place this past Sunday night. And, whoa, what a difference of opinion I've been hearing! Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan promised to bring us all the greatest tribute to movie musicals ever at an Academy Awards broadcast, and they may have succeeded.

The one musical which made sense for them to mention, "Les Miserables," left with three trophies, including the one widely predicted (for Anne Hathaway's turn as Fantine), the one they seemed to be campaigning for (sound recording) and one for makeup and hair design (um, ok). And the entire leading cast, backed up by a chorus which included Chicagoan Joe Tokarz, among others, performed a weirdly edited version of "One Day More," preceded by part of the Oscar-nominated song, "Suddenly," sung by Hugh Jackman. And yes, Chicago's Roberta Duchak was in the audience, and may have worked with Jackman and co-star Russell Crowe on their music, as she did during the filming a year ago.

Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson immediately preceded the Les Miz bunch, singing a weirdly edited version of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls," and most folks thought she looked great and did a bang-up job. There was less agreement about Catherine Zeta-Jones, dancing to "All That Jazz" from "Chicago," and possibly lip-synching it, and in a lower key, to boot. Her Oscar win was a while back, people! And elsewhere in the broadcast, we had Barbra Streisand, doing a pretty good job for a woman her age on "The Way We Were," and Shirley Bassey, doing a great job for a woman of any age on "Goldfinger." Adele seemed in pretty good form during the winning "Skyfall," but folks had a hard time hearing her out of the band mix. We are a tough crowd to please, you guys! But let's not forget Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe joining legit baritone and host Seth McFarlane on a tap number, which was preceded by Channing Tatum and Cameron Diaz doing a ballroom dance number. And there was even more. There was even a "Sound Of Music" joke, for Pete's sake. I'm not even making this up! And the whole thing is online now!


So yeah, there was that. Around these parts, the biggest local news was the announcement by Broadway In Chicago about what musicals this division of the Nederlander Organization is bringing to Chicago during the fall. Nice segue from my overview last week of their spring season, hunh? After the previously announced revisit of "West Side Story" (June 11-16 at the Oriental Theatre), which ends their spring season, BIC's fall season will kick off the very next week with a new tour of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" (June 18-30 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre). That's a neat trick, hunh? Then comes what I assume is a pre-Broadway tryout tour of the stage version of "Flashdance," staged by the very busy Sergio Trujillo (July 30-August 11 at the Cadillac Palace). The tour of the recently shuttered Broadway revival of "Evita" will land here from September 17-October 6 (Oriental Theatre), followed immediately by perhaps the jewel of the season, the tour of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical "Once," to play October 9-26 (Oriental Theatre). And then? The very popular West End musical "We Will Rock You," based on the music of Queen, will FINALLY play Chicago, from October 22-27 (Cadillac Palace), and a tour of one of these holiday Broadway musicals that have become so popular in New York, "Elf," will run here November 26-December 15 (Cadillac Palace). Oh, and a little thing called "Wicked" will play here from October 30-December 21 (Oriental Theatre), as I mentioned last week. And don't forget the latest children's theater offering from our very own Emerald City Theatre, "The Cat In The Hat," coming to the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place from June 15-September 1, in an adaptation from the National Theatre in London by Katie Mitchell. I don't know if it's a musical or not. Whew! Is that everything?


The biggest news regarding our locally produced musicals is the opening of "See What I Wanna See" from Bailiwick Chicago, part of the Garage Rep series at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. After previewing last week, I think the press opening of this Michael John LaChiusa musical was this past Monday, and the show runs through April 21 in repertory with three other shows by other companies. And am I wrong, or is this the Chicago professional premiere of this work? Lili-Anne Brown directs, with musical direction by James Morehead.


A rare Chicago production of "Aspects Of Love" is on the verge of its first public performances at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. The run of March 11 through April 21 will star Matthew Keffer, Kelli Harrington, Colette Todd and Sean Thomas, with Adam Fane, Jamie Finkelthal, Stephanie Hanson, William Lucas, Rochelle Therrien and Daniel Waters. Is it an opera? Operetta? Musical? It's by Andrew Lloyd Webber, his follow-up to "The Phantom Of The Opera," and it ran for three years in London, but for less than a year in New York. Theo is clearly hoping to repeat the magic it captured a year ago with its production of "The Light In The Piazza" (same European post-war setting, lushly romantic music, etc.), down to utilizing the same design team of Adam Veness, Michael Nardulli and Bill Morey, directed by Fred Anzevino and musical directed by Jeremy Ramey. James Beaudry choreographs. Look for an extension if all goes well.


And yet, Theo Ubique has some real-time competition from its own past success! For its popular, BroadwayWorld Award-winning production of "Smokey Joe's Café" has been picked up for a commercial transfer to the Royal George Cabaret Theatre, for a run from March 7-May 26 (press opening set for March 16). The same cast will repeat their roles from the fall, again directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier and musical directed by the split body that is Jeremy Ramey. The fun thing is that this show has its pre-Broadway tryout in the main theater of the Royal George complex in 1994, under the title, "Baby, That's Rock And Roll!" It went on to a name change, a five-year Broadway run and a Grammy Award (it was overshadowed at the Tonys by Mr. Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard"). Will lightning strike again (or for the third time, depending on how you look at it)? Break a leg, you guys!


Speaking of commercial and/or Broadway transfers, it is too soon to talk about "The Jungle Book?" We will ALL be talking about it before too long, I can assure you. I'm talking about the world premiere of a stage version of the popular 1967 Walt Disney animated film, source of the song "The Bare Necessities" and based on the book by Rudyard Kipling. Casting has been going on hereabouts for the show, set to debut June 21, 2013 and run through July 28 "in the Albert," as the Goodman Theatre puts it when shows run in their large proscenium space. Multiple award winner Mary Zimmerman is adapting and directing the show, and Doug Peck has been adapting the music. I understand they were given free reign by Disney to utilize the film's songs (mostly by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman) as well as traditional and contemporary Indian music. If anybody can pull this off and get this well-known title to Broadway, it is Zimmerman and Peck. That's my two cents right there.


Speaking of summer, the Grant Park Music Festival has announced its free season of performances in downtown Chicago, and Wednesday night, July 17, will be "A Rodgers And Hammerstein Celebration." Grant Park Chorus Director Christopher Bell will conduct the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus and soloists Rebecca Luker, Doug LaBrecque and William Michals in songs from the team's "big five" shows, Hammerstein's "Show Boat" (written with Jerome Kern) "and more." Mark it down!


The cabaret room in Davenport's in Wicker Park, arguable our city's foremost such room, will be the home of an interesting concept this coming week, starring three of our busier storefront musical theater actors. Michael Kingston, Pavi Proczko and Patrick Tierney are teaming up for "Papa, Can You Hear Me?: Songs Of Fathers And Sons," with musical direction by Nick Sula. It is programmed on March 4 and March 9, and Sondheim, Shire and Flaherty are among the composers promised. Who doesn't love a good man-man duet?

And there are two single-night imminent and eminent shows in Davenport's Cabaret that you should know about. Tomorrow, February 28, is "Surviving The Avalanche," a cabaret evening of songs by a young New York writing team, Jeremy Desmon and Vadim Feichtner. Their songs will be performed by four of Chicago's most talented musical theater singers, Emily Rohm, Megan Long, Michael Brown and Andrew Weir.

Two nights later, on March 2nd, though it is sold out, you should somehow feel the presence once again of Levi Kreis, Tony winner for "Million Dollar Quartet" and a member of the original Chicago cast of that long-running production. Kreis's Davenport's show is called "The Flying Solo Tour," and features his popular and personal original songs. Welcome back, Levi. It's Davenport's!


Lastly, I should mention that "Million Dollar Quartet" has announced yet another extension, this one through September 1, 2013. That will take it just shy of a five year run. Amazing! That's longer than "Wicked" or "Jersey Boys" ran here (they were in larger theaters, true), but not as long as the off-Broadway hits "Forever Plaid" or the still-running, unclassifiable "Blue Man Group" (at the Briar Street Theatre). "The Book Of Mormon" is announced through September as well, but could extend again. You do have to say, though, that if a show is patient enough to get some traction here, then word of mouth does eventually take over. Long commercial runs may be controversial in the storefront, hardscrabble side of the industry here, but their impact cannot be denied.


And so, as we watch the skies and the Skilling for the latest in snow news, our love of musical theater somehow pulls us out of our homes and out from under the covers time and time again. At least, I hope it does! I hope to see you soon, in some room or other, perhaps under the video screens.....-PWT

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