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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 29th, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

We learned since last week that Chicago will be the location of not one, but two pre-Broadway productions next year! One is a traditional commercial out-of-town tryout, but with no New York dates firmed up (as of yet). And the other is a less traditional, first mounting of a show, at an established non-profit regional theater but with ties to commercial producers and a clear (though as-yet unknown) afterlife. But there we are, in the midst of it!

The first is “Kinky Boots,” adapted from a 2005 film by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper, to be directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell to run at the Bank Of America Theatre beginning in October, 2012. Fierstein, the author of the books for “La Cage Aux Folles,” “A Catered Affair” (now at Porchlight Music Theatre) and “Newsies” (opening on Broadway soon) and Lauper (the rock legend and star of the most recent Broadway revival of “The Threepenny Opera,” making her debut as a theater writer) are taking on this story about a shoe factory and a drag queen, in what sounds on paper like either a brilliant show or a disaster. (Wait. Don’t ALL shows sound like this on paper?) So, of course we reserve judgment, and of course we hope it does well. So why can’t we buy tickets yet, Broadway In Chicago? It’s the world premiere of a Cyndi Lauper musical!


The other show, perhaps even more exciting because of the source material and the history of those involved, is “The Jungle Book,” based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling and the 1967 Walt Disney animated film (the Academy Award-nominated “The Bare Necessities” is by Terry Kilkyson, with the rest of the film’s songs by the Sherman brothers). The Goodman Theatre has announced the show for the tail end of next season, to play June 27-July 28, 2013 and to be written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, with the blessing of the Walt Disney studios and with her ability to use discarded film songs and, presumably, whatever else the Tony and multiple Jeff Award-winner wants. Similarly to “The Lion King,” Zimmerman is reported to be interested in using native (in this case, Indian) music in addition to the songs written for the film, and, of course, she will have to contend with how to depict bears, tigers and what-not on stage. But returning to the home of her success with rewriting and staging “Candide” should be familiar turf for the “Metamorphoses” and “Arabian Nights” auteur, and the eyes of the world will be on Chicago’s theater scene 16 months from now, I can assure you. Awesome. It’s “The Jungle Book!”

Goodman Theatre 2012-13 Season

Speaking of “A Catered Affair,” I understand that its composer-lyricist, the cabaret writer John Bucchino, was in town last weekend to see the performance of his musical at Porchlight Music Theatre and to take part in a master class by some lucky musical theater and cabaret performers. A visit to our environs for a different reason will occur this summer, when “The Addams Family” composer Andrew Lippa returns to our town, this time to be one of the master teachers at the Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project at Northwestern University, along with Craig Carnelia and Lari White. Those dates are June 18-23. Get your application in now--they are due March 30th!


I mentioned some locally grown new musical productions in the Mosh Pit last week, but I neglected to mention the concert reading of one that’s coming up very soon! Midwest New Musicals (formerly New Tuners) continues its Words And Music series of original musicals with the show “Verve,” with book and lyrics by Fran Zell and music by Karena Mendoza, to be performed in two venues in March. On March 19 it will be at the Light Opera Works Second Stage in Evanston, and on March 20 it will be at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest. It’s about jealousy and weight loss among four women in a gym. Denise Blank directs, with musical direction by Randy Buehler.


The National Association Of Teachers Of Singing is putting its two cents into the pot with regard to the future of musical theater as well. Last Saturday, the local NATS Chicago chapter held our (yes, I was one of the judges) annual musical theater competition for students at Lake Forest College, hosted by Kathleen Van de Graaff. (She’s the sister-in-law of the real-life Janet Van de Graaff, the actress character in “The Drowsy Chaperone”--but you already knew that, didn’t you?) Students competed in age-appropriate categories for cash prizes, judges’ feedback and the support of their fellow students and parents. From the results, it sure seems like my teaching colleagues AJ Wester and Melissa Foster are doing something right at the Chicago High School For The Arts (ChiArts) and Northwestern University, respectively. I mean, I know they get good students, but they are making them into great musical theater singers! Next up for NATS? The National Music Theater Competition, with preliminary rounds in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The finals are this summer in Orlando. But you had better hurry, as the registration deadline is March 1st!

Most of the time, a musical theater voice competition looks and feels like an audition situation. And that’s exactly the topic of a fascinating concert being held on Monday, March 5, at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire, as a fundraiser for the Sarah Siddons Society and its Scholarship Fund. It’s called “God, I Hope I Get It,” and it’s being hosted by David H. Bell, directed by Dominic Missimi and accompanied by Doug Peck. And what is “it?” Only a parade of Chicago’s greatest musical theater talent, performing their best audition songs! How’s this as a teaser list of performers: E. Faye Butler, Mary Ernster, Heidi Kettenring, Michael Lindner, Andy Lupp, Hollis Resnik, Rod Thomas, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Alene Robertson, Rob Lindley, Chelsea Packard, Geoff Packard, Bethany Thomas, and many others. I think tickets are $50, but are only $10 for industry members. And really, isn’t a lesson in how to audition from these folks worth its weight in gold? Seriously!

There’s another benefit concert opportunity in the offing, courtesy of Windy City Performing Arts. Called “Broadway And Beyond: An Evening Of Broadway Benefit and Concert,” it’s two performances at the Mayne Stage on Morse Avenue, at 4 and 8 pm on Saturday, March 10th. There’s a reception in between shows. WCPA sponsors both the Windy City Gay Chorus and Aria, a women’s choir, which jointly perform three regular concerts per year--not counting the benefit! It’s a half a block from the red line, too.

Windy City Performing Arts

Fans of “Reefer Madness” have another opportunity to light up their enthusiasm for the musical by Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy. The University Of Chicago’s University Theater is presenting it the weekend of March 8-10 in the Third Floor of the Reynolds Club on the south side campus. Claire Stone directs.

UChicago's Reefer Madness

An even less traditional show, and a world premiere at that, has just opened at Chicago Dramatists on West Chicago Avenue. It’s “Fulton Street Sessions,” from TUTA Theatre Chicago, described as “a cabaret-style production, developed and written by TUTA, directed by Artistic Director Zeljko Djukic and featuring original music by Josh Schmidt (‘Adding Machine’).” It’s that last part that got my attention! The show, with a cast of five, runs through March 25, and seems to be getting good notices. It’s a mash-up of musical styles and current topics, in some sort of zen/dada haze. I think. I’m not sure it’s a musical, but these days, does that matter all that much? (I can’t believe I just wrote that!)


And the musical improv group Mansical will be returning to Donny’s Skybox Theatre in the Second City complex at Piper’s Alley (North Avenue and Wells Street) from March 4-April 15, 2012. The group is led by musical director Stephanie McCullough, and features seven men with a great deal of singprov experience: Matthew Van Colton, Chris DeRose, Brian Finlay, Michael Girts, Zephian Michaels, Israel Pederson and Andrew Ritter. Now THAT’S Chicago-style musical theater!


And so, Happy Leap Day! It’s the birthday of Frederic, the hero of “The Pirates Of Penzance,” but you already knew that, didn’t you? Excellent! In celebration of your knowledge of musical theater history and trivia, I'll see you under the video screens.....Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and Monday, right? I thought so. J —PWT

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