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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 6th, 2013




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Welcome to the big Midwinter Round-Up! We're going to catch up on all the shows currently on the boards at our most important musical theater venues, as there's been a lot of opening night activity lately. Have you got your tickets to see these shows? Hop to it, peeps!

Did you know that Cathy Rigby is "Peter Pan?" As of now, the 60 year old former Olympic gymnast is the character, the show, and the embodiment of someone who, for whatever reason, just hasn't grown up! The national tour of the musical with songs by two writing teams and no credited bookwriter (that's Jule Styne-Betty Comden-Adolph Green, Moose Charlap-Carolyn Leigh and Sir James M. Barrie, respectively) is halfway through its two-week appearance at the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Randolph Street, and "Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan" is both the show's advertising tagline and its web address. Broadway's Brent Barrett is Captain Hook, and he spent some time at Sidetrack on Monday night, enjoying the new screen in the Glass Bar, and watching himself in the "Grand Hotel" video. Rigby was apparently drinking from the fountain of youth somewhere. She's been appearing in self-produced versions of the show, on Broadway, on tour, on television, even in Branson, Missouri, for almost 25 years. You really do need to see her.

A few blocks over, on Monroe Street, is T-BOM, "The Book Of Mormon" for those new to the Mosh Pit. Sellling tickets like gangbusters until September 8th (at least), the nine-time Tony winning production has replicated itself pretty well for its long stint at the Bank Of America Theatre. They do have a day-of-show lottery (put your name in, spend all day muttering "I Believe!," and then come back later for the drawing), but tickets are otherwise scarce for months to come. It was loved by all the critics, and has an ad budget the size of a small country. I hope you have your tickets!

The Book of Mormon in Chicago

The other current offering from Broadway In Chicago is "I Love Lucy Live On Stage," the 95-minute offering at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place that has recently extended for a few more weeks (until March 17, 2013). Cast members appeared on "Monday Night Live" at Petterino's this past Monday, advertising the extension. It's short, it's funny, it's cheap--insert the joke of your choice here. Save for an extended holiday break, during which they had to vacate the theater for "Potted Potter," this Los Angeles product has been here since September. Good for them!


The biggest news out of our resident theaters these days is the remarkably success achieved by Marc Robin and the Marriott Theatre with "Now And Forever: The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber." For the first time, the ALW powers-that-be authorized a theater to create an original revue using whatever material it wanted, and the result is, surprisingly, a dance spectacular that nevertheless has a half-dozen bona fide singing stars delivering the music and lyrics. Meanwhile, the dance troupe, utilizing three choreographers (Robin, Harrison McEldowney and Matt Raftery), shows mastery of the variety of styles demanded by Lloyd Webber's varied output (yes, his music always sounds like him, but he has always used a lot of different types of music, and doing both is perhaps the surest sign of his genius). There's a lot of video out there concerning this production, and I encourage you to seek it out. The spectacular show runs in Lincolnshire through March 17.

The other very-well-reviewed new show in town at the moment is also a songbook review, although not an original one. It's "A Grand Night For Singing," the first subscription offering from the Mercury Theater. As directed by Kevin Bellie, this Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway revue utilizes a cast of five (Marya Grandy, Robert Hunt, Leah Morrow, Stephen Schellhardt and Heather Townsend) to cast the essential mid-century writing team's songs in a new light, and our critics loved the result. Love is in the air, apparently! It runs through March 10, over on Southport Avenue in the Lakeview neighborhood.

Also in Lakeview, at Stage 773, is another show that's just opening this week. It's sort of a revue, but not really, and it's sort of a one-woman show, but not really. It may not even be a musical! Maybe it's a play with music. I don't know! It's "Lady Day At Emerson's Bar And Grill," from Porchlight Music Theatre, bringing the life and music of Billie Holiday front and center once again. Alexis J. Rogers, one of Chicago's most important African-American singing actresses of the new generation, stars as Billie, through March 10. Rob Lindley directs.

Just opened last week, in the northern suburb of Glencoe, is an intimate staging of a big musical with a little of the same jazz club vibe as "Lady Day." It's Michael Halberstam's staging of Cy Coleman's "Sweet Charity," with new jazz combo arrangements by Doug Peck and featuring Tiffany Topol as the innocent and hopeful title character. And apparently there's a lot of dance (choreography by Jessica Redish) in the Writers' Theatre production. Hey, big spender! If I could see you now, you'd be buying a ticket for this show....

Writers' Theatre's SWEET CHARITY

Redish's company, The Music Theater Company (she's the Founding Artistic Director), has one more weekend left in its concert staging of "The Baker's Wife," the Stephen Schwartz musical that gave the world "Meadowlark," and all those stories about how much original producer David Merrick hated the song. You can judge for yourself this weekend in Highland Park. Dominic Missimi, Redish's teacher when she was at Northwestern University, directed the show while she was down Green Bay Road in Glencoe. But there's more on the front burner at TMTC than just "The Baker's Wife." On Monday night, February 11th, Chicago leading lady Heidi Kettenring ("Wicked," "Hero," "My Fair Lady") will appear in concert there, with the aforementioned Doug Peck on piano. It's the first in a string of cabaret appearances in the Highland Park theater that continues with Jess Godwin on Saturday, February 23rd and Christine Mild on Friday, March 1st.

A-way out west in Oakbrook Terrace is a show that has people talking for sure. It's "Sunset Boulevard," the major but tricky Andrew Lloyd Webber star tuner that isn't as good as the movie that inspired it, and isn't as good as many of his earlier shows, though it's probably better than everything he's written since. Apparently William Osetek's production at his Drury Lane Theatre (through March 24, 2013) features a set (by Scott Davis) that takes the show in a new direction from the floating mansion of the West End original, and Christine Sherrill as a youngish Norma Desmond belts the hit tunes out of the park, as one would certainly hope. It sounds like most people like most of it well enough, but wish they liked it more. But they feel that way for different reasons! This show is hard to pull off, and if you are of a mind to see it, I think you'd better.

Lastly, let's touch upon a show that hasn't opened yet, but will be the next offering from a major northside theater company. It's "From Doo Wop To Hip Hop," the world premiere of a new version of their previous hit, "Doo Wop Shoo Bop." I'm talking about Black Ensemble Theater, of course, on Clark Street in west Uptown, serving up the hits to its loyal audiences for nearly four decades now. Jackie Taylor and Rueben Echoles have fashioned a story (they also direct and choreograph) about whites and blacks, young and old, living in the same neighborhood where a racial tragedy begins to unfold. Against this backdrop, songs from groups like The Platters and The Chiffons, and from artists like Ludacris and Jay-Z, will be performed by a cast of sixteen, including the remarkable Kevin Roston, Jr. As always, BroadwayWorld Award-winning musical director Robert Reddrick will be at the helm of what I'm sure will be a smoking orchestra. The show is slated from February 15-April 14.

So that's the Mosh Pit! You have no excuse for me to find you wandering the streets of the city, wondering whether the Groundhog was right or wrong. Get thee to the theater! I bet I see you there very soon, and of course, I'll see you 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...)