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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 11, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

The biggest brouhaha in many a day occurred around the Showtune Mosh Pit this past week, as word spread far and wide and quickly that a certain country-pop singer had been cast in a certain big screen adaptation of a certain megainternational popera superhit of the 1980s (the decade when she, and half of the film’s reported cast, were born). I’m referring of course to Taylor Swift and to “Les Miserables.” You would have thought that nobody had ever considered the notion that being 22 and an extremely popular and photogenic singer would have put her in the running for a role in the Tom Hooper film of the Schonberg-Boublil musical, probably the most popular stage musical of all time, and whose film version is due in theaters on December 7, 2012. I’m not going to judge the merits of her casting, or that of anybody else, at least not in print! But I’m really glad that people care so much, however. Is this shock that the role didn’t go to Lea Michele? Perhaps. But obviously, this is a project that we will all be seeing a lot of, probably for the rest of our natural lives! Just for the record, the cast is apparently set as follows:  Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Inspector Javert), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Taylor Swift (Eponine), Sacha Baron Cohen (Thernardier), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Aaron Tveit (Enjolras), Anne Hathaway (Fantine) and Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thenardier). And no, I don’t know what order to list them in! Thoughts?

Amanda Seyfried & Taylor Swift Complete LES MISERABLES Film Cast

On Monday of this week, Chicago was the site of not one but two major events in the showtune video world. It’s true! The more talked about one (and the one with a better marketing strategy to boot) was the “VIP” sneak preview of the upcoming NBC-TV series “Smash,” at the ICON Showplace movie theaters on Roosevelt Road (one of a handful that occurred simultaneously, nationwide). Brian D’Arcy James, a Northwestern University graduate and one of the series’s stars, was on hand, as were producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. In case you’re not yet aware, the series is set in New York, and concerns the production of a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Some of the stars, in addition to James, include Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty as candidates for the leading role, Anjelica Huston as the producer, and Debra Messing and Christian Borle as the writers. Oh, and “Hairspray” writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have written the score for the Marilyn musical, which will be unveiled as the season progresses. And the whole thing was Steven Spielberg’s idea. Advance word from those at the screening is that the show is very good, indeed! We all have to wait until February 6 at 9:00 pm Central Time to see it for ourselves. 

Also in Chicago, somewhat more exclusively (both in the number of people who knew about it, and the number of venues where it played), was the debut of the video of an orchestral concert event by Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel, courtesy of PBS’s WTTW, channel 11. Filmed in Toronto last summer, and conducted by Marvin Hamlisch, Menzel’s concert, “Barefoot At The Symphony,” was a mix of pop and theater material, though apparently there will be four of five songs on the DVD release which were not shown on channel 11 (it was a pledge drive thing, don’t you know). But even more exciting is the fact that Idina was present in Chicago and appeared live on the pledge drive, and that along with the Chicago-only nature of the broadcast (it won’t be shown on other PBS stations until March) was the announcement last week that Menzel and Hamlisch will be performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival this coming July 8! (Early birthday for me……) That is big news, and it’s not on video! Btw, I’m told that she sang beautifully on the concert. 

Idina Menzel to Appear at the Ravinia Festival This Summer 

Speaking of live, the national tour of “Come Fly Away” hits Chicago this week and next, playing at the Bank Of America Theatre. This dance musical based on the hits of Frank Sinatra, and sung by him via recording (with a live orchestra), has been somewhat revised by creator Twyla Tharp since its Broadway incarnation nearly two years ago. The show spent time in Las Vegas, too. Will the magic of Tharp’s Billy Joel musical, “Movin’ Out,” repeat itself? Not sure? Is it a musical if nobody sings live? Not sure?

Twyla Tharp and Frank Sinatra's Come Fly Away

Also this week, and this week only, is another engagement from the somewhat groundbreaking musical “In The Heights,” playing this time at the Oriental Theatre in what I believe is a non-union tour.

In The Heights - Official Site

That show’s composer and lyricist (and original star), Lin-Manuel Miranda, has been hard at work on several projects, and one of them, “Bring It On,” will be playing Chicago in March (for three weeks, the 6th through the 25th, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. This sure looks like a pre-Broadway tryout tour, though nothing of the kind has been announced. Miranda has joined with writers Tom Kitt, Amanda Green and Jeff Whitty, (that’s “Next To Normal,” “High Fidelity” and “Avenue Q” in their credits), and his old ITH pals Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire (staging and orchestrations) to create this new show all about….cheerleading. High octane cheerleading, I’m sure! If I’m not mistaken, individual tickets go on sale this Friday, January 13, 2012.

Chicago Bring It On: The Musical 2012 Tickets

There’s a musical in Chicago that has been playing for six months now, and has been extended for another three, and I’ve hardly mentioned it! Wow! I’ve been snookered into rectifying that situation now. Of course, it is “Jersey Shore: The Musical,” that irreverent look into the MTV reality series that opened at Studio BE on July 22, 2011 and will be there (at least) until March 31, 2012. It’s from the sketch comedy company 4 Days Late, with music by Matt Griffo, Alex Myerchin and Jason Lord and lyrics by them plus Erin Lane. I understand that MTV is airing another season of the real deal now. Isn’t it time for you to visit the satirical fringe version of the same? It’s Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30.

Jersey Shore The Musical « Studio BE

On the other end of the spectrum, we have our enormous suburban theaters, don’t we? And three of them are preparing their next musical offering as we speak. It’s a cornucopia of openings! I think I talked two weeks ago about “A Chorus Line” at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora (playing January 18-February 5). Well, the Oakbrook Terrace-based Drury Lane Theatre is readying “Gypsy” for its run of January 19-March 25, directed by artistic director William Osetek and choreographed by Tammy Mader. Klea Blackhurst stars as stage Mama Rose, with Andrea Prestinario as the titular Rose Lee, aka Louise.

Drury Lane Oakbrook - Now Playing at Drury Lane Theatre

And up north in Lincolnshire, the Marriott Theatre is readying what I believe is the regional theater premiere in this area of “Legally Blonde,” running concurrently with “Gypsy” (January 18-March 25). Chelsea Packard is Elle Woods, with David Larsen as Emmett and Cole Burden as Warner. Marc Robin directs and choreographs, as one would expect!

Marriott Theatre In Lincolnshire

And an interesting event takes place this Saturday, January 14, 2012, at the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society. Chicago actor (the Mercury Theatre’s,“The Christmas Schooner”) and author (the book, “Broadway’s Most Wanted”) Tom Shea, who I believe is or very nearly is a lifelong Rogers Park resident, will speak on the topic, “From Rogers Park To Broadway To The Whole World.” I think it will be a history of theater in the Rogers Park neighborhood, with some of the people who came out of the area and its theaters and achieved greater prominence. It’s at 10:30 am, at 1447 W. Morse Avenue, the Society’s headquarters. Sounds interesting!

Rogers Park / West Ridge Historical Society

And that’s it for this edition of “The Showtune Mosh Pit!” Some video news, some tours, some local productions and some historical perspective. Not bad. Not bad at all. And even if the weather finally catches up with us, we’re gonna be alright.

Soon it’s gonna rain, but the sun’ll come out tomorrow. OK, somebody stop me! I think I need a night at the theater! Or, perhaps, a night at Sidetrack or The Call, where I'll see you under the video screens....., won’t I?—PWT

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