Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Click Here for More Articles on NEWSIES

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 18th, 2012




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

You may recall that, in last week’s Mosh Pit, I discussed the casting of the upcoming film version of “Les Miserables.” Well, there’s one part of the story that I left out. One Chicagoan has a very special role in this film. It’s a story that some of you already know, but that to my knowledge hasn’t been told to the world at large--before now. Jeff Award-winning Chicago musical director and vocal coach Roberta Duchak is coaching Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe on his songs for the film, and has been doing so since last summer!

I had the pleasure of speaking to Roberta by phone this past Monday. She couldn’t meet with me at Columbia College Chicago, where she teaches, or at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, where she frequently musical directs (“Ragtime” and “Sweeney Todd” are just two of her extensive number of credits there). Why isn’t she in Chicago, you ask? Because she is New Orleans for a few weeks, teaching “Stars” to a star. Ever since last summer, when Crowe was living in Naperville, working on a certain superhero film in the Plano area, she has been paid by the “Les Miz” film itself, not Crowe, to get him in tip-top shape to play and sing the role of Inspector Javert in the highly anticipated film. She was with him for his audition for the role in New York (also in the room were stage producer Cameron Mackintosh and composer Claude-Michel Schonberg), and she has spent time with him in Los Angeles, Vancouver and (for three weeks in December) in Australia. She told me that he loves to sing (he comes from a rock background), he has improved and seen his hard work pay off, and that “Old Man River” from “Show Boat” is his favorite warm-up song! Sometimes they work every day. Sometimes they don’t. He loves it. So does she. And you just never know what life will bring, do you?

She confirmed reports I’ve read that the cast will have a six-week rehearsal period, commencing in mid-February, and that shooting will last until July, with mid-December as the targeted release date. It is true that the cast will be singing live while the cameras roll. But she told me that one aspect of the film that has been widely reported very recently is in fact not true! Stay tuned to your favorite media outlets for future developments. Seriously. And in the meantime, let’s all wish Russell and Roberta the best, and get just a wee bit jealous. But why shouldn’t she be doing this? I’m sure that the whole cast will have vocal coaches. Why not one of the best, our own Roberta Duchak? What an opportunity. Congratulations!

Speaking of movies, a new musical (of sorts) has opened, “Joyful Noise,” starring “Chicago” star Queen Latifah and “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” star (and “9 To 5” composer) Dolly Parton. Co-starring in this tale of a choir competition is one Jeremy Jordan, as Parton’s grandson. Who is Jeremy Jordan, you may ask? I think there have been two other young singer-actors with the same name lately, but this one is on a particularly high trajectory of late. Not only is he in this mixed-review movie, but he is starring in not one but two Broadway musicals this season! He was Clyde Barrow in the short-lived Frank Wildhorn show “Bonnie And Clyde” (it closed December 31), and he will open in March as the lead in the Alan Menken film-to-stage adaptation of “Newsies!” He’s been working on quite a number of projects in the past few years (including the development of both of these shows), and has been on Broadway and on tour in other shows. But this amount of visibility in such a short time is pretty fascinating. Not bad. Not bad at all! And his online resume lists “head twitching and ear wiggling.” Might be time to update that website.

Closer to home, the rarely seen 1978 musical “The Baker’s Wife” only has one more weekend left in its two-month run at the Circle Theatre in Oak Park. The musical has music by the wizard of Broadway himself, Stephen Schwartz. (He used to be billed as “Godpell,” “Pippin” and “The Magic Show,” but now he’s called “Wicked,” “Godspell” and “Pippin.”) And I think the theatre company has recently updated their website (lookin’ good!). Oh, and they’ll be doing “Reefer Madness” this summer. And next November, they’re putting on “Pippin: A Bollywood Spectacular.” Um. Oh my.

Up in Skokie, Northlight Theatre rarely sticks to the conventional where musical theater is concerned. (They just hosted the world premiere of a Stephen Schwartz revue, “Snapshots,” you recall.) Next up there, starring two of our real Chicago stars, is the Frank Higgins play, “Black Pearl Sings,” with E. Faye Butler and Susie McMonagle, running January 13-February 19, 2012. Butler (recently seen in “Oklahoma!” at Arena Stage in Washington) and McMonagle (recently in the national tour of “Billy Elliot”) play characters inspired by blues guitarist Lead Belly and ethnomusicologist John Lomax, respectively. Like I said, they don’t do the obvious up at Northlight. The Goodman Theatre’s Steve Scott directs.

The Chicago Children’s Theatre is readying a new family musical called “The Houdini Box” for two consecutive runs. January 24-March 4 it will play at the Mercury Theater in Chicago, and March 14-25 it will play the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts in Skokie (also home to Northlight Theatre). It’s by Hannah Kohl and Mark Messing, based on the book by Brian Selznick and directed by Blair Thomas. Alex Weisman (on a career roll himself) stars alongside Sara Sevigny. And there’s puppetry somehow….

The North Shore Center For The Performing Arts is also once again hosting the Chicago touring engagement of the legendary Capitol Steps, the Washington D.C.-based political satire troupe originating with real House and Senate staffers thirty years ago. Their song and sketches of life inside the beltway will once again grace the Skokie stage the weekend of January 26-29. Cross “Saturday Night Live” with “Forbidden Broadway,” “Laugh-In” and “The McLaughlin Group” and you pretty much get the idea. Might be worth a belly laugh or two.

The Capitol Steps

Among the many productions rehearsing in Chicagoright now is the granddaddy of them all, “Show Boat,” complete with Russell Crowe’s favorite song, at Lyric Opera Of Chicago. (I’m not talking about “The Black Crook,” you know; that is our great-granddaddy!) Jerome Kern’s masterpiece, with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is mandatory viewing for all Mosh Pit peeps. And if you are too young to have seen the Hal Prince revival of the mid-1990s (whose national tour rehearsed here and opened at the Auditorium Theatre Of Roosevelt University), you simply must see it at the Lyric. I know tickets are pricey, and that there are only 13 performances (scattered between February 12 and March 17), but really, you’ve got to see it. I can tell you that this production is rumored to be torn between the Broadway and operatic worlds, which is what you’d expect with Ashley Brown (“Mary Poppins”) and Nathan Gunn (“Billy Budd”) in the leading roles. Ross Lehman is Captain Andy, and Bernie Yvon is Frank. Francesca Zambello (“The Little Mermaid”) directs. There’s quite a lot of material about the show on the Lyric website. And really, take extra part time work if you have to. Grab a ticket now. You will regret it if you miss it!

The Theatre School of DePaul University announced this week that its 2012 Award For Excellence In The Arts will be presented to Nathan Lane during ceremonies on April 16, 2012 at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Magnificent Mile. Two-time Tony Award-winner Lane (for “The Producers” and “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”) will be in town appearing with Brian Dennehy in “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theatre, running April 21-June 10. It’s not a musical, but I’m sure they’d be happy if some Mosh Pit peeps showed up. And I’m sure that Nathan’ll be at DePaul’s celebration, but he might be tired from rehearsals….

Nathan Lane's award from DePaul University

Speaking of Nathan Lane, some of you may also know that I was in New Yorklast week. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing two young stars, folks I reviewed for this website in the past year, starring in Broadway musicals and looking totally like pros who belong there. Jeff Award-winner (and Chicago acting royalty) Jessie Mueller tore the stage of the St. James Theatre right up with her rendition of “Every Night at Seven” in “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” as the love interest (with a reincarnation difficulty) of Harry Connick, Jr. She’s now played two legendary but fictional mid-century singers (the other was the Marriott Theatre’s Miss Adelaide) in one year’s time. I also saw BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winner (and company member of the Chicago collective Team Starkid) Darren Criss starring in “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” just over a block away at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. His voice wasn’t as strong as it was in August at our Northalsted Market Days, or as it is on “Glee,” but he was charming and hilarious and has pretty much been the most popular stage door attraction that any New Yorker can remember in quite some time. It was a tremendous feeling, I can assure you, to watch their dreams come to fruition. Unfortunately, “Clear Day” will be closing at the end of the month, and Criss’s turn to “Succeed” ends at the end of this week. But my, they were something….

I also saw revivals of two shows which have also been revived in Chicagoin the last year, “Follies” and “Porgy And Bess.” The two productions of “Follies” seemed to be on different tracks (ours seemed to many to be an effective re-interpretation, whereas theirs was perhaps an attempt to bring back the 1971 original). But the two “Porgy And Bess”’s seemed to share the same desire--to bring the Gershwin-Gershwin-Heyward piece to the theater scene, where it hasn’t really been since the 1940s and ‘50s. (In the ‘60s it seemed to be just a source for classical, cabaret and jazz concert material, and in the ‘70s it returned to its operatic 1930s roots.) I was saddened to know that great work like our local companies produce isn’t often seen in New York or talked about on the international level, but I enjoyed these productions very much, and I smile to think at how both of their productions would have fared here, and how ours would have fared there. Food for thought…..

And so, the holidays are really gone, and winter is actually happening. Well, there’re only two remedies for this situation. The first is to take part in some live theatre. And the second is to watch some showtune videos with some of your best friends, huddled against the cold winds into the wee hours of the morning. So, I might see you in a performing arts venue sometime soon. And I know I'll see you under the video screens!.....—PWT

[Be sure to subscribe to the Mosh Pit! Click here to subscribe to our BroadwayWorld Message Board discussion thread. Receive your e-mail notice that the weekly “Showtune Mosh Pit” is available!]

[And click here to "Like" BroadwayWorld Chicago on Facebook!]


Related Articles

NOS Dance

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...)