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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 1st, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

A Very Happy New Year from the Showtune Mosh Pit! And it's time for our semi-annual round-up of what we've talking about, the "Top Ten Hot Topix" for the last half of 2013. What's been on your collective mind since July 1st? Well, these....

10. "Next To Normal." The regional premiere of the Pulitzer Prize winner (it took home some Tonys too) was big news in August, when Drury Lane Theatre Artistic Director William Osetek put Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's devastating look at marital bliss and mental illness onto the Oakbrook Terrace stage. The conservative suburban audiences didn't know what hit them. Or did they? Great reviews for leading lady Susie McMonagle didn't hurt, either. And the rest of the small cast more than held their own.


9. "Hello, Dolly!" Osetek's follow-up at the Drury Lane, the classic musical comedy "Hello, Dolly!," also caught our imagination, if only slightly less positive reviews from critics. Running through this Sunday, director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell's production starred Broadway notable Karen Ziemba, and a whole host of Chicago's finest performers backed her every step and high kick of the way.


8. "The Color Purple." The first regional production of a show close to many Chicagoans (including ex-residents Oprah Winfrey and Gary Griffin, its Broadway director) was mounted by Mercury Theater Chicago in August, and was extended into November. The director and choreographer, L. Walter Stearns and Brenda Didier, led Trisha Jeffrey, JaSondra Johnson, Evan Tyrone Martin and company into an intimate telling of the story, moving audiences and crtics alike. "Where do it come from?...See what God has done!"


7. "The Story Of Curtis Mayfield: It's All-Right To Have A Good Time." A show even closer to Chicagoans is the story of one our own, soul legend Curtis Mayfield. And Black Ensemble Theater's production of "It's All-Right To Have A Good Time" has proven so popular, it has been extended multiple times, now running from September all the way to the end of March, 2014 (albeit with fewer performances per week). Mayfield, Jerry Butler and others of the 1960s and 70s are depicted by both younger and older performers, and musical director Robert Reddrick's smokin' onstage band delivers the goods when it counts, doing the multiple Grammy honoree proud.


6. "Once." The national tour of the 2012 Tony Award winner for Best Musical (and seven other Tonys) stopped here for three weeks in October at the Oriental Theatre. And was the talk of the town! Many observers who have seen it on Broadway felt that the show played better here. Stuart Ward and Dani De Waal were acclaimed for their leading performances, and with Chicagoans Claire Wellin and Tiffany Topol in the cast, how could they fail to charm us? Falling slowly? Many Illinoisans fell right off the bat.


5. "Wicked." The second return of the blockbuster of the century (after its recordbreaking original sit-down run here in 2005-09) proved just as popular and scintillating with audiences as ever. Was eight weeks at the Oriental Theatre enough? Probably not. And the show worked hard to get its word out, too. Name performers Kim Zimmer and John Davidson and talented Broadway kids like Alison Luff and Curt Hansen gave it their all, and were certainly "Popular" with us once again!


4. "Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert At Millennium Park." This August 5th event at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion played like it was a one-night Lollapalooza for the Showtune set. Only with less information in advance. We knew what shows would be represented, but we didn't know what songs would be sung, or by whom. I don't if that matters to the powers that be at BIC, for the show was so crowded the lawn was closed! Everyone was there. And the shows that landed with the audience, "Once" and "Wicked" among them, only whetted our appetite for the upcoming "Motown," coming in the spring. Can you handle the wait? Ahh!


3. "The Sound Of Music: Live!" It's true. The yodel heard around the world, or at least around the Mosh Pit, was Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer in NBC-TV's live presentation of the immortal family-friendly musical from the pens of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lindsay and Crouse. Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle may have mopped the proverbial floor with the TV-friendly leads, but the December 5, 2013 broadcast (rebroadcast on December 12) was so popular that it led to a national discussion about what makes good musical theater, and why, and what show should be produced next. "Fiddler On The Roof" with Mandy Patinkin, you say? Stay tuned.


2. So many productions of "A Christmas Carol." I've lost count at this point. Besides the plays with music at the Goodman Theatre, the Metropolis Performing Arts Center, Citadel Theater and the like, the Broadway-style musical version at Theater At The Center, the children's version at the Drury Lane Theatre and a tour that played the Paramount Theatre, we had "A Klingon Christmas Carol," plus the new "A Q Brothers' Christmas Carol" and "If Scrooge Was A Brother." In second place, at least four musicalized versions of "It's A Wonderful Life." Oy!


1. Year-end award shows like the Equity Jeff Awards and the BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards. The Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee gave out their awards to our Equity productions on November 4, with shows like 2012's "Sunday In The Park With George" and "A Class Act" taking top musical honors. The 2013 BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards Celebration is one week from tonight, on January 8, 2014, at The Call Bar in Andersonville, and you're invited! (21+ please.) We cover the gamut, Equity and non-Equity, musicals and plays. And there are 36 categories this year! Who will win the coveted certificates? The top nominees are Bohemian Theater Ensemble's "Kiss Of The Spider Woman," Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company's "The Glass Menegerie," Williams Street Rep's "Sweeney Todd," American Blues Theater's "Hank Williams: Lost Highway" and Mercury Theater Chicago's "The Color Purple" Won't you join us to see who YOU have nominated and YOU have voted to win? We'll be there from 8:00 pm to midnight, at 1547 W. Bryn Mawr, between Clark and Ashland. You don't want to miss it! Free admission, and drinks with friends and colleagues. What more could you want from a winter party? Networking, a bonus.


So that's it! The ten topix you (or the collective we) have been talking about as Mosh Pit peeps for the last half of 2013. It was a pretty good year! In honor of it, I'll see you under the video screens.....one week from tonight, if not sooner-PWT

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From This Author Paul W. Thompson

Paul W. Thompson, a contributor to BroadwayWorld.com since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as (read more...)

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