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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 22nd, 2014





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Because of the short, limited runs of most Chicago theatrical endeavors, the gods of musical theater and the rights houses in New York (their agents on earth) sometimes accidentally conspire together with Chicago artistic directors to produce unofficial mini-festivals of the work of particular musical theater creatives. Such is the case this spring, when we will have a Stephen Sondheim fest on our hands. Not surprising? Well, it's certainly welcome.

The deck is stacked in the legendary composer-lyricist's direction due to Gary Griffin and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The successful director and the multiple award-winning productions of Sondheim he has helmed for ChiShakes will be extending their grip on Navy Pier with two coordinated Sondheim productions, one the very first Sondheim show to play Broadway, and the other the very last to open in New York, albeit off-Broadway. And the twin productions are in rehearsal now.

As I've mentioned before, "Gypsy" will star "Mamma Mia!" star Louise Pitre as the legendary Rose Hovick, in the show scheduled from February 6-March 23 in the mainstage Courtyard Theater. I for one and looking forward to Rhett Guter's Tulsa, Barbara E. Robertson's Tessie Tura, and Mitzi Hamilton's choreography. This is a very highly anticipated production, and it won't last forever!

"Road Show," known previously as "Gold," "Wise Guys" and "Bounce," has a long, twisted creative history, which includes our Goodman Theatre. But now, in one of the first post-New York productions of the story of the Mizner brothers, Griffin will direct Michael Aaron Lindner, Anne Gunn, Larry Adams, McKinley Carter, Matt Deitchman, Jim DeSelm, Derek Hasenstab and more, in the March 13-May 4 production in the Upstairs Theater. Michael Mahler will musical direct, with costumes by BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner Mara Blumenfeld ("The Jungle Book"). Don't miss it!


Sondheim's last Broadway musical, winner of the 1994 Tony Award for Best Musical, was "Passion," and Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre will produce the tale of love and obsession March 7-April 27 at its home in the No Exit Café. Jeff Award winners Danni Smith and Peter Oyloe will portray the sickly Fosca and her handsome soldier, Giorgio, with Jeff nominee Colette Todd as Clara, John Leen as Colonel Ricci and Sean Knight as Ludovic. Artistic director Fred Anzevino directs, with music direction by Kory Danielson.


And Highland Park's The Music Theatre Company is producing a concert version of the last Sondheim musical with music by another composer, "Do I Hear A Waltz?" After Oscar Hammerstein's death, Richard Rodgers teamed with his successful protégé for this 1965 music based on "The Time Of The Cuckoo." TMTC will feature Jeanne T. Arrigo, Danielle Brothers, Daniel Desmaris, David Elliot, David Girolmo, Kelli Harrington, Jessica Kingsdale, Johnny Rabe, David Sajewich and Elizabeth Telford in the tale, staged by Dominic Missimi and with music direction by the above-mentioned Matt Deitchman. The run is January 31-February 9 only!

Also at The Music Theatre Company, Mrs. David Girolmo, also known as Chicago leading lady Heidi Kettenring, will present a concert for one night only, next Monday, January 27, with Doug Peck at the piano. Kettenring concertizes fairly regularly, and with good reason. Amazing voice, meet amazing songs....

I hope all my Mosh Pit peeps remember that Lyric Opera Of Chicago is in the midst of producing all five of the major works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, in five consecutive springs. After launching with "Oklahoma!" last year, this year's offering is "The Sound Of Music," the same property that NBC chose to air in a live new production starring country music's Carrie Underwood. Well, Lyric has announced its Maria, and it will be Broadway's. Jenn Gambatese. She was just in town, playing Glinda in the "Wicked" tour that played for most of the late fall. And now, she will light up the Civic Opera House, starring alongside Christine Brewer as the Mother Abbess, Elizabeth Futral as Elsa and Edward Hibbert as Max. Casting of the Captain has yet to be announced. (My money is on Nathan Gunn.) Anyway, the show will run April 25-May 18, already extended another week from the originally announced dates!


And this week, NBC-TV announced its highly anticipated follow-up to December's SOM broadcast. Alas, it is not "Oliver!," nor "Fiddler On The Roof," nor "Hello, Dolly!" It's a safe choice, in that the network produced it three times for live television during the medium's infancy. It's "Peter Pan," another show that originally starred Mary Martin and that children and television execs love. But will they cast a woman, or rewrite it for a man? And who will star? Ah, stay tuned, peeps. Stay tuned.


Speaking of shows geared to children, the Chicago Children's Theatre is now staging the world premiere of the musical "Mr. Chickee's Funny Money," a production that I believe has New York aspirations. Lamont Dozier and his son Paris Dozier have collaborated on the songs for this adaptation of the Newberry Award-winning Christopher Paul Curtis's book about a ten year-old spy with a mysterious dollar bill. The show runs now through March 2 at the Ruth Page Center For The Arts. Yaw Agyeman and Bear Bellinger star.


Bailiwick Chicago's annual Chicago Casting Auction fundraiser has produced its cast for the increasingly popular "The Drowsy Chaperone." For six performances only (February 4-8 at Stage 773), you can see the donors who bid for roles giving it their all in Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison's music and lyrics, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. Geoff Bleeker is directing, and Robert Ollis is music directing. And heading up a large ensemble, the winners of the roles are: Andy Lambros (Man In Chair), Paula Goedert (Drowsy Chaperone), Jill Renn (Janet Van der Graff), Rusty Rector (Robert Martin), Jerry Hickey (George), Varris Holmes (Adolpho), Nancy Studenroth (Mrs. Tottendale), Herb Quinde (Underling), Larry Blust (Feldzeig), Laura Ladeweski (Kitty), Leatrice Berman Sandler (Trix), Christine Hadley and Amy Robbins (Gangsters), Myles Tobin (Superintendent), Penny Reynolds and Peg Wander (Reporters) with a special guest cameo by Noodles The Wonder Dog.


A new musical theater variety show will debut on Sunday night, February 9, and run the second Sunday of each month through May 11. It's "Option Up!," and it features Aaron Benham and Christopher Pazdernik, both past BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominees and frequent collaborators on shows at Davenport's, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre and Bailiwick Chicago. "Option Up!" will feature the duo, along with special guest stars from the local showtune scene. How awesome is that? Playing in The Cab at Stage 773, the first show will also include Lina Wass and Henry McGinniss, plus a third guest to be announced. Sounds like a great idea, you guys. You have the support of the Mosh Pit!


And now, a quick word about auditions. I don't cover auditions herein, as there are other places on the interwebs (including BroadwayWorld) that cover audition information, and I wanted this column to be about productions and telecasts that everyone in the Chicago area could partake of equally. But I do know that a lot of folks have been auditioning for Lyric Opera's "The Sound Of Music" lately, plus there have been season general auditions at Light Opera Works, not to mention the visit to town from the folks at "The Voice," and there are a whole slough of summer jobs coming down the pike. Break a leg, all of you! I hope you get it, I really do. And when you are cast, I will gladly spill the beans all over these pages. But if I start listing auditions, I would be forever haunted that I forgot one! I can't handle the stress....!

And so, with another polar vortex on the northern horizon, I remain your intrepid showtune columnist. I hope to see you at the theaters soon, and of course I know 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...)