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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 25th, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

We had a treat Monday night! On January 23rd, Sidetrack was the site of a personal appearance by Doyle and Debbie, currently running at the Royal George Cabaret Theatre in “The Doyle And Debbie Show” through March 18, 2012. Bruce Arntson and Jenny Littleton have brought their hit Nashville theatrical entertainment to Chicago in a big way (it opened in mid-October to a bouquet of great reviews), and Sidetrack greeted them warmly as the duo sang three numbers, staying (to my knowledge) in character the whole time they were on the premises. We should all have the talent to write and star in our own show about something we know and love so well, right? Congratulations, you guys! You caught the title of that last, uproarious tongue-twister number, didn’t you? “Fat Women In Trailers.”

The Doyle And Debbie Show

There are only a handful of musicals based in country/western music that most city folk can name. But they’ve all done quite well on our stages lately! Roger Miller’s “Big River” was a hit for the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” did well for Circle Theatre, and just recently, “Pump Boys And Dinettes” packed them in for Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. Not to be outdone, “Always, Patsy Cline” played recently at the Fox Valley Repertory Theatre, and will play again at the other geographical end of our spectrum, from February 23-April 1, at the Theatre At The Center in Munster, Indiana. Brian Russell (responsible for the long run this show enjoyed at the Apollo Theater in the 1990s) once again directs, and Michelle Duffy stars as the ill-fated country crooner.

Then there’s “Oklahoma!” No, not a country musical, but one that certainly evokes that brand of music in “Kansas City” and “I Cain’t Say No,” to name just two songs. Well, Lyric Opera Of Chicago has once again reminded us that they will be producing the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic a little over a year from now, as a non-season “add-on” at the end of their 2012-13 season of opera favorites. Hammerstein’s “Show Boat” (as the Mosh Pit mentioned last week) is in rehearsal now for its debut next month as a regular season offering by the now-venerable company. Apparently Kern is ok enough, but Rodgers is a bit much, for the average operagoer. I can understand that. But we still don’t know ANYTHING about this production, as in who’s directing it, conducting it or starring in it! I think it’s the first time it will be seen professionally here since Light Opera Works produced it over four years ago. Please clue us in, Lyric! At least we know that subscribers to next season will get first choice of seats and special pricing for the show.

Lyric Opera's 2012-13 Season Announced

Monday night’s publicity appearance by Arntson and Littletonwas not the only extra-theatrical excitement from last weekend that I have to report. Last Friday, January 20th, was the date of Chicago’s first really annoying snowstorm of this unusual winter, and it played a little havoc with the Paramount Theatre’s opening night of “A Chorus Line,” directed by Val herself, Mitzi Hamilton. Afternoon rush hour, you may remember, was awful! But at least it was predicted. It is reported that some of the cast took five hours or more to travel from their Chicago homes to the far west suburban venue in downtown Aurora, and that some audience members (and most critics) didn’t make it at all. But the show did go on, and a matinee the next afternoon as well! No doubt Michael Bennett would have been proud. And have you seen the production photos? This show looks fantastic.


In other big-time theater news this week, a tour of “Mamma Mia!” hits us again, this time for this week only at the Oriental Theatre. Now one of the most successful shows of the Millennial Era, and, with “Jersey Boys,” an example of a jukebox show that stands the test of time, it’s apparently unstoppable. Take a chance on it. MIA!

Also opening this week (running January 25-February 19 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater) is the Theater Oobleck production of “The Hunchback Variations Opera,” starring two of our most in-demand musical theater performers. George Andrew Wolff, late of “A Christmas Story,” is Beethoven, and Larry Adams, late of “The Sound Of Music,” is Quasimodo. I think it’s an opera, but its libretto (by Mickle Maher) was originally a play and these guys, while great legit singers, are these days quite firmly rooted in musical theater. The fringe world of Theater Oobleck adds yet another dimension to this unique piece. Oh, and the music is by Redmoon and Mucca Pazza composer Mark Messing. And the plot has something to do with “The Cherry Orchard.” This appears to be wild.


Also hovering about the grey area separating opera from musical theater these days is “The Light In The Piazza,” with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers’ grandson Adam Guettel (book by Craig Lucas). It’s the next show on the boards at the No Exit Café, courtesy of Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, in what I believe will be the Chicago area’s fifth professional experience with this show (Goodman, Auditorium, Marriott, Illinois Theatre Center). The show runs March 11-April 29, but the cast is already hard at work. Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier are co-directing, with musical direction by Jeremy Ramey. Advance word sounds quite promising!

The Light In The Piazza

More like a chamber musical, but with operatic lyricality, is “A Catered Affair,” which has never been seen in Chicago before the upcoming production by Porchlight Music Theatre. Playing at Stage 773 from February 19-April 1, Rebecca Finnegan and Craig Spidle star in this portrait of working class New Yorkers in the 1950s, with book by the ever-creative Harvey Fierstein and a score by the underrated John Bucchino. Nick Bowling directs, with musical direction by Doug Peck. Award winners Brian Sidney Bembridge and William J. Morey are handling sets and costumes. Get your tickets now's-Chicago-Premiere

For a true evening of rare musical theater, we can look forward to the spring offering of the Oak Park Festival Theatre, “Beyond The Fringe,” the early 1960s sketch and song revue by Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore. I didn’t even know this show could be revived! It will be performed April 1-May 6 at the Madison Street Theatre in Oak Park, directed by David Mink. I’ll be hornswoggled!                                                                                                                   

Lastly this week, I’d like to let you in on a lovely event being planned for the evening of Saturday, February 4, 2012, at the European Chalet, 5445 S. Harlem Avenue. It’s a gala reunion of former employees of the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, which existed on a nearby site from 1959-1997 and is recognized as America’s first dinner theater. William Pullinsi, current artistic director of Munster’s Theatre At The Center, founded it with Anthony D’Angelo, and helped make Chicago’s musical theater scene what it is today. Long and/or significant runs of shows like “Man Of La Mancha,” “Follies,” “Fiddler On The Roof” with Lee Pelty, the Yeston-KopitPhantom” (one of the first productions of that show), the same writers’ “Nine” with the original Broadway costumes, and “Company” with the original, legendary Broadway set (and, in the smaller expansion venue, “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”) are still fondly remembered by theatergoers and by the professionals who worked on those shows. Unfortunately, the theater was torn down to make way for a shortlived Krispy Kreme franchise. Publicist Noreen Heron Zautcke is planning the Candlelight reunion event. Tickets are $50. It sounds like a blast!


So, what are you planning on seeing (or being in) in the next few months? Showtune theaters in our parts are hopping with activity right now! It’s pretty awesome, I have to admit. So, I hope to see you there, and/or under one of those Showtune video screens.....—PWT

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Photo of Jenny Littleton and Bruce Arntson by Paul W. Thompson


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