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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 7th, 2016

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 7th, 2016


by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

If you checked BroadwayWorld Chicago during the afternoon on Wednesday, then you know. I will be leaving my post as Editor of this regional website as of next Friday, January 15, 2016. After over eight years here, more than six as Editor, and after six years and five months of writing the weekly Showtune Mosh Pit, it will be the end....for now. And yet, how? And why?

The truth of the matter is that I will miss you, the Mosh Pit peeps, most of all. I have LOVED bringing you the latest news and gossip about Chicago's vibrant musical theater scene. And I know that you, the students, the playgoers, the theater professionals, the out-of-towners looking to keep in touch, looked forward to reading what I had to say. And I loved reaching out to you in this way.

In the summer of 2009, it seemed to me that Chicago had a lot of folks who worked for, cared for, and felt strongly about the musicals that happen in this town. And yet, it seemed like those who loved showtunes in Chicago were always laboring under the misconception that we were second class. We weren't in New York. We weren't an "in your face" storefront (at least, not usually). We weren't improv or sketch comedy (again, not usually, but sometimes). But great people were here, doing great work for great audiences. We just needed to tell ourselves, and the world, that we were here. We had distinctives. We had quality.

So that's what I set out to do: to point out that shows were happening everywhere, that they were good, were connected and vital and that they were part of more than one bigger picture. And the idea of a Mosh Pit, inspired by Sidetrack's main room on Monday evenings but metaphorically whenever any of us fanboyed over a cast album, a television performance, a Chicago production or a tour, was an image that seemed to resonate. Messy, but for a purpose. Showtunepalooza.

Themes began to emerge. We have tours from both before and after Broadway, Loop musicals by mainly non-musical houses, urban, mostly northside storefront and multi-unit spaces, suburban institutions big and small, park district theaters, university theaters, high school theaters and more. We all watch "Glee" and "Smash" and "The Wiz Live," or at least we did. We watch young college graduates get work in non-Equity companies, then Equity companies, then out of town. We all want to be Jessie Mueller.

We realized that one of our distinctives as a community is the very common occurrence of more than one production of a musical title at the same time, or at least in the same year. Once I think we had four professional productions of "Cabaret." There were probably five of "Spelling Bee" in a year and half. Short runs plus hundreds of producing entities creates that reality. What a boon for everyone! What an utterly unique situation.

I hope I helped you see these things, or, if you already knew them, I hope I helped you be proud of what you saw. We are Chicago's Showtune community, and our folk do great shows, arrive from other places and go to other places, write amazing original pieces, see the latest communal celebration and do all of this with very little financial security or stability. We do it because we love it. We always have. Think of the original "Grease" at Kingston Mines. Think of the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Think of Donny Osmond's "Joseph." Envision "Hamilton."

And so, Mosh Pit peeps, I leave BroadwayWorld Chicago and this column, though I may return in some guise at some point. In the meantime, I have many things to keep me busy (as I hope you read in this article). I'm teaching music improv and musical theater voice. I'm composing (demo CD in the works, I promise). I perform and accompany and conduct, and watch people's dollars and cents. And I network. And I audition!

So, I hope you will join me this Sunday evening, January 10, at The Call nightclub as I award the 36 certificates I'm preparing for the winners of the 2015 BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards--voted on by you, by the way. We'll be there from 7-10. I'll post the results afterwards, but if you are 21 or over, you really should be in the room where it happens.

I hope to see you there. And perhaps you will read some columns by me in the future, someplace or other. In the meantime, do stop me about town and say hello. If you can't find me, do you know where I'll be? Under the video screens.....-PWT

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PHOTO CREDIT: Brandon Dahlquist Photography

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