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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 15th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

Northwestern University's Wirtz Center For the Performing Arts is presenting "Into The Woods" as its summer musical this year, and the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine favorite gets underway this weekend, July 17, for a run through August 2. Performances take place at the Ethel M. Barber Theater on the Evanston campus, and Scott Weinstein directs.

Another Sondheim musical that has been long absent from our boards has announced its cast. But, alas, Writers Theatre will not incorporate its "Company" until next summer. As the second show to open in the mainstage Nichols Theatre in Writers' new Studio Gang designed, multi-million dollar facility (lobby pictured above) now rising in downtown Glencoe, "Company" is highly anticipated. And that's on top of the fact that is the Chicagoland area's first professional production of this major title in who knows how long. William Brown will direct, and Tom Vendafreddo will music direct, a cast including Thom Miller, Bernard Balbot, Jessie Fisher, Allison Hendrix, James Earl Jones II, Patrick Martin, Christine Mild, Chelsea Morgan, Lia Mortensen, Blair Robertson, Alexis J. Rogers, Gabriel Ruiz, Patrick Sarb and Tiffany Scott. That's a fascinating cast, peeps. (June 15-July 24, 2016)


Another classic American musical will receive a new production at the other end of our catchment area this fall, when the Paramount Theatre in Aurora turns its formidable attention to "Oklahoma!" in September. Directed by Paramount artistic director Jim Corti, it will be music directed by the very same Tom Vendafreddo, and choreographed by Katie Spelman. The cast will include Colte Julian and Allison Sill as Curly and Laurey, with Peter Saide as Jud Fry. The secondary love triangle will consist of Lillie Cummings (Ado Annie), Carl Draper (Will) and Kareem Bandealy (Ali Hakim), with Caron Buinis as Aunt Eller, Don Forston as Andrew Carnes and Don Richard as Cord Elam. There's a big ensemble, too!


Allison Hendrix of "Company" and Caron Buinis of "Oklahoma!" are pretty busy at present, as Hendrix is directing and Buinis is starring in Stephen Flaherty's "Loving Repeating," produced by Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit (July 18-August 30). Emily Goldberg is Alice, opposite Buinis' Gertrude (Stein, that is). Kory Danielson music directs, and Andrea Louise Soule choreographs. Oh, and Northwestern University professor Cindy Gold and the aforementioned Christine Mild are two of the stars of the commercially-available CD of the show, directed by Frank Galati at the Museum Of Contemporary Art for About Face Theatre in 2006 (he developed the show at Northwestern).

The team of Rodgers and Hammerstein is doing quite well in our region in recent years, with Lyric Opera Of Chicago making a five-year commitment to their biggest hits, and the Marriott Theatre producing "The King And I" late last summer (prior to Lincoln Center Theater's Tony-winning revival grabbing the headlines in New York). And there've been several "Oklahoma!"s and "Sound Of Music"s. In the midst of all this, Evanston's Light Opera Works in producing "South Pacific" next month, starring the man who played Emile DeBecque there in 2006, Larry Adams. Rudy Hogenmiller again directs and choreographs. As Nellie Forbush this time around, LOW is presenting Sarah Larson, with Yvonne Strumecki as Bloody Mary, Brian Zane as Luther Billis and the remarkable voice (and person) of Justin Adair as Joe Cable. The Pulitzer Prize-winner runs August 15-30 at Cahn Auditorium on Northwestern's Evanston campus.


But what's on our stages prior to that? Well, "Once More With Feeling," the all-sung episode of "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" that first aired on November 6, 2001, is being performed for one night only this coming Monday night, July 20, at Mary's Attic in Andersonville. Its cast of thirteen is being directed by Jason A. Fleece and music directed by Paul Scavone, in what's being called a "staged concert reading." So there's that.


From July 30-August 29 at The Den Theatre, The New Colony will be presenting "the pop-infused world premiere musical comedy" "Stanley In The Name Of Love." Written by a guy calling himself "Mr. Margaret Svetlove," with music by four guys calling themselves The Delicious Moons," it's directed by Sean Kelly (one of the four, who is also the playwright). Billed as an "absurdist gay porn dance pop musical," it's well, revealing its truths for most of August.


Later in the fall, the off-Broadway musical "Goblin Market," by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon, will be produced by Black Button Eyes Productions at Collaboraction in Bucktown. It's directed by Ed Rutherford, with music direction by Jeff Bouthiette, and will be in performance October 2-31. The cast of two will be Stephanie Stockstill and Jennifer T. Grubb.


Speaking of Stephen Flaherty, there's news in the musicals-on-screen department. The film version of the Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens off-Broadway musical "Lucky Stiff" will be released to theaters and On Demand next week, July 24, 2015. Jason Alexander and Nikki M. James star, alongside Kate Shindle, Dennis Farina, Pamela Shaw, Dominic Marsh and more. I'll bet you never dreamed there would be film version of "Lucky Stiff."


"The Wiz" is NBC-TV's follow-up to "The Sound of Music" and "Peter Pan" for your live musical viewing pleasure the first week of December (the 3rd, to be exact). And "The Wiz Live!" will star Stephanie Mills (its original stage star) in the role of Auntie Em. But who will be Dorothy this time? And will Andre DeShields (the original Wiz) be in it? The suspense mounts.


But one of the leads of next January's FOX-TV presentation of a live "Grease" was indeed announced last week. Eight weeks after "The Wiz," on January 31, 2016, Aaron Tveit ("Next To Normal," "Catch Me If You Can") will star in the role of Danny Zuko. He joins the previously announced Julianne Hough (as Sandy) and Vanessa Hudgens (as Rizzo) in "Grease: Live." Long stripped of its original Chicago locations, and more recently devoid of any of its satire, "Grease" was once Broadway's long-run champ, and produced an extremely successful film version. This version is based on both the play and the film. Interesting.


So, have our summer temperatures peaked? Hard to say. But everyone I know is desperate to get out of the house as much as they can this time of year. Head to any theater, won't you? And later, I'll see you under those 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...)