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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 18th, 2012



by Paul W. Thompson

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

As if the last two Sundays at Ravinia weren’t cool enough! Now, I’m not talking about the air temperature, of course, but rather of the appearances of Idina Menzel and Barbara Cook in the Pavilion, singing their hearts out to Chicago fans new and old. And the showtune madness continues at the venerable Highland Park outdoor venue this Saturday night, July 21, 2012, as the annual (the 50th annual) Women’s Board Gala concert and dinner takes place, this year featuring Broadway star Patti LuPone (she’s a “vocalist,” in Ravinia’s parlance), in tandem with opera star Patricia Racette (a “soprano”) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I believe Rob Fisher will conduct Patti’s songs, and James Conlon will do the honors for Patricia’s. You’ll remember that the Women’s Board Gala (a one-act early evening concert at 7:00) is followed by a formal dinner in tents on the lawn, and that two years ago, an evening honoring Stephen Sondheim got many a showtune folk upset with the brevity of the program, and the fact that folks were incorrectly forced from the lawn before the sun had even set, unless they made their way to the pricy tents. Hopefully these facts and circumstances are well known now, by patrons and by Ravinia staff. So, if you are willing to pay $100 or $70 for the Pavilion, or $10 for the lawn, this Saturday at 7:00 is for you. I’d advise you to double check all the details. But LuPone has performed there a lot, and has many fans in our area, of course….

Ravinia Festival - Official Site

And there’s at least one more Sunday afternoon of note at Ravinia, on Sunday, August 5 in the Pavilion, as Ann Hampton Callaway, the John Pizzarelli Quartet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Ted Sperling, conducting) will present “Over The Rainbow – A Tribute To Harold Arlen” at 5:00 pm. Callaway, a Chicago native and sister of Liz, performs here frequently, and I’m sure this evening will be great. Just look at the line-up! What’s not to love?

Ravinia Festival - Harold Arlen Tribute

Speaking of songwriters tributes in the northern suburbs, Northwestern University has created “With A Song In My Heart: The Romance Of Richard Rodgers,” which premiered last weekend and will play for two more, directed by Dominic Missimi. It’s in three parts: Rodgers with Hart, Rodgers with Hammerstein, and all the men’s work presented in a World War II canteen setting. It’s in the Ethel M. Barber Theater on the Evanston campus. And Northwestern is also presenting screenings of the film versions of “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific,” on July 19 and 28, respectively. (We note the passing this week of the original Broadway Ado Annie, Celeste Holm, RIP.)

Northwestern University TIC

Also in Evanston is the latest round of performances from Midwest New Musicals, John Sparks’ long-running writers’ workshop now under the auspices of Light Opera Works. On Sunday, July 22, the 2012 Mini-Musicals Project will take place at the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center Auditorium on Maple Street. It’s a medley of songs by the workshop writers ending their first year of participation, along with three short musicals currently in development. The writers are Patrice Peltier and Johanna Drew, Graziano Marcheschi, John David Nelson and Jessica A. Hunt, and Barbara Georgans and Bruce Warden. The performers are Maria Barwegen, John Gurdian, Ashlee Hardgrove, Brandon Moorhead and Melissa Rosenberg. And I’m pleased to note that the program will be repeated on Monday, July 23, at the McGuire Auditorium-Warde Academic Center of Saint Xavier University down on 103rd Street. That’s awesome.

Midwest New Musicals Presents NORTH SHORE RHYTHMS AND BLUES

Speaking of new musicals, one of our very own is now on display at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, no doubt the most important such festival these days. “Arnie The Doughnut,” called “a delicious family musical about a doughnut with a dream,” is being performed six times this month at the PTC Performance Space on W. 42nd Street in Manhattan, with one today and two on Saturday still remaining. With music and lyrics by George Howe and book by Frances Limoncelli, “Arnie” played for two months in the spring of 2011 at Lifeline Theatre in Rogers Park, receiving very strong reviews. Let’s hope the reaction is New York is just as strong!

Arnie the Doughnut :: New York Musical Theatre Festival

Speaking of shows for younger audiences, the shortened version of Alan Menken’s “Beauty And The Beast” has indeed proven to be one of the critical hits of this Chicago summer (as I predicted in these pages that it would be) in Rachel Rockwell’s staging for Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier (musical direction by Doug Peck). Emily Rohm and William Travis Taylor lead the cast of first-rate Chicago musical theater performers in the remarkably successful Disney property, with Mike Tutaj’s projections making their usual strong impression. It may only last 75 minutes, but what’s not to love? It plays most days at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, and has been extended all the way to August 26.

Beauty And The Beast - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

And speaking of Disney, the company certainly isn’t sitting on their film catalog anymore when it comes to exploring the possibilities of stage adaptation for adult audiences, and potentially Broadway. We already noted that one year from now (June 22-July 28, 2013), all eyes will be on the Goodman Theatre, where Northwestern University professor and Tony and Jeff Award winner Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation and staging of the 1967 Disney animated film “The Jungle Book” will have its world premiere. (And it appears that Doug Peck may be the musical director for this Disney property as well, as he was for his previous collaboration with Zimmerman, their revision of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.”) I believe that “The Jungle Book” was the last film that Walt Disney was personally involved in, though he died very early in its development, and it’s significant that the studio is allowing anyone, much less a team of Chicagoans, to take a crack at it. We’ve noticed a fascinating video on the Goodman website, wherein Zimmerman talks about a recent workshop she and Peck held where they experimented with blending Indian music with the songs for the film (mostly by the team of Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman). I spot Larry Yando and Michael Aaron Lindner in the video. And the approach reminds me of the stage version of “The Lion King.” So much anticipation is already building about this project!

The Jungle Book | Goodman Theatre

If ChiShakes and the Goodman represent Chicago’s traditional theater scene, then The Second City certainly epitomizes our sketch comedy scene. And yes, all of these “scenes” do indeed do musicals! The Second City e.t.c. on Wells Streethas just debuted its latest open run sketch show, titled “We’re All In This Room Together,” to mostly strong reviews. Jesse Case is the composer and musical director of the show, directed by Ryan Bernier, and the performers are Tawny Newsome, Mike Kosinski, Aidy Bryant, Chris Witaske, Michael Lehrer and Andel Sudik. And it’s true that some of them may very well end on “Saturday Night Live” someday. It certainly does happen.

The Second City e.t.c.: We're All in This Room Together.

A musical comedy that certainly has the same irreverent spirit as a sketch comedy show (if perhaps a higher camp quotient) is the increasingly popular off-Broadway show, “Reefer Madness,” now in production at Circle Theatre in Oak Park (July 14-August 26). Matt Gunnels directs a cast of fifteen, with musical direction by Jon Landvick, choreography by Brigitte Ditmars and costumes by the witty John Nasca.

Circle Theatre - Reefer Madness

And for a dose of a mid-century traditional musical wrapped in the haze of a lazy summer evening, you need look no further than north suburban Wilmette, where Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon” is appearing this month in the Wallace Bowl amphitheatre at Gillson Park, beachside near the Baha’I Temple. (Get it? It’s “appearing!”) It’s presented by Starlight Theatre, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings until July 28. And it’s free! Wendy Avon directs, with choreography by Kirsten Markham and musical direction by Francesca Sherrill. Do the kids in the chorus still call it “Bring A Spoon?” What’s not to love?

Starlight Theatre & Mallinckrodt Concerts | Wilmette Park District

And there you have it! The Mosh Pit rocks and resounds with the music and musicals you love for yet another week. I thank all my peeps for checking in and reading, and I hope you find inspiration, news, and scheduling advice in these pages! I know I do. And I’ll see you back here, same Mosh-time, same Mosh-channel. And until there, I’m sure I’ll see you under the proverbial video screens……

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