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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 22nd, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

Opening last week to some of the strongest reviews of any show this summer was "Men Of Soul," the latest revue based on the African-American musical experience to debut at the Black Ensemble Theater on North Clark Street. Running through August 31, it's a tribute to Bill Withers, Peabo Bryson, Lionel Richie, Joe Cocker, Billy Ocean, Billy Joel, Luther Vandross and more, written and directed by Daryl D. Brooks. The cast of eleven (pictured) includes such local talents as Kevin Pollack, Rashawn Thompson and Rueben D. Echoles, who apparently insist on doing things like bringing the house down and blowing the roof off the joint. Stuff like that. Need a fun evening? Look no further, peeps.

A slightly more indirect homage to American music is "All Shook Up," based on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and featuring the music of Elvis Presley and an Elvis-type character to sing them. You may remember that this show tried out here in Chicago before heading to Broadway a decade ago, when it starred the unknown Cheyenne Jackson, fronting an ensemble cast including names like Jenn Gambatese, Anika Larson and Nikki M. James. David Sajewich plays "Chad" in the show's summer incarnation at Munster, Indiana's Theatre At The Center, running through August 16. Also starring are Callie Johnson, Iris Lieberman, Matthias Austin, Justin Brill, Sharriese Hamilton, Allison Sill, Bethany Thomas, Patrick Tierney and Steve Silver, fronting a full ensemble. Check out the pictures!


The latest musical that tried out in Chicago and later opened on Broadway is "Amazing Grace," which held its opening night at Times Square's Nederlander Theatre last Thursday, July 16, to mixed-to-negative reviews. While we in Chicago last October were willing to see past the show's faults to its potential, apparently not enough has changed since then to convince New York audiences of the show's redeeming qualities. And yet, for now, the show is making a go it, albeit with very low box office figures. Ah, well. The cast is getting good notices, but "Amazing Grace" itself has turned off some hard-core observers and has not yet attracted an audience. Broadway is hard.


And yet, a Broadway musical with Elvis Presley as one of the characters, which played here before sending the bulk of its Chicago cast to the Main Stem, is still playing here and just announced its latest extension. "Million Dollar Quartet" will reach its seventh anniversary in Chicago in September, and has announced that it will play at least through January of 2016 at its home at the Apollo Theater on Lincoln Avenue. Its New York production long shuttered, but still going strong on tour and with its Chicago home base showing no end in sight, the phenomenon currently stars Brandon Bennett as Elvis, with Shaun Whitley as Carl Perkins, Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Lee as Johnny Cash, Andy Ahrens as Sam Phillips, Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, Marc Edelstein as Jay Perkins and Dan Leali as Fluke.


Speaking of show business legends, an homage to another one began performances last Friday, July 17th, 2015, and will continue through August 21 at Mary's Attic in Edgewater's Andersonville neighborhood. I'm speaking of "Bette, Live At The Continental Baths," Hell In A Handbag Production's recreation of Bette Midler's legendary performances at New York's Continental Baths in the early 1970s, complete with the unknown Barry Manilow as her music director/pianist. Caitlin Jackson stars as the Divine Miss M, with TJ Crawford and Will Wilhelm as dancing boys and musical director Jeremy Ramey as Manilow. The show is directed by Christopher Pazdernik, of course.


The Chicago storefront premiere of "[title of show]" also began performances last Friday, July 17th, courtesy of the Brown Paper Box Co. The four-hander, meta-musical, wish-fulfillment, fantasy-becomes-reality show from the decade just past will play through August 17 at the Rivendell Theatre on Ridge Avenue in Edgewater, directed by M. William Panek and musical directed by T.J. Anderson. Neala Barron, Matt Frye, Yando Lopez and Anna Schutz are the foursome in question, with Justin Harner as Larry, the Accompanist.


And a cousin to the showtune genre began performances July 17th as well, the Chicago premiere of the operetta "Madame Pompadour," by Leo Fall, in an English-language production by Chicago Folks Operetta at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble Street. Running through August 2nd only, this forgotten gem of the 1920s is directed by Amy Hutchison and conducted by Anthony Barrese. There's a cast of 21 and an orchestra of 21.

On July 18 and 19, Theatre-Hikes began its summer musical presentation, "Clue: The Musical," based on the board game, at the North Park Village Nature Center. On July 25 and 25, performances will take place in the Pullman State Historic Site on the far South Side. As it turns out, those are just warm-up performances for a run every weekend in August at the Morton Arboretum in southwest suburban Lisle. Matthew Powell directs, with music direction by David Kornfeld. And yes, bring your shoes.

Looking ahead to this weekend, the acclaimed 2012 Chicago original musical "Eastland" will be resurrected, sort of, as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the event it recreated, in which 844 people were drowned a few scant yards from dry land. That event, the listing and rolling onto its side of the SS Eastland on July 24, 1915, near the south bank of the Chicago River, between Clark and LaSalle Streets, is the subject of several events this weekend. And on Saturday, July 25, during an 8:30 pm candlelight memorial, three songs from Lookingglass Theatre Company's world-premiere production will be performed. That's pretty cool, actually, and pretty rare. Make us proud, you guys.

Lastly, there's a new original musical readying for performances, this one at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Even as the current production of "City Of Angels" is playing to glowing notices in the famous square venue (through August 2nd), the theater is preparing the new musical "October Sky" for performances beginning August 19th, and running through October 11th. With music and lyrics by Michael Mahler and book by Aaron Thielen, "October Sky" is based on the 1999 Universal film of the same name and on its source material, the novel "Rocket Boys." It's about the 1950s space race. After last week's Pluto fly-by, perhaps this show is timely! Rachel Rockwell with direct, with music direction by Ryan T. Nelson. And there's a large cast. Nate Lewellyn stars, with David Hess, Susan Moniz, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Alex Weisman, Ben Barker and Patrick Rooney, with an ensemble of 17 more. This one could have legs, people. It's not a pre-Broadway tryout...yet.


So that's a lot of activity! Who says that summers around here are boring? Far from it! Go get your beach time done, and then head out to your local theater. You know you want to! And then, I'll see you where I 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...)

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