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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 23rd, 2014

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 23rd, 2014


by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

I've not heard it as much this year as in years past, but there is a perception lingering about that "there's not many musicals in Chicago in the summertime." Well, loyal Mosh Pit peep, I am here to set that rumor to rest! For there are plenty, and, thanks to the vaunted "Chicago extension" and the mighty tourist dollar, there are more than there once must have been. So let's get to it, our Chicago Summer Musical Theater Guide! (I was going to do this last month, but I had so much material for each weekly column, it got pushed back! Or ahead. I'm never sure which that is...)

Though so many shows have already concluded their runs (or are doing so this weekend), here are the shows that will entertain us during the dog days to come....

Direct from Broadway, and better than its Big Apple original (some say) is the national tour of "Motown," which began performances here at the Ford Oriental Theatre in April and is playing through August 9. Where does it go next? San Francisco, Cleveland and Motown. Only four cities will see this show before its Detroit namesake does, and you can say you were there then, er, here when. And as Berry Gordy and Diana Ross, Clifton Oliver and Allison Semmes are smokin'.

I guess it's too soon to say, "prior to Broadway," but the revisal of Lerner and Loewe's tuneful and important "Brigadoon" at the Goodman Theatre added two additional weeks to its announced schedule, running now through August 17. A triumph for director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell and her local forces, New York critics and chatters are noticing the changes and debating the merits. Why did Jeff shoot Harry? Should Tommy go back to Jane? And what about the detailing on the kilts? I'm just sayin', people are talking.

It may be a TYA production, but anytime Chicago Shakespeare Theater puts a musical into its Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier, it's news. And when the musical is "Seussical," Ahrens and Flaherty's show that maybe should have been TYA all along, it's probably worth all the hype this production has been getting. Through August 17, it may be the best show in town right now.

There are two original, scripted musical revues in open run at The Second City right now. "Depraved New World" is on the main stage of the world famous venue, with "Apes Of Wrath" on the e.t.c. stage. Of course, there are all kinds of performances going on all the time in the multi-space venue, including student performances, improv troupes and writers nights and who knows what. Big doin's at North and Wells. Say you were there then....

Moving northward in the city, there are two country/rockabilly jukebox bio shows for you, or there will be shortly. "Million Dollar Quartet" shows no sign of letting up after almost six remarkable years at the Apollo Theater on Lincoln Avenue, having spawned the now-shuttered Broadway/Off-Broadway production. And a remount of the successful 2013 American Blues Theater production of "Hank Williams: Lost Highway" will run July 25-August 31 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, also on Lincoln. Crazy!

As an anchor of the Belmont Avenue Theater District, the Briar Street Theatre has been the home of Chicago's production of "Blue Man Group" for so long, no one remembers when it started. (It was October of 1997). That's almost 17 years, folks! I say this every darn time, too--I have no idea whether or not it's a musical. But here it is.

Go west from there on Belmont to Stage 773, and one will find "Ball At The Savoy" there through August 3. Jazz meets operetta, Weimar Berlin style. No, this isn't a musical, but the Germans might have thought it was in 1932. Chicago Folks Operetta brings it home to Chicago for the first time.

If you go next month to the same venue, you will find a second Chicago premiere in "Clemente: The Legend of 21," running August 21-September 14. This musical, about baseball great and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, is by New Yorker Luis Cabellero, and is being presented under the auspices of Chicago's NightBlue Performing Arts Company.

Northward on Southport, one finds the Mercury Theater Chicago, where "Avenue Q" has proven so popular, it pushed the next scheduled production ("The Addams Family") literally into next year. "Q" will play through October 26, which will surely be the limit so the theater can still ready its annual production of "The Christmas Schooner." Not bad for a show originally opening in April. Incredible, actually. Whoever programmed this (and directed it, [M. Walter Stearns]) must have known what they were doing.

In Uptown, Black Ensemble Theater has just opened a world premiere original production, "The Marvelous Marvelettes," in performance from July 18 through September 7. The story of Motown Records' first all-girl supergroup, you'll hear "Please Mr. Postman" without Karen Carpenter being anywhere around. From the critical reaction coming in for this show this week, the company has another big hit on its hands. Wonder if Berry Gordy will catch it. I hear he's been in town.

City Lit Theater in Edgewater will be the location for the Chicago premiere of the Off-Broadway musical "Coraline," by Black Button Eyes Productions and director Ed Rutherford. Running August 8-September 6, Sheridan Singleton stars in this "dark yet inspiring story," based on the novel by Neil Gaiman. Check out the website.

Another beneficiary of the "Chicago extension" is "A Musical Tribute To The Andrews Sisters" from Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, performing in the No Exit Café in Rogers Park. Running from May 29, and now through August 31 (that's how some folks define SUMMER, you guys), this original revue is tributing the World War II singing sisters. (Did I just invent the word "tributing?") David Heimann has directed and choreographed.

Two more venues in Rogers Park, unusual for musical theater, are being utilized for the genre this summer. For this week only, Theo Ubique's hit from last summer, "A Cole Porter Songbook," has been remounted for the Theater On The Lake series sponsored by the Chicago Park District. The actual lakeside theater is undergoing renovations right now, so "Porter" is being performed at the Berger Park Field House, from July 23-27 only. And also in Rogers Park is the Mayne Stage, home of the "Reefer Madness" production I mentioned last week (weekends in August).

Running ten years longer than "Blue Man Group" is "Tommy Gun's Garage," the interactive speakeasy dinner theater and musical revue that has been dishing up Chicago-style roarin' twenties content since 1987! 21st and Wabash, at the end of "Blues Row." Be there or get knocked off. And they do Cole Porter music, too!

Over in Munster, Indiana, until August 10th is "The Beverly Hillbillies," the world premiere musical based on the long-running television comedy of the 1960s. David Perkovich directs some of Chicago's biggest musical comedy names in Gregg Opelka's music and lyrics, with a book by TV writer David Rogers and his daughter, Amanda Rogers.

The western suburb of Cicero is the home of the regional premiere of "Big Fish," the Andrew Lippa musical that played downtown Chicago in its pre-Broadway tryout last year. Now, the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center has a local production beginning July 25 and playing through August 9. Catch it! (See what I did there...?)

Further west, in Oakbrook Terrace, the Drury Lane Theatre's production of William Finn's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" was very well received, and runs through August 17. Can you spell, "phylactery?" You can now!

If you're heading even further west, you could catch the Theatre-Hikes production of the revised version of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown," at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle for August weekends. (It's at North Park Village in Chicago this weekend.)

Up north, Light Opera Works will be presenting "Fiddler On The Roof" at Cahn Auditorium from August 9-24, in honor of the beloved show's 50th anniversary year. Wonder if lyricist Sheldon Harnick will attend? Doesn't he live here now? Tradition!

And it's a twofer for you at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire! Stephen Schwartz's well-beloved "Godspell" has been running there all summer, and will do so through August 10. According to the theater's website, three days later, "On The Town" will begin previews (running through October 12)! This will be the first Chicago production of this legendary Leonard Bernstein-Jerome Robbins collaboration in who knows how long, and will come just before a once-in-a-blue-moon Broadway revival opens. That's good planning, folks! I bet this become a very, very hot ticket.

Is that enough for you? No, it's not Super September (yet). And many of you have seen some of these productions already. But I bet there's nobody who's seen 'em all! And the weather has been downright beautiful. So get out there and see some shows, folks! Isn't everything on television a rerun anyway? I'll see you in those lobbies, then, and later, I'll see you under the video screens.....-PWT

P.S.: R.I.P. Elaine Stritch. Everybody rise!

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