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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 25th, 2012

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 25th, 2012




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Finally, some word about what we’ll be doing next May! I’m talking about the Lyric Opera Of Chicago production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark musical, “Oklahoma!,” announced last year but with no details other than that it would be an “add-on” to the 2012-2013 opera season at Chicago’s historic Civic Opera House on Wacker Drive. It’s now been announced that Gary Griffin, the Chicago director who moved into the Broadway arena with “The Color Purple” a half-dozen years ago, will helm the production, which will run for 16 performances from May 4-19, 2013. That sounds to me like more of an Actors’ Equity performance schedule, rather than one typical of the American Guild Of Musical Artists, but what do I know? (Full disclosure: I am a member of both performers’ unions.) No casting was announced, but Broadway’s John Lee Beatty will make his Lyric debut as the set designer, with lights by Christine Binder and costumes by the very busy Mara Blumenfeld. And Agnes De Mille’s original choreography will be recreated for the production, but I don’t know who will take on that weighty task. At any rate, this sounds very promising, doesn’t it? Now if the casting is right, they just may have something! Please get it right, Lyric, please?


Chicago will see a fall production of Hammerstein protégé Stephen Sondheim’s presidential musical, “Assassins,” at the height of the election season, picking back up after the Olympics and the conventions. The show will preview October 10th and 11th, and run October 12-November 10, 2012, at the Viaduct Theatre on Western Avenue. Billy Pacholski produces and directs, with musical direction by Robert Ollis. And on Sunday, August 5, the cast of “Assassins,” joined by special guest Carey Anderson (from Broadway’s “Mamma Mia!”) will perform in a cabaret showcase at Davenport’s Piano Bar & Cabaret on Milwaukee Avenue. Cast members performing in the showcase include Sam Button-Harrison, Kevin Webb, Edward Fraim, Tom McGunn, Kris Hyland, Libby Lane, Kiley Moore, Michael Swisher, Ed Rutherford and Nick Druzbanski. Sounds cool!

Assassins Chicago 2012

Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” is in production right now to our north, in the 600-seat mainstage at the James Lumber Center For The Performing Arts at the College Of Lake County in Grayslake. Directed by Craig Rich, the show opened last weekend, and runs this Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well. David Lundholm and Kelley Combs star as the demon barber and his pie-making mistress, with brothers Mario and Dino Mazzetti as Pirelli and The Beadle.

SWEENEY TODD in Lake County

Also this weekend in Lake County is Liberty Town Productions’ fourth annual Musical Summer Showcase, on Saturday night, July 28, at 6:00 and 8:30 pm. This year’s theme is “Broadway A To Z,” and the evening takes place in The Fuel Room of Austin’s Saloon & Eatery in Libertyville. Colin Douglas and Dustin Helvie co-direct, with choreography by Sarah Garvey. Looks like a cast and crew of about twenty. What’s not to love?

On the road to Lake County, in north suburban Cook County, the Mosh Pit traveler will find the town of Glencoe and its Writers’ Theatre, which has given to us well-received productions of “A Little Night Music” (still running through August 12), “She Loves Me,” “Oh, Coward!” and “A Minister’s Wife” in recent seasons. The National Endowment For The Arts announced this month that Writers’ is the only Chicago area recipient of its Our Town national funding initiative, in the amount of $100,000. The award will be put toward the new building being built for the theater company, designed by the renowned Studio Gang Architects (responsible for the Aqua building in Chicago’s River East neighborhood). Spend it wisely, you guys! We want a great place to see your awesome shows….

It seems to be summer workshop/summer camp time for a lot of musical theater programs in our area. Highland Park’s The Music Theatre Company just presented the off-Broadway hit “Zanna, Don’t!” with its summer program participants, and yours truly was involved in the world premiere of “Off To Olympus” at the Dominican University Performing Arts Center earlier this month, produced after a four-week camp experience by The Actors Garden of Oak Park and written by two-time Richard Rodgers Award winner Dave Hudson and New York’s Mark Sutton-Smith. Light Opera Works has reached the end of its five-week program for younger kids with this week’s “Guys And Dolls,” after having presented “The Wizard Of Oz,” “The King And I,” “The Little Mermaid” and “The Mikado” in previous weeks. An advanced workshop for ages 12-15 takes place there August 1-11. And I know there are others out there!

As is hoped for and usually achieved by our top musical Theater Productions in summertime, extensions abound! In addition to the aforementioned “A Little Night Music” at Writers’ Theatre, “Crowns” at the Goodman Theatre was extended through August 12, “The Marvin Gaye Story” at Black Ensemble Theater is listed through August 19, “Time After Time: The Songs Of Jule Styne” is announced through August 26 (as is the astoundingly well-received TYA “Beauty And The Beast” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier), and, you guessed it, “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Apollo Theater is now on sale through January 6, 2013. Amazing! And I’m sure there are others I’ve overlooked. You can never tell if a show has closed unless you try to buy tickets, so, try to buy!

While our two favorite TV shows (“Glee” and “Smash,” natch) are off the air, many Mosh Pit peeps are finding fun with the new summertime ABC Family series “Bunheads,” starring the legendary Sutton Foster (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Anything Goes”) as a ballet teacher, and co-starring the original Sheila from “A Chorus Line,” Kelly Bishop. That’s three Tonys between the two actresses. And yes, there is yet another new episode this Monday at 8:00 Central, leaving you plenty of time to get to Sidetrack, yo!


Speaking of legendary Tony Award winners, there is certainly a mystique surrounding Jennifer Holliday, who won the lead actress Tony in 1982 for “Dreamgirls,” aged 21 years old and only her second appearance on the Main Stem. Her Grammy Award for the show’s hit song, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is, I believe, the last track from a cast album to win a Grammy in a non-showtune category. I lost count of the number of friends of mine who made the trek to St. Louis last week to hear and see Miss Holliday in “Dreamgirls” at The Muny, the enormous outdoor summer venue in Forest Park, Missouri. Like, everyone went! And met her backstage, afterwards. (The production also starred Ken Page, Milton Craig Nealy and Christopher Jackson.) Reportedly she was perhaps a little slow on the choreography, but authoritative on it nonetheless, and of course she is in magnificent voice these days (you saw her on “American Idol” this year, right?). An online chat about longevity in roles reveals that only Yul Brynner and Carol Channing have ever returned to Broadway in Tony-winning roles after a gap of thirty years. I’m not saying she would be a first choice for a New York revival, but I can guarantee you that people would GO. Brava to her, and to The Muny!

The Muny's Dreamgirls

So, thanks a lot for reading, as always, and I hope you are having a great summer, doing what you do. Before too long, we’ll be back in Super September, the time of year when many of Chicago’s theater companies open significant and eagerly awaited productions. But there’s plenty to do in the meantime! So, perhaps I’ll see you in a theater, a cabaret venue, a movie theater or online, and of course, I'll see you under the video screens.....—PWT

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