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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 2nd, 2014

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 2nd, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

As promised last week, it's a very special episode of the Mosh Pit this week, peeps! It's our semi-annual round-up of what we've been talking about, the "Top Ten Hot Topix" for the first half of 2014. We've covered 161 different subjects in the last six months. What's been on your mind since the first days of that bitterly cold January? What's the buzz? I'll tell you what's a-happening!

10. "Brigadoon." It doesn't even open until July the 6th, but the revised production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's first big hit, now in previews at the Goodman Theatre, has been on our minds for a year now. Rachel Rockwell's directorial track record, Liza Lerner's permission and the Goodman's extensive resources have combined to tantalize our fantasies about the kilt and bagpipe romance that most of us have encountered, and all of us secretly wish we loved more. We may very well get that chance. Stay tuned through August 10th, laddies and lassies!

9. "Passion." The big musical winner at last month's non-Equity Jeff Award ceremony was Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre's intimate staging of Stephen Sondheim's 1994 Tony Award-winner of love and obsession. Jeff winners Danni Smith and Colette Todd vied for Peter Oyloe's attention in Fred Anzevino's vibrant staging, all in the environmental confines of the No Exit Café. March and April were big months for Sondheim around here, and surely it was obvious why. "And should you die tomorrow,...your love will live in me...."

8. "Into The Woods." February and March were just as big for Sondheim, due to The Hypocrites' staging of 1987's "Into The Woods" at the Mercury Theater Chicago. Rarely has a production of such a well-loved title brought about such a difference of opinion among critics and playgoers alike. Geoff Button and Katie Spelman's staging, a preschool environment of whimsy and play, and some young actors with nothing but cheerful abandon (in the early going, anyway) combined to produce delight in some, and befuddlement in others. But you know what? The show can take it. And so can Chicago's theater audiences.

7. "The Last Ship." The current pre-Broadway tryout of this musical with a score by rock legend Sting, in town at the Bank Of America Theatre for just four weeks (through July 13), has been on our radar since last year. And its reception has been quite positive, with the caveat that nearly every observer feels that some work needs to be done. But they say there's a great and moving show in there, with a score that deserves to be heard on the legitimate stage and a story that works, or works mostly. With no big names among the cast, and no novel or movie to rely upon for advance publicity, the show has generated high visibility anyway, and will no doubt continue that track record. Will it live up to the promise that so many see in it? We will all know by fall.

6. World Premiere Musicals By Chicago Writers. From the Northwestern University Waa-Mu Show and its "Double Feature At Hollywood And Vine," to Black Ensemble Theater's "One Hit Wonders," to The Second City's "Depraved New World," to the upcoming "The Beverly Hillbillies" at Theatre At The Center, there have been a tremendous number of new musicals by Chicago writers and theater companies making their premieres lately. One of the highest profile, and one of the best received, was "Days Like Today," by Laura Eason and Alan Schmuckler, which premiered at Writers Theatre in Glencoe on May 6 and has been extended through July 27. Directed by Michael Halberstam, the production presented a stronger case for Schmuckler's songs than for Eason's script, but both of these in-demand writers (nationwide, it would seem) will continue to flourish for many years to come, if this delicate contemporary chamber opera is any indication.

5. "Cabaret." How many productions of this legendary Broadway musical have been seen in New York lately? In the last ten or fifteen years, I mean. One? Yes, I think so--the current revival of the 1998 revival of the 1966 Kander and Ebb marvel, starring Alan Cumming in a career-defining performance. And that's awesome. Really! We, however, have had three different professional productions of the show in the last six months alone! The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, the Citadel Theatre in Wilmette and the BrightSide Theatre in Naperville have all mounted the tuner, and all reportedly quite well. This isn't really unusual, though. Light Opera Works staged it last year, The Hypocrites won awards with it downtown in 2010, the Drury Lane and Theo Ubique both took well-regarded cracks at it toward the end of the last decade- -you get the idea. Chicago gets to reinvestigate, and recast, this classic musical and many others, while most other big cities just don't. Sorry, Charlie, but we put the "rev" in "revitalize."

4. "Avenue Q." Now going like gangbusters at the Mercury Theater Chicago is the company's production of the Tony Award-winning adult musical with puppets and people, set to run for an amazing six months after its unanimously heralded debut at the end of April. Until October 26, when preparations for "The Christmas Schooner" will no doubt run it aground, Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty's witty co-opting of the "Sesame Street" performance style (along with some storefront subject matter) will continue to draw adoring crowds. It's the show's long-awaited local Equity company debut, and the wait actually seems to have been worth it. Bravo, L. Walter Stearns and company!

3. "Gypsy" and "Road Show." Director Gary Griffin continued to work his Sondheim magic for Chicago Shakespeare Theater this winter, with two productions virtually simultaneously celebrating the near-beginning and the (perhaps) near-end of the Master's Broadway writing career. Telling the story of America's most famous burlesque queen and the mother that drove her, "Gypsy" (with music by Jule Styne) ran on the mainstage Courtyard Theater from February 6-March 23. The well-known title certainly drew fans. But in the Upstairs, the still-struggling property now known as "Road Show" ran from March 13-May 4 and drew a smaller but more rabid following, and much more national attention, too. If "Gypsy" showed a different shade of Rose, then "Road Show" showed its show in the best possible light. We might not see its like again, but then again, other cities might take a chance on it now. We were thrilled.

2. "The Sound Of Music." The second installment in the Lyric Opera Of Chicago's five-year traversal of the five most popular musicals by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II was an unbeatable Hot Topic in April and May, when "The Sound Of Music," starring Billy Zane and Jenn Gambatese, erased all memory of Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer out of our collective minds. With impeccable singing from the children and the nuns, a remarkable physical production and a true sense of "event," this production became a Chicagoland must-see. Just this week, Lyric announced that TSOM was the best-attended production in the company's 60-year history! And we can't wait until the company mounts a new production of "Carousel" next spring. Full orchestra? Original dances? The "Soliloquy? Yes, please.

1. Showtune Movies. Movie mania has struck the Mosh Pit! Or maybe showtune mania has struck the movies. Hopefully, it's both! From the Oscar-winning Best Animated Film, "Frozen," and it's Oscar-winning Best Song, "Let It Go," to the brouhaha that erupted earlier this month when Stephen Sondheim all but stated that the song "Any Moment" (containing everybody's favorite line, "I'm in the wrong story!") was cut from the upcoming big screen adaptation of "Into The Woods" (his lawyer clarified later that that's not the case), well, we have all been in a tizzy with original films and film adaptations with showtunes at their core. If Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys" wasn't all it could have been, and Lea Michele's "Legends Of Oz" was DOA, we've had the Jay-Z updating of "Annie" to talk about, and versions of "The Last Five Years" and "Lucky Stiff" to continue to hope for. There are more in the pipeline, too. Remember when the movie musical was dead, and then "Chicago" raked in all those awards? Yeah, we do too. But it's very, very hard to remember. Thank heaven for that! Thank "High School Musical," and "Glee," and "Wicked" and, well, thank each other! Showtunes on film are quite good things to have around, don't you agree?

So that's the countdown for now! Casey Kasem is no longer with us, but I'll be counting down the Top Ten Hot Topix every six months, for as long as you'll have me. I hope your Pride Weekend was enjoyable, and that your summer fun continues apace this month. Keep reaching for the stars, ok? And speaking of showtune movies, I'll see you under the video screens.....-PWT

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