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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 30th, 2014

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for July 30th, 2014


by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

There has been a lot of news in the last few weeks coming from the Chicago area's biggest presenters of showtune fare. Let's take a quick tour, shall we?

No sooner had "The Last Ship" departed our shores for the Great White one on the east coast, when Broadway In Chicago announced the full cast for the next big pre-Broadway tryout coming our way, "Amazing Grace." Though a Broadway theater and dates have not yet been announced, this show, directed by Gabriel Barre and choreographed by Christopher Gatelli (who won a Tony Award for "Newsies") sure seems like the real deal. The previously announced Josh Young ("Jesus Christ Superstar") will star as John Newton, the real-life 18th-century Englishman who, torn between the slave trade and a life of faith, wrote the text to the world's most ubiquitous hymn, "Amazing Grace." When the show plays at our Bank Of America Theatre from October 9 through November 2, the full cast will also star Erin Mackey, Tom Hewitt ("The Rocky Horror Show"), Chuck Cooper (a Tony winner for "The Life"), Chris Hoch, Stanley Bahorek, Harriet D. Foy and Laiona Michelle, with a large supporting ensemble. Unusual subject matter. Untested writers (Christopher Smith and Arthur Giron). Will it fly? Be there.


It also seems that a national tour of the Canadian and off-Broadway hit "Evil Dead," based on the films, will be coming to our Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in September, with a run here just announced from September 23-October 12. Is it possible that this show has never had a Chicago production? I can't recall one. But we're getting one now. Get ready for the splatter zone!


Up at the Marriott Theater in Linconshire, folks are no doubt saddened by the death last week of long-time artistic director Dyanne Earley, who shephered the theater to national prominence in the 1980s and 90s. But her legacy continues, through the continued success of the theater as well as through the career of her son, Kevin Earley, currently starring as Tommy in the Goodman Theatre production of "Brigadoon." And shows march on at the Marriott: the first local production in eons of one of the most important musical comedies of the 1940s, "On the Town," will play August 13-October 12, directed by David H. Bell and choreographed by Alex Sanchez. Not to be confused with the splashy Broadway revival of the show (which begins previews at the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street on September 20), the Marriott production of this Leonard Bernstein-Jerome Robbins tuner will star Max Clayton, Seth Danner and Jeff Smith as three lovable sailors on 24-hour shore leave, and Marya Grandy, Alison Jantzie and Johanna McKenzie Miller as the girls they meet. And there's a strong supporting cast, including such names as Alex Goodrich, Barbara Robertson, Giovanni Bonaventura and Melissa Zaremba. "New York, New York," anyone?


Folks are jazzed by the news that there will soon by our first local production of the Tony-winning Elton John musical "Billy Elliot," after its somewhat shortened national tour played the Ford Oriental Theatre for eight months in 2010. The Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace will take it on in 2015, from April 9-June 7, directed by Rachel Rockwell and musical directed by Roberta Duchak. If that's too long to wait, well, the theater has to mount productions of "Camelot" (October 30-January 4) and "West Side Story" (January 15-March 15) first.


Over in Aurora, the Paramount Theatre will host international music stars and sometime Broadway performers Donny and Marie Osmond. The siblings will present seven shows between August 27-31 at the fabled downtown art nouveau gem. Wonder if he'll reprise anything from "Little Johnny Jones" or "Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?" Will she sing "Getting To Know You?" Or is this just a stop on the highway leading to the theater's full productions of "Cats," "Mary Poppins," "Tommy" and "Les Miserables?"


At Munster, Indiana's Theatre At The Center, the premieres continue. After the world premiere of "The Beverly Hillbillies" ends its run on August 10, the theater will get ready to present the Chicago premiere of the 2010 Broadway musical "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown." Indeed, it will be the first post-Broadway professional production of the show anywhere. It also sounds like writers David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane are taking this opportunity to do some revisions for TATC, prior to the show's London premiere in January. And director William Pullinsi has gotten himself a powerhouse Chicago cast, to star Jeff and BroadwayWorld Award winner Cory Goodrich in the role originated by Patti LuPone. Also on hand will be Larry Adams, Hollis Resnik, Nathan Gardner, Summer Naomi Smart and Bernie Yvon (Jeff winners or nominees all), along with Dina Costanzo, 2014 Jeff winner Colette Todd, Hillary Marren, 2014 Jeff winner David Schlumpf, Jake Mahler, Scott Stratton, Regina Webster, Missy Aguilar, Eric Lewis, Chris Carter, Sheri Mocheit and Ryan Naimy. Danny Herman choreographs. Sounds like a road trip!


The Tony-winning Victory Gardens Theater has two unusual offerings of interest these days. A group of talented folks has put together "Woz: A Rock Cabaret," which has its second and final weekend August 1-2. Conceived by Kimberly Lawson and William Rogers, directed by Scott Gryder and with music direction by Nick Sula, it's Oz and power ballads. Come see Heather Currie, Clara D'Onofrio, Edward Fraim, Scott Gryder, Kimberly Lawson, David Lipschutz, James Nedrud, Kevin Webb and Sarah Wurz sing, and hear Nick Sula, Nick Davio and Eric Engleson tear it up at the band. Also at VG is the resurrection of the "Musical Mondays" cabaret series, which started this past Monday, courtesy of Chicago Cabaret Professionals. It was formerly located at the Broadway Playhouse, a few years back. The next one is September 22, so mark your calendars now.

BoHo Theatre, the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, announced its 2015 season last week, and it includes the Chicago premiere of two New York musicals. The shortlived off-Broadway musical "Ordinary Days" by Adam Gwon will play the Heartland Studio February 13-March 15, and the off-Broadway musical "Dogfight," with a score by Tony nominees Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (book by Peter Duchan) will play at Theatre Wit in October and November of 2015. Lovely.


To start off 2015, Pride Films And Plays will present the world premiere musical comedy "The Book Of Merman," by Jeff Award winner and Chicagoan Leo Schwartz (January 15-February 15 at Mary's Attic). What happens when Mormons ring Ethel Merman's doorbell? You know you want to find out! Libby Lane will star as the star. David Zak and Robert Ollis direct and music direct.


And Jane Austen just won't die, will she? I mean, her work lives on--that's what I meant! Cast and crew from Chamber Opera Chicago are in their third and final week of yet another tour of England, performing their 2011 original musical "Persuasion," based on the Austen novel and featuring period music. Five theaters have warmly received the production this year. And Chicago Shakespeare Theater's commissioned original musical "Sense and Sensibility," by Paul Gordon (Tony-nominated for "Jane Eyre"), had some work going on last weekend, I believe. (It's scheduled for full production April 15-June 7, 2015). Come to think of it, we do like our readings, don't we? Did I see you at the staged reading about the Everleigh Club at Stage 773 just last night? So much new work!

So that's what's going on hereabouts. And there will be more next time, no doubt about that! I'll see you out in the lovely summer weather, and under the video screens.....-PWT

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