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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for June 10th, 2015



by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

It was awards show heaven around here earlier this week! On Sunday night, theater fans from around the city gathered at The Call nightclub in Andersonville for the third annual BroadwayWorld Chicago Tony Awards Viewing Party. During the CBS broadcast of New York's biggest theater night, we gave away twenty-two pairs of theater tickets to Chicago productions as prizes for our "Chicago At The Tonys" trivia. (Well, one prize was actually four tickets.) The Call hostess Ashley Morgan entertained us with "One Hundred Easy Ways To Lose A Man" from "Wonderful Town" (Donna Murphy edition) and "The Ladies Who Lunch" from "Company" (Patti LuPone edition). And a great time was had by all. I hope you were there! And if not, I hope you watched the show wherever you were, and that you see some Chicago theater anyway. Cuz we're BroadwayWorld Chicago.


And on Monday night at the Park West, the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee gave out the Jeff Awards from its non-Equity wing, and a fabulous time was had by all! The place was packed as usual, with excitement from first to last generated by the Bailiwick Chicago production of Michael John LaChiusa's "The Wild Party." The company of the 2014 production led off the night with a performance of "Gin/Wild" that set off some sort of pandemonium in the audience. And by the end of the night, the production had garnered up eight Jeffs, more than I can remember going to a single production in recent years. Those categories were Production - Musical, Ensemble, Actor and Actress In A Principal Role (Matthew Keffer and Danni Smith as Burrs and Queenie), Director - Musical Or Revue and Choreography (both to Brenda Didier, who also directed the Jeff Awards themselves), Music Direction (Aaron Benham) and Lighting Design (Brian Hoehne). That's quite a sweep! Interestingly, not only did Didier win two Jeffs, but so did Danni Smith and Aaron Benham. Their second awards were for work at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, and were for Actress In A Supporting Role (for "Always...Patsy Cline") and for Artistic Specialization (arrangements for "A Musical Tribute To The Andrews Sisters").

Theo Ubique won two other awards, for "Always...Patsy Cline" as Production - Revue and for Donterrio Johnson's turn as Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar" (Actor In A Supporting Role). That production's Jesus, Max DeTogne, brought Monday night's house to its feet with his performance of "Gethsemane," the last of the evening's musical performances. We also heard from Jill Sesso and Christopher Logan ("Speak Low") from "A Kurt Weill Cabaret" (Theo Ubique), Garrett Lutz, Scott Danielson and George Toles ("Big Ass Rock") from "The Full Monty" (Kokandy Productions) and the company of Kokandy's "Assassins," singing "Another National Anthem." All powerful stuff. And with actors Karl Hamilton and Sarah Hayes providing lively and energetic hosting, and with Griffin Theatre Company's "Men Should Weep" leading the play categories with three wins, it was a great night. Oh, and Nicholas Tonozzi and Sam Allyn took home the prize for Original Music In A Play for Oracle Production's "The Jungle." Powerful stuff. Congratulations to everybody!


The hotly anticipated pre-Broadway production of "On Your Feet" is now in previews at our Oriental Theatre. And all the word of mouth I have heard has been very positive. Audiences are happy, and reportedly a slew of celebrities have been catching the show as well. With Jerry Mitchell ("Kinky Boots") at the helm and Sergio Trujillo ("Jersey Boys") telling everybody's feet what to do once they are on them, the show certainly looks good on paper. And for folks of a certain generation (ok, mine), we know this Emilio and Gloria Estefan song catalog like the backs of our conga-dancing hands. Are the new songs by the Estefans and the book by Alexander Dinelaris (the movie "Birdman") in the same league? We will have a much better idea very soon. (Through July 5).

This summer's other pre-Broadway tryout is a little further west, at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. It is "Beaches," and the woman-power musical begins performances on June 24, running through August 16. The Chicago Tribune has provided us with a video of stars Shoshana Bean and Whitney Bashor singing the song "Extraordinary," with music by David Austin and lyrics by bookwriter and original novelist Iris Rainer Dart. Check it out!


Speaking of "Beaches," you are aware, aren't you, that the original film's star, Bette Midler, will be in town next week? The Divine Miss M is 69 years old, too, which is crazy! But she's been a show business legend for the last 40 years, in recordings, films, nightclubs, television and theater, so there's that. The winner of a special Tony Award and the star of TV's "Gypsy," she played Tzeitel late in the original run of "Fiddler On The Roof." But alas, we may never have her as the star of her own Broadway musical. You can see her at the United Center on June 18th, though!

Speaking of musical films, I think Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" has songs, right? That's the rumor, anyway. The movie has been filming here and about, using a club in Wicker Park last week. And if Jennifer Hudson is in it, surely there are songs! Right? Especially if it's based on "Lysistrata." What say you, Mosh Pit peeps?

For all its innovation, Claude-Michel Schonberg's "Les Miserables" is a pretty safe bet, and in our southern suburbs, the Oak Lawn Park District is halfway through presenting a two-weekend run of the 1987 Tony Award winner. Stephen Cannon stars as Jean Valjean, with Nic Fantl as Javert and Gina Vitucci as Fantine. Catch it this Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

On our far southeast side, that is to say, Indiana, Theater At The Center has announced the cast of its upcoming production of "All Shook Up," running July 16-August 16 in Munster. Based on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and inspired by the persona and song catalog of one Elvis Presley, the show will star David Sajewich (from that tour of "Evil Dead") as Chad, Callie Johnson (also from that tour of "Evil Dead") as Natalie and Iris Lieberman as the Mayor, along with Matthias Austin, Justin Brill, Sharriese Hamilton, Allison Sill, Bethany Thomas, Patrick Tierney and Steve Silver, along with an ensemble of ten. William Pullinsi directs, with choreography by Danny Herman and musical direction by Bill Underwood. Rock on.


Adults with the wonder of a child's imagination might very well be checking out the highly regarded production of "The Secret Garden" at the Court Theatre, playing only through June 21. But a new adaptation of a classic children's tale on the north side has gotten glowing notices as well, even for its less-than-traditional musical structure. It's "The Pied Piper" at Strawdog Theatre Company, adapted by the Forks & Hope ensemble and directed by Josh Sobel. It's a forty-minute work that sure looks good in pictures. Through June 30th in Hugen Hall on North Broadway.


Next week in the Mosh Pit, I'll bring you my annual survey of summer theaters in Illinois and surrounding states, in places where Chicagoans tend to frolic and Chicago actors tend to find work. Until then, perhaps I'll 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...)