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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for June 13th, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

The 2012 Tony Awards are history, and our video bars are already playing clips from the CBS-TV broadcast! And our Mosh Pit community has a lot of differences of opinion about what we witnessed. Few of us have seen “Once” even once (sorry), and I don’t know anyone who has seen “Once” twice. But those who know the film upon which the eight-time Tony-winning musical was based seem very pleased at the show’s success, and are curious to see it (I have my ticket for July). The “Newsies” crowd seems content with the show’s nods for score and choreography, given that many fans go to musicals for exactly those components. And we were disappointed, but not surprised, that Chicagoan (former Chicagoan?) Jessie Mueller didn’t bring home the featured actress in a musical trophy for “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever,” and that former Chicagoan Spencer Kayden (Little Sally from “Urinetown”) didn’t win as featured actress in a play for “Don’t Dress For Dinner,” reprising her role from the 2008 Royal George Theatre production. At least Bruce Norris won Best Play for the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park,” set in Chicago and seen last fall at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. And there the agreements, and our hometown pride, end.

Neil Patrick Harris fans wanted more and thought he was great, but some have tired of him after three years as host now. Can a show be good as theater highlights, but bad as television? Should Patti LuPone have appeared (and sung) twice? Are we happy for Audra (the one and only), or shocked by her acceptance speech (search for it if you don’t know what I mean)? Did we like “Superstar” or “Godspell” more? Was “Follies” robbed, or it is overrated? Or did Sondheim shoot himself in the foot with that letter he wrote? Is “Ghost” great or awful? Is Ricky Martin great or awful? Was the Royal CaribbeanHairspray” appropriate or not, and does it matter that Chicagoan Harrison McEldowney was reportedly responsible for the staging seen on the broadcast? Ah, the questions, and the discussions, abound! Ain’t theater great?  J

Tony Awards

Back here in Chicago, it’s all about “Rock Of Ages,” isn’t it? The touring company of the Broadway show (apparently named after the 1763 Christian hymn text of the same name by the Rev. Augustus Montague Toplady) has set itself down for a two month run at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. Both the jukebox rock musical and the long-running children’s show “Pinkalicious” will share the stage there until they both close on August 5th. And the film version of the show, directed by Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) and starring Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, the Tony and Oscar winner (and musical theater star) Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand and (as the young leads) Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, opens at theaters nationwide on June 15th. Is it any good? I don’t know, but it is what it is (the only film adaptation of a Broadway musical opening this year, until “Les Miserables” hits at Christmastime). So, are you going? And to which version? Or both?

Rock Of Ages, the Musical

Rock Of Ages, the Movie

There are two local productions opening now that celebrate popular music through examining the song catalogs of two legendary male mid-century singers, Hank Williams and Frank Sinatra. The Filament Theatre Ensemble production of “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” runs upstairs at the Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview from June 8-July 8, directed by Julie Ritchey and Omen Sade and starring Peter Oyloe as the ill-fated Country & Western star. In case you aren’t familiar, Williams died at the age of 29 in the back of a car, while he was being driven to his next gig. The show begins there, and then goes back to the beginning, I believe, covering the trailblazer’s life and work. The book of the show is by Randal Myler (author of “Love, Janis”) and Mark Harelik (husband of Spencer Kayden, actually).


And “My Way: A Musical Tribute To Frank Sinatra” begins June 15 (through July 1) at the BrightSide Theatre in Naperville, directed and choreographed by Bobby Johnson. The show is a more or less traditional revue format, and stars Michael Rivera, Amy Brophy, Ian Rigg and Kathleen Wrinn. The young company will tackle “Company” next, right after Thanksgiving.


The folks at Chicago Folks Operetta, complete with a new advertising tagline (“The Voice Of The Old World), have prepared two operettas in repertory for this month! The Emmerich Kalman operetta “The Circus Princess” (one of the most internationally renowned of the Hungarian composer’s Viennese operettas) is alternating with “The Cousin From Nowhere,” by Eduard Kunneke. Both shows are being presented at the Chopin Theatre in new English translations by Hersh Glagov and Gerald Frantzen, the company’s artistic director. Bill Walters and August Tye handle the staging duties on the well-known, large-scale“Circus” (running June 8-July 1) and Elizabeth Margolius and Jorge Niedas are doing the same for the small-scale, less familiar “Cousin” (June 15-27). Casts for both shows are populated by the same performers who fill the ranks of the Lyric Opera Of Chicago Chorus, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and other classical ensembles.


Now that young baritone William Travis Taylor is done with his turn as Lancelot in Light Opera Works’ “Camelot,” he is turning his attention to co-starring in one of my most anticipated musical productions of the summer, the Theater For Young Audiences version of “Beauty And The Beast,” running at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier from June 28-August 26. Rachel Rockwell is directing, and Doug Peck is musical directing, a starry Chicago cast, including Emily Rohm as Belle, Bernie Yvon as Lumiere, Mary Ernster as Mrs. Potts, David Lively as Cogsworth, Roger Mueller (father of Jessie) as Maurice, Andrew Lupp as LeFou and Maggie Portman as one of the silly girls. Minneapolis’ Jake Klinkhammer is Gaston, with Taylor as the Beast, of course. And I’m not sure how you get this much talent into 75 minutes! Not to mention all those great Alan Menken songs.


Now in preparation at Oak Park’s Circle Theatre is “Reefer Madness,” the off-Broadway satire of the 1936 “educational film” of the same name. Matt Gunnels is directing, and Jon Landvick is musical directing, a cast which includes Eric Lindahl, Kyle Kuhlman, Melody Latham and Tommy Bullington, with no-doubt witty costumes by John Nasca, and choreography by Brigitte Ditmars. The show runs July 18-August 26, with previews July 14 and 17.


The National Association Of Teachers Of Singing (I’m a member, btw) is sponsoring its first National Music Theater Competition, and Chicago was one of three cities hosting preliminary rounds (along with New York and Los Angeles). The finals are being held at the NATS National Conference in Orlando, June 29-July 3. Six singers were chosen from the Chicago competition on May 25 to appear in the finals: Matthew Edquist, Colleen Longo, Case Nafziger, Mikki Sodergren, Heather Hussey and Amanda Horvath (alternates are Maddy LaRoche and Harter Clingman). Melissa Foster (Northwestern University), Sam Samuelson (Stewart Talent and the Wilmette Theatre) and Andy Hite (Marriott Theatre) were the Chicago judges, uncovering all that impressive new talent. Good job, you guys!


There’s a special night of Chicago musical theater, featuring existing talent, coming up next Monday night, June 18, 2012. It’s the annual concert to benefit Porchlight Music Theatre, and this year, Jerry Herman is the source of the material. The Mayne Stage will be filled with the sounds of this quintessential Broadway composer, sung by E. Faye Butler, Rebecca Finnegan, Heidi Kettenring, Tom Michael, Peggy Roeder, Joan Curto and more, hosted by Rob Lindley and accompanied by his husband, the aforementioned Doug Peck. Advance tickets are only $40!


But the event that most of us are awaiting most eagerly is two nights earlier, on this Saturday night, June 16th. Yes! It’s the Cadillac Palace Theatre concert by Kristin Chenoweth, the Tony and Emmy-winning stage, television and recording star of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “The Music Man,” “Wicked,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Glee” and the current “GCB.” This concert has been receiving amazingly positive reviews from critics in other cities, and it must really be something special. If you’re a big fan, you already have your tickets. Casual fans will probably also find much to enjoy, if the buzz is to be believed. Bragging rights will follow. I’m just sayin’, it’s kind of a big deal. I think she does “Glitter And Be Gay” as an encore. I’m just sayin’.


So how’s your late spring, so far? The days are long, and the nights are hot and short. And there’s a lot of great musical theater out there to be had! Perhaps I’ll see you in a theater sometime soon. And I’m sure I'll see you under the video screens.....—PWT

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