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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for June 17th, 2015



by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

It's mid-June already! Where has the time all gone to? (See what I did there?) The summer solstice is next week, but summer theatrical activities are already in high gear. The Tonys the non-Equity Jeffs were last week, and we've even had a few hot days! So let's get to it, our annual Regional Summer Musical Theater Guide. It's the Mosh Pit's helpful tour of the states around Chicago, where Chicago peeps tend to vacation and where Chicago theater folk tend to find work. Let's get to it, shall we?

If you were going for 100% attendance at northwestern Illinois' Timber Lake Playhouse this summer, you already missed "Hairspray" entirely! (June 4-14) Currently on the boards there in Mt. Carroll is the play "The Big Meal," but "Peter Pan" will take flight for its first-ever run at TLP from July 2-12. Then will come the popular two-hand play "Greater Tuna," but our region's popular newer title, "Big Fish" will play from July 30-August 9. Closing out the summer, and using "historically realistic language," will be "Big River," not too far from the Mighty Mississippi itself (August 13-23). You'd have thought they would have programmed "Big" for the trifecta, but not this year, little Johnny....

Not quite as far from Chicago is the Starlight Theatre in the sizable town of Rockford, Illinois, in the Bengt Sjostrom Theatre on the campus of Rock Valley College. There are four musicals there this summer, playing one weekend each, then repeating the order for a second four weekends (got that?). You can enjoy "Mary Poppins" (June 3-6 and July 8-12), "The Last Five Years" (June 10-13 and July 15-19, the rarely seen Tony Award winner "Memphis" (June 17-20 and July 22-26) and "Young Frankenstein" (June 24-27 and July 29-August 2).

Believe it or not, but "Mary Poppins" and "The Last Five Years" are the two musicals on tap this summer at the Heartland Festival at the University Of Wisconsin-Platteville, north of the border. JRB's two-hander, "L5Y," will start out the season, running June 12-28. And the Disney-Macintosh two-header ("Book!" "Movie!" "Book!" "Movie!") will play July 10-26.

In Ft. Atkinson, Wisconsin, the Fireside Theatre is currently producing the musical "Guys On Ice" (June 11-July 19), which is a Wisconsin thing, as it played last summer at the American Folklore Theatre in Door County. Fireside gets a little more national, though still rural, with "Pump Boys And Dinettes" (an old Chicago favorite, too), which runs from July 23-September 6).

That American Folklore Theatre has taken a new name this summer, the Northern Sky Theater. And in Peninsula State Park's Amphitheatre in Fish Creek, it is still going about the business of creating and presenting original musicals, which this year includes an encore presentation of last summer's "Strings Attached," by Colin Welford and Chicago's Dave Hudson. Hudson has teamed with Paul Libman to write the new show "No Bones About It," about competitive barbeques. And the third musical at Northern Sky will be "When Butter Churns To Gold," by Peter Welkin, Ron Barnett and Randi Wolfe. The shows run in rotating rep, changing nightly, from June 11-August 29.

Also in Fish Creek, the Peninsula Players are technically not presenting any musicals this summer, as "Nunsense" doesn't open until September 9. But the plays on tap in July and August are all directed by Chicagoans, as "Dial M For Murder" is helmed by Joe Foust, "Lend Me A Tenor" will be traffic-copped by Linda Fortunato, and "Outside Mullingar" is headed up by Greg Vinkler. Starting off the season (yesterday, as a matter of fact) is the world premiere of the play "A Real Lulu," directed by former Goodman Theatre Scrooge Tom Mula and written by Paul Slade Smith, the Chicago actor who is currently in the company of the new musical "Finding Neverland" on Broadway. "Lulu" has an all-Chicago cast.

The University Of Wisconsin--Marinette is offering "Fiddler On The Roof" this summer (July 16-26), in its 49th season.

In Hazelhurst, in northern Wisconin, the major musical titles at Tommy O's Playhouse this summer are "Man Of La Mancha" and "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum." Playing periodically, and interspersed with lighter, less structured fare, "La Mancha" can be seen from June 18 until August 23, and "Forum" from July 15 through 26.

On the Michigan side of the Lake, the Mason Street Warehouse in beautiful downtown Saugatuck has "Cabaret" from June 26-July 12, in the Saugatuck Center For The Arts. The one-man play "Buyer And Cellar" comes next, in its regional premiere, followed by the regional premiere of the musical "First Date" (seen in Chicago this winter at the Royal George Cabaret Theatre) from August 14-30.

Up the road in Holland, the Hope Summer Repertory Theatre has begun with "Les Miserables" (June 11-30). After the play "To Kill A Mockingbird" opens, "Smokey Joe's Café" will rock you out (July 10-August 7), and the season comes to a close with Noel Coward's play, "Hay Fever" (July 24-August 6).

Augusta, Michigan's Barn Theatre once again has a full summer of adventurous summer fare. The first musical is "Mary Poppins" (perhaps the summer's biggest summer theater title), running June 16-28. And then, believe it or not, the Barn will produce a "Ghost," running June 30-July 12. And it gets better, folks. "American Idiot" plays July 14-26, "Rock Of Ages" strums a power chord July 28-August 9, and "Hands On A Hardbody" (yes) plays from August 11-23. Capping off the summer's big shows will be the Tony winning "The Will Rogers Follies," starring Tom Wopat (from Broadway's "Annie Get Your Gun," "A Catered Affair" and "Catch Me If You Can." "Rogers" plays August 25-September 6. What a great summer stock season!

Indiana's Round Barn Theatre in Nappanee has once again mounted its legendary production of the Amish-themed musical "Plain And Fancy," running May 27-October 17. "Grease" runs June 9-July 19 as the alternate offering, and the second half of the summer will feature "Anything Goes" as the second show (July 28-August 14). The theater actually opened for the year back in April with "The Marvelous Wonderettes," and will continue in the fall with "Smoke On The Mountain," the play "Harvey," and, yes, "Mary Poppins" (this time for the holidays).

Eastward, in Warsaw, the Wagon Wheel Center For The Arts opens for the summer tonight with "West Side Story," running June 17-27. "Bye Bye Birdie," the musical title in perpetual need of some commas, is next (July 1-11). "The Addams Family" musical will run July 15-25, followed by Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The musical "Little Women" plays August 12-22, and "Avenue Q" will close out the season from September 1-6. That's a nice season.

In Sullivan, Illinois, the Little Theatre On The Square opened with a "Hairspray" that you can still see, running June 17-27. "Swing!" will play July 1-12, and "The Wizard Of Oz" will play July 15-26. Rounding out the mainstage summer season of musicals will be "The Addams Family," playing July 29-August 9. "Driving Miss Daisy" follows that, and there will also be children's theater presentations of "Jack And The Beanstalk," "Winnie The Pooh" and "The Princess And The Pea."

In Carbondale, the McLeod Summer Playhouse of Southern Illinois University is producing "Big River," "Hairspray" and the regional high school all-star "Legally Blonde" this summer. "Big River" flows June 10-28, with "Hairspray" July 10-19 and "LB" from July 30-August 2. There is also a TYA production of "James And The Giant Peach."

The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island opened "The Sound Of Music" on May 22, and it will run through July 25, 2015. The farce "Boeing, Boeing" will round out the summer there.

We traditionally end our tour of regional summer theater possibilities with a trip to the huge and unavoidable Muny in St. Louis. And in doing so, we have a come-from-behind winner for favorite summer musical this year! Beating "Mary Poppins" for that honor is "Hairspray," as the title will be on display in the Muny's enormous amphitheater as the second show of the summer, June 23-30 ("My Fair Lady" opened the season just this week). Next up will be the new stage musical version of Irving Berlin's "Holiday Inn," running July 6-12 with a prominent New York cast including Patti Murin, Colin Donnell, Noah Racey and Nancy Opel, directed by Gordon Greenberg and choreographed by Denis Jones. (Is this an unofficial pre-Broadway tryout?) Next will come "Buddy" (July 13-19), and then the highlight of the summer, the Muny's first-ever production of "Into The Woods." Tony winner Heather Headley will star as the Witch, with Erin Dilly and Rob McClure as the Bakers and Ken Page as the Narrator. Our own Gary Griffin directs. Rounding out the summer will be "Beauty And The Beast" (July 29-August 7) and "Oklahoma!" (August 10-16). Awesome!

So that's it, peeps, the best of the summer theater you will likely encounter if you venture out of Cook County. I hope you do! And I hope to see you back here all in one piece, too. You know, where 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...)