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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for June 4th, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

The 41st annual non-Equity awards given by the Joseph Jefferson Awards committee were a smashing success all around on Monday night at the Park West. The Jeff Awards were a remarkable celebration of the vitality and diversity of Chicago's storefront and emerging theater scene, with a sold-out and slightly sweaty venue filled with actors, producers, critics, designers and more, cheering like a high school assembly and moved beyond measure by live performances from nominated musicals and plays. I was honored to be there, and more than honored to know and write about so many talented, passionate and fortunate folks. What a great night!

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre was back on top of the musical winners' podium, as it has been so frequently in the past. Its spring production of "Passion" took four awards, for Musical, Actress (Musical) (Danni Smith), Supporting Actress (Musical) (Colette Todd) and Music Direction (Kory Danielson). Red Tape Theatre's "The Life And Death Of Madam Barker" won two awards, for Costume Design (Izumi Inaba) and Artistic Specialization (John Fournier for the show's music and lyrics). The biggest winner of the night was the play with music "The Mother," adapted from the Bertolt Brecht play by New Adaptation winner Steve Gooch, with music by Original Music In A Play winners Jonathan Guillen and Nicholas Tonozzi. The show, mounted by Oracle Productions in April of 2013 and remounted in January of 2014, was also responsible for wins in the categories for Play, Ensemble and Actress (Play), Katherine Keberlein.

The company with the most nominations, the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble (BoHo Theatre), gave Linda Fortunato a win for the Choreography for "Kiss Of The Spider Woman," and the show with the most nominations, Bailiwick Chicago's "Dessa Rose," was awarded the Director (Musical) prize for Lili-Anne Brown. Other musical categories were won by David Schlumpf (Actor) for Kokandy Productions' "The Sweet Smell Of Success," and Tommy Bullington (Supporting Actor) for Quest Theatre Ensemble's "Return To Neverland." Bravo to you all!


And things continue to hop at Theo Ubique, as the new production, "A Musical Tribute To The Andrews Sisters," opens tomorrow night for a run through July 27 (unless it extends, of course). The show is directed and choreographed by David Heimann, conceived in conjuction with Fred Anzevino, and features musical arrangements by Aaron Benham and musical direction by Alex Newkirk. Sarah Larson, Will Lucas, Casi Maggio and Jordan Yentz star. At the No Exit Café in Rogers Park, natch.


And Theo announced its 2014-2015 season two weeks ago. On September 22, "A Kurt Weill Cabaret" will start things off, with arrangements by Jeremy Ramey. Opening in November for the holiday season will be "Always...Patsy Cline," the two-hander musical about the late crossover country crooner (Christina Hall will star). In March of 2015, the company will tackle "Jesus Christ Superstar," directed by Fred Anzevino and music directed by Aaron Benham. The company found Jeff success with "Evita"--will lightning strike twice? And next June and July will be "A Marvin Hamlisch Songbook," with Benham's new arrangements front and center.


You may have to wait until Theo's 2014 production to see and hear "Jesus Christ Superstar" around these parts, as that arena tour of the Lloyd Webber-Rice behemoth was unceremoniously cancelled last week. It was a countrywide tour with some big names attached (Johnny Rotten, JC Chasez, Michelle Williams), but the whole thing dried right up. Was it slow ticket sales or something else? We may never know for sure. But the cast was in rehearsal in New Orleans when they got word they were shutting down. What a shame. The Chicago stop was scheduled for June 29 at the United Center. Well, at least you don't have to worry about missing any of the Pride Parade festivities....


You now, only 15 or so folks have ever won an Academy Award for a role in a film adaptation of a Broadway musical (somebody do the research and let me know the exact number). Chicago native Jennifer Hudson is one of them ("Dreamgirls," duh). Well, speaking of Pride, Hudson will be performing in the middle of Halsted Street on Saturday, June 21, at 2:30 pm, as part of Pridefest 2014. She'll be on the North Stage, which I believe is at Grace Street. For a nominal donation, you too can stand in the street and hear her reach out and touch her many northside fans. Will she sing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going?" She betta!


Already closed by then will be the Light Opera Works production of one of the three musicals that is only ever produced in late spring (the others being "A Little Night Music" and "Carousel"). The Tony-winning "Damn Yankees" is coming to Cahn Auditorium for two weekends only, June 7-15, starring LOW artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller as Mr. Applegate, Erica Evans as Lola, Brian Acker as Joe Hardy, Kirk Swenk as Joe Boyd and Judy Knudtson as Meg Boyd. Kevin Bellie directs and choreographs, with music direction by Roger L.Bingaman. Cue the 28-piece orchestra!


Hogenmiller's partner, Chicago stage legend James Harms, is also busy this summer, as he will be starring as Jed Clampett in the world premiere of "The Beverly Hillibillies: The Musical," at the Theatre At The Center in Munster, Indiana (July 10-August 10). Yes, you read that right. Actually, I attended a staged reading of this show a couple of years ago at Tommy Gun's Garage on South Wabash, where composer Gregg Opelka has worked for many years as musical director of that tourist-friendly, interactive dinner experience. David Rogers and Amanda Rogers supply the book for "Beverly Hillbillies," culled I believe from unused scripts written for the beloved 1960s television comedy. In addition to Harms, the cast will include Kelly Anne Clark as Granny, Summer Smart as Elly May and John Stemberg as Jethro, with Norm Boucher as Mr. Drysdale, Holly Stauder as Mrs. Drysdale and Tina Gluschenko as Jane Hathaway, with Bernie Yvon, Rebecca Bradford, Mary Nigohosian, Jake Mahler, Patrick Tierney, David Sajewisch, Colette Todd, Missy Aguilar, Victoria Blade, Julie Baird, Jill Sesso and Patrick Martin. David Perkovich directs, with music direction by Bill Underwood. And yes, the TV theme song is in the show!


In other suburban Equity news, yet another production of our favorite young-adults-as-children musical is primed for opening, with the announcement by the Drury Lane Theatre of the cast of its production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." The William Finn funfest will preview beginning June 19, and will run June 26-August 17, directed by Scott Calcagno. The cast, billed as "one of the youngest assembled on the Drury Lane stage," consists of Eli Branson, Landree Fleming, Carolyn Braver, Jordan DeLeon, Zach Colonna and Stephenie Soohyun Park, along with Frances Limoncelli, Joe Dempsey and Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as the grown-ups. Ben Johnson music directs.


The Mercury Theater Chicago announced last week that its well-regarded Chicago Equity premiere production of "Avenue Q," directed by L. Walter Stearns, is extending for a month! The show, co-created by "Frozen" co-writer Robert Lopez, will now run through July 27, having set box office records for the Mercury. Jackson Evans, Leah Morrow and Adam Fane star as Princeton, Kate and Rod, with Daniel Smeriglio, Stephanie Herman, Christine Bunuan, Donterrio Johnson, Thom Van Ermen and Sean Patrick Fawcett. And, of course, it's running off-Broadway in New York. "Wicked" who?


Another Chicago premiere (it's the Midwest premiere, actually) will take place August 8-September 6, when the off-Broadway musical "Coraline" takes its local bow, at City Lit Theater in Edgewater. Black Button Eyes Productions presents Stephin Merritt and David Greenspan's version of Neil Gaiman's novel, directed by Edward Rutherford and music directed by Nick Sula. The cast will include Sheridan Singleton, Ryan Lanning, Kevin Webb, Kevin Bishop, Caitlin Jackson, Justin Kimrey, Jeffrey Bouthiette and Jennifer T. Grubb. And the score is written for three different types of pianos!


Speaking of premieres, the first Chicago Musical Theatre Festival kicks off tomorrow! The CMTF takes place June 5-15 at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, the brainchild of Underscore Theatre Company. The festival is presenting 8 of the 40 works submitted for consideration. I'm sure every Mosh Pit peep will find a show with a theme of interest. Besides, you can say, "I was there then!" There's really nothing like watching the birth of brilliance. Get your tickets now!


And lastly, in downtown news, Sting's "The Last Ship" is getting ready for its maiden voyage here at the Bank Of America Theatre on Monroe Street, prior to its Broadway opening in the fall. Performances begin next Tuesday, June 10, and run through July 13. As is typical with traditional pre-Broadway tryouts, no press opening night has yet been announced. Directed by "Wicked" director Joe Mantello ("Wicked," who, indeed), the show's score is by the multiple Grammy-winning rock star and songwriter, with book by John Logan ("Red") and Brian Yorkey ("Next To Normal"). Michael Esper, Rachel Tucker, Aaron Lazar, Fred Applegate, Jimmy Nail, Sally Ann Triplett and Collin Kelly-Sordelet star. Sting is rumored to be performing on this Sunday's Tony Award broadcast, another way of putting Chicago again in the forefront of places where new musicals of all kinds are honed, staged and welcomed into the repertoire.


Did I mention the Tony Awards? Yes, the height of New York's theater awards season is Sunday night, June 8, and again I will be hosting BroadwayWorld Chicago's Tony Award Viewing Party, at The Call Bar in Andersonville. You are all invited (21 and over, that is). No cover, and I've got trivia questions for you to answer and win ticket vouchers from over a dozen Chicago area theater companies. Lyric Opera Of Chicago and UP Comedy Club have joined Chicago Shakespeare Theater, First Folio Theatre, The Second City, Writers' Theatre, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, American Blues Theater and more in donating tickets to the cause. I do hope you can make it! Dress casual, come to watch and laugh, and enjoy the camaraderie. 7:00 or sooner! 1547 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue.


If you can't join me at The Call on Sunday, join me on Monday at Sidetrack, where I will be celebrating a singular distinction- -I haven't missed a Monday night there in five years, since the first Monday of June of 2009. Hey, I had a tech rehearsal then, and I was tired! But I've been there ever since, and who knows how much longer I will last. I could also be persuaded to embody Elsa one more time, and really "Let It Go." You really have to be there. No, really. So, one way or the other, I'll see you under the video screens.....Right?-PWT

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From This Author Paul W. Thompson

Paul W. Thompson, a contributor to BroadwayWorld.com since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as (read more...)