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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for March 19th, 2014





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

For those of you who know that I am in New York right now, I must mention the irony I'm currently experiencing. You know. Writing a column about musical theater in Chicago from the heart of midtown Manhattan. I actually can't think of anything that would give me greater pleasure. Onward to the work!

This Saturday, March 22nd, Stephen Sondheim will turn 84 years old. Andrew Lloyd Webber will turn 66 the same day. It is for this reason that I and several others have dubbed March 22 to be "Musical Theater Day." Now, I talked about Lloyd Webber's Chicago shows last week, so it's Sondheim's turn. And what a turn it is!

You see, the Master's two most recent musicals are currently onstage in Chicago. Where else in the entire world is this the case? Probably nowhere. Not counting the retrospective "Sondheim On Sondheim" and the early (and finally staged) work "Saturday Night," his two most recent pieces are "Passion," which won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Musical (starring Donna Murphy, Marin Mazzie and Jere Shea), and "Road Show," a 2008 off-Broadway work which didn't fare nearly as well, despite (or perhaps because of) a long gestation period--part of which landed the show (then called "Bounce") at our Goodman Theatre in 2003. There it starred Richard Kind, Howard McGillin, Jane Powell and the young Gavin Creel.

In post-polar vortex Chicago, "Passion" began playing March 7, 2014 at the No Exit Café, produced by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre and featuring what by all accounts must be a remarkable, evocative scene design by Adam Veness. Directed by Fred Anzevino and starring Danni Smith, Peter Oyloe and Colette Todd, the show is blowing folks away with the tale of love and obsession, death and fulfillment. The show has never been far from Chicago stages (Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Ravinia, and the Midwest premiere at Pegasus Players in which yours truly appeared in 1996), and it's a hit again. Catch it through April 27, if there are any tickets left.

"Road Show" began previewing last week at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (in the Upstairs space), starring Michael Aaron Lindner, Andrew Rothenberg, Larry Adams, Anne Gunn and Robert Lenzi. It will run through May 4, with the musical theater community holding its breath. With the permission and participation of Sondheim and bookwriter John Weidman, director Gary Griffin's production will tinker with the material once again. Will this show ever reach the potential Sondheim has seen in it for decades now? We will know soon enough! The whole world is watching!

We don't have any productions of "Assassins" playing currently, though we had two overlapping ones in 2012. However, we do have a production of Sondheim's show written prior to that, "Into The Woods," running at Mercury Theater Chicago and produced by The Hypocrites. And last week it was announced that the production has been extended, through April 5. Mostly favorable reviews, and a great deal of interest in the unusual design concept the production employs (sandbox meets circus?) have paid off for the innovative company and the generous theater hosting them. Hail to The Hypocrites!


And we've had two other productions open to much fanfare in recent days. "Dessa Rose" received mostly positive notices in its Chicago premiere at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, produced by Bailiwick Chicago in the Richard Christiansen upstairs space. And "Rent" seems to be making an enormous splash out at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, directed by Jim Corti. I hate to say that I predicted this last week, but I did say that this, and I quote, is "a production which by all accounts is going to be something extraordinary." More than one major critic has now declared it "better than Broadway." Of course, we just heard that about the Drury Lane's "Young Frankenstein." But with "Rent," now that's SOMETHING. ("YF" just closed, but "Dessa" and "Rent" run through the first weekend of April, only!)

According to Theatre In Chicago, the shows that are the highest rated in town are the long-running "Million Dollar Quartet," "A Clown Car Named Desire" and "Blue Man Group" (if the latter is a musical at all), Chicago Shakespeare's "Gypsy" (its companion to "Road Show"), and not one but TWO productions at Black Ensemble Theater, "Chicago's Golden Soul" and "The Story Of Curtis Mayfield," running in rep. Now, THAT is a tremendous achievement, no matter how you look at it! I can't ever remember this happening before with any theater company in town. Not to rest on their laurels, though, Jackie Taylor's singular Uptown company has announced an entirely new production ("Soul" and "Curtis" are both revivals of past BET hits). It is "One Hit Wonders," by Rueben D. Echols and Dawn Bless, directed by Daryl D. Brooks. The show will run May 9-June 29, with the opening set for Sunday afternoon, May 18. The show will include the hits "I Will Survive," "Funkytown," and "Ice Ice Baby," among others. I am there!


Speaking of spring shows (yes, Virginia, there is a spring), Bailiwick Chicago has announced the full cast of its next show to run at the Biograph. It's "Carrie," the off-Broadway revision of the infamous 1988 Broadway musical, based on the movie and the Stephen King novel of the same name. Set for performances from May 29-July 12, and representing the Chicago area premiere of the show, Christopher Pazdernik will direct and his good buddy Aaron Benham will music direct. We already knew that Jeff Award-winner Callie Johnson would star as Carrie and that Katherine L. Condit would be Margaret White. The cast will also include Samantha Dubina, Kate Garassino and BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner Ryan Lanning, with Kasey Alfonso, Molly Coleman, Damon Gillespie, Kelly Krauter, Henry McGinniss, Sawyer Smith (currently in "Rent" as Angel), Rochelle Therrien and George Toles. Can't wait!


Earilier in May, Writers Theatre will present another in an ever-growing number of world premiere musicals seen in the Chicago area. The Glencoe company will present "Days Like Today," with music and lyrics by Alan Schmuckler ("We Three Lizas") and book by Laura Eason (multiple premieres at Lookingglass Theatre), directed by Michael Halberstam ("A Minister's Wife") and music directed by Doug Peck ("The Jungle Book"). These are all major names, folks. And the cast has been announced! It's headed by Emily Berman and Susie McMonagle, with Will Mobley, Jeff Parker, Stephen Schellhardt, Jonathan Weir and Jarrod Zimmerman. No small Chicago shakes there! (Sorry, couldn't resist.) The run's dates are May 6-July 13, 2014.


Speaking of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the company has announced its 2014-15 season, and there's a world premiere musical on the list! It's the far-in-the-future "Sense And Sensibility," based on the Jane Austen novel, with book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, to be directed by artistic director Barbara Gaines (April 18-June 7, 2015). Gordon is the writer of the 2000 Broadway musical adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre," as well as "Daddy Long Legs," seen at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. But you won't have to wait 13 months to see another musical on Navy Pier. "Seussical" will be presented for family audiences this summer, July 5-August 17, directed by Scott Weinstein and musical directed by Michael Mahler (currently doing those same honors for CST's very adult "Road Show").


Hyde Park's Court Theatre has announced its upcoming season too, and it's the company's 60th season! The musical of interest to Mosh Pit peeps will be more than a year from now, the much-loved adaptation of "The Secret Garden" by Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman. Artistic director Charles Newell will direct, with music direction by the aforementioned Doug Peck (May 21-June 21, 2015). Someone gets to sing "Lily's Eyes!" But we have to wait 14 months to hear it....


Lastly, and back to 2014, the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park announced its summer season a few weeks ago, and there are a few items of note for us. The odd couple pairing of Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn will appear on July 6, with pianists Paul Ford and Julie Gunn. Superstar soprano Deborah Voigt will appear in "Songs Of Broadway: Something Wonderful" on July 13, backed by conductor Ted Sperling and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A week later, the CSO and conductor Steven Reineke will present Broadway's Betsy Wolfe, Ryan Silverman and Ben Crawford in "An Evening Of Lerner And Loewe" (July 20). And in between those two dates, on July 17 and 18, the CSO will present a live-to-projection performance of the film version of "West Side Story," which it has previously presented in Orchestra Hall downtown (David Newman will conduct). Bottom line: don't leave town in the middle of July or you'll miss all the Broadway offerings at Ravinia....

So it's not snowing right now, is it? I don't think so. Ah, well, I'll be back in town by the weekend. So we'll see about that then. And thanks for holding down the proverbial fort for me in the meantime. Of course, I'll see you under the video screens next week, won't I?.....-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...)