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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for March 20th, 2013





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Despite the chill in the air, March is on its way out, and so is winter! As if a harbinger of hotter climes to come, the Marriott Theatre has announced the cast for its upcoming production of Rodgers and Hammerstein (and Logan)'s "South Pacific," one of the biggest musicals of the 1940s, a Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner as well as one of the biggest star blockbuster vehicles in Broadway history. Beginning previews on April 3 and running through a surely warm June 2, 2013, "South Pacific" will star Stephen R. Buntrock as Emile de Becque (the Ezio Pinza part), with Buntrock returning to his old stomping ground of two decades ago, before he ended up playing Frederic Egerman opposite Bernadette Peters in "A Little Night Music" on Broadway, and other such head-turning jobs. Young Elizabeth Lanza, just now out of Chicago's non-Equity theater scene (Theo Ubique's "A Light In The Piazza" was last year for her) will star as Nellie Forbush (the Mary Martin part). Bethany Thomas will take what may be a career-making role for her as Bloody Mary, with Stef Tovar as Luther Billis. Ben Jacoby, just seen in "Now And Forever" at the Marriott, will be Joe Cable, and Emily Morales will be Liat, as she was both at Light Opera Works and on Broadway in the Lincoln Center Theater revival. David H. Bell will direct, and Matt Raftery will choreograph, a cast which includes guys like Jameson Cooper, Courtney Crouse, Jim DeSelm and Travis Taylor in the ensemble. This could be remarkable.


"South Pacific" was big at the movies too, as was a certain title which took up residence at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University this week for a two-week stint. I'm talking about "Priscilla Queen Of The Desert," the disco and drag musical which made it to Broadway in 2011 in its stage incarnation and won the Tony for costume design, as the film original had triumphed at the Oscars. Nobody ever claimed it was "Hamlet," but it's fun and touching and tuneful. So go. Relive the 80s.The old opera barn may never be the same.


Speaking of movie musicals, the spirit of the legendary Gene Kelly is about to hang over two of our Equity venues, and in two different ways. From April 25 through June 2 at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, a play with music, and an homage to the film "Singin' In The Rain," called "What A Glorious Feeling" will take to the boards, depicting the creation of that legendary MGM entertainment as seen through the eyes of playwright Jay Berkow, director Willliam Pullinsi and choreographer Danny Herman. Richard Strimer will star as Gene Kelly, with Mike Danovich as Stanley Donen and Cara Salerno as Jeanne Coyne, the woman that both film directors loved. Nicole Miller will appear as the young Debbie Reynolds, with veteran Chicago performer Robert Hildreth as Arthur Freed. It sounds fascinating.


And the 1940 Broadway musical that make Kelly a star, "Pal Joey," will play from April 20 through May 26 at Stage 773, courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre, starring real-life new father Adrian Aguilar as Joey. Susie McMonagle (seen in the national tour of "Billy Elliot" at the Oriental Theatre in 2010) will play Vera Simpson, the role played by Stockard Channing in the recent Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hart property (though I am told that Porchlight is using the original 1940 script and score and not any of the newer revisions, and with the restoration of the cut song, "I'm Talking To My Pal"). Sharriese Hamilton will get to sing "Zip," the song that parodied Gypsy Rose Lee almost two decades before "Gypsy" immortalized her Mamma, Rose, and Laura Savage and Matt Orlando will be Linda and Ludlow. Michael Weber directs, with choreography by Brenda Didier and musical direction by Doug Peck.


But before Porchlight gets to its "Pal Joey" opening night, it will fete Peck at its annual "ICONS Gala," this one celebrating the art of Bob Fosse at the Fairmont Hotel for brunch on Sunday, April 7. Doug Peck will be presented with the 2013 Guy Adkins Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Music Theater in Chicago. (Previous winners were L. Walter Stearns and Hollis Resnik.) Fosse, one of the leading Broadway choreographers of the 20th century, was a Chicagoan before he was a New Yorker. Regular price tickets are $125. But if that's a little steep, never fear, for on May 20, Porchlight will present its annual cabaret fundraiser, created by Peck and his husband, Rob Lindley, this one called "Chicago Sings Kander And Ebb." It will be at the Mayne Stage, and is priced at $40 now, $50 at the door.


Speaking of cabarets, the Brown Paper Box Co. presents a one-night special event this Saturday, March 23, at 8:00 pm at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret on Milwaukee Avenue. It's called, "Character Breakdown: A Miscast Cabaret," and the theme is that songs will be sung by performers who are not of the physical or other "type" usually associated with the singers of those songs. T. J. Anderson will appear at the keyboard, and singers will include Anderson along with Megan Ensley, Katherine Glavin, Michelle Kritselis, Andrew Lund, M. William Panek, Stephanie Rohr, Anna Schutz, Nick Shoda and Daniel Spagnuolo. Yazbeck, Sondheim, Rodgers, Coleman and more are promised!


Chicago native Darrian Ford will be in a cabaret/concert tribute of his own this weekend, just up the road in Milwaukee (it's less than two hours, which can't always be said for Naperville, can it?). The beautiful Marcus Center For The Performing Arts is presenting "The Cooke Book: The Music Of Sam Cooke" on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 22-24 in downtown Milwaukee. Ford, a veteran of The Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theater, appeared on Broadway and on tour in "State Fair," "Tommy," "Smokey Joe's Café" and "The Color Purple," and appeared as Fayard Nicholas on HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," starring Halle Berry. Here he pays tribute to Chicagoan and soul legend Sam Cooke, in a show he has been developing around the country since 2006. Maybe he will bring it home to Chicago soon.


Which leads us to more in the continuing list of shows being announced for upcoming Chicago theater seasons. Did you see the announcement for TimeLine Theatre Company? In the spring and summer of 2014, from April 23 through July 27, TimeLine will be presenting what it says is the Chicago premiere of the 1959 musical "Juno," with music and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein and book by Joseph Stein, based on Sean O'Casey's play "Juno And The Peacock." Nick Bowling with direct, with musical direction by the aforementioned Doug Peck along with Elizabeth Doran. What's more, the actress Rebecca Finnegan will star as Juno herself. This is all major news! Blitzstein, who burst onto the scene with "The Cradle Will Rock" in 1937, wrote the Broadway opera "Regina" in 1949 and was a major figure on the music-theater scene in New York into the 1960s, associated with Bernstein, Hellman, Weill, Brecht and other classical crossover figures on the left of the political spectrum. Stein, of course, went on to write the book to "Fiddler On The Roof," as well as "Zorba," "The Baker's Wife" and others, and had previously written "Plain And Fancy." Oh, yes, this is major news!

Opening just two weeks later will be an entirely new work at Writers' Theatre, part of the Glencoe theater's 2013-14 season. It will be "Days Like Today," from the pen of Chicagoans composer-lyricist Alan Schmuckler and bookwriter Laura Eason, inspired by the plays of Charles L. Mee. The aforementioned Doug Peck will also musical direct this one (he does get around), which will be directed by Michael Halberstam and choreographed by Tommy Rapley. May 6-July 13, 2014 at the theater's Tudor Court space.

And then there's "Smash." Word came last week that the NBC show about Broadway musicals would be moved from its Tuesday night timeslot to Saturday night, beginning April 6, though the network would indeed all of the show's episodes already in the can, as filming has wrapped for this, its second season. What does this mean, you ask? I don't know, but it doesn't seem good. I can't imagine the show being renewed for a third season without a vast improvement in the current numbers. Which would seem hard to do on Saturday nights. But who knows? Until we find out more, the guest stars, the musical numbers and the plot twists seem fated to continue. But there was a huge dropoff in viewers a few weeks ago, and it doesn't seem to have improved all that much. I'm worried. I think we all should be. I mean, how many other hourlong series about Broadway musicals do you foresee being on primetime on a major network? I thought so. I thought so. Golden Age of televised fictionalized musical theater industry, we hardly knew ye.

And so, I know it isn't spring (to quote Oscar Hammerstein II). But March will go out (like a lion, Oscar said) in less than two weeks, and then it will be baseball season, right? Time to stage "Damn Yankees" someplace. And find smaller jackets. And prepare for trips to outdoor summer theater venues! Well, that last one might be a little premature, but still. There is always musical theater here and about. So I'll see you, of course, and probably 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...)