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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for March 21st, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Oh, my goodness there’s a lot to talk about! What an amazing time for musical theater in Chicagoland. Well, let’s get to it!

First up this week in the Mosh Pit is the word out of the western collar-county city of Aurora, where director Rachel Rockwell has whipped up what’s reported to be an rock-solid production of “Hair,” cast entirely with Chicago area talent and garnering very upbeat reviews. The pictures of the Paramount Theatre production look awesome, and the cast, led by Adrian Aguilar (“The Original Grease”) and Skylar Adams (“The Adventures Of Pinocchio” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater), seems perfect. Many observers are happy to see non-Equity storefront stars Maggie Portman (“Chess” and “Evita”) and Dana Tretta (“Cabaret” and “Pippin”) getting their due here. And yes, that’s Bethany Thomas (“Porgy And Bess”) doing the honors on “Aquarius.” You better get your sunshine in gear if you want to see this, though, as the run lasts only until April 1, 2012. The next mainstage production there, “Grease” (the familiar version, not the “original” one) doesn’t open until the fall, but auditions are being held this week.

HAIR at the Paramount

The Paramount in Aurora is just the first of the four big suburban musical houses that I want to survey this week. A little closer to the Loop, but still in the western suburbs, is Oakbrook Terrace, where that well-received production of “Gypsy” starring KLea Blackhurst is also wrapping up on April 1st. Next up for the Drury Lane Theatre will be “Hairspray,” staged by Tammy Mader and running April 12 through June 17, with the press opening set for April 17. And the cast was just announced! Lillian Castillo will be Tracy Turnblad, with local and national favorite Michael Lindner as Edna and “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Tim Kazurinsky as Wilbur. Tony nominee Felicia P. Fields will be Motormouth Maybelle, with Erik Altemus as Link Larkin, Jon Michael Reese as Seaweed and Holly Lyn Laurent as Amber. Local favorites George Andrew Wolff, Rod Thomas, Holly Stauder, Jackson Evans, Dina DiCostanzo and Alex McCrary help round out the large cast. Also to be found will be Donica Lynn, who will rush over straight from Paramount’s “Hair.” How many actors can say that they went from “Hair” to “Hairspray?” I mean really! Awesome.


In the southeast suburbs, the Theatre At The Center in Munster, Indiana is currently mounting “Always….Patsy Cline,” starring Heather Beck and Janelle Snow and also shuttering April 1. As my review of the production states, “Heather Beck does a fantastic Patsy Cline,” and if you think you would enjoy this show, you will. And after the comedy “Making God Laugh,” TATC’s next musical will be “Little Shop Of Horrors,” July 12-August 19.


Not to ever be forgot is the behemoth to the far north, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, where “Legally Blonde” is now running, through (you guessed it) April 1. And the theater has just announced the cast of its next production, the “American” Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, “The Pirates Of Penzance,” complete with Leap Year as a plot device in the denoument (spoiler, sorry!). (A lollipop to the first Mosh Pit peep who knows why this show is called the “American” one….) Dominic Missimi will direct Kevin Earley as the Pirate King and Omar Lopez-Cepero as Frederic, with Patricia Noonan as Mabel, Ross Lehman (“Show Boat” at Lyric Opera Of Chicago) as the Major-General and the legendary Alene Robertson as Ruth. Also in the cast will be Roger AndersonBrian BohrKelly Anne ClarkCarl Draper, Natalie Ford, Patrick GagnonAndrew LuppJeff MaxChristine MildSusan Moniz, Alexandra E. Palkovic, Christine Perkins, Liam QuealySam Rogers, Brandon Springman, William Travis Taylor and Bernie Yvon. That’s a lot of pirates, policeman and wards in chancery.


Meanwhile, back at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, they have announced a Second Stage offering, across the street from the landmark art-deco facility in the 216-seat Copley Theater. I don’t remember hearing about this when the theater first announced its plans to produce its own mainstage shows, but I think it’s a good idea. And the show they’ve announced is “Route 66,” by Roger Bean (“The Marvelous Wonderettes”), which sounds sort of like “Pump Boys And Dinettes” without the Cupp sisters, or “Forever Plaid” if the boys had lived five years longer and been a little less neurotic. Singing songs by Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie, Roger Miller and The Beach Boys, among others, in this jukebox revue will Dan Beno, Courtney Crouse, Robert Deason, Rusty Koenig, Adam Michaels and Doug Pawlik, under the direction of Stacey Flaster and the musical direction of Alan Bukowiecki. Knowing who’s in the cast, it sounds like they’ll be playing instruments, too. The production dates are April 11 through June 10.


North of Aurora, in the city of St. Charles, Illinois, is the Fox Valley Repertory Theater, performing at the Pleasant Run Resort. The Neil Sedaka musical “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” begins previews next week there, with regular performances set through May 20, 2012. Directed by Kevin Bellie, the show is a book musical incorporating some of the greatest songs written and sung by Sedaka, including “Where The Boys Are,” “Calendar Girl,” “Love Will Keep Us Together” and the title song. The cast includes Michael Brown, Stephanie Herman, Heather Townsend, FrEd Zimmerman, Christina Myers and Creg Sclavi.


Not to have their spotlight stolen by all these suburban hotspots, Porchlight Music Theatre has announced the cast of its next production, following on the heels of its very well received “A Catered Affair.” Next up for the “Chicago-style” musical house is “Tick, Tick…Boom!” by David Auburn, with songs by Jonathan Larson, directed by Adam Pelty and musical direction by Diana Lawrence. The show will perform April 28-June 10 at Stage 773 on Belmont Avenue, and will star Adrian Aguilar (yes, he will be done with “Hair” by then), Jenny Guse and Bear Bellinger. Zach Spound, Kendra Rose Lyons and Brian-Alwyn Newland are the ever-important understudies. Oh, and did I mention that “A Catered Affair” runs through…April 1st? It happens sometimes, and I guess this is one of those times. “Everybody, change theaters!”


The Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, which also performs on Belmont Avenue, has announced its 2012-13 season, which will begin in the fall with the 2009 off-Broadway musical “Ordinary Days” by Adam Gwon, in what I believe will be its first professional Chicago production. And next spring, the company will present the Tony-winning “Kiss Of The Spiderwoman,” by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terrence McNally. You can’t argue with brilliant production choices, people….

Another brilliant production choice was announced by Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier last week, as the goliath of all lakefront theaters has announced its season as well, and realized that it did pretty well with “Follies” last fall. And that’s an understatement! So, director Gary Griffin will meet the work of Stephen Sondheim yet again, with “Sunday In The Park With George,” running from September 26-November 4. There are no other details yet, just the expectation that Griffin and Co. set the bar very high for themselves last year, and so they most assuredly will come through again with another brilliant production. Put it down in your calendars now.

Sunday In The Park With George

Court Theatre announced its season, too, and the only musical listed is one they have done to great success in the past, “The Dead,” or “James Joyce’s ‘The Dead,’” if you must, which won a Tony Award for Chicago native and bookwriter Richard Nelson in 2000 (Nelson also co-wrote the show’s lyrics with its composer, Shaun Davey). Director Charles Newell and musical director Doug Peck (who just finished “Hair”--see a theme this week?) will reteam for this production, called a “delightful reimagining” of the show, which Court also produced in 2002 and revived in 2003. The 2012 version will run November 8-December 9.

Lastly this week, the Light Opera Works annual gala dinner is next Saturday, March 31st, and the performers entertaining the black-tie patrons at the fundraising event (“Broadway And Vine”) give a glimpse into the company’s casting of its calendar-year based season. Chicago veteran James Harms and newcomer Colette Todd will star in both “Man Of La Mancha” (August 11-26) and “Oliver!” (December 21-31), and both shows will co-star Cary Lovett; no word on the latter’s child stars. Bill Bennett, Jessye Wright and George Andrew Wolff will appear in “Operetta’s Greatest Hits,” at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston (October 5-14), not the company’s usual Cahn Auditorium maintage location nor its traditional Second Stage spot. Beyond the casting of Kari Sorensen as Nimue, the gala’s cast of eleven doesn’t give us a glimpse of “Camelot” (June 1-10), though I believe Nick Sandys was previously announced as Arthur. Who is the Guenevere? And will the production include the usually-cut numbers “Then You May Take Me To The Fair” and “Fie On Goodness?” Inquiring minds want to know!

Whew, I’m exhausted! We’ve been from collar counties on the north, west and southeast to downtown, the north side and the south side. Showtunes and the people who love them are alive and well, indeed, and with all this warm weather, folks are in a good mood to get out and partake like never before! I hope you can take in a show or two this week, and before too long, I'll see you under the video screens.....—PWT

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