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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for March 26th, 2014




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

It's blockbuster time for Chicago's suburban Equity theaters. Two of the three longest running Broadway and West End musicals of all time are opening in new productions at our oldest mostly-musical houses in collar counties. Somewhere, producer Cameron Mackintosh is smiling, having revolutionized theater marketing, pulled in umpteen millions of dollars in ticket and merchandise sales, and put his stamp on the 1980s in the same way that David Merrick owned the 1960s and Florenz Ziegfeld the 1910s.

"Cats," the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that somehow won a posthumous Tony Award for St. Louis native T.S. Eliot, begins previews tonight at Lake County's Marriott Theatre, opening April 2nd and running through May 25th. Directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, who did the same honors for the Marriott in 2003 when it was a new regional title, the show stars Heidi Kettenring as Grizabella. She will sing "Memory from Cats," or as it is more properly known, "Memory." It's from "Cats".... ;-)


And Claude-Michel Schonberg's "Les Miserables," a revival of which opened on Broadway just three days ago (with former Chicagoan Max Quinlan in the cast), begins previews on March 29th at the Drury Lane Theatre in Dupage County, where it will open on April 8 and run through June 8, directed by Rachel Rockwell. What's more, the musical director is Roberta Duchak, the vocal coach for Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe for the 2012 motion picture adaptation. Jennie Sophia will appear as Fantine, singing "I Dreamed A Dream," the song once known as "Fantine's Dream." It's true!

Seriously, folks, both of the productions look amazing on paper. Let's hope they are just as amazing in three-dimensional theatrical life.


A production of Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret," also receiving a Broadway revival at present (it's really a revival of a revival), just closed at the Marriott to make way for those punky kitties. But, never fear. Lake Forest's Citadel Theatre will be mounting its own production of "Cabaret" from April 25-May 25, directed by Robert D. Estrin and choreographed by Rita Simon. Randy Casey music directs.


A world premiere play with music will appear at the Royal George Theatre on May 2, 2014. (Opening night of the open commercial run is scheduled for May 12.) It is "Jack Lemmon Returns," starring the late star's son, Chris Lemmon, in a work about his father and their relationship. The show is written and directed by Hershey Felder ("George Gershwin Alone") who presented a similarly structured show last season, Mona Golabek in her mother's story, "The Pianist Of Willesden Lane." The next shows in the pipeline for future production by the tireless Felder? "Abe Lincoln's Piano" and "Irving Berlin." Will lightning continue to strike?


In more timely news, a work new to Chicago will be in performance from March 27 through April 27 at the Apollo Theater Studio on Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park. It's the theatrical song cycle, "Songs From An Unmade Bed," produced by Pride Films And Plays. Derek Van Barham directs Kevin Webb and Jordan Phelps in lyricist Mark Campbell's rumination on gay urban life. Written with eighteen different composers (such names as Duncan Sheik, Steven Lutvak, Joseph Thalken and Jake Heggie jump out), this is the work's Chicago professional debut. Robert Ollis handles the musical direction. And it's not even Pride Month!


The almost-forgotten musical "Carnival" is halfway through its three-performance run of concert performances, courtesy of the Lost Note Theater Company. Directed by Stephen Murray and music directed by Charlotte Rivard-Hoster, the Bob Merrill tuner with book by Michael Stewart is tonight at 7:00 pm and Saturday afternoon at 3:00 pm in the Hugen Hall of Strawdog Theatre Company in Lakeview. The cast includes Jeffrey Gitelle, Rachel Klippel, Paul G. Miller, Amanda Newman, Annie Passanisi, Brian Rooney and Ed Rutherford.


Saturday evening, April 5, will be a once-in-a-lifetime party, as Light Opera Works salutes Chicago theater legend James Harms at its yearly spring gala at the North Shore Country Club in Glenview. The five-time Jeff Award winner (including two awards for playing Albin/Zaza in separate productions of "La Cage Aux Folles") will be feted by a line-up of current stage stars including Jenny Lamb, James Rank, Stacey Tappan and more, and special guests include such Harms theatrical colleagues as Dale Benson, Marilyn Bogetich, Robert Heitzinger, David Perkovich and Mary Robin Roth. Sounds like a party to me!


Porchlight Music Theatre held its own spring gala this past weekend, where the company honored Paula Scrofano with its Guy Adkins Award. And the company announced its 2014-15 season! Guess what, folks? Continuing the theme of Stephen Sondheim productions that we've been seeing around here of late, Porchlight's mainstage season will be all-Sondheim, including the Chicago premiere of the retrospective show "Sondheim On Sondheim" (February 6-March 15, 2015), directed by Nick Bowling and music directed by Austin Cook. The fall production will be "Sweeney Todd," to star two old hands in the leading roles, David Girolmo and Rebecca Finnegan (October 3-November 9, 2014). And the third show will be Sondheim's first Broadway score for which he supplied both music and lyrics, "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" (April 17-May 24, 2015). If this weren't enough Sondheimiana, the company will also present his television musical "Evening Primrose" in concert (dates TBA). And the "Porchlight Revisits...:" series of one-night-only "lost" musicals in concert will include "Bells Are Ringing," "City Of Angels" and "Mack And Mabel." The season will start off on August 25, 2014 with a concert, "Chicago Sings Disney." The sound you hear is the sound of no complaints!!


The Williams Street Repertory company in north suburban Crystal Lake, performing at the Raue Center For The Arts, has announced its 2014-15 season, which seems to include the Chicagoland premiere of the recent Broadway musical "Hands On A Hardbody," by Doug Wright, Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio. It will be in the fall. Holla if you sense a coup of some sort by the young company!


And up in Milwaukee, Skylight Music Theatre's 2014-15 season includes six shows, and while all of them are undoubtedly stage-worthy, three of them are definitely of interest to Mosh Pit peeps in Chicago. The company will present the Royal Shakespeare Company version of "The Wizard Of Oz," directed by Linda Brovsky, from November 21, 2014-January 4, 2015. Ahrens and Flaherty's early work "Once On This Island" will be on the boards from January 30-February 22, 2015, directed by former artistic director Bill Theisen. And Mr. Sondheim's "Into The Woods" will take its journey from May 22-June 22, 2015, directed by Edwin Cahill. Can anyone say, "Road trip?"


Has spring sprung? Maybe? We Chicagoans remain hopeful, don't we? Ah, in no time at all we'll be taking in some outdoor performance somewhere. But until then, there's plenty of theater to entertain us. See you there! And afterwards, 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 BroadwayWorld.com since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as (read more...)

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