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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for March 6th, 2013





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Buckle your seat belts, peeps! For the Chicago area is about to visited by not one, but two legendary leading ladies. Fortunately, the gods of musical theater intervened, for they were originally scheduled to sing concerts on the same night, in two different suburbs! One of them has rescheduled for the fall. But the first one is this Saturday, March 9th!

For that's the night (well, evening, as it's at 5:00 pm) when Audra McDonald, winner of five Tony Awards, will appear in the Annual Trustee Benefit Concert in the Performing Arts Center at Dominican University in west suburban River Forest. The star of the recent revival of "Porgy and Bess" on Broadway, as well as the original production of "Ragtime" and the 1994 revival of "Carousel," (she won Tonys for all three appearances) may be best known in showtune circles for popularizing the Jason Robert Brown song, "Stars And The Moon." She's been a television star, has two Grammy Awards and is married to former "Hair" and "Priscilla Queen Of The Desert" stage star Will Swenson. And this Saturday, she is all ours. It's "An Evening With Audra McDonald!" Do you dare to miss it? Audra!

Audra McDonald

Fortunately, you don't have to be at the Akoo Theatre (formerly the Rosemont Theatre) in northwest suburban Rosemont that evening. For that's the original date upon which international recording superstar and the inspiration for Broadway's longest running musical of all time, "The Phantom Of The Opera," was scheduled to appear in her "Dreamcatcher" tour. I'm talking about Sarah Brightman, of course, and before she embarks on the international space station to become the first person to record a song from outer space (this is real, folks), she will appear at the Akoo/Rosemont on Saturday, September 28, 2013. The record release date was pushed back, and so was her tour. Love her or hate her (and people seem to do either one or the other), she is a major figure in musical theater, the recording industry and in the concert world. If you are reading this column, you cannot ignore her.

Sarah Brightman

One week from Thursday is a fun looking event, "Full Circle: Moving On," a night of cabaret celebrating the past, future, and I assume the present of Circle Theatre, the celebrated west-suburban theater that is moving into the city. The event is on March 14, 2013, at 7:00 pm, at 3160, the cabaret/piano bar just south of Belmont Avenue on Clark Street. Circle company members will be performing, and special surprises are promised! Jon Landvick, Nicholas Reinhart, Jessica Sopheia and company would love to see you there.

Full Circle: Moving On at 3160

And Circle's first musical production of their new season and life is taking shape. It's the Midwest premiere of the Maury Yeston off-Broadway musical "Death Takes A Holiday," with book by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan. Elizabeth Margolius will direct an impressive cast including Tommy Bullington, Erin Daly, Andrea DeCamp, Ryan Steve Greist, Kevin M. Grubb, Rosalind Hurwitz, Royen Kent, Nate Lewellyn, Laura McClain, Khaki Pixley, Rus Rainear, Stephanie Souza, Denise Tamburrino and Greg Zawada. The show will take place at Stage 773 on Belmont Avenue, from April 20-May 26. If you're a Yeston fan (and what Mosh Pit peep isn't?), you will want to catch this!


On Sunday night, March 24, Chicago will have another fun special event, a homecoming of sorts and another concert by a Broadway star. This time, it will be Chester Gregory, a star of "Sister Act," "Tarzan" and "Hairspray," and a BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner for his appearance in a tour of "Dreamgirls," who will be returning to the theater that gave him his start, Black Ensemble Theater. He'll be performing the show that he premiered last month at 54 Below, the new New York nightclub, called "The Eve Of Jackie Wilson." It was BET's "The Jackie Wilson Story" that brought Gregory to New York and the eyes of the world's casting directors and public relations powers that be, but the Columbia College Chicago graduate and Indiana native hasn't forgotten where he's been. His show reunites him with BET (now on Clark Street) and with Jackie Wilson's music, but in a new context. This night sounds awesome.


Speaking of awesome, the current musical at Black Ensemble Theater, "From Doo Wop To Hip Hop," has garnered very strong reviews. Through April 24, a big cast is singing a lot of 20th and 21st century musical hits, couched in a narrative of evolving race relations in an upper class neighborhood. Gregory's successor as Jackie Wilson in BET's remount of "The Jackie Wilson Story," Kelvin Roston, Jr., is among them. Check out the critical opinion!

Review Round-Up of FROM DOO WOP TO HIP HOP

In fact, the Theatre In Chicago website lists several musicals in its list of top shows on the boards at this moment. In addition to BET's FDWTHH, the other musicals said to be at the top of critical consensus right now are the Broadway-caliber "The Book Of Mormon" (Bank Of America Theatre) and "Million Dollar Quartet" (Apollo Theater), the Equity-theater composer revues "Now And Forever" (Marriott Theatre) and "A Grand Night For Singing" (Mercury Theater), the intimate Equity productions of "Sweet Charity" (Writers' Theatre) and "Lady Day At Emerson's Bar And Grill" (Porchlight Theatre), and the long-running revue "We're All In This Room Together" (Second City e.t.c). Have you seen them all?

And, since this is Chicago, new work continues to crop up and thrive. iO Chicago Theater is set to present "Straight Camp," a new musical, on Thursdays from March 7-April 11 at the theater on Clark Street. With book and lyrics by Rob Anderson and music by Mike Malarkey, Anderson directs and Nikki Pierce choreographs. Benjamin Nichols is at the piano. Rob Anderson is also in the cast, alongside Drew Anderson, Alex Garday, Amber Gerencher, Katie Klein, Andrew Know, Jennifer Mills and Andi Woody. It's a parody musical about those light, topical topics of homosexuality and religion.


Already open, and playing on Saturdays through March 30, is "Things Fall Apart: A Zombie Apocalypse Musical," at the Gorilla Tango Theatre near Milwaukee, Western and Armitage. It's the Chicago debut of playwright Axel Arth and composer Tyler Welton. Gorilla Tango recently announced new leadership, new ambitiions and new marketing. With parody and burlesque in the air over there, can zombies be far behind?


And "Next Stop," which played as a staged workshop last summer at Theater Wit, is a new musical by singer-songwriter Diana Lawrence. It has been substantially revised and is being seen as a "work in progress" on two evenings, March 28 and April 11, in the Steppenwolf Garage, as part of The After Party series there. Eight playwrights have collaborated with Lawrence on this Chicago musical about Chicago, including Alice Austen, Danny Bernardo, Aaron Carter, Ike Holter, Alexander Lubischer, Brett Neveu, Caitlin Parrish and Emilio Williams. The Route 66 Theatre Company has brought the show to Steppenwolf.

NEXT STOP Workshops at Steppenwolf Garage

So let's see. That makes concerts, well-received traditional runs and world, regional and local premieres all part of our musical theater scene for this week. Sounds about right. Never mind blizzards, it's full speed ahead, you guys! I'll see you then, soon. And I might see you somewhere else too, right? 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...)