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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for May 13th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

There are an extraordinarily high number of very well-received musicals on our boards this week, among them the departing "The Book Of Mormon" tour and the arriving "Jersey Boys" one, plus local Equity productions like "Billy Elliot" and "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum," the world premiere children's musical "Wonderland: Alice's Rock And Roll Adventure," the Los Angeles show "Louis And Keely," the non-Equity "Jesus Christ Superstar" and the long-running "Blue Man Group" and "Million Dollar Quartet." Joining that number last week was "Ring Of Fire," scaled down from its Broadway size and transferred from Munster, Indiana's Theatre At The Center to the Mercury Theater Chicago. Glowing reviews followed. I know the theater is hoping to emulate "Million Dollar Quartet" to some degree, or at least its runaway hit of last summer, "Avenue Q." Don't forget the fact that Chicago audiences LOVE musicals with country, folk or bluegrass as their basis, a phenomenon I've remarked on before ("Pump Boys And Dinettes," "Always...Patsy Cline," "Hank Williams: Lost Highway," "Woody Guthrie's American Song" and the like always seem to do well here, many with Malcolm Ruhl involved on the music staff). Will Johnny and June Carter Cash fare the same? They just might! Kent M. Lewis and Cory Goodrich (pictured) star. (The production is announced through June 28, but that fabled Chicago extension would be highly welcomed.)

While its soundscape is not purely Americana, a show opened on Sunday that would love to be a big hit too. It's "Big Fish," the new production of Andrew Lippa's 2013 Broadway flop at that same Theater At The Center. Running through May 7, the show struck a responsive chord in its audience, as I reported in my review published today. It's set in Alabama, so it's a good choice for Indiana. Chicagoans will like it too....

BWW REVIEWS-Theater-at-the-Centers-BIG-FISH-an-Engagingly-Theatrical-Multi-Course-Meal

As TATC's "Big Fish" was apparently expected to star the popular musical theater performer Bernie Yvon, it seemed that last weekend was a two-sided tribute to the actor on the eight month anniversary of his tragic and accidental death. In addition to the bow of "Big Fish," Yvon was a factor in Northwestern University's Waa-Mu Show, "Gold." According to social media reports, the production was dedicated to him (he'd appeared in two editions while a student), and the University instituted the annual"Bernie Yvon Waa-Mu Spirit Award" after Saturday night's performance. And there will be a plaque at Cahn Auditorium! Sounds entirely apt and lovely to me.

There is a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago this summer. I'm not referring to "On Your Feet," the Gloria Estefan show which, like 2013's "Big Fish," is coming here from New York (in June) with a theater to return to all lined up in Manhattan (the Marquis). No, I'm referring to "Beaches," the stage adaptation of the popular Bette Midler film which will bow at the Drury Lane Theatre in west suburban Oakbrook with a cast of New York and Chicago talent, but with an east coast design team and a director (Eric Schaeffer) with New York and Chicago credits (i.e. "Million Dollar Quartet"). Previewing June 24, opening July 2 and running through August 16, the show has book and lyrics by original novelist Iris Rainer Dart, with music by David Austin and book co-written by Thom Thomas. Shoshana Bean ("Wicked") and Whitney Bashor ("Bridges Of Madison County") will star, along with Chicago talents Travis Taylor, Nancy Voigts, Kelly Anne Clark, Jim DeSelm, Michael Accardo, Samantha Pauly and Olivia Renteria. There are seventeen in the cast in all. But will this show make the mistake that the previous Bette Midler movie adaptation ("First Wives Club") made, and fail to include the movie's big hit song? Stay tuned....


A show we sent eastward in the fall without a destination theater lined up announced on Monday that its entire Chicago cast will indeed transfer to Broadway when "Amazing Grace" opens at the Nederlander Theatre on July 16 (previews begin June 25). Unfortunately, supporting star Tom Hewitt's new Broadway musical "Dr. Zhivago" had to close in order for him to be able to join the rest of the 31-member company, headed by Josh Young and Erin Mackey. But with that obstacle cleared, "Amazing Grace" seems ready to go. Its run at the Bank Of America Theatre in the fall wasn't perfect, but word is that the show has made changes. And I bet that investors into this property assume they are in it for a long-haul, slow and steady return horizon. Times Square isn't really the ultimate destination for this property. It's a theater near you, with people you know in the cast....


Speaking of new works, "Camping: The Musical!" is nearly ready to go at the Gorilla Tango Theatre, near Milwaukee, Western and Armitage. Written and performed by Brian Labahn, Pat Radke and Dave Satterwhite, this show will play on Friday evenings only, June 5-26. And what was I saying about a dearth of musicals about the father-son relationship? Well, this one is about a father-son camping trip. So, I take it all back.... j/k


The Gorilla Tango space and the building now known as MCL Chicago (at Sheffield and Barry in Lakeview, once Studio-BE,) are both known as homes of improv-based theater. Hence the performance schedules of one or two nights a week for most shows. (There tends to be not much in the way of sets and props, enabling a quick turnover of productions and giving each one the chance to build an audience over time.) MCL will be presenting "ZIG: EDM Suicide," with book and lyrics by Michael Shepherd Jordan, additions to its 1970s rock score by Brad Kemp and directed by Alex Richmond. There's a preview performance this Saturday, May 15, and the regular run is Fridays and Saturday, May 22-June 27. MCL Chicago's artistic director Alex Garday calls this show a "hybrid concert musical," and says it's as if "a rock concert and theatrical play had an epic love child." Ok. Jordan and Garday appear in the show, alongside Katie Nixon, Ed Selvey IV and Abby Vatterott.


And MCL has announced the schedule and lineup for its first annual "Premier Premieres!" festival of new works, taking place June 4-6, 2015. Six original musicals will debut, with the show that wins the festival earning a six-show run at MCL. Four of the shows are said to have been written here, with two coming from New York. The titles are "Motel Rasdell," "Headshot: A Geek Tragedy," "Tapped," "Quest For The Perfect Woman," "The Thanksgiving Circumcision" and "Self-Starters." Better plan ahead, peeps! Each show gets performed during the festival only once.


The show "WOZ: A Rock Cabaret" has returned, as the show that blends "The Wizard Of Oz" and rock concerts played Davenport's and the Victory Gardens Theatre last year, and will play Stage 773 this year (from May 8-June 5, 2015). Kimberly Lawson stars as Dorothy, with a cast also including Clara D'Onofrio, Heather Currie, Kevin Webb, Alex Newkirk, Sam Button-Harrison, Edward Fraim, David Lipschutz, Sarah Wurtz and Scott Gryer. Nick Sula is music director.

The Chicago Gay Men's Chorus is the next group to honor Stephen Sondheim during his 85th birthday year, and the group is using its choral style to tell a love story in "We're Still Here," the first concert under new artistic director Jimmy Morehead. Catch the show three times: On May 16 at the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts in Skokie, May 23 at the Harris Theater in downtown Chicago, and May 24 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville. Sing out, Louise!

And Tommy Tune, still very much on the scene at the age of 76, will be the honored guest and the featured performer when the Chicago Human Rhythm Project celebrates its 25th anniversary on July 30 at the Museum Of Contemporary Art on Chicago Avenue. Tune will be given CHRP's JUBA! Award For Extraordinary Lifetime Achievement, and will perform his one-man show, "Taps, Tunes And Tall Tales," at the gala, highlighting his award-winning stage performances as well as (one hopes) his choreographic and directorial triumphs (among them "Nine," "Grand Hotel" and "The Will Rogers Follies"). There's only one problem. Tickets cost $500. So there's that.


So, where did spring go? It's been cold this week! Well, I see a warm-up, albeit a wet one, on the horizon. We've still got time, folks. And we have all these theaters to populate anyway. And nightclubs. 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 since 2007, is a Chicago-based singer, actor, musical director, pianist, vocal coach, composer and commentator. His career as (read more...)