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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for May 23rd, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

EPIC! Monday night, May 21, 2012, was the night when not one, not two, but THREE contemporary pop-rock musical Theater Productions from the Chicago area held a joint public relations appearance at Sidetrack, for six songs and thirty minutes of showtune joy in the heart of the Showtune Mosh Pit. Social media had been abuzz all afternoon about the event, but details were sketchy until About Face Theatre Artistic Associate Scott Duff took the stage to announce the proceedings. And what proceedings they were! Unprecendented (at least in recent memory) and unforgettable.

First up was the well-received Porchlight Music Theatre production of Jonathan Larson's "tick, tick…BOOM!," now playing at Stage 773 through June 10th. The complete cast (Adrian Aguilar, Jenny Guse and Bear Bellinger) hit the stage with high energy, and performed the opening number, "30/90," followed by the closing number, "Louder Than Words," accompanied at the keyboard by musical director Diana Lawrence (herself flanked by Porchlight's Artistic Director, Michael Weber).

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for May 23rd, 2012Then came the male half of the cast of Northlight Theatre's "[title of show]" by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, playing at the North Shore Center For The Arts through June 9th.  Accompanied by musical director Doug Peck, Matthew Crowle and Stephen Schellhardt performed "Untitled Opening Number" and "An Original Musical," complete with sandwich board.

And last, but certainly the most eagerly awaited of the night, was the joint About Face Theatre/American Theater Company co-production of Jonathan Larson's "Rent," the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner. The show is playing until June 17th at ATC's facility on Byron Street. Stars Alan Schmuckler and Derrick Trumbly performed "What You Own," preceeded by Schmuckler and Lili-Anne Brown (newly-named Artistic Director of Bailiwick Chicago, btw) performing "Tango: Maureen." Musical director Timothy Splain accompanied.

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for May 23rd, 2012Can you say, "Awesome?" The large crowd was very enthusiastic and appreciative, and partied on into the night. Awesome. Awesome!


The American Theater Company made a little national stir of sorts last week, when it announced its plans for the summer of 2013. Following in the tradition of last summer's production of "The Original Grease," for which Artistic Director PJ Paparelli teamed with surviving writer Jim Jacobs to recover and rethink original materials written for early versions of the hit New York and Hollywood property, "Grease," Paparelli now plans to work with James Rado to resurrect the off-Broadway version of "Hair," though to what degree remains to be seen. I don't believe the company announced specific production dates, either, nor are they publicly calling the show, "The Original Hair" (though everybody else is). One wonders if the aforementioned "tick, tick…BOOM!" star Adrian Aguilar, who starred in "The Original Grease" for ATC and just starred in the Paramount Theatre's production of (the Broadway version of) "Hair," will star. Hmm.


Speaking of the 1960s, Light Opera Works has announced the full cast of "Camelot," playing June 1-10 at Cahn Auditorium, two blocks from downtown Evanston. Joining the prominent Nick Sandys as Arthur and the rising star Jennie Sophia as Guinevere will be William Travis Taylor (one of Chicago's go-to baritones of the moment) as Lancelot, Skip Lundby as Pellinore, young Michael Harnichar as Merlyn, Patrick Tierney as Mordred and Patrice Egelston as Morgan Le Fey. Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller directs, Roger L. Bingaman conducts and Todd Rhoades choreographs.


Local favorite "Floyd Collins" returns to us next month as well, playing June 15 through July 15 at Theater Wit, in a production by the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble (aka BoHo Theatre). Adam Guettel (whose "The Light In The Piazza" is still running at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre) and Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Tina Landau collaborated on this work about one of the first modern media circuses, and the work has ardent fans. Peter Marston Sullivan directs, with musical direction by Alan Bukowiecki. Jim DeSelm gets to sing "How Glory Goes."

Speaking of Theo Ubique, its 2011 production of "Some Enchanted Evening," the hit revue of songs by Guettel's granddad, Richard Rodgers (written with Oscar Hammerstein II), is being remounted at Fox Valley Repertory in Kane County, from May 31-July 22. 2012. Fred Anzevino again directs, but Jeremy Ramey has stepped into the musical director shoes of Austin Cook, and Raymond Cleveland choreographs instead of Ben Mason.  And the cast is new, too, now consisting of Amanda Hartley, Amanda Batcher, Chadley Ballantyne, Matt McNabb, Danielle Floyd and Jameson Wentworth. Elizabeth Doran is listed as an accompanist as well. It's at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles.

There are a goodly number of high profile, mainstage productions of new musical theater works here this summer. And the most visible of all is the one at another resort, Marriott's Lincolnshire Resort in Lake County, Illinois. "Hero," with music and lyrics by local phenom Michael Mahler and book and conception by Aaron Thielen, begins previews at the Marriott Theatre on June 20, with its regular run slated from June 27-August 19. David H. Bell will director and choreograph (the show was developed in part at Northwestern University, where Bell is on the faculty). The production will star Erich Bergen (a veteran of the "Jersey Boys" national tours, playing Bob Gaudio) as Hero Batowski, with Heidi Kettenring, Don Forston, Alex Goodrich, Dara Cameron (Mahler's wife, and a quite capable performer), Jonah Rawitz (alternating with Zach Keller), Summer Naomi Smart, Michael Aaron Linder, Kelley Abell, Jameson Cooper and Alex Goldklang. (That's quite an accomplished cast!) The show is about a young comic book artist and the life challenges he has to face. And they have established a very fun website!

Another major new work, one based on a real, historical event in downtown Chicago, is "Eastland," at Lookingglass Theatre Company in the Chicago Water Works on Michigan Avenue. The show begins performances on June 6, and runs through July 29, directed by Amanda Dehnert. On July 24, 1915, the S.S. Eastland capsized while moored on the south bank of the Chicago River, between Clark and LaSalle Streets. Now called "the American Titanic," the ship caused the deaths of more than 800 people, mere yards from shore. And now, that disaster has been turned into a musical, with book by Lookingglass Artistic Director Andrew White and a folk music score by the team of Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman ("Metamorphoses," "Winesburg, Ohio"). Malcolm Ruhl is the musical director, conducting and appearing within the action, as will performers Erik Hellman, Michael Smith and Scott Strangland. Actors in the production include Larry DiStasi, Christine Mary Dunford, Doug Hara, Jeanne T. Arrigo, Derek Hasenstab, Tiffany Topol, Claire Wellin and Monica West. Fascinating!

Another, much more well-known part of Chicago's history is being musicalized at City Lit Theater on Bryn Mawr Avenue, as the new musical comedy "State Street" takes its cue from the history of Crosby's Opera House to tell the tale of the build-up to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The show begins previews this week, on May 25, and plays through June 24, written by Philip LaZebnik and Kingsley Day and directed by Sheldon Patinkin. The cast includes Rob Brady, Harter Clingman, Matt Edmonds, Sarah Hayes, Callie Johnson, Matthew Keffer, Sean Knight, Diane Mair, Chase McCurdy, Annie Passanisi, Matt Rockwood, Ed Rutherford, Clay Sanderson, Kevin Siembor and Patty Roeder. You know, there are some great singers in this cast. And come on, you gotta love the idea of dueling original musicals about slices of Chicago history!

And a reading of a new musical took place last Saturday, May 19, at Chicago Dramatists, in a collaborative reading with Porchlight Music Theatre. It was "Code Name: Cynthia," with music by Karen Multer and book and lyrics by her husband, Steve Multer. I understand it was a starry affair, appropriate given the Multers' theater background and their growing national reputation in the music world. The show was developed under the mentorship of Chicago Dramatists Resident Playwright and musical theater writing teacher Cheryl Coons ("Sylvia's Real Good Advice," "Phantom Of The Country Palace"). Among the actors involved were Larry Adams, Cathy Lord, Tony DiFalco, Jeff Dumas, FrEd Zimmerman, David Girolmo, Jennifer Grubb and Adam Molloy. Like I said: starry.

And lastly, I've got to tell you about a benefit concert, to take place where we began the Mosh Pit this week, Sidetrack. On Tuesday, June 5, Pride Films And Plays will sponsor a benefit there called "And The Winner Wasn't II...The Tony Award Version!," a follow-up to last year's benefit (which featured film songs which didn't win Oscars). This time around, it's songs from shows nominated for Tony Awards, but coming up empty handed. The aforementioned Lili-Anne Brown, Meghan Murphy, Jon Landvick, Bethany Thomas, Michelle McKenzie-Voigt, David Geinosky, Chad Ryan, Justin Kilduff, Kristopher Hyland, Bree Gordon and Lee Wichman are confirmed as performers, with musical director Randy Buehler. Sounds fun! Doors open at 7:00, and tickets are $20.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! I hope you have a great, fun and non-NATO weekend. And I'll see you under the video screens!...-PWT

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Photos: (from top), Adrian Aguilar, Jenny Guse and Bear Bellinger; Matthew Crowle and Stephen Schellhardt; Derrick Trumbly and Alan Schmuckler

Photo Credit: Jessica Clancy

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