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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for May 9th, 2012





by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

Chicago is now home to both of the musicals with book, music and lyrics by the late Jonathan Larson. You probably know that he wrote “Rent,” and that a highly anticipated production of the same has opened this week at the American Theater Company, in a co-production with About Face Theatre. You should also know about his other work, re-written after his death by playwright David Auburn. It’s called “tick…tick…BOOM!,” and it, too, is now on the boards in our fair city. It’s a Larsonfest! And thanks to Porchlight Music Theatre, “ttB” is getting its time in the spotlight, and reportedly a very good time, indeed. It’s playing now through June 10, 2012 at Stage 773, directed by Adam Pelty and music directed by Diana Lawrence. And the cast of three consists of Jenny Guse, Bear Bellinger and, receiving some superlative reviews indeed, Adrian Aguilar in the autobiographical role of Jon. With leading roles in last summer’s “The Original Grease” (at American Theater Company) and this winter’s “Hair” (at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora) and now this, is Aguilar now Chicago’s go-to actor for leads in rock musicals? A rumor has it!

Another highly anticipated local production is the Writers’ Theatre of Glencoe’s mounting of “A Little Night Music,” opening on May 10 after a week and half of previews at the company’s Tudor Court location. Directed by William Brown and music directed by Valerie Maze (she handled those chores for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Sondheim’s “Follies” last fall), this ALNM stars Shannon Cochran and Jonathan Weir (Chicago stage veterans with Hollywood credits) as Desiree and Fredrick. However, the biggest casting news is that Tony (and Jeff) Award winner Deanna Dunagan (“August: Osage County”) is Madame Armfeldt! From one domineering materfamilias to another! Different types, of course, but still. Should be fascinating. Also in the cast are Mosh Pit favorites Cory Goodrich, Brandon Dahlquist and Brianna Borger, aka Mrs. Adrian Aguilar. And the production runs through July 8th. Everybody does this show at this time of year!


Remember that production of “Avenue Q” that was supposed to open this spring in Chicago, that everybody auditioned for? Well, it didn’t happen. And yet, there is indeed a production of the Tony-winning musical in the Chicago area this spring--in Palatine. Music On Stage, the prominent community theater performing at Cutting Hall in the northwest suburbs, the group that brought us Frank Wildhorn’s “Dracula,” is presenting “Avenue Q” from June 2-17, directed by Mark Mahallak. And I think they postponed “Damn Yankees” to do it. Mike Miserendino is Princeton, with Deric Gochenauer as Rod and Don J. Orlando as Nicky. Teresa J. Arnold is Kate, with Veronica Garza as Lucy and Steven Lugovsky as Trekkie. Human-wise, Matt Scharlau is Brian, Christine Pfenninger is Christmas Eve and Kaela West is Gary Coleman. Sarah Weinstein and Krist Neumann are the Bad Idea Bears.

Speaking of awards, and speaking of the northern suburbs, I’d like to point out that a current Drama Desk Award nominee is entertaining Chicagoland audiences at present. (The Drama Desks are the New York theater awards given out by New York theater critics, honoring on- and off-Broadway productions on an equal basis.) Nominated for his leading role in Maury Yeston’s musical “Death Takes A Holiday” (for which he was originally the understudy, but assumed the role almost immediately when the run began, appearing on the cast recording as well), is Kevin Earley, who is the Pirate King in the well-received Marriott Theatre production of “The Pirates Of Penzance,” now through June 10. Though he spent several years in Los Angeles, and has appeared on Broadway and on tour, Chicago is his hometown, as he is the son of the retired artistic director of the Marriott Theatre, Dyanne Earley. Oh, and his fellow nominees for Outstanding Actor In A Musical? Danny Burstein, Raul Esparza, Jeremy Jordan, Norm Lewis and Ricky Martin. Yeah, he’s good…

Speaking of award-winning musical theater stars, are you aware that Nathan Lane, Lee Wilkof, James Harms, John Reeger and Patrick Andrews are currently appearing in the same show in the Chicago Loop? Unfortunately, it’s not a musical! But fortunately, it is “The Iceman Cometh,” the landmark drama by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Robert Falls at the Goodman Theatre, and also starring Brian Dennehy and a slew (slough?) of other Chicago and bicoastal names. This production (now extended through June 17 and rapidly selling out) is now being rumored for a Broadway transfer, even though it runs for four hours and forty-five minutes. You read that correctly. But it must be good. It’s not a musical and I’m mentioned it in “The Showtune Mosh Pit!”

There is new work in town these days, as always. The good and crazy people over at the BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winning Hell In A Handbag Productions have just premiered “Sexy Baby,” their spoof of child beauty pageants running at Mary’s Attic, weekends through June 16. The story concerns Swann Black, “the hottest little superstar in the child pageant circuit since Jon Benet Ramsey.” It’s by David Cerda and Scott Lamberty, with direction by Derek Czaplewski and music direction by Josh Walker. Old Handbag cronies and friends like Jeremy Myers, John Cardone, Michael Hampton, Heather Currie and Alex Grelle are whomping it up.

And I don’t know how I missed it, but “Liberal Arts: The Musical” has only one more weekend of performances (though May 13) at the Second Stage Theatre on Clark Street in Wrigleyville, courtesy of Underscore Theatre Company. It’s by Alex Higgin-Houser, David Kornfeld, Laura Stratford and Brendan Siegfried, and sports a cast of eleven. It’s about college. And they have a very cool website!

Away out west in Aurora, on Route 66, I believe, you will find “Route 66,” not a new work, but not standard repertoire, either. It’s being done through June 10th by some of our standard instrument-playing musical theater actor-singers, though, at the Copley Theatre, across the street from its parent theatre, the Paramount Theatre. Courtney Crouse, Robert Deason, Rusty Koenig, Dan Beno, Adam Michaels and Doug Pawlik are doing the honors on this tribute to travel and the pumpboy types who manned the grease and oil pits along America’s highways during the golden years of leaded gasoline. Stacey Flaster directed and choreographed, with music direction by Alan Bukowiecki.

Route 66 in Aurora

Down in the south suburbs, the bad news coming out of Park Forest is that the Illinois Theatre Center has decided to close its doors, in the aftermath of the death of guiding light Etel Billig on March 27. Billig and her late husband, Steve, founded the area’s only Equity theater in 1976, and sponsored an active theater education program for area youth, in addition to producing mainstage seasons, acting, fundraising and all the rest. Etel remained at her post, quite literally, until her death. But her son, Jonathan, announced last week the decision of the board that the theater will not continue, and that the Jerry Herman revue “Showtune,” which just ended performances, will be the theater’s last production. Sales of items the theater owns will be held soon, in order to help assuage remaining debts, and cash donations are being accepted as well. It’s a bittersweet legacy for a valuable area institution, and one that is already being missed.


But hope springs eternal, and the theatrical circle of life does indeed keep spinning. On Monday of this week, the awards program of the first Illinois High School Musical Theater Awards was scheduled to take place at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, as twenty-four high school students from more than a dozen Illinois schools were invited to learn and perform and to meet cast members from the national tour of “Jersey Boys.” This program is part of the National High School Musical Theater Awards (the “Jimmy” Awards), sponsored by the Nederlander Organization and scheduled for New York City on June 25. The two students from Chicago proper who were chosen to participate in Monday’s event are both students at the Chicago High School For The Arts (ChiArts), Kyrie Courter and Eyeri Cabrera-Loos. Coincidentally, these two young performers just finished starring as Ti Moune and Daniel in the ChiArts production of “Once On This Island,” the weekend of April 27-29. I saw it. They are good. The future of our field is in good hands, I think. I don’t even know which two students were chosen by judges PJ Powers, Sam Samuelson, Nick Cosgrove and Eileen LaCario to represent Illinois in New York, but I bet we all find out soon enough.

Illinois High School Musical Theater Awards

And so, May is afoot! The weather is warm, except when it’s not, and schools are winding down and summer theaters are gearing up. It’s an exciting time! But hey, you already knew that. So, I’ll see you soon, won’t I? Somewhere? Aw, I'll see you under the video screens.....—PWT

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