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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for November 11th, 2015



by Paul W. Thompson

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

Hey there, Mosh Pit peeps! How's everybody doin? Yours truly is feeling excited about all the excitement generated by Monday's announcement of the nominations for the 2015 BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards! Brown Paper Box Co.'s Chicago premiere of "[title of show]" led all musical theater nominees with 9 nominations, and Up And Coming Theatre's suburban premiere of "American Idiot" received 8. Porchlight Music Theatre's "Side Show" is on the list 7 times, and the Paramount Theatre's "Les Miserables" made the list 6 times. Three musicals received 5 nominations: the Drury Lane Theatre's "Billy Elliot," Black Ensemble Theater's "Men Of Soul" and Fremont Street Theater Company's "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying." And with 4 nominations were the Marriott Theatre's "City Of Angels," Pride Films And Plays' "The Boy From Oz" and the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble's "Dogfight."

Notice also that three plays that include songs are in the running for key awards as well: Raven Theatre's "Direct From Death Row The Scottsboro Boys," Drury Lane's "Peter And The Starcatcher" and Theater Wit's "Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play." So that's cool.

Vote now!!!


But what about theater that's going on now? Ok, hold your horses! It is indeed true that the national tour of "Mamma Mia" is performing here this week (November 10-15 only). How many more times will this now-familiar production reach our shores? This could be the last time, as the Broadway incarnation closed (though London still survives). So, if this is your cup of tea, better drive down to the Cadillac Palace Theatre by Sunday!

If you saw "The Peanuts Movie" during this past weekend (its opening weekend), then perhaps you are eager to see the live theatrical adaptation of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that begins performances at the Broadway Playhouse this Saturday, November 14 (running through January 3, 2016). Eric Schaeffer's 2013 stage adaptation of the legendary 1965 animated television special is produced by Chicago's Emerald City Theatre and directed by Ernie Nolan. Performed by adults and aimed at the child in all of us, the show stars David Wesley Mitchell as Charlie, Jamie Finkenthal as Lucy, Denzel Love as Linus, Alex Benjamin as Schroeder and Mary-Margaret Roberts as Sally, heading a cast of 12. Word has it that tickets for this show are very hard to get!


While we're on the subject of Broadway In Chicago, the national tour of "Beautiful" is making Chicago a significant stop on its itinerary. It will be playing at the Oriental Theatre for 12 weeks! That's quite a long time, indeed, especially for a show that did not win the Tony Award for Best Musical. However, the actress playing the lead character (and the jukebox show's composer) Carole King did win the Tony as best actress. That actress, in case you haven't read the Showtune Mosh Pit very often, was Evanston native and former Chicago stage star Jessie Mueller. Her parents and siblings continue to work our stages all the time. And, as fate would have it, this tour is being headlined by none other than the New York-based Broadway veteran Abby Mueller, Jessie's older sister, who won the part by auditioning for it. Sounds crazy, no? Well, maybe something in the water in the Mueller household taught kids not only how to sing, act and dance, it taught them how to do it while sounding exactly like a Grammy-winning rock and feminist icon. Not a bad way to grow up. "Beautiful" will be here from December 1-February 21. Crazy!

A little show called "The Lion King" is back once more, loving Chicago with multiple, lengthy tour stops after famously skipping us in the early days of almost two decades ago. This time around, Julie Taymor's puppets that keep on pupping will play the Cadillac Palace Theatre from December 2-January 17. Bring the young ones, bring the old ones. It's the circle of life, as the story goes on and on. Can you feel the love tonight? You will, as the legendary show that's now Broadway's third-longest running musical in history enjoys a good old-fashioned Chicago Christmas.

But I'm not done! There is one more show warming up in the BIC pen (couldn't resist) this holiday season. It's the pre-Broadway tryout of "Gotta Dance," which will play the Bank Of America Theatre from December 13-January 10. Based on a documentary film, this is director Jerry Mitchell's latest project, and it was "A Chorus Line" composer Marvin Hamlisch's last project before he died. It stars former Chicagoan Andre De Shields ("The Wiz," "The Jungle Book" at the Goodman Theatre, etc.), Georgia Engel ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), Lilias White ("The Life"), Stefanie Powers ("Hart To Hart") and more as a group of senior citizens who form a pro basketball half-time dance team. Chicago area native and Broadway veteran Alexander Aguilar ("Lysistrata Jones") is in the ensemble. Will this show be the next "On Your Feet!?" The next "Kinky Boots?" The next "The Pirate Queen?" Go and find out.

Last week, I mentioned that the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights is once again producing "A Christmas Carol" this season. What other shows are out there that companies perform each and every holiday season? Well, the granddaddy of them in these here parts is the Goodman Theatre production of that same title (different script, same source material). Now in its 38th year, ACC at the GT will play from November 14-December 27, directed once again by Henry Wishcamper, choreographed by Tommy Rapley. BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominee Larry Yando will reprise his remarkable Scrooge, once again berating Ron E. Rains' Cratchit, cowering from Joe Foust's Marley and inquiring after the health of Nathaniel Buescher's Tiny Tim. Malcolm Ruhl is the music director and one of the onstage musicians. It really is worth seeing. It really is something.

The House Theatre Of Chicago has performed an original show for the last several years, its version of "The Nutcracker." It's not Tchaikovsky's ballet of the same name, but it tells the same E.T.A Hoffmann story, directed and choreographed by the aforementioned and busy Tommy Rapley. It's in previews now, with the official opening set for November 13 and performances running through December 31. Kevin O'Donnell has provided the original music, and Jaclyn Hennell stars as Clara.


The Barrel Of Monkeys troupe compiles and performs a show based on the writings of third through fifth grade school children, a revue that they call "That's Weird, Grandma." There's a new edition every couple of months. And every year around this time, an edition of the show called something like "That's Weird, Grandma: The Holiday Special" plays at the Neo-Futurist Theater on Ashland Avenue, directed by Joseph Schupbach. The production runs on Mondays from November 16-December 28 this year, with press opening on November 23rd.


The Mercury Theater Chicago is again producing the popular and Chicago original musical "The Christmas Schooner," now two decades old and working its magic on multiple generations of Chicagoans. Based on the real-life story of the ship captain who brought Christmas trees from Wisconsin through treacherous Lake Michigan weather to Chicago's German immigrants 100 years ago, the fate that befell him and his wife's response to it all, it will be performed again this year on Sheffield Avenue from November 25-December 27. I don't think casting for this year has been announced (just watch, it will come out tomorrow), but social media tells me that Brianna Borger will once again star as Alma Stossel. Here's the show's secret surprise--it's about her.

That show was written by Chicago actor and writer John Reeger and the late Julie Shannon. The pair were collaborating on another musical that they were unable to complete when Shannon passed away in 2012. Well, Chicago actor and composer Michael Mahler has completed the score, and the Mercury Theater Chicago will be debuting it in January (run TDB). It's called "The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes," and it will be directed by the in-demand BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominee Rachel Rockwell. After that, the Mercury will produce "The Producers."


Let's not confuse this musical with another that is a perennial at the Raven Theatre in Edgewater. The light-hearted "Sherlock Holmes And The Case Of The Christmas Goose" will play from December 9-January 3, directed by Rachel Edwards Harvith.

But while we're on the subject of season announcements, Light Opera Works has announced its 2016 season as well, even while just now beginning rehearsals on its 2015 season closer, "Guys And Dolls" (running December 26-January 3). In 2016, the company will present "My Fair Lady" (starring Nick Sandys) in June, "Mame" in August, the original revue "Let Me Entertain You: Jule Styne's Greatest Hits" in October and the operetta "Die Fledermaus" (in English) from December 26, 2016-January 1, 2017. Wow, I think that's the first time I've typed that year into this column!


So that's it for now. Get your shopping done now, kids, as the holidays will be here before you know it! Don't let the weather distract you. Stay focused! And while you're at it, you can see me when I 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...)