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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for November 14th, 2012

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for November 14th, 2012




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

It’s a big, big week for musical theater in Chitown! Let’s get to it, shall we?

First of all, it’s not every week that a national tour opens, but it’s certainly rare when TWO tours stop here at the same time, for the same three weeks! I’ll give top billing to first-time tour “Sister Act,” the London and Broadway musical with music by Alan Menken that is now playing at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University (through December 2). Based on the popular Whoopi Goldberg film about a woman who hides out in a parish convent and transforms the nuns and their music through gospel music and personality, the tour stars the young Broadway veteran Ta’rea Campbell as Deloris Van Cartier and Chicago’s very own 10-time Jeff Award-winner Hollis Resnik as Mother Superior. She’s not just there for the Chicago stop on the tour, peeps. She works nationally, and this is her fourth national tour. Cheer her on, and raise your voice for “Sister Act,” won’t you? I knew you could do it!

Diagonally across the Loop, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, the eager Mosh Pit peep will find “Les Miserables” for the next three weeks as well. This is not the original staging, but the re-imagining done for the 25th anniversary of the show’s London debut in the fall of 1985. Yes, we’ve seen this tour before. And yes, the tours of the original production played here upteen times, including a long stand at the Auditorium 20 years ago. But this tour is now starring Peter Lockyer as Jean Valjean, with Andrew Varela as Javert and Chicago’s very own Jeff Award and BroadwayWorld Chicago Award-winner Max Quinlan as Marius! (His Jeff is for “The Light In The Piazza” at the Marriott Theatre, and his Broadie is for “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Theatre At The Center.) It’s Max Quinlan as Marius. So, you’ll go, right?

While we’re on the subject of tours, a certain Second National Tour just announced its cast, and Chicago finally got the answer we were waiting for. The Tony-winning “The Book Of Mormon,” with its “South Park” and “Spamalot” pedigree strongly in evidence, will begin performances at the Bank Of America Theatre on December 11, and will play at least through June 2, 2013 (reportedly, all performances are sold out through March 3rd). And now we know who will be up on stage! Nic Rouleau, who’s been starring in the show on Broadway, will be Elder (“I Believe”) Price, “Pitch Perfect” star Ben Platt will be the socially awkward Elder Cunningham, and Stephanie Umoh will be Nabulungi. And, wouldn’t you know it, there are Chicago actors in this cast as well! Song and dance man Jackson Evans (seen last season in the Drury Lane Theatre’s “Hairspray”) has been cast as Elder McKinley, and Steppenwolf’s James Vincent Meredith will be Mafala Hatimbi. And I recognize Jake Emmerling’s name from Facebook, too…. Congratulations, you guys!


And on to the very busy local scene! Many theaters are in the process of closing their Super September shows and opening the ones that will run for all or part of the holidays. Tonight, for instance, Circle Theatre in Oak Park is opening “Pippin,” the Stephen Schwartz show seen twice hereabouts in recent seasons (it will run through December 23). Only, this one has a twist. It’s subtitled, “A Bollywood Spectacular.” That’s right, as in the film industry in India. Director-choreographer Kevin Bellie is setting the show and its dance style in that world. I’m told the music has been reconceived in that vein as well. Sounds intriguing, no? Christopher Logan, Neil Stratman and Khaki Pixley star, with Patti Roeder as Berthe. Ryan Brewster is the musical director, and the Bollywood look of the show is being handled by old Circle hands Bob Knuth (sets), Gary C. Echelmeyer (lights) and Jesus Perez (costumes). Have you seen the pictures?

Already in performances at the Court Theatre in Hyde Park is the musical “The Dead,” the 2000 musical which won a Tony Award for Best Book and has been produced at Court twice before. Charles Newell and Doug Peck are director and musical director once again, with a starry cast featuring such luminous names as Susie McMonagle, Mary Ernster, Rebecca Finnegan, Rob Lindley, Jim DeSelm, Rachel Klippel, Lara Filip, Anne Gunn and more. It’s not your typical musical, but it’s pretty special artistic fare. Katie Spelman choreographs. (Through December 9th).

Opening this week after a week of previews at the Marriott Theatre is “My One And Only,” the Gershwin show (based loosely on “Strike Up The Band”) that originally starred Tommy Tune and Twiggy. Now through January 6, 2013, you can see song and dance man Andrew Lupp and the triple threat beauty Summer Naomi Smart in those roles, supported by Felicia P. Fields, Ted Louis Levy, Paula Scrofano, Roger Mueller and a well-scrubbed tapping ensemble. This show was quite the thing back in the day. And, oh yes, there’s that water dance! Pure theater magic, that one. Tap whiz and double BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominee Tammy Mader directs and choreographs.

Not to be outdone in the song and dance department, the Drury Lane Theatre is  mounting “Singin’ In The Rain” right now, directed by Bill Jenkins and choreographed by Amber Mak. It too began previews last week, but will run through January 13, 2013. Based on the legendary 1952 film, this show stars Broadway stars Sean Palmer (“The Little Mermaid”) and Melissa van Der Schyff (“Bonnie And Clyde”) as Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, and Chicago stars Matthew Crowle (“Spamalot”) and Jenny Guse (“tick…tick…BOOM!”) as CosMo Brown and Kathy Seldon. Supporting players include such familiar names as Don Forston, Catherine Lord, John Reeger, Katie Huff, George Andrew Wolff and the young Daniel Coonley, and, yes, Virginia, there is a very large dancing ensemble. And I assume there is a water dance here too! Gotta love that.

There are just three more times to catch “La Cage Aux Folles” from the Oak Lawn Park District Theatre, at the Oak View Center on 110th Street. It opened last weekend, and will also run November 16, 17 and 18. Paul Nirchi and Brad Kisner star as Georges and Albin/Zaza, directed by Josie Nirchi and choreographed by Staci Cousert. Jenn Rooney is Anne, and Mark Bartishell is Jacob/Claudine. It’s, you know, “La Cage Aux Folles.” With a LARGE cast.

One local theater is readying its holiday show while extending its Super September show! That’s the way to do it! Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre has announced an extension of the Grammy Award-winning Broadway revue, “Smokey Joe’s Café,” now through December 2, and they will still be opening the original revue “Joy To The World,” both slated for November 17-December 23 at the No Exit Café in Rogers Park. And the cast of “Joy To The World” has been announced. The “Christmas Cabaret” will star Justin Adair, Amanda Horvath, Michael Reyes and Amanda Hartley, directed by Fred Anzevino and musical directed by Jeremy Ramey. If you buy the dinner before the show, it’s turkey! Yes, I guess the holidays really are a-comin’.

So that’s it for this week’s “Mosh Pit.” There’s a lot going on, folks! And I’ll have many more Christmas musicals in the coming weeks. Trust me on this one! In the meantime, I'll see you under the video screens...won’t I.?—PWT

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