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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for November 21st, 2012

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for November 21st, 2012




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

It’s a little more than a month away. Can you stand it? We’ve been eagerly awaiting this for a year now, if not for 27 years, and it’s almost here! I’m talking of course about the release of the film version of “Les Miserables,” arguably the most popular musical ever written and staged. And on Christmas Day, director Tom Hooper’s vision of Claude-Michel Schoenberg’s and Alain Boublil’s legendary version of Victor Hugo’s novel will finally hit big screens everywhere. For two more weeks, a well-received touring version of this show (not the original staging, but apparently a great one) is ensconced at our Cadillac Palace Theatre, and of course a theater-going and a movie-going experience are different. I say, enjoy both!

The chief buzz about this film is director Hooper’s decision to have all the actors sing live during every take of filming, singing to a piano accompaniment that was later replaced with an orchestra track. The results are raw, not pure, and visually connected to the sound in a way not usually experienced in a Hollywood musical. People seem thrilled by the trailers. And the cast itself is the second biggest buzz--Australian Tony winner Hugh Jackman and Australian Oscar winner Russell Crowe (vocal coached by Chicago’s Roberta Duchak, you remember) headline as Valjean and Javert, with the film world’s Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried as mother and daughter, film oddities Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the despicable Thenardiers, and the theater world’s Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit as the young revolutionary heroes. London stage star Samantha Barks is Eponine the waif. Can you hear the people sing? Yes, you can. Or will, on December 25th.


Chicago’s legendary Music Box Theatre is offering a different kind of Hollywood movie musical experience this weekend, when the popular “Sing-a-long Sound Of Music” takes place on November 23, 24 and 25. “The Sound Of Music” is the most popular film musical ever made (so far!), starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and whole host of kids who became superstars to folks of my age (it came out the year I turned four). So go, and sing along! And there’s a costume contest, and who knows what else. “The Lonely Goatherd,” anyone? (Rhymes with “throat heard,” by the way.) Sounds like a blast!


Speaking of musicals with children, “Annie” has been revived on Broadway this fall, you know, with Tony winner Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan and Australian stage star Anthony Warlow finally debuting on Broadway as Daddy Warbucks. So? Well, our very own Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora is debuting its own production of the perennial pleaser tonight! I guess they had the rights secured before the Broadway production firmed itself up (like the Drury Lane Theatre did when they had “Ragtime” at the same time New York did). Ours will run through December 30, directed by Rachel Rockwell and starring young Caroline Heffernan in the title role. Christine Sherrill is Miss Hannigan, with Gene Weygandt as Daddy Warbucks and Maggie Portman as Lily St. Regis (like the Hotel!).


Looking a little bit forward to next year, we find that the Mercury Theater on Southport Avenue will be changing from a rental house to a subscription one, under the direction of Executive Director Walter Stearns. And it will be featuring musicals! First up (opening January 10, 2013) will be “A Grand Night For Singing,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein revue, followed by Cy Coleman’s “Barnum” and the first local production of “The Color Purple.” That’s an interesting lineup!


At the close of 2013, the Mercury will bring back the show that is there right now, and that was there a year ago, Chicago’s beloved holiday musical, “The Christmas Schooner.” And so, the Showtune Mosh Pit begins in earnest our coverage of holiday musicals for 2012! Honoring the 100th anniversary this year of the fateful voyage of the real-life “Christmas tree ship,” and dedicated to the memory of its composer-lyricist, Julie Shannon, who died this year (book by John Reeger), this show that so many Chicagoans have grown to love in the past two decades will begin performances on November 23, 2012 and run through December 30. November 23, 1912 was the day the Rouse Simmons was lost, along with its crew and its cargo of 5,500 trees from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This fateful event, and all that came before and after, are in steady hands this year, as the show is once again directed by Stearns, with musical director by Eugene Dizon and choreography by Brenda Didier. Stars Cory Goodrich, Karl Hamilton and Jim Sherman return as well. “Merry Christmas, Chicago!”


Another holiday show returning to our boards this year is “The Christmas Miracle Of Jonathan Toomey,” now in its second year from the Provision Theater Company on the Near South Side. With book and direction by Timothy Gregory and music and lyrics by Michael Mahler (“Hero”), it stars Lia Mortensen and James Rank. Nicholas Davio musical directs. And there are a lot of kids. The folk-bluegrass musical had its world premiere last year, has opened this week already, and runs through December 23.


A different sort of holiday musical, with music by frequent Mahler collaborator Alan Schmuckler, will have its world premiere when it begins performances next week, November 30, running through December 23 in The Steppenwolf Garage on the Near North Side (or is it far south Lincoln Park?). I’m talking about the About Face Theatre production of “We Three Lizas,” with book and lyrics by Scott Bradley of The Scooty and JoJo Show. Scott Ferguson directs, with choreography by Patrick Andrews. Starring in the cast of ten of this “dark, sexy holiday musical” are Bradley, Scott Duff, John Fransisco and Arturo Soria. And yes, it’s about Liza.


In a somewhat more traditional vein, but in its long-overdue Chicago premiere, is the 1984 off-Broadway musical, “The Gifts Of The Magi,” running November 17 through the famous closing date of December 23, courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre and based on storied by O. Henry. In performance at Stage 773, the musical by Mark St. Germain and Randy Courts is directed by Mark Lococo and choreographed by the busy Brenda Didier (music direction by Elizabeth Doran). Chelsea Morgan and Jason Richards star.


Also just opened, after a weekend of previews at the Theater At The Center in Munster, Indiana, is “Plaid Tidings” the holiday edition of/sequel to “Forever Plaid,” with book by Stuart Ross. William Pullinsi has directed your favorite neurotic fellows from the pre-rock songbook era, embodied this time around by Frank J. Paul, Rod Thomas, Jonathan Wagner and Scott Stratton. Nicole Miller choreographs the nostalgic antics, with musical direction by William Underwood. It also runs through December 23. I’m detecting a trend here!


And lastly, we have “A Christmas Carol,” the number one holiday offering in theaters, which usually has traditional Christmas carols and possibly onstage musicians and straddles the line between a musical and a play with music. We have three such production this year, that I know of, led of course by the granddaddy of Chicago Christmas Carols, the full-scale one at the Goodman Theatre. On the boards from November 17 through the daring date of December 29, Tom Creamer’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ tale (original music by Andrew Hansen) is once again directed by Steve Scott and stars Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge. The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre production of “A Christmas Carol,” in Arlington Heights, runs November 23-December 24. It has daytime and evening performances. And that’s all I know! And the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace has a shorter production of “A Christmas Carol,” geared for children, that runs daytimes from November 23 through December 22, directed by Scott Calcagno. Whew!




More to come next week! And thanks as always for reading, peeps! In the meantime, eat some turkey if you’re able, and take a moment to realize how lucky we are to be surrounded by such awesome musical theater! I’m sure I’ll see you somewhere this weekend, out and about, perhaps under the video screens.....—PWT

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