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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for November 4th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

And so Christmas is here with a vengeance! Or, at least, Christmas programming is. The end-of-year, winter solstice holidays have probably brought out specialized shows in the performing arts since caveman times, and 2015 in Chicago is certainly no different. Let's see some of what's in store for us this year, shall we?

Our big, suburban musical theater houses are off to a running start with the Marriott Theatre's "Elf," which opened over the weekend to very good notices. The very first regional production of this title anywhere, Marriott's show is directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, who has assemble a top-notch Chicago cast headed by Jeff Award winner Alex Goodrich in the Will Farrell role of Buddy. Also on hand are his partner in crime from the Marriott's "Hero," Dara Cameron (they are pictured, above), plus theater patriarch Roger Mueller as Santa Claus, with Kevin Gudahl, Susan Moniz and Susie McMonagle playing roles far smaller than what they are used to. If embarrassment of riches is what you are after, look no further than Lincolnshire, Illinois. (Through December 28)


Out west, the Drury Lane Theatre is presenting "White Christmas" this year, with the opening set for tomorrow (previews began last weekend, and performances run through January 3, 2016). Sean Allan Krill and Matt Raftery, Gina Milo and Erika Stephan lead the cast in the tale of the ex-army buddies who perform in a Vermont inn, and try to save its financial woes by performing Irving Berlin songs. Something like that. (Come to think of it, Berlin is having a renaissance in Chicago these days, with his biography onstage now at the Royal George Theatre.) The rest of the cast of "White Christmas" includes such local stalwarts as Alene Robertson, Don Forston, Matthew Crowle and Dale Benson, with Maya Hlava, Harry Bouvy and a full ensemble. William Osetek directs, and Crowle choreographs.


The southwest suburban (or is it in a collar county?) Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora is presenting "A Christmas Story, running from November 25-January 3 and directed by Nick Bowling. Michael Harp, an alumnus of Lyric Opera Of Chicago and the Drury Lane, plays Ralphie, with four-time Jeff Award-winner Danni Smith as Mother, Michael Accardo as The Old Man and Philip Earl Johnson as the narrator. Rhett Guter choreographs and Tom Vendafreddo musical directs.


And--surprise!--the just-over-the-border theater known as Theatre At The Center (in Munster, Indiana) is also presenting "A Christmas Story," a natural for this theater in that the show takes place in northwest Indiana, based as it is on the stories of Hammond native Jean Shepherd. Munster's production takes place November 19-December 27, Starring as Ralphie will be Nate Becker, an alumnus of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, with Rod Thomas, John Lister and Linda Gillum doing the other honors. William Pullinsi directs. Want to catch both productions in one weekend? Somebody should rent a bus and decorate it with leg lamps.


The northwest suburban Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is once again staging its version of the holiday chestnut "A Christmas Carol" this year, scheduled to run November 28-December 24. As many versions of ACC do, Metropolis' (by resident playwright Scott Woldman) includes Christmas carols and music evocative of Dickens' London. So it's somewhat natural that the same guy, Micky York, direct and music direct this production (choreography by Kristine Burdi). Ron Turner stars as Scrooge, with Ryan J. Duncan as his younger self and Joshua Harris as Bob Cratchit. Goran Norquist plays a number of character roles, including Marley and Fezziwig.


Lest you think the City proper is bereft of holiday entertainment this year, rest assured. Andersonville's Quest Theatre Ensemble is presenting Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens' "Broadway musical" version of "A Christmas Carol" from November 20-December 20. Directed by Andrew Park, and with choreography by Dennis Murphy, the production will star Kent Joseph as Scrooge. And there will be large-scale puppetry. And all performances are free!


Holiday family fare geared toward the tots is represented this year by the world premiere original musical "Tinsel!," from Li'l Buds Theatre Company. Written by J. Preddie Predmore, Jenny Lamb and Maggie Portman, with arrangements by Christopher Damiano, it's about a nearsighted reindeer who becomes a popular recording artist. Why not? Performances are at the No Exit Café in Rogers Park from December 12-27, daytimes, with one Monday night show on December 21st. Sounds charming.


For those of you who like "family-friendly" non-holiday musicals (depends on the family, I suppose...), the Wilmette Park District is presenting "Oliver!" for the next two weekends at its Center For The Arts in the Community Recreation Center on Glenview Road. Santiago Callam stars as Dickens' young hero, with Graham Heacock as the Artful Dodger, Ron Goldstein as Fagin, Amanda Walsh as ill-fated Nancy, and Britain Willcock as Bill Sykes. Kristen Williams directs and Paul Scavone music directs.

For those further northwest and a little less "family" minded, the Harper Ensemble Theatre Company is presenting "Gypsy" from November 13-22 in the Harper College Performing Arts Center in Palatine. Directed by Kevin Long, the classic show stars Michelle McKenzie-Voigt as Rose, Brianne DeFrang and Jill Sesso as Louise and June, and Mark Anderson as Herbie. Nick Santoro is Tulsa, dancing the choreography of Cameron Turner. Aaron Benham is musical director.

And if you like "Gypsy," combined with "A Christmas Carol," and you know who you are, you probably like all the offerings of Chicago's Hell In A Handbag Productions, those gender-bending satirical original shows, usually with music, that have a fierce following. The company is presenting a return of its holiday experience, "Christmas Dearest," this year, and it is just up your alley. Cross Joan Crawford with Charles Dickens and you get a show, written by and starring David Cerda, that will play Mary's Attic in Andersonville from November 28, 2015-January 2, 2016. Steve Love directs. Ed Jones plays Carol Ann Cratchit, alongside Kristopher Bottrall, Grant Drager, Chad Ingold, Jamie Smith and Caitlin Jackson.


I'll be back next week with even more holiday showtune offerings, including many perennial favorites from theater companies who know which side of the General Ledger their holiday black ink is buttered on. Oh dear, that's too many metaphors! I will just have to do better.... I'll also give the rundown of Broadway In Chicago's holiday slate. Probably. In the meantime, watch out for the impending announcement of the 2015 BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominees, and pray for more nice weather! Until then, , I'll 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...)