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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for October 20th, 2010




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and the Call:

Monday night was hopping at Sidetrack! As Chicago and Broadway director David Cromer and Writers' Theatre Artistic Director Michael Halberstam were celebrating Halberstam's Zelda Fichandler Award, presented by Cromer earlier that evening on behalf of the Central Region of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, their crew of loyal supporters and artists associated with Writers' Theatre were surprised to see Tony winning actor Alan Cumming ("Cabaret") enter the bar, accompanied by a large contingent. Just another night in the Showtune Mosh Pit! And next Monday night could be just as momentous as well, as the Joseph Jefferson Awards will be handed out that night to honorees in the Equity Wing of the Awards. 

Deanna Dunagan and Felicia P. Fields will host the evening of awards (directed by Michael Weber) at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. And, for my money, Drury Lane is the theater to beat in the musical categories. Now, I'm not a Jeff Award voter, but if I were, I certainly would have been leaning toward the Drury Lane's production of "Ragtime" in many categories. "Cabaret" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie" were good there too (all three were lit by triple nominee Jesse Klug), and "Hairspray" and "The Drowsy Chaperone" were standouts at the Marriott Theatre (both directed and choreographed by quadruple nominee Marc Robin). But my money is on Rachel Rockwell's superb "Ragtime." Writers' Theatre's "Oh Coward!" deserves some of the revue awards. And some wild cards always sneak in! Stay tuned to see who gets the honors, or, better yet, attend the ceremony! 

Jeff Awards Home Page 

Opening this week at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook is "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers," the stage adaptation of the classic MGM film musical starring Howard Keel and featuring legendary choreography by Michael Kidd (sawhorses, anyone?). Drury Lane will combine the 1982 Broadway version of the show with a recent version mounted at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. Broadway veteran Steve Blanchard stars, opposite local favorite Abby Mueller. The production runs through December 19. 

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers 

And speaking of the Marriott Theatre, casting was announced for its production of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" last week, and I believe that rehearsals are already underway. The show, directed by Gary Griffin ("The Color Purple" and "The Apple Tree" on Broadway) and choreographed by Matt Raftery, begins preview performances November 3rd and runs through January 9th. Bernie Yvon stars as Harold Hill, with Johanna Mckenzie Miller as Marian the Librarian. Some others in the cast include Andy Lupp, John Reeger, Cory Goodrich and Adrian Aguilar, with a whole host of an ensemble. 

Marriott Theatre Presents THE MUSIC MAN 

Our third large, suburban musical theater house, Theatre At The Center in Munster, Indiana, has announced the cast for its holiday show, "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," written by none other than Meredith Willson as well! (We do love our unofficial composer retrospectives here, don't we? Elton John and Stephen Sondheim have already had theirs this fall.) Originally entitled "Here's Love" when it opened on Broadway in 1963, the show is based on the classic 1947 film "Miracle On 34th Street." The show will run November 11 through December 19, directed by William Pullinsi, choreographed by Linda Fortunato and starring Robert Hildreth, Kelli Morgan and Grace Goble

Theater at the Center 

Not to be outdone, the very urban and midsize Porchlight Music Theatre will produce its own version of the same film this holiday season, with the film's name retained. This "Miracle On 34th Street" premiered at Porchlight last season, and as predicted is returning for its second year, but with a different director--Christopher Pazdernik will do the honors. The book is by Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder, Will Severin and John Vreeke, with holiday music arranged by Jon Steinhagen and musical direction by Eugene Dizon. Many of last year's cast will return, including Jim Sherman and Christa Buck. Performance dates are November 19 through January 2. 

Miracle on 34th Street: Porchlight Music Theatre 

Speaking of Elton John, late last week we were shocked to learn that Chicago's production of "Billy Elliot," the show's first national tour company now at the Ford Center For The Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, will be closing six weeks early, on November 28, 2010 instead of January 15, 2011. The production will still move to Toronto as previously scheduled, leaving a holiday hole in the performance schedule for the show. Hard to understand, unless the Loop is looking overbooked for the holidays, with "Wicked" playing the Cadillac Palace Theatre and "White Christmas" making its Chicago debut at the Bank of America Theatre. The boys will have had an eight month run here, which is respectable but by no means what the producers and promoters were hoping for, I'm sure. And wouldn't it be ironic if the booking of Elton John's "The Lion King," currently right down the street from his "Billy Elliot," had anything to do with the small houses the newer show has been experiencing of late? That's showbiz, folks. 

Billy Elliot Tour - Official Site - Homepage 

Lest we forget, we have some excellent local productions on the boards right now. And the northern suburbs have two such offerings. "A Chorus Line" at the Marriott Theatre received a laundry list of superior reviews, as did "She Loves Me" at Writers' Theatre (I keep mentioning them!). Last week I was able to catch the delightful production of "The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee" now at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. And in downtown Chicago, "Candide" at the Goodman Theatre was not every critic's favorite, but I still maintain that bragging rights go hand in hand with a ticket to this Mary Zimmerman production. Here's a list of the shows running now that local critics have been going for (and browse the others!): 

Top Rated Plays In Chicago 

You only have one more weekend to catch "Reefer Madness," the award-winning off-Broadway musical by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney (based on the cult 1936 film) now playing at the Viaduct Theater's Studio at Western, Belmont and Clybourn Avenues. Called "a hilarious and highly stylized satirical spoof," it stars Zev Steinberg, Tyler Davis, Anna Shutz, David Geinosky, Chelsea Paice, Michael Gardner and Jillian Weingart. BroadwayWorld Chicago's M. William Panek directs. 


And, in a move lauded by many, Rehab, the nightclub adjacent to the cavernous Circuit dance bar on Halsted Street, has been rechristened Rehab Cabaret, with a schedule that includes Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen on Wednesday nights, and Amy Armstrong and Lloyd Young as the hosts of an Open Mic on Fridays. Other acts on other nights will be announced as the calendar progresses. This can only be a good thing in my book. One can never have enough Amy Armstrong, enough cabaret or enough rooms for them to work their magic in. Bring it on, I say. 

Rehab Cabaret 

And so, with election madness ruling the airwaves, I leave you to cooler air and warmer sweaters. And to your Halloween costume plans. You can tell me all about which showtune character costume you'll be wearing for the big event when I see you next weekend, 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...)