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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for October 27th, 2010




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and the Call:

And the winners and recipients are! The 2009-2010 Equity Jeff Awards were handed out Monday evening in a popular and light-hearted ceremony held at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook. And through Twitter and Facebook, those not lucky enough to attend Chicagoland's premiere theater-industry awards night in person were able to monitor the results like never before. And what results! Drury Lane's world class production of "Ragtime" won seven awards, the most of any single production, including awards in all four individual acting categories for which its performers were eligible. And of course it won for "Production--Musical--Large" (gotta love the names of the Jeff categories), as well as awards for direction (Rachel Rockwell) and musical direction (Roberta Duchak). 

The acting honors went to Quentin Earl Darrington (principal) for his Coalhouse Walker, Jr., (which he delivered to Oakbrook straight from his appearance in the same role on Broadway), and to Valisia LeKae (supporting) as Sarah, his beloved (she was a Broadway understudy). The character who takes Sarah into her home, Mother, was played by Chicagoan Cory Goodrich, and she won principal acting honors for the distaff side. The man she grows to love, Tateh, was brought to life by local actor Mark David Kaplan, in his supporting Jeff-winning performance. Congratulations to all of them, and to a production which will be fondly remembered by many theatergoers for a very, very long time, for its sweep, its clarity, its heart and its stunning visual imagery. 

On the revue side of things, our very own Kate Fry and Rob Lindley took home the actress and actor honors, and the long-running show they appeared in together, Writers' Theatre's production of "Oh Coward!," was awarded the "Production--Revue" prize. The only other musical or revue to win an award of any kind was Drury Lane's "Thoroughly Modern Millie," which was honored with the "Choreography" prize for Tammy Mader's tap-flap-happy work. And the Jeff for "Original Incidental Music" (by the way) went to Ray Nardelli, Andre Pleuss, Kevin O'Donnell and Josh Horvath for their work on Lookingglass Theatre Company's "Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale.

It was a stellar year for showtunes in Chicago, with many worthy productions, but these few really did stand head and shoulders above the rest. I haven't heard one single contrary word regarding these deserving winners. Bravo to everyone! Click below for the full, official list. 

The Jeff Awards Website 

And that was just on Monday night! Tuesday of this week was a noteworthy day for several reasons. First off, the newly-renovated Broadway Playhouse (formerly the Drury Lane Theatre at Water Town Place) is hosting its first regular run of a touring show beginning Tuesday, and it is the circus-inspired theater piece "Traces." Chicago is the first stop on a national tour for this show, running now through December 19, 2010 (I think that's seven weeks, appropriate for the French-Canadian company [7 Fingers] that has produced this acrobatic work). The sample videos are very impressive! I'm not sure its musical theater, but it looks intriguing. Hopefully, more people will follow the example of the young Danish people who were observed buying tickets at that new Ticketmaster self-service kiosk in the Water Tower Place lobby on Tuesday afternoon. 

Chicago Traces 2010 Tickets | Broadway in Chicago 

Tuesday was the last day in an impressive 16-month run of weekly performances by the Chicago Cabaret Project at the Lakeview nightclub Hydrate. The merry band of performers has grown and evolved since their June, 2009 debut there, and more is expected of them and their roster of regular guest stars (Honey West, Rus Rainear, Lynne Jordan and Rebecca Finnegan among them) in the foreseeable future. Congratulations on your great longevity on Halsted Street, you guys! Don't stay away too long. 

Chicago Cabaret Project 

On a broader scale, we note that Tuesday was the official release date of Stephen Sondheim's first book, an immediate "must read" by anyone interested in writing for the musical theater or understanding this towering figure's influence on the field over the past 50-plus years. "Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes" covers the beginning and middle periods of this master's work. Seriously, you have to get your copy. I'm not going to waste one bit of copy on explaining why. Just do it. And we all have to wait with bated breath for the appearance of the next volume! Here's the official Random House entry for the book. I'm salivating already! 

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim - Hardcover - Random House 

And, as Halloween is fast approaching, "Glee" broadcast its "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" episode Tuesday. The companion CD is already available, by the way, and is both a TV show cast album (of "Glee") and a studio cast show album (of "The Rocky Horror Show")--sweet! Anyway, the episode contained most of the show's best-known songs, and touched on issues like teenage body image (especially for boys), the role of arts education in schools, how teachers address or shun sexual issues in the classroom, and non-traditional casting. All in an hour! And Broadway and TV star John Stamos guest-starred. Love it or hate it, there is no show like it, and attention must be paid. 

In case the episode whetted your appetite to see the full show live onstage, there is only one more weekend left (through Saturday) to see NightBlue Performing Arts Company's production of "The Rocky Horror Show" at Stage 773 on Belmont Avenue. From the pictures I've seen, the cast is pretty cute! Just what you'd expect from a rock and roll musical about crazy sex. 

NightBlue Theater 

Speaking of television and of extremely popular movie musicals (and this time with a Chicago tie-in), a musical a little bit different than "Rocky" will be in the forefront of the national consciousness on Thursday of this week (October 28th), when Oprah Winfrey welcomes to her talk show Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and the seven performers who played their children in the film version of "The Sound Of Music." This occasion, sure to be a sweet one for many (certainly those around my age) is being billed as the first ever reunion of the film's entire cast, but I'm pretty sure that Peggy Wood, Richard Haydn and Eleanor Parker are dead! (Aren't they?) But it surely is the first reunion of the film's von Trapp family. I'm not sure if any of the film's other performers will be there, but if anyone knows (it was taped on Tuesday), you can let us in on it! I remember seeing the film in a movie theater several times as a very young child, and once I even snuck in a tape recorder to capture my favorite moments. And my parents had no idea........ 

The Sound of Music on Oprah 

Many folks are raving about a broadcast that aired last Wednesday, October 20th. It was "A Broadway Celebration: In Performance At The White House," on PBS. Broadway stars including Nathan Lane, Elaine Stritch, Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel and Brian d'Arcy James performed for President Obama's family and others, and several people told me it was fantastic! Young musical theater students were featured as well. I hope that Sidetrack and The Call taped it! Did you see it? Here's coverage from 

Students and stars celebrate Broadway 

One last bit of audiovisual news: a group of young Broadway stars, including Jose Llana, Stephanie Umoh, Marty Thomas, Orfeh, Ann Harada, John Tartaglia, Carly Jibson and Danny Calvert, have recorded a song called "It Gets Better" for the Trevor Project, the national organization dedicated to supporting young men and women on the verge of suicide as they struggle with sexuality issues. It's a really catchy song! And it carries a great message, and supports a great cause. Many theater folk have become involved with the grassroots "It Gets Better" movement this fall, and this video is just one example of what's online (the song can be downloaded from iTunes as well). 

"It Gets Better" (Broadway sings for the Trevor Project) 

And so, Halloween approaches. Ah, well. We had a great run, didn't we? And the weather was nice, too! Fall approaches, and indoor activities beckon. You know what? 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...)