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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for October 31st, 2012

'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for October 31st, 2012




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

And, so, Barbra happened! The legendary Barbra Streisand made her once-a-decade appearance in Chicago last Friday night at the United Center, singing showtunes, movie songs and pop songs for several generations and stripes of fans, who reportedly loved every minute of it. (Come to think of it, when she sings “People,” she’s singing a showtune, a movie song AND a pop song. Not bad, Babs, not bad!) I didn’t hear or read one negative word about Streisand’s performance at this concert. Sure, not everyone enjoyed the other performers on the bill (though Jason Gould impressed a lot of folks). And yes, she no longer sounds like a young singer. But when fans begin crying at the mere sound of your voice, you’re doing something right. And when your tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch comes off as a truly heartfelt moment, rather than exploitative or treacly, then your audience realizes why you’ve been a star for fifty years. Fifty years! This lady knows who she is and what she is all about. She’s an actress with a miraculous, natural singing voice. Fifty years! If you are a younger reader of the Showtune Mosh Pit, and haven’t given this woman a chance on your favorite mode of music consumption, I urge you to give her a try. Start anywhere. Each song is a master class in connecting voice, song, emotion, dramatic action and audience. Fifty years!

Speaking of songs, the Chicago theater community has done itself very proud with the release of “Season Of Carols,” an 18-track CD of holiday songs featuring over 100 Chicago music and theater stars, recorded as a benefit for Season Of Concern. Pianist/musical director Eugene Dizon and singer/actress/songwriter Cory Goodrich were the producers of this project, and worked on it tirelessly through the summer. Season Of Concern is the Chicagoland theatre community’s fundraising effort in providing compassionate care to those in our community who are experiencing the effects of catastrophic illness, including HIV/AIDS. And the casts of ten recent Chicago musical productions, along with top Chicago cabaret stars like Beckie Menzie, Tom Michael and The Lincoln Squares, sing a wide variety of carols and Christmas songs, in a grab-bag of musical styles. Everyone worked for free, so that 100% of the $20 sale price goes directly to Season Of Concern. There will be a special concert of music from the recording too, at the Mercury Theater on Monday, December 3, 2012. And you really should get this recording. I’ve heard some of the tracks, and there is great music-making going on--great singing, great arrangements, great and unique work, and dripping with talent. And scrolling through the credits on the track list is like a “Who’s Who” of the folks I talk about in this column week after week. It’s for a good cause. Only eight weeks till Christmas, folks!

Speaking of going to the movies, a film of the recent UK arena tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” starring reality show star Ben Forster, “Matilda” composer/lyricist Tim Michin and former Spice Girl Mel C, was supposed to be shown on movie screens in the US on Monday and Thursday of this week. However, it seems to have been cancelled everywhere, due (perhaps?) to the onslaught of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy on the east coast. Ah, well. Perhaps it will be rescheduled?

However, Chicago has a fun movie event coming up on Saturday, November  3rd, at a minute or two before midnight. It’s the singalong “Xanadu” at the Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue. Yes, “Xanadu,” Gene Kelly’s last movie musical and Olivia Newton-John’s most, er, interesting career choice. And the other star is named Michael Beck (no, it’s not Andy Gibb, I keep telling everyone!). It’s the movie that inspired the camp Broadway musical of the same name, and now it’s complete with live performers and, one assumes, the words to help you sing along. As if any true member of the Mosh Pit needed the words!

From the world of television, we have “I Love Lucy: Live On Stage,” the musical recreation of two episodes from the classic series, now playing at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. The good news is that show has been extended through March 3, 2013! (It opened in September.) The bad news is that it’s not so much an extension as a return engagement. The production has to vacate the theater after next week, so that the London comedy “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience--A Parody” can run there for the holidays (November 13-December 23). It played in New York this summer and fall, and Broadway In Chicago apparently agreed to bring it here before they realized how successful a ticket “Lucy” would be. Ah, well.  The red-headed gal will resume performances on December 28th. Ah, showbiz.

From the world of books, and speaking of parodies, the new musical “Spank!: The Fifty Shades Parody,” has announced that it will play the mainstage at the Royal George Theatre for three weeks, beginning on November 28. (This sounds to me like part of a pre-New York tour, but what do I know?) It premiered in Springfield, Massachusetts this month, and will be playing in Toronto immediately before coming here. It’s written and directed by TV and comedy circuit writer Jim Millan. I haven’t read “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” but I do know that it’s a book. That’s all I know. But now that it has inspired a musical, I guess I’ll have to check it out. (Book humor!)


From the world of the recording industry, the musical theater world has received pretty much all of the artistic output of the Black Ensemble Theater, now thriving in its one-year-old home on NortH Clark Street in Uptown. That’s not a criticism, by the way. And company founder Jackie Taylor certainly sees it as a virtue. The troupe has announced its 2013 season, and it is indeed a mix of revivals of music-oriented shows BET has mounted in the past, with one new show. The change is that we are being promised strictly scheduled runs of these shows, counter to BET’s past practice of running each production as long as audiences would turn out to see them. This change will put BET in line with most other Chicago theater companies, with the advantages and drawbacks of the practice. We’ll see whether the decision was a good one. In the meantime, you can count on seeing “Doo Wop Shoo Bop,” the 1995 revue of the Doo Wop era (February 7-March 31), “It’s All Right To Have A Good Time (The Story Of Curtis Mayfield),” a new musical by Liz Catherine (April 15-June 23), 2003’s “Howlin At The Moon (The Story Of Howlin Wolf) (July 25-September 15) and “Chicago’s Golden Soul” from 1998 (October 17, 2013-January 5, 2014).


Bringing us music from the stages of Manhattan, Highland Park’s The Music Theatre Company is trying something sort of new this season, a three-show series of musicals in concert. The off-Broadway “Lucky Stiff” will take place November 30-December 9, and the Stephen SchwartzThe Baker’s Wife” will be February 1-10. And first up, from November 2-11, is the new musical (or is it a song cycle?) “Fugitive Songs,” the Drama Desk-nominated off-Broadway show by up and coming writers Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen. In the Chicago area premiere of this score, you will hear Sophie Grimm, Diana Lawrence, PatRick Martin, Andrew Mueller and Alan Schmuckler. Jess McLeod directs. If the latest hot thing out of the New York in-the-know scene is your ball of wax, you need to get a ticket now! I understand student tix are $5 with ID.

From the world of opera, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil gave us “Miss Saigon,” their retelling of “Madama Butterfly” set at the end of the Vietnam War. And the latest staging of this megamusical era work is set for this weekend, for only one performance, on Saturday, November 2, 2012. It takes place in Monbeck Auditorium at Highland High School in Indiana, and is this year’s Unity Event, a collaboration of the Carnegie Arts Center, Highland High School and the South Shore Orchestra. Andrea J. Dymond directs a large cast which stars Chicago’s John Cardone as The Engineer, Molly Pan as Kim, Kevin Badten as Chris, Summar Jonas as Ellen, RAndy Ballesteros as Thuy and Vincent McPherson as John.

And also with roots in the opera world is “Rent,” Jonathan Larson’s retelling of “La Boheme” set in the AZT era of the AIDS pandemic. Chicagoland’s latest staging of this important work is in Lund Auditorium of Dominican University in River Forest, directed by Krista Hansen. Professional actors join with Dominican students and with a professional band, musical directed by yours truly. The large cast stars the professionals Adam Michaels as Roger, Dan Olsen as Mark and Daniel Riley as Collins, alongside the students Kayla DeFrenza as Mimi, Becca Duff as Maureen, Gaby Moreno as Joanne, Joe Farrell as Angel and Bill Johnson as Benny. I can’t tell you how proud I am of each and every one of them, and how exciting it is to join the generation that lived through that era with the one that grew up loving the original cast recording of the era’s chief artistic milestone. Do come see us, won’t you? The production runs November 9th-17th. “Seasons Of Love,” indeed.

So, Happy Halloween, everyone! Pretty soon, we’ll all be talking about the many Christmas musicals that color the Mosh Pit green and red and gold and white every winter. But for now, we’re trying to hold on to fall as long as we can! Merry musicals to you all, and I'll see you as soon as we can get there--under the video screens.....—PWT

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