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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for September 16th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

Folks are starting to get fired up about the French revolution around here! Or rather, about "La Revolution Francaise." In 1973, while "Jesus Christ Superstar" was trotting the English-speaking globe and folks were debating whether The Who's album "Tommy" would work in a theatrical, rather than a concert, context, a pair of young Frenchmen named Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg (along with Raymond Jeannot and Jean-Max Riviere) created a French rock opera about those events of the 1790s, and produced it in Paris at the 4,500-seat Palais des Sports. Seven years later, those same two Frenchman had a large hand in another Palais des Sports production--one you may have heard of, "Les Miserables." Well, you may think, that's interesting, but wait! "La Revolution Francaise" has never been produced in English before, much less as a piece of theater. And instead of following the "Les Mis" pathway of heading to London's West End, Boublil and Schonberg have brought their now 42-year-old rock opera to Chicago, where it will have a one-night-only concert reading (a non-staged theatrical workshop for an audience) on Monday night, September 28, at Thalia Hall in the Pilsen neighborhood. It's being co-produced by two important players in Chicago's new musicals scene, FWD Theatre Project and Northwestern University's American Musical Theatre Project. And the Chicagoan who contributed additional lyrics to the recent West End revival of the pair's second-best-known work, "Miss Saigon," Michael Mahler, is credited with the English adaptation of the book and lyrics of "La Revolution Francaise." Mahler, the man behind "October Sky" and "Hero" at the Marriott Theatre, will music direct the evening, along with Chicagoan Roberta Duchak, vocal coach to Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe on the "Les Mis" film. Northwestern's David H. Bell directs.

Actually, all of that was known a few weeks ago, and duly reported by your faithful "Showtune Mosh Pit" correspondent. What's new is the casting! The lead roles of Charles and Isabelle are being portrayed by Fergus Inder and Jessie Jennison. George Keating is Louis XVI and Christopher Flaim essays Napoleon Bonaparte, and Boublil's wife Marie Zamora is cast as Marie Antoinette. Other roles will be played by prominent Chicago musical theater actors like Marya Grandy, Will Skrip and Shea Coffman, with Brian Acker in the cast as Chouans and his brother Brandon Acker a member of the band led by Mahler (which also includes Matt Deitchman and Jed Feder). Other roles are filled by Matt Edmonds, Jessie Klueter and the young Charlie Babbo and Morgan Coolidge. A diverse ensemble of 23 additional performers brings the entire company of performers to 40. No wonder there are two producing entities! Oh, and you're going to this, right? The whole world is watching.

I'm not sure if it's a play with music or a musical, but it's a world premiere, developed in collaboration with one of the lead characters. I'm talking about "The Black White Love Play (The Story of Chaz and Roger Ebert)" by Jackie Taylor, beginning at Black Ensemble Theater on North Clark Street on September 26, and running through November 1. Rashada Dawan is cast as Chaz Ebert, who is very closely working with BET on this piece, and the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert will be portrayed by Kevin Pollack. There will be a ten-piece orchestra.

It's not a new show, though I think it is new to Chicago. And it's also a play with music. And don't confuse it with the Kander and Ebb musical "The Scottsboro Boys," which it predates by nearly a decade. I'm talking about "Direct From Death Row The Scottsboro Boys," being produced by Raven Theatre on North Clark Street (or is it North Ashland Avenue?). The play by Mark Stein, with a score by Harley White, Jr., is being directed Michael Menendian, with choreography by Kathleen Dennis and music direction by Frederick Harris. A cast of nine will portray the true story of the nine African-American teenagers accused of rape in 1931 Alabama. Previews begin tonight, September 16, 2015! The run is scheduled through November 14.


The time for our dueling productions of "Spamalot" is upon us! The Tony-winning musical based on "Monty Python And The Holy Grail" is already through its preview period at Arlington Heights' non-Equity Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in the northwest suburbs, where it began September 10 and will officially open tonight, with a run through October 25. Robin Hughes directs Joe Bianco as King Arthur, Timothy Sullivan as Sir Robin, Kevin Lauerman as Sir Lancelot and Ryan J. Duncan as Patsy, with Mackenzie Curran as The Lady of the Lake. Christie Kerr choreographs.


And David Perkovich's Equity production of the show at William Pullinsi's Theatre At The Center begins previews in southeast suburban Munster, Indiana, tomorrow night, September 17, with opening night set for Sunday and the run set to close October 18. Larry Adams, Larry Wyatt, Sean Fortunato, Colette Todd, Todd Patrick, Patrick Tierney, Greg Foster, Jarrod Zimmerman and Jake Mahler lead the company, choreographed by Linda Fortunato. Always look on the...well, you know.

Back northwest, Music On Stage is presenting a Theater For Young Audiences (but not morning hours) version of "Shrek" for the next two weekends, at Cutting Hall in Palatine. Frank Roberts directs, with choreography by Annie Snow. Chris Zeglin is Shrek, with Allison Kasbee as Fiona, Jaymes Osborne as Donkey and Paul Mullen as Lord Farquaad. It's a cast of twenty in all.

The resurrected Circle Theatre is presenting the Chicago premiere of the off-Broadway musical "Triassic Parq," co-directed by Tommy Bullington and Nicholas Reinhart, with music direction by Justin Harner. And it opens this Friday, September 18, at the Heartland Studio Theatre, running through October 4. The show, about sex and dinosaurs, stars Parker Guidry, Erin Daly, Neala Barron, Jacob Richard Axelson, Patrick Stengle and Caitlin Boho as Morgan Freeman.


The 1987 musical "Goblin Market," by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon, based on a narrative poem by Christina Rossetti, is receiving a rare production from October 2-31 at the Pentagon Theatre at Collaboraction in Bucktown, directed by Ed Rutherford and music directed by Jeff Bouthiette for Black Button Eyes Productions. Jennifer T. Grubb and Stephanie Stockstill star. What's more, Polly Pen will be present for a talkback and reception on October 8th. She was raised in Chicago, and starred as Sandy in the very first production of "Grease" over forty years ago. So there's that!


The Highland Park Players will be presenting the Tony-winning "Avenue Q" from October 16-25 at The Northbrook Theatre at the Leisure Center in Northbrook. Catherine Davis is directing a cast headed by BroadwayWorld Chicago Award winner David Geinosky as Princeton, with Justine Klein as Kate Monster, Terry McEnroe as Trekkie Monster, Aaron Stash as Nicky, Brad Kisner as Rod, Hannah Rose as Christmas Eve, Aaron Miller as Brian, Angela Carrington as Lucy T. Slut and Ashley Foreman as Gary Coleman. Ken Preuss music directs and Alexis Armstrong choreographs.

Also in October will come the premiere of a new television series that some in the Mosh Pit might love, the musical comedy series from the CW network, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." Beginning on October 12, Rachel Bloom will star as a woman obsessed with the boy she dated in high school. Broadway's Santino Fontana ("Cinderella") and Donna Lynne Champlin ("The Dead," "Billy Elliot") co-star. Let's hope this one has a long and healthy life, as character Rebecca Bunch periodically bursts into song after moving to California on a whim.

One of the aforementioned Michael Mahler's frequent collaborators and fellow Northwestern graduates, Alan Schmuckler, is a New Yorker now. But Chicagoans have gone gaga over his latest project, the online interactive musical film "My Little Red/Green Coat." It's not that long, but you get to help Jessie pick what to do at key moments in the story. And it's a musical. Ponder that one for a moments, peeps. Then, click on it and have fun!

And that's how you develop an online calling card for your work. Let's all go out and develop ours, shall we? Meet you back here next week for more info about the Chicago musical theater scene. In the meantime, 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...)