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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for September 25th, 2013




by Paul W. Thompson

Overheard last weekend under the showtune

video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:

In the afterglow of "Kinky Boots" winning the Tony Award for Best Musical this past June, and with "Big Fish" in previews on the Main Stem as we speak (looking toward its opening night of October 6, 2013), Broadway producers announced last week that the next big Broadway musical to have a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago will be "The Last Ship," the musical with a score by Sting and based on his childhood on the English coast. The 16-time Grammy winner has teamed with the bookwriters John Logan and Brian Yorkey, director Joe Mantello and choreographer Steven Hoggett to create the show, which will launch at our very own BOAT (the Bank Of America Theatre) from June 10 through July 13, 2014. Songs from the show are on Sting's new album, which was released yesterday. Will there be similarities to "Billy Elliot?" Who knows. But we will once again be the center of the musical theater world--at least, after next year's Tony Awards hoopla dies down.


Broadway In Chicago followed up that announcement with news of its entire spring "season," including add-ons, and so (well, I was going to do it anyway) this is a good time for the Mosh Pit to take stock of the tours that will be coming our way in the next nine months. Well, at least the ones that are new on the list. I mean, there are currently 26 shows on their website (, including the three that are currently running ("Evita" among them). And almost all of these are musicals. Surely this is some sort of record! How many cities outside of New York have had 26 "Broadway" shows open in a nine-month period? It's a pretty extensive, and somewhat overwhelming, list. Shows we've not talked about here include "Once Upon A Dream Starring The Rascals," a theatrical concert with the original members of the eponymous blue-eyed soul band appearing together to help tell us their tale (the show runs November 5-10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre). I think that's the only 2013 offering that's new to the Mosh Pit. However, we've just learned of yet another engagement of the musical we've lent our name to ("Chicago," natch, playing February 25-March 2, 2014, at the Bank Of America Theatre), and another visit of a show we've had a lot of time to catch ("Rock Of Ages," back at its first Chicago home, the BOAT, from March 11-16). A hot second after ROA leaves, a tour of "Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" will pull into the Cadillac Palace (March 18-30), starring Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young. A tour we've not seen, featuring songs by "Joseph" tunesmiths Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice as well as the ones from a certain legendary MGM film, will be the highly anticipated "The Wizard Of Oz," playing April 30-May 11 at the Cadillac Palace, to be followed at the same venue by another visit of the perennially popular "Mamma Mia!," playing May 13-18. All this, plus the shows we've already announced herein, like "Once," "We Will Rock You," "Wicked" (the post-modern "Wizard Of Oz," of course), "Elf," "Ghost," that new staging of "The Phantom Of The Opera," the North American premiere of "Heartbeat Of Home," the touring premiere of "Motown," and so much more. It's a cornucopia of showtunes! (And don't forget about BIC's $25 ticket specials on the 25th of every month! Hint: that's today....)


That certain MGM film,"The Wizard Of Oz," is actually playing in movie theaters right now! Well, in an IMAX 3D version, anyway. I think it's only got today and tomorrow left, but reportedly it looks fantastic, especially for a movie soon to celebrate its 75th birthday. I hope you get a chance to see it. Trot on out to Navy Pier, won't you? Aren't you a friend of Dorothy? Here are the showtimes:

The only film that could even possibly rival "TWOO" as the most popular family film of all time is "The Sound Of Music," and there's been something of a dust-up lately about a live television event planned for December 5th on NBC, an event announced last year, I think. Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan are mounting a live broadcast of the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical, starring country music superstar and "American Idol" champion Carrie Underwood as Maria Von Trapp. "True Blood"'s Stephen Moyer will be the Captain, with co-stars Audra McDonald (the Mother Abbess), Laura Benanti (Elsa Schraeder), Christian Borle (Max Detweiler) and Christiane Noll (Sister Margaretta). The other nuns, the seven Von Trapp children, the house servants, 17 (going on 18) year-old Rolf and the other Nazis are yet to be cast. So, what's the fuss? You name it! Folks are upset that Underwood can't sing Broadway music, or that the five-time Tony-winning McDonald doesn't look Austrian, or that (dig this) "they shouldn't try to remake the movie." You know what? They aren't. This isn't a movie. I don't think it's a stage show either, though it's based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical, not the Oscar-winning film adaptation. I think it's going to be done on some massive sets somewhere and beamed live into your house, the way the R&H "Cinderella" was originally done (with Julie Andrews), as were so many other telecasts in the 1950s. These performers are among the top talents of our time, and the material has stood the test of time and the efforts of many, many actors, good and bad. You can still watch Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer on video. You can still listen to the Mary Martin-Theodore Bikel cast album, and to the cassette tapes of your high school production that your grandfather made for your mother. And this version might be pretty good, too. Everyone simmer down now!


Speaking of media adaptations of top Broadway titles, the upcoming film version of "Into The Woods" has had folks talking, too. Now, this one is indeed a movie, set for release a year from now. And it's filming right now, starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, a whole host of Broadway, Hollywood and West End types, and will include new material by its composer-lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. So, what's the fuss? Mainly it's been about the young actress originally cast as Little Red Riding Hood. It was Sophia Grace, a young internet sensation who appeared memorably on Ellen Degeneres' talk show. Well, it seems that even the powers that be behind the film have agreed with the social media public that Grace was just too young for the role, or at least that was the reason given when she was dismissed earlier this month. The role has been given instead to Lilla Crawford, who has been playing "Annie" on Broadway at the Palace Theatre. She's not 18, but folks seem a lot more pleased. Once again, let's all calm down a bit and wait to see the movie for ourselves before passing any more judgment, shall we? And let's place bets on which clips make it into the regular rotation at Sidetrack and The Call.


And what of our other multimedia darling, "Glee," the only property inducted into the Mosh Pit Hall Of Fame due to its extraordinary popularity in these pages during its early years? The season premiere of the FOX-TV hit is tomorrow night, September 26, as the show gears up for the fifth time. We already know that the folks who love McKinley High will be singing Beatles songs, and we know that Rachel (Lea Michele) will be auditioning for a Broadway revival of "Funny Girl" this year (no stretch there). But how will the show handle the real-life death of series star Cory Monteith in a Vancouver hotel room over the summer? Finn had taken a real nice character arc, right? Jock turned singer turned friend of the gay community, turned teacher? And now? Ah, well. Gleeks, stay tuned. Here is our fave Darren Criss, bringing us up to date in preparation for Thursday night:


There was a little earthquake of excitement earlier this week, when it was announced that sometime "Glee" cast member Jonathan Groff will be making his Chicago area solo debut at the Ravinia Festival on December 7, 2013. Lea Michele's co-star in the original Broadway cast of "Spring Awakening" will appear in Bennett-Gordon Hall in Highland Park, accompanied by Broadway conductor Mary-Mitchell Campbell on piano. $40 will also get you dinner before the concert. I know of a lot of people who'll be heading to this one....


And onward to some local productions. We've just become aware of the Haven Theatre's upcoming production of "The Wedding Singer," playing October 13-November 17 at Theater Wit on Belmont Avenue. Jess McLeod directs a cast led by Tony Allen as Robbie and Aja Wiltshire as Julia. Kory Danielson music directs and Jim Beaudry choreographs the Matthew Sklar-Chad Beguelin 2006 tuner. Was Haven's "Hedwig And The Angry Inch" a harbinger of future successes for this young company? Stay tuned!

And a totally new musical will be bowing this coming Monday night, September 30, playing for five Mondays only at Martyrs, the club on Lincoln Avenue in western Lakeview. "Lanyard Skynerd," a "southern rock-parody musical," is by Ed Furman and T. J. Shanoff, creators of "Rod Blagojevich Superstar!" at The Second City. Mick Napier directs the cast, headed by WSCR-AM radio host Matt Spiegel, co-starring Greg Mills, Lori McClain and Karla Beard, and including an onstage five-piece band. Sounds fun! (Well, I'm originally from Nashville, so there's that....)


And lastly, a few folks have had their radars pointed northward these days, as a particularly great-looking production of a Chicago favorite has just opened up in Milwaukee, a scant two hours from the Chicago Loop and much closer if you live, well, closer. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater's "Ragtime" will play through October 27, and leading the cast as Mother is Carmen Cusack, who played Dot/Marie in "Sunday In The Park With George" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier last year and is a current Jeff Award nominee. Gavin Gregory is Coalhouse and Josh Landay is Tateh. Chicago's Bethany Thomas is Sarah's Friend. Road trip!


And so fall has arrived! But Super September continues. All those shows that opened in the last few weeks are still running, peeps. Get out there and see some performances! And afterwards, I'll see you under the video screens.....-PWT

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