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'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for September 30th, 2015


by Paul W. Thompson

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

After a few weeks of quiet, things are heating up again at Broadway In Chicago, as the national tour of "A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder" (pictured) officially opens tonight at our Bank Of America Theatre, after a shakedown cruise to Schenectady. A first-class Equity tour of the oldest recent Tony Award-winning Best Musical not yet seen here (2014), the show affectionately nicknamed "GGLAM" should prove to be a hit with those who like traditional singing, British farce, small casts in front of rapidly changing scenery, and, well, everyone. It's here for two weeks only, though. Remember, this is the show that triumphed in a season also including "Beautiful," "If/Then," "Bridges Of Madison County," "Bullets Over Broadway" and more, so there's got to be something to it. Go, go! You'll love it. It's more than just "that show that has that number about the doors."


At that same theater from December 13, 2015-January 10, 2016 will be the world premiere, pre-Broadway tryout of the musical "Gotta Dance," directed and choreographed by "Kinky Boots" helmer Jerry Mitchell, and written by five folks, one of whom is the late Marvin Hamlisch. Based on a documentary about seniors who audition to dance at half-time for an NBA team, the show will star Stefanie Powers (TV's "Hart To Hart"), Broadway legend and Chicago favorite Andre De Shields (the Goodman Theatre's "The Jungle Book"), Georgia Engel ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show") and Lillias White ("The Life"). Could be fun! Check out this sneak peek performance:


And looking a little bit further ahead, to June 7-July 3, 2016, another show will do the world premiere, pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago thing, and this one has Mosh Pit peeps of a certain age heaving with anticipation. It's "The SpongeBob Musical," conceived and directed by Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Tina Landau ("Floyd Collins") and with music supervised by Tom Kitt ("If/Then"). But who is writing the songs? Well, folks like Cyndi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, two guys from a group called Aerosmith, John Legend, Lady Antebellum and many more. Oh, and Davie Bowie. Nickelodeon is producing it, and Generation Y'ers are loving it. I didn't even know whether SpongeBob lived in the ocean or in a kitchen, so maybe I'm not the demographic they're shooting for. The Oriental Theatre will be the place. SpongeBob!

This past Monday night at the United Center, former musical theater diva Madonna ("Evita" on film and "Dick Tracy" on soundtrack) filled the room with things that those in attendance reportedly loved. However, a few blocks south of there was a showtune happening of even greater import (shocking, I know). You see, the world premiere of an English translation of the first rock musical by "Les Miserables" creators Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil took place at Thalia Hall in the Pilsen neighborhood, with them in collaborative attendance. "La Revolution Francaise" is the name of the piece, though it may soon come to be called "The French Revolution." And the translation of the work is the work of Chicagoan Michael Mahler, who contributed additional lyrics to the London revival of the same team's second most popular work, "Miss Saigon." Mahler, whose "October Sky" is still running in its world premiere through October 18th at the Marriott Theatre, is having the kind of year that folks don't even dare to dream of. And how was the show on Monday night, Mrs. Lincoln? Well, nobody is saying, other than that there were thrilled to be there, thrilled to be a part, honored to meet the legendary pair, etc. You know, the usual.... ;-) But the co-production by the FWD Theatre Project and Northwestern University's American Musical Theater Project, with a cast of Equity actors and students, was a sold-out, one-night affair (David H. Bell directed), and no doubt next steps are being contemplated. Will this show remain a footnote as far as the team's career in English-speaking countries is concerned? Will it fair better than their "The Pirate Queen," which tried out here before less than stellar Broadway results. Stay tuned, peeps.

Also still running (until October 25) is The Hyprocrites' well-received production of "American Idiot," in its locally-produced premiere at The Den Theatre. That production will soon be joined by another "American Idiot," this one by the aforementioned Northwestern University in its theater mainstage series and scheduled from October 16-25 only. Lili-Anne Brown directs. You can see them both back-to-back! NU's Wirtz Center For The Performing Arts is also presenting the Broadway musical "A Year With Frog And Toad" as part of its children's Imagine U series (November 6-22) and "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" on the mainstage series (February 12-28), directed by Matt Hawkins.


Beginning performances this past weekend was Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre's mounting of "Blood Brothers," a musical phenomenally successful in the UK but less so stateside. But fans of the show are earnest and rabid. Early reviews for this production are quite positive, for the production if not wholeheartedly for the show itself. Kyrie Anderson, Charlie Mann, Cody Jolly, Dana Anderson and Jordan Phelps star in the tale of twins separated at birth, with a backdrop of the British class system in Thatcherian England, with tragic results. If you can handle ominous plot twists and catchy folk-pop ballads in a small space, this one's for you. Fred Anzevino directs, with music direction by Jeremy Ramey. (Through November 15 at the No Exit Café)


Ask and ye shall receive dept.: Didn't I just wonder when we would know who is cast in the Drury Lane Theatre's holiday production of "White Christmas?" Yes, I did, at least in my mind if not in this column. But at last the details have been revealed! Chicago favorite Sean Allan Krill (a current Jeff Award nominee for Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "Sense And Sensibility") will star alongside dancer-actor turned choreographer Matt Raftery as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, respectively, with Gina Milo and Erika Stephan as Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. (I jest of course, referring to the perennially popular Paramount film upon which this 2008 and 2009 Broadway musical is based.) With Irving Berlin's great songs intact (and what a fall he will have in Chicago this year), Drury Lane's production will play October 29, 2015 through January 3, 2016, directed by William Osetek and choreographed by Matthew Crowle. In supporting roles will be Alene Robertson, Don Forston, Harry Bouvy, Dale Benson and Crowle, with Maya Hlava and Avery Moss sharing the role of Susan. The ensemble numbers 14 more. And you heard it here, first: the Oakbrook Terrace theater now hosts a new restaurant named "Lucille."


In December, another one-night-only production will take place, one of "Rent." And there's a twist. A group calling themselves Artists Giving Back is presenting the Pulitzer Prize-winning show at the Athenaeum Theatre on World AIDS Day, December 1st, with proceeds going to the AIDS Foundation Of Chicago. And recording artist Steve Grand ("All-American Boy") will perform "Seasons Of Love." So, I think this is a concert production, though semi-staged, though I don't know yet. And further casting is not yet announced, though auditions were held in July. But tickets went on sale last weekend! Founders Justin Callis and Peter Ruger are writing the next chapter in the history of this historic musical, and in the way that musicals are presented to Chicago audiences, through partnering with local service organizations, innovative fund-raising and social media awareness, and overall gumption. "No Day But Today," indeed.

Though it didn't' win any Emmy Awards, the TV show "Empire" had a lot of folks talking about its season premiere last Wednesday on FOX-TV. No doubt folks will be talking tomorrow about tonight's Episode Two. The show was filming here during the summer, and stars Terrence Howard and four breakout stars, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Gray and Trai Byers, plus a whole lot of guest stars and a lot of original music. Catch the wave, peeps.

But there's an even more buzzed-about showtune happening on electronic media right now. And it has more people talking instantly about new theater music than any other recording I can ever remember. And I'm a Grammy Awards voter, and I'm old. I've been paying attention a long, long time. But the cast album of the new Broadway musical "Hamilton" has caught people's attention in a truly remarkable way. It was released for download last week, first through NPR, and instantly EVERYONE had heard it. Over and over and over. It's not just the second full musical by the composer-lyricist of "In The Heights." It's not just a savvy example of non-traditional casting, nor a timely tale of national politics, nor the number of awards the show won for its off-Broadway debut last season. Nor is it the much-lauded role of hip-hop and rap in the show as a "gamechanger" for musical theater (the show includes other musical forms, too). It seems to be all of this, and more. To top off last week, composer-lyricist-bookwriter-star Lin-Manuel Miranda was just awarded the prestigious "genius" award and grant from Chicago's John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. And if the show doesn't win the Pulitzer Prize next year, becoming this decade's traditional one-and-only musical winner of that annual prize, I'll eat my hat. Don't miss the water cooler conversation, peeps. Tickets to the show, at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre, are few and far between, and VERY pricey. Listen to this album. It's why you're here. Consensus agrees.

Well, it's colder outside. True. But you know what that means! News about the BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards is just around the corner! Until that time comes, put on a light jacket and go attend some theater. Or listen to "Hamilton" again. And perhaps, just perhaps, 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...)