'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for January 16th, 2013
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by Paul W. Thompson
THE LATEST IN UNAUTHORIZED GOSSIP AND BUZZ
FROM THE HEART OF CHICAGO'S SHOWTUNE VIDEO BARS,
AND MUSICAL THEATER NEWS FROM CHICAGO TO BROADWAY
by Paul W. Thompson
Overheard last weekend under the showtune
video screens at Sidetrack and The Call:
And the 2012 BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards Celebration is done! Last Wednesday, January 9th, we had a blast hanging out and hearing from many of the winners of the Awards, as voted on by the readers of BroadwayWorld. Particularly fun were the times when the casts of Circle Theatre's "Reefer Madness" and Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre's "Smokey Joe's Café" swarmed the stage, and when musical director winner Jeremy Ramey assembled all who would join in and told a brief but hilarious audience participation joke. I'd like to add a personal thank you to my friends (and BroadwayWorld Chicago volunteers) Michael Mosley, Jason Sanicki, Lillian Murphy, Jose Alarcon and Brian W. Jakosz for their help, to The Call's Ashley Morgan (and her costume changes!) for being such a lovely and gracious co-host, and to Michael Hogan, Rob Anthony and all the staff at Showtune Wednesday in Andersonville at The Call! BroadwayWorld's M. William Panek supplied the photography, and all who attended met new folks and reconnected with past acquaintances. It was a great night! I hope you were able to be there, and if not, there's always next year! See you then....
And so, it's onward into 2013! And I guess that last week I was a tiny bit eager in my item about "Big Fish," the pre-Broadway tryout that will begin performances at the Bank Of America Theatre here on April 2nd, starring Norbert Leo Butz. Well, last week, the rest of the cast was announced! Northwestern University alumna Kate Baldwin ("Finian's Rainbow") and a past visitor to the Mosh Pit, Bobby Steggert ("Ragtime"), will co-star with Butz, now that they have both finished up the off-Broadway run of the new musical "Giant." It's a cast of 27, aiming for a Broadway opening at the Neil Simon Theatre, with previews beginning there September 5, 2013. Tickets will go on sale here for the tryout on February 4th. But will it be the next "Kinky Boots?"
The creative and unpredictable Hershey Felder has announced a run of his latest one-man show, "An American Story," at the Royal George Theatre from March 7 through April 14. That last date is significant, for it's the anniversary of the event the show is about--the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. After development at theaters in Southern California since last year, "An American Story" has taken shape as a one-man show for actor and orchestra, written by Felder but utilizing the music of Stephen Foster. I don't know if it's a "musical" or not, but I guess we'll all find out soon enough! Felder assumes the role of Dr. Charles Augustus Leale, the first doctor to reach Lincoln's side at Ford's Theater that night. After portraying Beethoven, Chopin and Bernstein at the Royal George, and after multiple appearances in his first and most famous Chciago show, "George Gershwin Alone," the role of Dr. Leale would seem to be a stretch for Mr. Felder. But if nothing, this is a man who knows his own talents, and who follows his own artistic vision with an enviable passion. Trevor Hay directs, based on original direction by filmmaker Joel Zwick.
February 1-10 is the run of a concert presentation of Stephen Schwartz's "The Baker's Wife" (book by Joseph Stein) at The Music Theatre Company, on Green Bay Road in Highland Park. The legendary Dominic Missimi directs a cast starring Broadway and Chicago veteran Peter Kevoian, with musical direction by Matt Deitchman. Others in the cast include Sarah Bockel, Bill Chamberlain, David Elliot, Emily Grayson, Nancy Kolton, Jerry Mills, David Sajewich, Kate Staiger and Peter Vamvakas. Also coming up at TMTC will be solo shows by musical theater actresses Heidi Kettenring, Jess Godwin (with Janelle Kroll) and Christine Mild, on February 11, February 23 and March 1, respectively. Trust me, these ladies can SANG!
Beginning previews this very night, and opening officially on Friday, is "The Music Man," running through February 3 at the cavernous Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Rachel Rockwell directs, with musical direction by Michael Mahler. We knew that Stef Tovar ("High Fidelity" at Piper's Alley) is starring as "Professor" Harold Hill, proponent of the "Think System," with Emily Rohm as Marian "The Librarian" Paroo. What you may not know, which I did not until last week, is that the role of Winthrop, the speech-challenged young man played so memorably by Ron Howard in the film version of this 1957 classic musical, will be played in Aurora by Naperville resident Johnny Rabe. So?, you may ask. Well, Johnny Rabe just returned to Illinois after starring, STARRING, in "A Christmas Story" on Broadway, as Ralphie, the kid who wants the BB gun for Christmas and whose father obsesses over a lamp that looks like a leg. I'll be reviewing this one for BroadwayWorld. Yes I will, girl. Yes I will.
Speaking of Lincoln, and speaking of Michael Mahler, the busy musical director, actor ("Working" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place), company member of The Music Theater Company and composer ("Hero" at the Marriott Theatre) has released a five-track EP with his band, the Lincoln Squares. The EP's release date was January 2nd. And this is no ordinary indie-folk-pop-rock band. The members, Mahler, Alan Schmuckler, Alex Goodrich, Derek Hasenstab and Jim Barclay, are all prominent Chicago musical theater performers as well. (I don't know about drummer Barclay, really, but I write about the rest of them in the Mosh Pit all the time!) Their music is quite something. Check out their website and their work, won't you?
During the last two weeks, much of Chicago has been in the throes and the thrall of Sketchfest, the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival at Stage 773. Of course, Mosh Pit readers know that facility as the home of many great productions by some of our more itinerant theater companies and cabaret artists, as well as the location where some great singprov (improvised songs, and even improvised full musicals) has taken place. But sketch comedy is alive and well there too, much of it with music involved to some degree. For instance, the Cupid Players are now in their tenth year of presenting "Cupid Has A Heart On," their series of sketches about relationships that evolves over time and includes songs in all of the scenes (it's on Saturday nights there at 8:00).
Chicago is known as one of the capitals, perhaps THE capital, of sketch comedy, with our legendary status as the home base of the world's improv community lending credence to our offerings in sketch, its sister and natural outgrowth (once you improvise something amazing, wouldn't it be cool to remember it, or at least the outline of it, and do it again next week?). And lately, a couple of sketch comedies with music at their heart have captured the attention of the Mosh Pit. After a short run at the Apollo Theater in Chicago and at the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts in Skokie in November, the parody musical "50 Shades! The Musical" hit New York and New Jersey last weekend, a product of Chicago's musical comedy ensemble/show "Baby Wants Candy." Poking fun at the popular novel,"50 Shades Of Grey," the show has also played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Will there be a return engagement in Chicago? In New York? Elsewhere? Will it be franchised or licensed for performance by others? Who knows! But bravo to them for creating something that has definitely struck a nerve with audiences. Improv teaches you to think (and produce) fast!
Our most important comedy institution is, of course, The Second City, the famous outpost of stand-up, improv, sketch, revue and more at the corner of North and Wells, source of much talent for "Saturday Night Live" and Hollywood. And on January 5, The Second City joined forces with our most famous opera company to present "The Second City Guide To The Opera," a one-night gala at the Civic Opera House hosted by Patrick Stewart and Renee Fleming. And it was PACKED. And hilarious. It was a night of sketches and arias, with Second City members and Lyric Opera Of Chicago musicians exploring opera from the point of view of the funny bone. (Not a "musical," I guess, but there were actors and singers onstage, weren't there?) It was so successful that the two institutions have announced a June run of something like it, only not a gala with an audience of three thousand. The audience will be seated on the Opera House stage, a cabaret-style. Jokes and music will abound. Specific dates will be announced soon, and tickets will be available starting January 23rd.
And The Second City is also a factor in an upcoming show we've discussed before, "Airport For Birds (And Other Great Ideas)," presented by Team StarKid in the new UP Comedy Club on the third floor of Piper's Alley, in the Second City complex. This show, with sketch comedy, music and video shorts, will be performed only five times, on Sunday nights at 7:00 between January 27 and March 3. Director Corey Lubiwich and musical director Nick Cage will put 11 members of the renowned internet musical comedy troupe (and two-time winners of the BroadwayWorld Chicago Award) through their paces, including familiar names Jaime Lyn Beatty, Brian Holden, Lauren Lopez, Joe Walker and more. It's sketch meets musical theater meets the internet meets the future, I think. It's a great big grab-bag of something. And we are reveling in the fact that we've got it!
So that's it for now! This was quite a grab-bag of a column, wasn't it? Well, that's the showtune world in Chicago, isn't it? We know it when we see it. Keep warm, Chicago, and I'll see you soon, right? Under those video screens? I knew it!-PWT
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